BMCR 2024.02.27

Cassandra: immaginari letterari e figurativi

, , , Cassandra: immaginari letterari e figurativi. Quaderni di Otium, 5. Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider Editore, 2023. Pp. 296. ISBN 9788876893421.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]


This volume brings together eighteen studies, sixteen of which are written in Italian and two in French, on the mythological figure of Cassandra. It is separated into three main sections: on literary manifestations of Cassandra in ancient Greece, archaeological findings from classical antiquity featuring Cassandra, and the medieval, modern and contemporary imagination more broadly. Jointly, they cover an impressive breadth, ranging from Homer all the way to twenty and twenty-first century theatre, cinema and painting.

In lieu of an introduction, the book opens with two prefatory pieces, by Donato Loscalzo and Enrico Medda. In the former, Loscalzo discusses the everlasting fascination that Cassandra exerts on audiences due to her (divinely ordained) inability to complete her mission. In the latter, Medda looks at some of Aeschylus’ innovations regarding Cassandra, especially Cassandra’s ability not only to foresee the future, but to see the past too, and her problematic relationship with Apollo. In the process, Medda expertly guides the reader through Cassandra’s earliest manifestations, in Homer, Stesichorus, Ibycus, Bacchylides and Pindar.

These two essays successfully whet the appetite for what follows, yet the lack of a more straightforward introduction leaves something to be desired; although Loscalzo’s preface summarises the following contributions, it does not divulge what the objectives of the editors were in compiling this volume. From the summary one gathers perhaps that the selected papers aim to highlight the nearly uninterrupted vitality of the prophetess’ myth and her everlasting influence. The scope of Medda’s otherwise masterful essay, then, seems rather limited and not reflective of the volume: as it centres on classical Cassandra, the reader might anticipate a similar emphasis on tragedy, yet the section on Greek literature is the shortest in the volume. An introduction by the editors and the incorporation of Medda’s paper in the relevant section on Greek literature would have perhaps been more effective.

Four contributions fall under the volume’s first section on Cassandra in Greek literature. Lucia Pallaracci argues that contemporary political issues are reflected in Cassandra’s speeches in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. Adopting C.W. MacLeod’s relevant argument in his celebrated 1982 article,[1] Pallaracci understands the term στάσις in Ag. 1117-8 as (political/civil) discord and asserts that Cassandra demonstrates political conscience and offers a warning over the political fractures of the Athenians. Giulia Vitali discusses Cassandra’s assimilation to various animals in the same tragedy. Vitali argues that her comparison to birds is appropriate because of the use of birds in prophecies, their closeness to gods, and their capacity of producing sounds similar to the human language. Accordingly, Cassandra’s statement before her death that she is no longer distressed like a bird in a bush (Ag. 1316) ought to be understood as a reclamation of her human, non-prophetic nature.  Alessandro Boschi explores several tragic fragments and some lexicographical evidence and suggests that Cassandra was not an uncommon character in the genre. Boschi also submits that in Euripides’ Alexander Cassandra assumes again the role of the unconvincing spokesperson for divine plans. Finally, Valentina Caruso investigates the reference to Cassandra in the first stasimon of Euripides’ Andromache, and underlines Cassandra’s presence at Paris’ birth, a mythological hapax. Caruso sees Cassandra’s placement at the very beginning of the war as commensurate with the tragedy’s strong anti-war sentiment. I would have liked to read more on what this placement at the war’s beginning might mean for the character of Cassandra herself if one bears in mind that Cassandra was often associated with the end of the Trojan war, as Loscalzo’s preface emphasises. Although the monographs by Mazzoldi and Pillinger remain the ones to go to for all interested in tragic Cassandras,[2] there is still plenty one can learn, or at the very least remind oneself of, by reading this section. It is, however, worth noting that in a section on Cassandra in the ‘literary imagination of ancient Greece’ the absence of any contributions to post-classical literature (especially Lycophron’s Alexandra) is unfortunate; it would have been preferable to rename the section as Cassandra in Greek tragedy.

Five contributions fall under the volume’s second section, which looks at Cassandra in a variety of archaeological evidence from classical antiquity. Niccolò Cecconi primarily looks at vase paintings and traces the changes Cassandra undergoes from the sixth century BCE down to Hellenistic and Roman times. Cecconi argues that the violence Cassandra is subjected to goes hand in hand with the exaltation of her beauty, expressed in terms of either sensual nudity or melancholy. Later in the book, in a similar analysis of depictions of Cassandra, Gian Luca Grassigli suggests instead that Cassandra’s nudity is not as common as some scholars, including Cecconi, would argue. Grassigli’s argument is more nuanced and convincing.[3] Kerasia Stratiki discusses the relationship of Cassandra with the sanctuaries of Amyclae, dedicated to Alexandra/Cassandra, and of Thalamai. Stratiki posits a relationship between the two sanctuaries based on the fact that Plutarch identifies Daphne, daughter of Amyclas, eponymous hero of Amyclae, as one of Thalamai’s honoured deities. In a complex, yet compelling argument, Stratiki suggests that Pasiphae, mentioned in an inscription in Thalamai, is to be understood as Cassandra: according to Plutarch locals identified Pasiphae with Cassandra because she revealed oracles to everyone (hence the name Pasiphae).

Mauro Menichetti explores the meanings the Etruscan world assigned to the popular tale of Cassandra and Aias. Menichetti persuasively demonstrates that vase paintings thematised Aias’ unjustified and uncontrolled violence towards Cassandra, arguing for the Etruscan world’s broader interest in Trojan stories, probably diffused orally. Menichetti also sees the relevant painting in the François tomb as consistent with the rest of the tomb’s ‘paradigmatic’ iconography and the construction or reconstruction of cultural memory. Federico Figura analyses the iconography of a krater fragment found in Buccino which preserves a unique version of the Cassandra story: a parody in which the canonical roles are reversed. Figura sees in the scene an instance of overpowering, common in Greek art, in which civilized male heroes of the polis subdue feral or barbaric creatures (e.g. centaurs, amazons), arguing for a sophisticated reversal of the representation of Cassandra’s rape as typically represented in Italian ceramics. Benedetta Sciaramenti (in a paper co-authored with Gian Luca Grassigli) looks at Cassandra in Roman engraved gems and demonstrates that they emphasise her foretelling capabilities and present her as Sibyl. Sciaramenti explains that in the late republican era, when families use the myth of Trojan origin, Cassandra becomes very important as she foresees Rome’s birth and glory; any relationship with her previous iconography is removed to avoid associations with the past. The argumentation could have been enriched, perhaps, with a brief consideration of literary sources associating Cassandra with Sibyl, as discussed in Pillinger’s relevant book chapter. Sciaramenti follows the same approach in the next paper, this time solely authored, in which she looks at paintings from Pompeii. It is argued that Cassandra is ‘latinized’ and assimilated to Sibyl; although the urgencies of the previous period have been overcome, Sciaramenti still discerns a tension between recuperation of memory and the need for a new definition of the prophetess.

The final section, which consists of eight contributions, is concerned with Cassandra in the medieval, modern and contemporary imagination. Oriana Scarpati looks at one of the most successful novels of the French Middle Ages, the Roman de Troie (1165) by Benoît de Sainte-Maure. Scarpati argues that Cassandra’s vindication and her acquisition of authority over the course of the novel imply a tendency to rehabilitate Cassandra already present in the 6th century CE, as Benoît closely follows the work of (the probably 6th-century poet) Darete Frigio (De Excidio Troiae). Cristiano Ragni discusses the Elizabethan epyllion The Legend of Cassandra by Richard Barnfield, the first author working in English in medieval and early modern times to look into Cassandra in detail. Barnfield presents Cassandra’s wronging of Apollo as a deceitful attempt to secure the gift of prophecy, as a result of which all women are punished and attacked in the epyllion, with the exception of the queen Elizabeth I, who is instead honoured with a panegyric. Federica Rocchi explores Friedrich Schiller’s ballad Kassandra (1802), arguing that Schiller is interested in Cassandra’s condition of solitude and marginalisation, and her expression’s lyric mode and subjectivity, similar to his The Maid of Orleans. Rocchi also compares Schiller’s with Christa Wolf’s Kassandra (1983) in which she sees a similar lyrical expression, but also a strong anti-patriarchy sentiment absent from Schiller. Lorenzo Calafiore analyses Cassandra in Gabriele d’Annunzio’s La città morta (1896). He argues that d’Annunzio’s interest in Cassandra stems from his broader ambition to revitalise Attic drama but shows that, rather than using Greek drama directly, d’Annunzio models his Cassandra, who also takes the dramaturgical function of the chorus, on Paul de Saint Victor’s Les deux masques, Tragédie-Comédie.

Anne-Marie Lievens explores the use of Cassandra in Benito Pérez Galdós’ Casandra (1910), demonstrating that in Galdos’ play, Cassandra, whose qualities consist not in the gifts of divinity but in her capacity to observe and analyse the reality, becomes the vehicle for the expression of a defiant anticlerical sentiment. Gherardo Ugolini discusses Pier Paolo Pasolini’s translation of the Oresteia for a staging at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse in 1960, as well as his film Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana (1970): whereas in the former he translates Cassandra’s emblematic scene conservatively, in the latter he presents Cassandra’s scene as a delirious musical lament in which words are substituted for music in a progressively more atonal form, in what is the conclusion to a decade-long reflection on the myth of the Oresteia. Ugolini argues that Pasolini was profoundly interested in prophetic figures and especially Cassandra, whom he saw as his alter ego, so much so that in his last interview he assumed Cassandra’s identity when answering a question about Italy’s future. Given Pasolini’s fascination with Cassandra, it might have been worth exploring further in this otherwise excellent paper any metaliterary/metacinematic aspects that Pasolini might have infused in his treatment of Cassandra.

Lucie Thévenet explores the use of live tortoises on stage in Jan Fabre’s 2019 staging of Resurrexit Cassandra and explores how the animals are linked to Cassandra. Not only are the tortoises reminiscent of Apollo’ characteristic instrument, the lyre, but they bring attention to both themselves and Cassandra as Apollo’s feminine instruments, through which his voice is heard. Thévenet also compellingly suggests a connection between the tortoise, as jar with two openings or mouths, and the anatomy of the female body, demonstrating how Cassandra’s closure of her lower body to Apollo is paralleled and opposed by Apollo’s punishment with a perverse opening of her upper body, her mouth which stops uttering convincing words. Finally, Aurora Roscini Vitali offers a discussion on how Cassandra is reappropriated in seminal works of Italian (and global) feminism, in essays and in the visual arts of the 1970s, in order to subvert the heterosexual canon and to recover feminism as a hidden subject. Cassandra becomes emblematic of women’s working experience, which also leads to the depiction of Cassandra as painter herself. Although discussion of the various uses of Cassandra is limited, this is an informative paper, especially useful to those interested in the history of feminism.

Overall, although this book would have benefitted from a clearer articulation of its objectives, there is something for everyone broadly interested in Cassandra – I certainly learnt a lot, especially from the third section, which covers a wide range of sources. The (paperback) edition is of good quality and it contains many images, several of which are printed in colour. All contributions feature abstracts in both Italian and English, which is to be commended as a helpful addition (although unfortunately, the same does not apply to passages in Greek and Latin, some of which remain untranslated in certain contributions). I have spotted very few mistakes.[4]


Authors and Titles

Donato Loscalzo, I paradossi di Cassandra

Enrico Medda, Dal mito al teatro: la Cassandra di Eschilo


Cassandra nell’Immaginario Letterario dell’Antica Grecia

Lucia Pallaracci, Profezie politiche: riflessi di storia ateniese nella Cassandra di Eschilo

Giulia Vitali, Le similitudini teriomorfe di Cassandra nell’ Agamennone di Eschilo

Alessandro Boschi, Il mito greco di Cassandra nella produzione tragica frammentaria

Valentina Caruso, La profezia di Cassandra nel primo stasimo dell’ Andromaca di Euripide


Cassandra nell’Immaginario Figurativo dell’Antichità Classica

Niccolò Cecconi, Amabili guance rosee. La ricezione della venustà di Cassandra tra Polignoto e Luciano

Kerasia Stratiki, Cassandre: De Troie à Amyclées. Le sanctuaire d’Alexandra

Mauro Menichetti, Cassandra a Vulci

Federico Figura, La rivincita di Cassandra: parodia visuale e racconto mitico nella ceramica antica.

Gian Luca Grassigli, Benedetta Sciaramenti, L’immagine di Cassandra: tradizione greca e cultura latina

Benedetta Sciaramenti, La figura di Cassandra nella pittura pompeiana


Cassandra nell’Imaginario Medievale, Moderno e Contemporaneo

Oriana Scarpati, La escïentose Cassandra. Rappresentazione e declinazione del mito nel Roman de Troie di Benoît de Sainte-Maure

Cristiano Ragni, “She askes of him the gift of prophecie”. La Cassandra elisabettiana di Richard Barnfield

Federica Rocchi, “Perché mi concedesti di vedere…”. Voce soggettiva nella Kassandra di Friedrich Schiller

Lorenzo Calafiore, “Anch’ella vedeva…”. La Cassandra di Gabriele d’Annunzio

Anne-Marie Lievens, La funzione del mito classico nella Casandra (1910) di Galdós

Gherardo Ugolini, La Cassandra di Pasolini: profezia e musica

Lucie Thévenet, Cassandre ‘à la tortue’ et Jan Fabre apollinien dans Resurrexit Cassandra: l’antique comme clé de lecture du contemporain

Aurora Roscini Vitali, “Nelle tenebre. Nel macello. E sola”. L’archetipo di Cassandra tra arte e femminismo



[1] MacLeod, C.W. (1982), ‘Politics and the Oresteia’, JHS 102, 124-44 (p.130).

[2] Mazzoldi, S. (2001), Cassandra, la vergine e l’indovina: identità di un personaggio da Omero all’ellenismo, Pisa; Pillinger, E. (2019), Cassandra and the Poetics of Prophecy in Greek and Latin Literature, Cambridge.

[3] I find in Cecconi’s analysis of the Hydria Vivenzio a problematic overemphasis on the sensuality of naked Cassandra as motivating factor of her rape.

[4] Amyclai instead of Amyclas on p.81; tardoromana instead of tardorepubblicana on p.143. There is inconsistency when citing illustrations, esp. the Hydria Vivenzio: p.78 (no number given), p.105 (n.inv. 81699 – instead of 81669), p.124 (n.inv. M 1480), p.140 (n.inv. 81669). It would have been preferable for all contributors to use the same name spellings (several different spellings are used, e.g. Clitemestra // Clitennestra // Clitemnestra, Cassandra // Kassandra).