Women of Prophecy: Cassandra

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

A Trojan priestess lies sleeping in a temple dedicated to Apollo. Apollo sees her lying there, desires her, and assaults her. She awakens and cries out, pushing him off of her. He grants her the gift of prophecy, hoping she’ll accept his advances in return. She resists him still, and he rapes her. Afterwards he curses her: she will keep her gift, and she will prophesy only the truth, but no one will believe her. She will be dismissed as crazy and a liar, even as she’s trying to save her family and her country.

Her prophecies are indeed all true. She foretells the abduction of Helen. The Trojan War. The threat of the Trojan Horse. The fall of Troy. The deaths of her father and brothers. No one believes her. After the fall of Troy, the Greek soldiers rape her and enslave her. She’s sent to Greece as a concubine, and eventually Queen Clytemnestra murders her.

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

*****

There have been so many Cassandras. The woman asleep or unconscious, taken as an object by a man. The woman trying to tell the truth, in a system built to silence her.

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

In Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a young and wealthy woman lies dead in her room before her wedding day. She is of no importance to an ambitious magician, but her fiancé, a high-ranking but penniless politician, is. The magician enters her room and shuts out her family and loved ones. He summons a fairy and strikes a magical bargain: half the young woman’s life given to the fairy, in exchange for her resurrection. The young woman revives, the penniless politician marries her and becomes rich, and the magician becomes one of the most important men in Europe. The young woman spends her waking days in England, and her nights under enchantment at an endless ball in Faerie, unable to rest. When she tries to speak of her suffering, and to reveal how the magician used her life and unconscious body for his own gain, those around her hear only babbling, odd fables, or madness, and she is shut away in the countryside. It is only when another magician visits her, and sees the image of a rose obscuring her mouth when she tries to tell her story, that someone finally recognizes the magical symbol of silence.

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

You know this one. A princess lies in an enchanted sleep in a tower, surrounded by roses. Knights and princes attempt to penetrate her fortress and kiss her unconscious lips to win power and a throne.

You know this one. A princess, with lips as red as blood, lies in a glass coffin. A prince sees her and desires her. He steals her body and kisses her while she lies as though dead.

You know this one. A woman stands before a Senate committee and testifies to save her country from a catastrophic injustice. People insist she’s wrong, and call her a liar, and confirm her attacker anyway. Her safety, security, and peace are ripped away.

*****

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff
Cassandra is a horrifyingly familiar archetype. You want to get really mad with me? Cassandra is a priestess of Apollo, the very god who attacks her and who dooms her, and she had taken a vow of chastity to serve him. The scale of that betrayal and violation makes my heart clench in my chest. Some (male, obviously) writers record that, oh, well, perhaps she really consents to sex with Apollo so she can win her prophetic gift, and then only protests afterwards so that she can still claim her priestess’s vow. Way to blame the victim, guys, great job. Because of her attacker, her own family condemn and shun her, yet when she shares her prophecies with her brother Helenus, people believe her words from his mouth.

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff
Two years ago I wrote the Persephone post from a place of anger, sorrow, and fear. I can’t believe it’s been two years— my feelings are as fresh, and as sharp, and as sickened now as they were then. It’s maybe worse now? I’ve watched in disgust and horror as somehow we careen along what looks as near the road to hell as I can imagine. Every day I’m struck by a sense of disbelief so strong it sends me reeling: “Oh my god this is really happening. This can’t be happening. This is really happening.” I’m both shocked by the profound evil and not shocked at all. Two years ago it seemed SO clear, SO abundantly obvious what a threat stood before us, and so manifestly clear how to avoid it, that I couldn’t fathom the threat being realized. And 2016 happened, and here is the evil and the cruelty and the wanton stupidity I knew would come, and yet I’m shocked and rattled every day.

There isn’t a happy-ever-after ending to Cassandra’s story the way there are in her fairytale counterparts’. Well, happy-ish? Sleeping Beauty and Snow White awaken and…I guess just marry these strangers who kissed them while they were unconscious? But now that I think about it, they never speak another word in their stories, so who really knows how happy their ever afters are. Jonathan Strange’s Lady Pole is freed from her enchantment and immediately saves those who were enchanted with her. She wants to rush to London to topple the government, but the magician who betrayed her disappears forever from England before she can confront him. After a decade of no true bodily autonomy, a voice deliberately silenced, and an adult life that’s felt like a waking nightmare, how will she be able to return to the world without more pain and grief?

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

These stories don’t feel like they have happy endings, and, rightly, they trouble me more as an adult than they did when I was a child. Maybe a lingerie blog isn’t the place to talk about such serious things; I had several moments while I was writing where I wondered if it wasn’t disrespectful somehow to pair underwear with stories of trauma and injustice and then be all “look! an editorial!”. But with women’s bodies being policed ever more strictly, with SESTA/FOSTA threatening the safety and lives of sex workers, and with images of lingerie and “female-presenting” nipples being banned from social media platforms for being “explicit”, maybe stories about men treating our bodies as consumables, as bargaining chips, as objects for pleasure, to be seized and afterwards dismissed, are in fact the stories we need to revisit.

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

I want so, so badly right now for swift and crushing justice for these fictional and real-life women. Not even retribution; I want acknowledgment, a soul-deep reckoning: this is wrong. You were wrong to touch her. You were wrong to disparage her. You were wrong to attack, dismiss, slander, erase, kill. You were wrong to discount her, and you doom yourself when you silence her.

Troy fell, Cassandra was right, and no one believed her.

Sweet Nothings 2018 holiday: Cassandra. (c) Sylvie Rosokoff

*     *     *     *     *

Bra and brief: Abbie by Katherine Hamilton Intimates, 26-38 D-HH/6-16 (UK)

Waspie corset: Antoinette by Angela Friedman

Robe: Andromeda by Harlow & Fox, S, M, L

Photography: Sylvie Rosokoff

Special thanks to Mary Davenport Davis, Anna Sampson, Quinne Myers, and Mimosa Floral Design

7 Comments on Women of Prophecy: Cassandra

  1. F
    December 6, 2018 at 7:15 pm (2 weeks ago)

    This is… beyond. These editorials are always a highlight because your vision and voice come through so profoundly in both the photos and your writing. In a time of stress and fear on every level— from the world stage to the internet to the increase of anxiety and depression— such holistic poise and thoughtfulness are needed and appreciated.

    And your lingerie game is gorgeous as ever. Thank you so much for putting this together!

    Reply
  2. Erica of A Sophisticated Pair
    December 7, 2018 at 11:40 am (2 weeks ago)

    I love that you also included Lady Poole’s story. There is so much richness to it. My heart breaks for all the women in this post and the many more out there going through the same things, all silenced and unrecognized. Thank you for taking the risk to talk about this in your editorial. It is a brilliant post. <3

    Reply
  3. Ellen M Lewis
    December 7, 2018 at 3:37 pm (2 weeks ago)

    This article is brilliant and relevant and worthy of any publication.
    My only words of encouragement come from a place of age. Things are better now then when I was in my 30’s. They still sting, but at least the cat is out of the bag. From a macro perspective, that is progress.

    Reply
  4. Mary Frances
    December 7, 2018 at 4:46 pm (2 weeks ago)

    If this isn’t the place to say it, then where is? Love you, proud of you. Always.

    Reply
  5. anjaeverydayboudoir
    December 9, 2018 at 6:28 am (1 week ago)

    Your voice is so needed and I thank you deeply for this editorial!

    When you questioned if it was disrespectful to pair underwear with stories of trauma and injustice I thought “not at all”: I had to think of this terrible verdict in Ireland a few weeks ago where a 27-year-old man was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old girl with the argument of his lawyer being “You have to look at the way she was dressed, she was wearing a thong with a lace front.”

    I would say it is necessary to speak about the topics you addressed in this article on lingerie blogs, too, and again I thank you for your honesty and courage, Sweets!

    Reply
  6. SB
    December 10, 2018 at 10:08 am (1 week ago)

    In both Italo Calvino and Giambattista Basile’s versions of the tale Sleeping Beauty is raped in her sleep (rather than kissed) and awakens either during labour or as a mother, with no idea what happened to her. And then she marries the father and ‘lives happily ever after.’ I really need people to stop doing this to women in life, in fiction, in a way that makes boys think it’s an acceptable action, and for girls to think it’s an acceptable way to be treated. #stoprapingwomenasaplotfeature #stoprapingwomen

    Reply
  7. Cheryl Anne Ruebner
    December 12, 2018 at 4:32 pm (6 days ago)

    Oh, they believe it.

    They just don’t want to admit that they are complicit, or even the ones responsible.

    In fact, the more we vocalize about it, the more they deny it. So, what is the point?

    Of course, there is a point, and that is, seeking justice.

    But I have been there, and done that, and I have found that even when I was attacked against my will in full view, broad daylight, with an audience, even the audience denied it.

    Reality can be so much more unreal than any fiction, sometimes.

    They know. It’s not about believing. It’s about SHOWING the belief, and FOLLOWING THROUGH on it. But again – if they admit it, they admit their part in the charade. And if they do that, then everyone has to be punished. It would mean the crumbling of the entire world. Pride would cease to exist. No-one would be the victor. Everyone would hang their head in shame. There would be no celebration. The victim, possibly, would have their justice, but to what end? At that point the lady might as well just live in silence weaving anyway.

    If everyone were to actually say, “yes, we allowed that to happen. We watched it, sanctioned it, failed to intervene, and even worse, went on for the longest time lying about the whole thing,” what would be the next step? “Never again?” Yeah, right. We’ve tried that before.

    That is the only way that what we are calling for could come to pass, that I see.

    Of course, it could be better than what I could envision. It must and will be – undoubtedly it is. I’m just another human/woman myself, with my own crimes that I have committed against myself and others. As far as I can see, the Great Spirit, Almighty, Most High, Higher Self, whatever… knows and creates better than I, or you, or Buckley, Penelope, or Roo.

    If we cannot count on being believed, then we must find another way to remain safe and find validation.

    This may be why women shrouded themselves in the first place.

    Whatever it takes to survive.

    If an animal is attacked by another animal, they don’t call a council of species representatives from the community forest glen to hold a tribunal. They just learn their lesson and never go back, learn to hide better, or find some way to defend themselves, fight back even Or, they surrender to the carnal forces.

    Why we human folk have gotten so far away from nature is a tale that cannot be told in such a short space.

    And it doesn’t matter, anyway, at this point. We are here, where we are.

    What I have found is that no-one (well VERY few) cared about my well-being after any of my assaults, except me. Even if they believed me, it didn’t matter. It was my story. They all had their own lives. Even one of the wisest voices told me, “it is all just stories. You are not your stories.”

    And it is sad, but it comes down to this:

    maybe it’s not that they don’t believe us,

    and it’s even irrelevant that they are complicit.

    It’s that it’s not their responsibility, what happens to us.

    We should take cues from what works, and what doesn’t.

    If one method isn’t offering safety, then I find another one.

    It’s hard to find the actual thread of consequence in a clusterfuck, because there isn’t one, just as there is no beginning or end to a tumbleweed.

    Who is going to take responsibility? Certainly not anyone that we have to yell at to take responsibility. The responsibility is taken up by the one who is invested the most.

    Where does that leave us?

    In the mortal coil. Immortal beings in the mortal coil. We are able to see what others do not want to see. They know what they could suffer if they did. Have mercy on them for they know not what they do.

    Reply

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