Revenge and Violence in Cassandra

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Revenge and Violence in Cassandra

In "Mycenae Lookout," Seamus Heaney tells the story of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and Cassandra after the Trojan war. "Cassandra" is the second part of "Mycenae Lookout" and chronicles Cassandra, Apollo's ill-fated prophetess, who is captured by Agamemnon at the war's end and brought back to Mycenae as a slave. The fates of Cassandra and the House of Atreus collide with Agamemnon's return to Mycenae, where his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus plot his murder. Aegisthus and Clytemnestra both seek revenge: Clytemnestra for her daughter's sacrifice and Aegisthus for the overthrow of his father and the sins of Agamemnon's father Atreus, of which Aegisthus was the only survivor. While Heaney probably drew from many classical sources for his poem, the section entitled "Cassandra" seems especially drawn from Aeschylus' play Agamemnon. Heaney compresses the events of Agamemnon into a mere 64 lines but still retains, partially through uses of the binaries which are contained in the play, the classic and timeless story of revenge and a violent vicious circle.

"Cassandra" begins with Cassandra's description. She is described as a prisoner of war might look, "soiled" (4), "devastated" (6-7) and "camp-fucked" (12), rather than marble smooth and serene, as one might expect a classical Greek figure to appear. Heaney focuses on her appearance and describes her clothing, "her little breasts" and the state of her head in lines four through ten. It is not until he gets to line 11, though, that he comments on what may have happened to her as a prisoner of the Trojan War. "Camp-fucked," with its feel of sexual violence, implies that, along with physical abuse and enslavement, Cassandra has endured rape as well (12). In lines eight through thirteen, Heaney chooses words, such as "punk," "char-eyed" and "gawk" to illustrate succinctly Cassandra's position in the House of Atreus: she is an alien, traumatized by the destruction she has witnessed and stunned to awkwardness by her descent from princess of Troy to slave of Mycenae.

The speaker says, "People / could feel / a missed / trueness" in Cassandra (14-17). This paragraph comes to a point with the word "focus," which is used as a verb.

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