Paintings from the darker side of life – Ajax and Cassandra

Ajax and Cassandra, by Solomon Joseph Solomon. Image taken from wikipedia

I have always had a soft spot for the Pre – Raphaelite Brotherhood; a group of English painters from the 19th century that combined a realistic representations of nature with an extensive use of symbols. The painting above is my favorite one by Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927), a portrayal of the famous rape of Cassandra by the Greek hero Ajax the lesser.

I mentioned this on a previous entry, but here it goes again: Cassandra, the beautiful sister of the Trojan hero Hector, was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo. It seems Cassandra did not reciprocate Apollo’s feelings towards her (I doubt these feelings had anything to do with “love”, as many people write when referring to this myth, but never mind); so Apollo added a new twist to his gift (a gift turned into a curse is a recurring theme in Greek mythology): even though she could foresee the future nobody would believe her. She tried for instance to tell her fellow Trojans that letting that big horse in was a bad idea, but nobody listened. When the Greeks finally enter Troy thanks to that cunning device, Cassandra took shelter in the temple of Pallas Athena. Ajax went after her, and even though Cassandra was touching the statue of Pallas Athena (therefore she was under the direct protection of the Goddess), he nonetheless raped her. This is, of course, as bad as it can get. Not only is it an insult to the Goddess to harm someone under her protection, at her temple, but this was made even worse by that crime being rape, as Pallas Athena is a virgin Goddess. This painting by Solomon is a wonderful depiction of that event. We can see Cassandra, desperately trying to hold on to the statue of Pallas Athena, while Ajax, looking all cocky and full of himself, drags her away. Even though Pallas Athena favored the Greeks and gave them a hand during the Trojan War on every chance she could, she was disgusted by this. As it is to be expected, Ajax did not last very long after this episode, being killed by a lightning from the angry Goddess during his return back home.

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