Finding Hope in Ancient Greece
In Mycenae, proud kingdom of Ancient Greece, time is frozen. Tall, dust-white walls loom in tiers; the sun hangs low and dense; foreign visitors throng the streets in a hum of humanity. In these regards, Mycenae has not changed in millennia: the day Cassandra set foot in the city (~1180 BCE) and the day I did (2022 CE) could have been absolutely identical.
Mycenae: Ancient Greece
Cassandra enters Mycenae as the war prize of King Agamemnon, conqueror of Troy. The Greek city-states, Mycenae among them, are foreign to her: their people speak in unfamiliar languages; their sun is hot and unyielding. She has never before left her homeland of Troy; now, Troy is a smoldering ruin, and Cassandra is a slave in a faraway land. Cassandra has known for years that she would visit Mycenae—she has known for years that she will die there, too.
Cassandra was cursed by the Greek god Apollo: she would know the future, but never be believed. She had known that Troy would fall when Paris brought Helen there—and her warnings were ignored. She had known that the wooden horse was a trap that would see Troy destroyed—and she was laughed at. Cassandra had a perfect understanding of the death, destruction, and terror that the Greeks would bring to Troy; despite the decades-long siege, not a soul believed her.
Alongside the foreseen death of her city and her kins-people, Cassandra foresaw her own impending death in the city of Mycenae. But despite decades of her country-men’s disbelief—despite a curse from Apollo himself—Cassandra never stopped trying to circumvent the awful futures that she foresaw.
When the city of Troy fell, nobody was left to warn about its destruction—it had already happened. The only prophecy Cassandra still carried was that of her own death—and nobody was left to warn or to beseech for aid. A woman with less courage, with less hope, may have embraced her fate or sought an easier one. She may have leapt into the pyre of burning Troy, or fell upon a sword, or jumped from the besieged parapets. But to do any of these would be letting fate win; to accept her fate would be to allow it to come true. Cassandra had spent her life fighting to be believed; so too did she fight in the face of her own predestined death. As the Greeks closed in on Troy, Cassandra ran for sanctuary at the temple of the Greek’s patron goddess, Athena, clinging to the hope that its sacred protection would stay the Greeks’ hands.
But the temple did not save her: its holy rules and sanctuary were ignored by Ajax the Lesser, who pur-sued Cassandra into the temple and attacked her within, shattering the tenets of his own religion. She was cap-tured, made a war prize, and gifted to the Mycenaean King Agamemnon, just as she had foretold.
So was Cassandra’s flight to the temple of Athena worthless? It didn’t prevent her attack or stop her capture. The tragic bend of her fate remained: she was en route to Mycenae, on a voyage to her death. But her actions still engendered change: as punishment for Ajax the Lesser’s flagrant disobedience of her laws, Athena destroyed the Mycenaean fleet on its way home: only one ship out of dozens found safe harbor.
Mycenae: Modern-Day Greece
In Mycenae, the proud kingdom of Ancient Greece, time is frozen. Tall, dust-white walls loom in tiers; the sun hangs low and dense; foreign visitors throng the streets in a hum of humanity. In these regards, it has not changed in millennia. About ten months ago, I entered Mycenae as a student on a study abroad, studying the peoples and mythology of Ancient Greece. Mycenae was a foreign land to me: the thousands of visiting tourists spoke languages unfamiliar to my ears; the sun was hot and unyielding. Although I had left my homeland for many voyages before going to Greece, I had never known I would visit Mycenae—I had never known how much hope I would find there.
At the time of my visit to Mycenae, climate change sat heavily on my mind: I had recently read a series of articles about the irreversibility of the damage we have already caused. We have done so much harm to the natural climates since the Industrial Revolution that no matter what measures are taken, we can never go back. This thread is already set. It cannot be unwo-ven: it is stone.
But I had read other things in preparation to visit Mycenae, as well: most notably I had read The Aeneid and The Oresteia, in which we learn Cassandra’s story. In her story I found unexpected hope: despite the certain prophecies she carried with her, her actions still impacted the final weave of the tapestry, and the achieved a small modicum of revenge for Troy that even Aeneas never found. Thus too, the certain scientific prophecies about our world and its climate changes may be set in stone—but the full tapestry is not yet woven. Like Cassandra, our actions may still affect the final weave for the better. One tragic thread does not spell certain tragedy for the entire tapestry.
You see, the Ancient Greeks saw the world and its events as a great tapestry. Woven by the Three Fates, this tapestry was the composition of everyone who ever lived, everything that they ever did, and the longest-lasting effects of their lives and actions. Each person's life was a thread in the tapestry: once it had been woven to the Fates’ satisfaction, they would cut the thread, ending the person’s life and influence on the image that the tapestry formed.
Cassandra’s prophecies gave her an advance look at the tapestry of fate: she could see individual threads, woven as if in stone: unchangeable, unshaking. And yet we see that the actions she took around these unchangeable events—running for the temple, which doomed the majority of the Mycenaean fleet—had the power to change the full weave of the tapestry, if not the individual threads.
It is in this truth I find great comfort. Her fate was sealed and did not change despite her actions; but the fates of hundreds of others were impacted. So too do our actions change the tapestry—some threads are already set in stone for our future, but the whole picture has yet to be woven.
And the tapestry of our world is not yet woven: the full picture not yet seen. We may still learn from Cassandra; we may still affect great changes that create a picture that is bittersweet instead of tragic. We still bear the agency to weave the picture as we see fit; to create a final tapestry that is beautiful indeed.