Cassandra & Nightingale

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Cassandra Nightingale

daya dissanayake

The tragedy of Humanity has always been due to ignoring the Cassandras among us and their warnings. Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein considered Cassandra as representing the human moral conscience whose main task is to issue warnings, while Apollo represents the destructive influence of the cruel super-ego. She talks about the universal tendency towards the denial which is a potent defense against persecutory anxiety and guilt.

Cassandra was the daughter of Priam and Hecuba of Troy. Apollo, infatuated by her beauty, gave her a gift of prophesy, but when he could not win her affection placed a curse on her, that no one would believe her prophesies.

The first tragedy which she tried to prevent was the destruction of Troy. She warned about the Trojan horse, but no one believed her.

The name Florence Nightingale brings to our mind what she did for nursing, but more important was her struggle on behalf of the suppression faced by women and girls in her time, in England.

She was probably the first person to identify Cassandra as the symbol of women's limitations and as their voice. In 1852, Nightingale wrote 'Cassandra' as part of her essay 'Suggestions for the thought to Searchers after Religious Truth' which was only privately printed. She had conceived Cassandra as an autobiographical novel, developed as a dialogue between two characters Farisco and Nofriani. In One of her early versions of Cassandra she had written, "Oh! call me no more Nofriani, call me Cassandra. for I have preached & prophesied in vain. I have gone about crying all these many years, Wo to the people! And no one has listened or believed.." and again, Nofriani says "I, I alone am wandering in the bitterness of life without" She (Nofriani) had suffered so much that she had outlived even the desire to die.

Katherine V. Snyder has done a study of Nightingale's Cassandra, and its transition from an autobiographical novel into an essay, published in 'The Politics of the essay:feminist perspectives'.

Benjamin Jowett, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, in a letter to Nightingale in 1861, commenting on her essay Cassandra, said "I did not exactly take Cassandra for yourself, but I thought that it represented more of your own feeling about the world than could have been the case". This happened with the transition of the original version in subsequent editions to become a non-fictional essay from what had begun as a novel. Nightingale had written this at a time when she was suicidally depressed, out of despair due to the objections of her parents for her determination to serve the public.

When at last she received an allowance of £ 500 per year from her father, in 1883 she had accepted a post as the Superintendent of an "institution for the care of sick gentlewomen in distressed circumstances" in London. This led her to the Crimean War in 1854 and Florence Nightingale became the legend.

Nightingale protested the "over-feminization of women into near helplessness, such as what she saw in her mother's and older sister's lethargic lifestyle despite their education" She saw a similarity with Cassandra as her ideas also were ineffective at the time.

Nightingale was only 32 years old when she wrote 'Cassandra'. She had been educated at home, in Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, in addition to history, grammar and composition all by her father, while a governess tutored her in music and art. Then she defied convention, by stating that her future was not in marriage but in helping the needy.

Her 'Cassandra' is mainly about "the role of women in Victorian England. As such, not only does it reflect upon gender equality, it also represents a powerful tool for Nightingale to express her concerns about her own future and lack of occupation". (Laura Monros-Gaspar).

Nightingale had written many books in addition to the essay on Cassandra, but she was more a social reformer than a writer.

Many books had been written about Cassandra, before and after Nightingale. Christa Wolf retold the story of Cassandra in her book 'Kassandra' using the myth "as an allegory for both the unheard voice of the woman writer and the oppression and strict censorship in East Germany."

Apache Software recognized Cassandra for what she was, and so named their NoSQL database in her honour because it is the future, and it is used by Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter.

A later day Cassandra was Rachel Louise Carson, the author of 'Silent Spring' (1962). She too had been cursed not only by Apollo, but also by Hiddukel (the god of ill-gotten wealth). That is why 'Silent Spring' was included in the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries" and she was called a "hysterical woman".

Cassandra too was considered mad. Her father Priam kept her locked up. Even Shakespeare had treated her as a madwoman in Troilus and Cressida. Robert Graves interpreted the name Cassandra as "she who entangles men". That is the fate of any woman who refuses to play by the rules laid down by men.

Man had always preferred to hear only good and positive news from the prophets. No one likes to hear bad news, or bad predictions. He has listened to warnings only if heeding them was to his advantage. The Trojans did not listen to Cassandra. Then they probably developed the legend about Apollo's curse, simply to justify their refusal to believe Cassandra. Ugo Bardi, at the University of Florence, says, "Today we still prefer a reassuring lie to an uncomfortable truth. It is the Cassandra Legacy."

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