The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Cassandra’s prophecy and the Trojan Horse

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : March 5, 2019 - 17:12

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It is well-known that Homer’s Iliad, that great masterpiece of Western literature, was inspired by the Trojan War. In Greek mythology, the war was ignited when the Trojan prince Paris eloped with Helen, who was the wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The myth also states that behind the scenes, the Trojan War began as a competitive game among the Olympian gods and goddesses.

However, historians argue that the Trojan War was, in fact, the first war between the East and the West over the command of the sea. They maintain that, in reality, Greece waged war against Troy because Troy blocked Greece’s sea passages to Asia, monopolizing trade with Asian countries.

In the past, people thought the Trojan War was merely a myth rather than a historical fact. However, when the city of Troy was excavated by archaeologists some time ago, the historical theory that the Trojan War broke out over maritime power between Greece and Troy proved to be true.

Initially, Troy was strong enough to defend itself against the allied Greek forces under the command of the mighty warrior Prince Hector. Gradually, however, Troy got weaker as the war continued for over nine, almost 10, long years.

As the tension continued, the people of Troy lowered their guard. To make matters worse, Prince Hector, Troy’s hope and hero, was killed by the invincible Greek warrior Achilles. In the eyes of the outsiders, Troy was in a state of grave danger. Yet the Trojans did not realize it.

Hector’s sister, Princess Cassandra, was gifted with the ability to see the future but cursed never to be believed. She foresaw a tragic future: Troy would be totally annihilated and the Trojan people would be massacred by Greek soldiers.

Cassandra incessantly warned the people of Troy about her tragic vision. Unfortunately, nobody in Troy believed her. Instead, the people laughed at her prophecy and treated her as though she were insane.

Perhaps the people of Troy were too optimistic about their future, intoxicated with the prospect of victory over the Greek allied forces. The result of this stubbornness and stupidity on the part of the Trojan people was the tragic fall of Troy to foreigners.

As allied forces, the Greek soldiers had many problems and difficulties, and their chances of winning the war seemed slim. As a last resort, the Greeks decided to try a fake retreat, leaving a huge wooden horse with Greek soldiers secretly hiding inside.

When the Trojans found the wooden horse after the Greek allied forces had seemingly retreated, they stupidly thought it was a parting gift. But Cassandra, who knew that Greek soldiers were hiding inside, warned the Trojans not to bring it in through the city gates. When no one listened, Cassandra rushed to the wooden horse with an ax and a torch in order to destroy it and save Troy.

Alas! She was stopped by her own people, who derided her with all sorts of derogatory remarks.

That night, while the Trojans were drunk and asleep, intoxicated with a false sense of triumph and sham peace, the Greek soldiers silently crept out of the Trojan Horse and destroyed Troy once and for all. The kingdom was burned, the Trojan men were killed, and the women were raped by the conquerors.

Cassandra escaped to the Temple of Athena, seeking the goddess’s protection, but once inside the sacred temple she was brutally raped by the Greek warrior Ajax the Lesser. Troy fell and was removed from the world atlas completely because the Trojan people ignored the repeated warnings of Cassandra, who could foretell the future.

The story of Cassandra and the Trojan War teaches us invaluable lessons and perennial wisdom: Listen to the warnings of those who can see the future, do not be deceived by the fake retreat of your enemy, and never trust your enemy’s eye-catching present because it could be deadly.

And never be intoxicated with victory and peace, for they may merely be illusions. Indeed, we should closely watch to see if our enemy’s retreat is real or if it is a fake maneuver. We should also closely examine any present from our enemy, thoroughly inspecting it to make sure that there are no hidden dangers.

Furthermore, we should be cautious about impending danger, even though it is merely a possibility. We should be prepared because “danger comes when you least expect it,” as the maxim says.

We should be constantly alert because carelessness and overconfidence can be our worst enemies in times of crisis. As Jackie Joiner-Kersey says, “It is better to look ahead and prepare, than to look back and regret.”

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting professor at Kyung Hee Cyber University. -- Ed.