Cassandra

Cassandra was the most beautiful of the daughters of Hecuba and Priam, the Queen and  King of Troy. She was so beautiful that even Apollo, notorious womanizer among the gods, was infatuated with her. One  day, while she was slumbering in the temple, Apollo silently approached her, as he had in mind to win the girl’s love. When she woke up and heard the handsome god professing his passion, she was pleasantly flattered. He courted her gently and  promised to give her a most precious gift that would have sealed their love: she would have been able to see the future, but, there is always a but, only if she consented to lie with him.

Cassandra was intrigued at first, it was a generous gift indeed, but, after accepting the offer, she started to have doubts and changed her mind. It happens, even to charming gods. So angry Apollo, who was not used to being jilted, seeked his revenge. He kept acting the meek sad rejected lamb for a while and implored her to give him a single kiss that he could remember forever. The girl accepted and while she made the move to reach Apollo’s lips, the God spat in her mouth. A gesture of utter contempt. With that act Apollo had nullified his own gift condemning her not to be believed.

From that moment on, Cassandra will start to see the future and, as any human being, will not be able to resist or refrain from telling others what she knew, or to alert those who were going have losses or mischances, hence as prophetess of misfortunes and nefarious events, she was avoided and marginalized, for fear, or the illusion of her being able to change events.

Apollo could have condemned Cassandra to mere silence, but he did not. He gave her the faculty to perceive more than normal, keeping the use of the word, and also remaining aware of the fact that others could listen to her but would choose not to believe her words, indeed, they would consider her crazy and delusional for her insistence, especially when she warned them of immense dangers. She will cry out the negative outcomes of Helen’s kidnapping, in fact, and will try to stop the Trojans from dragging the wooden horse into the city, warning them that it would be the cause of their ruin; but she will always remain unheard.

If we want to give a further interpretation to the myth, we may add that Cassandra’s faculty does not only consist in seeing the future but rather, understanding its signs, or better, she sees the future, because she understands them. In a sense Apollo had made her wise, wiser than anybody else, that is the meaning of his gift. After all isn’t it the destiny of the wise, of those who know how to see far and beyond, of those who are able to decipher the omens and may know how to anticipate them to end up unheard?

The consequence of the scrutiny of future should lead to the rise of a great deal of questions in order to find the best solutions to incoming problems, even if they seem inconvenient at first glance. For example, when Priam sees the horse, he doesn’t wonder why he should receive such a gift in a middle of a war, and why the Spartans had retreated in such a hurry. Why? Wisdom would have suggested him to be careful, but he is not. Worn out by an exhausting war, he chooses to believe in the final peace and ignore Cassandra’s words, and, as he wishes to return to normal life, he accepts the Spartans’ gift and allows the huge horse to be dragged inside the city wall and their disgrace of his people with it.

Hence, we may say that Cassandra’s curse lies above all in her not being able to communicate and interact, thus her efforts remain arid, unproductive and sterile. A double torture for those who profess and need to communicate and interact with each other: being aware of speaking while remaining unheard. Communicating is as important as listening and communication is truly constructive, if made of real listening, because communication is something more than the mere reception of an observation, it is an emotional feedback that changes us, excites us, makes us think and reason in order to modify and improve our system.

In this sense our age, which has glorified communication through medias, has turned out to be the less communicative at all, as we all speak and write a lot, but nobody or just a few takes the trouble to listen. Everybody has a truth, which cannot be even dented. Therefore, those who are entitled to “read the signs” and take us out of troubles, like in this outbreak, remain often unheard or offended. So, even if we see the clouds approaching, we still prefer to turn our back to modern Cassandras and look at that little portion of the sky where the sun still shines, without realizing that we are just dragging the Trojan horse in.

 

 

 

 

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Bows, ships and godfathers

bow1

Long long time ago, when sounds had not become words yet and syntax had not organized those words into a developed language, communication was mostly based on signs. This primitive form of non-verbal communication, which is still a distinctive trait of every true-born Italian, may use hands or the whole body to convey a message or an idea. The signs we use every day to reinforce our communication can be easily be considered our oldest “words”.

bow6The act of bowing, for example, can be regarded a gesture of “self abesement” as it seems to stem from either the will to give assurance of his own safety or revere somebody we feel superior to us for rank, breed, beauty, etc.. In Robinson Crusoe, for example, before Robinson teaches Friday to speak his language and have a proper conversation, Defoe marks the submission of the young cannibal to the white man as natural and Friday seems eager to show it with the humblest bow ever:

 

“He (Friday) came running to me (Robinson), laying himself down again upon the ground, with all the possible signs of a humble, thankful disposition,   making a great many antic gestures to show it”,

And as he feared Robinson might not have understood his intentions:

“At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as he had done before; and after this made all the signs to me of subjection, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me so long as he lived”.

Can you guess, which is the first, the “I cannot do without” word Robinson taught Friday? It’s “master”.

An aerial view shows the Costa Concordia as it lies on its side next to Giglio Island taken from an Italian navy helicopterIn time the act of bowing has become more simply a way of greeting showing a certain respect and I have to say that In Italy we are very familiar with this protocol. You may think: ” how polite these Italians must be”, and, well, indeed we are, but lately, when we mention the word “bowing” here, we do mean something else. “Bowing” in Italian is “inchino” and the shipwreck of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia was caused by an “inchino”.On 13 January 2012, the ship, carrying 4,252 people, deviated from her planned route at the Isola del Giglio, coming closer to that island, and contacted an object on the sea floor. But why should the ship go closer to the island? Well, at those times there was a sort of competition among captains to demonstrate who was the most dexterous to navigate as close as possible to the island, an “inchino” in fact. Captain Schettino did certainly his best to win it, but unfortunately in this game 32 lives were lost without considering the ecological disaster and the incredible loss of money of the company. If you want to meet the man, you may find him in prison you would say, but we are in Italy, the land of the incredible and , actually, I saw some pictures of him while he was gaily partying in Ischia or (would you believe it?) at university, yes, at university as he has recently been invited for a speech on panic management. Schettino??? He was the first to abandon the ship.

bow4Let me take you to the south of Italy now, where the word “inchino” still keeps the trait of a respectful behaviour. At this time of the year a lot of processions are held everywhere: a lot of festive people who follow the statue of a saint, carried by strong worthy men (it’s a high privilege to be chosen among the carriers) singing and praying  through the streets of the town. Well, only few weeks ago a procession in honour of “Our lady of  Mount Carmel” in Palermo unexpectedly stopped in front of the funeral home of  D’Ambrogio family, another “inchino” in fact. Why did they stop? As a tribute to Alessandro D’Ambrosio, the godfather of Porta Nuova, now in jail, who only two years ago was one of those noble carriers.

The land of saints, navigators and politeness, indeed.  🙂