Priam's Daughter

Christa Wolf is an East German novelist who delivered several lectures at the West German University of Frankfurt on a work-in-progress focusing on the Trojan seeress, Cassandra. Cassandra survived the sack of Troy to be taken back to Greece by Agamemnon, only to be slain with him by his wife, Clytemnestra. Her novella on this theme and four essays were published separately in West Germany and are here reunited, translated by Jan Van Heurck. Cassandra is the story, based on Homer, Aeschylus, Herodotus, and books on Greek mythology and religion, of a young girl who sees her country embark on a suicidal war. Her vocation as Prophetess helps keep her sane, even as she sees her people destroying themselves. In the end she too must die, but she knows that her lover, Aeneas, will save the remnant of her people. The significance of all this for a creative German woman who lived through the 30's and 40's and beyond under Nazism and Communism seems fairly clear.

But puzzlement follows in reading the essays included in the book. Two are parts of a travelogue of a trip to Greece, where the figure of Cassandra begins to haunt Wolf; then comes a diary and a letter to a friend. There is much conventional chatter here about nuclear war, oppression of women, and the fear that science is man-created and therefore inaccessible to any woman not willing to desex herself Wolf tells us that Cassandra is to be a feminist fable. Since Cassandra...

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