Talthybius calls forth Cassandra. He has been ordered to bring her to Agamemnon as soon as possible. Within the tent a torch flares, and Talthybius wonders what it means. He suspects the Trojan women are setting the tent and themselves on fire rather than go to Greece with their captors. He is sympathetic to their cause, but hopes they will not burn themselves. He knows he will be punished if any of the women earmarked for his Greek masters die.
Although earlier Talthybius had wondered if it was really so awful that Cassandra was being married to Agamemnon, in this moment he fully understands the anguish of the Trojan women. He recognizes that their position is so bleak that death seems like an attractive alternative.
Cassandra, carrying a torch, exits the tent. She had been dancing erratically inside, which gave the false impression that women were immolating themselves. Cassandra begins to sing. She says her torch is a “fire of worship” for the god Hymen. She announces she feels blessed to “lie at a king’s side.” While her mother Hecuba cries over the loss of her husband and city, Cassandra will celebrate her “marriage” and the loss of her virginity “as man’s custom ordains.”
Cassandra attempts to frame her enslavement to Agamemnon as a kind of consensual marriage. She calls upon the god of marriage, Hymen, and treats the union and the loss of her virginity (though it’s unclear why she is still considered a virgin, considering her rape by Ajax) as a happy, lawful occasion, as opposed to the violation it truly is.
Cassandra implores Hecuba to dance with her. She calls out to the god Apollo, and to Hymen again. She wants all to Trojan women to “dance for my wedding,” and “for the husband fate appointed to lie beside me.”
Cassandra continues to act as though her immanent enslavement is a blessed marriage arranged and ordained by the gods. She likely does this to help herself feel better about her uncertain future.
The Chorus Leader asks Hecuba to stop Cassandra from dancing. Hecuba takes her torch away and gives it to the Chorus, who exit into the tent. Hecuba tells Cassandra she never imagined she would have this kind of forced, violent marriage. She laments “there is no relief for you.”
Cassandra’s sunny outlook is disturbing to the other women who more fully, or more visibly, grasp the gravity of their situation. Hecuba, too, sees Cassandra’s marriage as a catastrophe, one that will rob her of her agency and any legitimate reproductive future.
Cassandra begins to see her own future, and narrates it to Hecuba. She predicts that as a wife she will be “more fatal than Helen ever was.” She will kill Agamemnon, and in the process avenge the deaths of her father, Priam, and brother, Hector. However, she will not reveal what she knows to Agamemnon, so that she may better enact her revenge.
Although Cassandra knows that if she embraces her future it will lead to her death, she knows it will also lead to the deaths of Agamemnon and his family—people who she, in turn, blames for the death of her family and her city. She sees it as a kind of obligation to her loved ones to participate in the bloody destiny laid out for her.
Cassandra is shocked that an entire war was fought for Helen’s sake. The way she interprets events, Helen came to Troy of her own free will, so all the men, including Agamemnon, who fight and die for her seem to be wasting their lives. Cassandra recounts how so many Greeks died in battle, and had to be “buried in alien ground,” far from their families. Even the men who survived lost a decade with their wives and children.
Although the Trojans objectively lost the war, it is possible to frame the conflict as one that cost the Greek’s almost as much as their besieged enemies. The Greeks lost years of their lives and years with their families, and did not receive the proper complex burial rites that they would have been given in their homelands, therefore potentially being denied entrance to the afterlife.
Cassandra sees the Trojan men, who nevertheless lost the war, as the true victors, as they “died for their own country,” not for some ill-begotten love affair. Although her brother Hector died, Cassandra does not see his death as tragic. Instead, she believes he died with valor, and died having spent the previous years with his own wife and children, unlike the lonely, invading Greek army.
Although the Trojan men were slaughtered during the war and after the Fall of Troy, Cassandra argues that the cause for which they fought and died was inherently more respectable than the Greeks’ cause. The Greeks fought over a single man’s wife, whereas the Trojans fought for the sake of their homeland and families.
Cassandra observes that “though surely the wise man will forever shrink from war,” there is honor in fighting and dying protecting one’s home. She compares herself to warriors in her “marriage” to Agamemnon. She explains to Hecuba that only her enslavement will “bring to destruction those whom you and I have hated the most.”
Cassandra believes there is virtue and honor in dying for a cause one believes in. She faces her death at the hands of Agamemnon and his family just as her father and brothers faced death at the hands of the Greeks. She argues that she and her family are bound in duty—the duty to protect and avenge their city and each other.
Talthybius, who is still onstage standing guard, threatens Cassandra for threatening Agamemnon. However, he lets her off with a warning because of her troubled mind. He reflects that he would not marry or have sex with a woman as “unhinged” as Cassandra. He then prepares to lead her as “a bride” to the ships where Agamemnon waits.
Talthybius remains loyal to the Greeks above all else, but is too sympathetic to the Trojan women to punish them further. He, like Cassandra, sees her enslavement as a wedding as opposed to bondage, but also sees past her potential as a beautiful wife to her emotional and mental instability. Although calling her “unhinged” is insensitive, he is still the only man able to see Cassandra as a complex, damaged human being, not just a sex object.
Before she leaves, Cassandra delivers one final speech. She wonders why she predicted that Hecuba would die in Troy, when it seems as though Odysseus will take her to be his slave. However, she predicts that Odysseus has suffering in his future. He spent ten years fighting in Troy, but will spend another ten years trying to get home, fighting whirlpools, Cyclopes, witches, and more. She predicts “he will go down to the water of death, and return alive / to reach his home and thousand sorrows waiting there.”
Cassandra’s prophecy follows the plot of Homer’s Odyssey, which traces Odysseus’ long journey home from Troy. His journey is made longer by the Greek gods, who he and his fellow soldiers angered when they disrespected their temple. Even though Odysseus was a victor, he will suffer further because of his behavior during the war. Fortunes are fluid, and no one remains on top for long.
Cassandra takes a moment to gather herself. She demands that Talthybius take her “quick to the house of death where I shall take my mate.” In anticipation of her defilement, Cassandra takes off her holy jewelry, bids Hecuba goodbye, and promises her dead brothers and dead father that “I will be with you soon and come triumphant to the dead below.” Talthybius and his soldiers then escort her offstage.
Although the gods have seemingly forsaken her, Cassandra remains dutiful to them. In removing her jewelry, she ensures the gods will not be disrespected even as her own body is violated. Her brief acknowledgement of the dead is both a promise—she knows she too will be dead soon—and an expression of the sorry state of her current life. One’s life must seem exceptionally hopeless if death can be seen as “triumphant.”