O My Prophetic Soul

Why Two?

Initially because the design was inspired – or perhaps I should say forcefully demanded – by two good friends of mine; both knitters, both named Cassandra. This sock and its duality were intended to be a tribute to them, and to the resemblances and differences between them; but as I began to plan it I found that the more I thought about that duality the better it seemed to fit the original Cassandra and her story.

It’s a story about reversal and reflection; it’s a story about extremes; it’s marked by irony and contradiction and paradox. Cassandra herself, like most women, embodies two opposing principles, or rather any number of pairs of opposing principles; as someone I know is fond of remarking, she is “both sides of every coin.” There’s Cassandra the princess and Cassandra the prophetess; Cassandra the priestess and Cassandra the high-born beauty with a dozen royal (and immortal) suitors at her feet; Cassandra who truly knows the future and Cassandra whose visions of the future can never be believed; Cassandra the clairvoyant and Cassandra the mad; Cassandra the brilliant and Cassandra the universally scorned; Cassandra who has everything and Cassandra who has nothing, because it’s all been taken away from her.

Or to look at it another way… there’s Cassandra before Apollo and there’s Cassandra after Apollo, because her interaction with him is the catalyst for all her reversals.

The gift of prophecy is itself a dubious one, perhaps, but all the versions of the story seem to agree that Apollo’s initial intent was to confer a benefit on Cassandra, as such. Not without strings, however; and when she refused him the sexual favors he had come to expect in return, he turned it against her, depriving her of the power of convincing others, by spitting into her mouth during one final kiss.

(That there were kisses at all appears to support Aeschylus’s contention that in rejecting Apollo’s advances she was renegeing on a promise she had made him. This adds Cassandra the Tease to the many aspects of her personality; still, the curse seems a heavy price to pay, and is an object lesson of sorts about dealing incautiously with gods.)

From that point on everything in her life turns to dust and ashes, all the more bitter in that she foresees every element of it and her warnings go for nothing. She warns her parents against allowing Paris to live; she warns Paris against bringing Helen to Troy; she warns Hector against going into battle; she warns the Trojans against accepting the gift of the great wooden horse; she warns Agamemnon of his impending death, as well as her own, at the hands of Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus; all to no avail, and she knows it.

Her own father declares her insane, and who is to say that a destiny like hers would not be enough to drive any woman mad?

Whether the course of events Cassandra foresaw would have been affected at all if her prophecies HAD been believed is a question the present pattern does not presume to answer; it does, however, propose to raise the issue – which goes to the heart of every theory ever mooted about predestination and the human struggle for free-will – and to keep it in play during some part of the knitting of the sock.

The sock.

The sock makes heavy use of broad symbolism.

Apollo is represented by the classic laurel wreath;

the laurel berries, in clusters of three, stand in for the three metals that define the Bronze Age – copper, tin, and bronze itself.

Cassandra herself is represented by the poet’s favorite device: her hair. It is golden-brown – an otherwise somewhat improbable blonde – because Homer calls her “golden as the goddess Aphrodite.” (Actually, the production version of the yarn is slightly darker and browner than the prototype shown here; such are the vicissitudes of logistics, sometimes.)

Cassandra before Apollo is elaborately braided and elegantly wrought, after the style of the high-born ladies of her time.

After Apollo, after the curse? she appears as the poets and painters have depicted her, crying distractedly from the ramparts, with her hair loose and tangled about her shoulders. Whether you consider that as betokening madness or merely extreme distress, either way the chaos of her hair is a reflection of her mental state after the curse of Apollo.

This, incidentally, is where all those predictions come into play. The Dishevelled Hair is not quite as random as it looks, but part of its pseudo-random appearance comes from the use of your prophecies, and their results, to determine the sequence in which the elements are worked.

The flap and gusset are worked in pattern – so much so that the decrease line of the gusset fades into the woodwork and becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the tangle.

As usual, there are optional elements. The patterned flap is one of them, as is the snake on the toe.

You may want to omit him for comfort and fit; equally you may choose to omit him out of skepticism. He represents the alternate version of the first part of the story – in which Cassandra received the gift of prophecy, not directly from the lips of Apollo himself, but from a serpent in his temple who supposedly licked her ears when she was left there as a child. (I rather like him myself, even though he doesn’t really fit my preferred interpretation of the myth… but then again, who says I have to be entirely consistent? So I’ve put him on one sock and not the other.)

Chief among the optional elements is the orientation of the laurel wreath, or actually the whole head wearing it; I’ve chosen to use it as a symbol of reversal by making it face backward in the second sock. The angle of the cabled i-cord cuff is also affected; on both socks it is taller over the “part” and shorter over the front of the wreath.

So the bow at the base of the wreath

appears on the heel of one sock and the instep of the other.

There are a few little structural quirks to keep you on your toes, as it were. The wreath and the braided section are worked flat, in biased sections that dovetail at a braided part.

The flat piece is then joined at its widest point…

… and the gap filled in to form the ankle.

After which construction goes into the round (except for the flap), the ironic result being that you’re working the most normal part of the sock structure under the most chaotic part of the patterning.

And that is all I can tell you for now about the Two Cassandras. Oh – except for one other thing. They shipped today. All of them. Every. Single. Kit.

Start making some predictions: how long till yours arrives?