Cassandra (For a Drawing.)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869 September
Date: 1860-1861, 1867
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet group
Model: Annie Miller (for the head of Cassandra)


◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 108-110

◦ Peterson, “The Iliad”, (1966), 329-337

◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 77

◦ Sharp, DGR: A Record and a Study, 171-172

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné I. 80-81

General Description of Cassandra I.

Date: 1869
Rhyme: abbaaccadefdef
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet

General Description of Cassandra II.

Date: 1869
Rhyme: abbaaccadedeed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet

General Description of

Date: 1869
Genre: picture notes


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Poems 1881 First Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


The formal structure of the sonnet is especially apt for the subject of this work and DGR's pictorial conception. Cassandra's prophecy rhymes with Hector's action in that both are full of tension and energy, but in each case they will prove ineffective. Nevertheless, the sonnets seem far less successful than the picture in carrying out DGR's conceptual purposes.

The work stands in a central relation to his oeuvre in general. Of course it relates quite directly to Troy Town, but it intersects as well with many of his other works. DGR was not only preoccupied with tales of cultural armageddon, he took a syncretic approach to literary, mythological, and religious materials. Greek myths like the fall of Troy therefore connect to contemporary events, as well as to other analogous or parallel stories from other cultures. So here, DGR handles his material in a way that recalls the monitory elements in (for example) The Burden of Nineveh and Jenny. Other poems clearly stand in other kinds of relations: The Card-Dealer, for example, or Sister Helen. In the end, all of these dark testaments pour themselves into the sea of DGR's own psyche, and particularly into his masterwork The House of Life.

In the 1870 Poems the sonnets are the first in a sequence that includes Venus Verticordia, Pandora, and On Refusal of Aid Between Nations. The contemporary context of the last of these should not obscure its pertinence to the three classical texts that precede it; and of course the pictorial treatments of those texts form part of the constellation of works in which DGR reflects on signs of cultural doom.

Textual History: Composition

This was one of the “seven new sonnets” DGR wrote and sent to his printer in mid-September 1869 (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 154 ). As the Princeton MS of the two sonnets indicates, the sonnet which comes first in the printed pair-ordering was almost certainly written second, thus making initially a kind of commentary on the other. (This MS is an early draft where the text is still unsettled.) Two other manuscripts (both also at Princeton) survive: a corrected fair copy of the first sonnet and a fair copy of the second sonnet.

Textual History: Revision

DGR made a few small substantive changes to the text of the second sonnet as it was passing through the proofs of 1869-1870. The 1870 Poems text of both sonnets remained unaltered thereafter.

Production History

DGR executed the drawing in 1860 and finished it late that year or very early in 1861, but it was much reworked in 1867. DGR said that he hoped to do a painting of the subject but he never did. There is a sketch of a warrior made by DGR on the verso of the British Library manuscript of Nuptial Sleep that strongly resembles the figure of Hector in the picture. It may be a study for the painting DGR never executed.


The subject strongly attracted DGR, as can be easily seen in his detailed comments to Charles Eliot Norton in April 1869: “The Cassandra subject I hope one day to paint. I mean her to be prophesying the death of Hector before his last battle. He will not be deterred from going, & rushes at last down the steps, giving an order across her noise to the captain in charge of the soldiers who are going round the ramparts on their way to battle. Cassandra tears her garments in rage & despair. Helen is arming Paris in a leisurely way, & he is amused at the gradual rage she is getting into at what Cassandra says of her. Other figures are Andromache with Hector's child, the Nurse, Priam & Hecuba, & one of the brothers who is expostulating with Cassandra. Hector's companions have got down the steps before him & are beckoning him to follow” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 48 ). It focuses DGR's fascination—shared with many of his contemporaries—for mythic tales of general cultural destruction. As is so common in Victorian narrative and Pre-Raphaelite painting, DGR dramatizes the fear of such catastrophe by concentrating on intimate psychological signs and details.

Printing History

The text was first set in type in mid-September 1869 for the A2 Proofs of what would eventually be published as the 1870 Poems.


According to George Meredith, it was his poem Cassandra that inspired DGR to do his original drawing in 1861. Peterson says that DGR's work was responding in particular to stanza 3 (see Peterson, “The Iliad”, 334 ). Both Meredith and Rossetti are of course dependent upon The Iliad and the mythological deposits relating to the fall of Troy.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1