(Note: Just so you know, this post is dense with Greek Mythology. Be prepared.)

The original plan was to go to Canberra. Go see the National Gallery, then the Portrait Gallery. But it wouldn’t be the Twenty-Twenties without the whole Corona thing creating its chaos. NSW’s border closed basically the night before our flight, and that was that. Makes sense! Rather be safe than sorry – I do prefer not coughing up my own little case of Covid.

So instead, it was decided to go to the Art Gallery of Ballarat. I was not quite prepared for how it exceeded my expectations. I’d never been before, picturing it to be something like the Geelong Gallery. Nope. I’d say Ballarat’s Gallery is at least double the size of Geelong’s – despite the fact that AGB can only show 2% of all of its 11 000 works at any given time.

My dad and I were lucky enough to arrive just before the gallery’s guided tour at 11am, led by a volunteer worker. I was hesitant to go on it – I’m never a fan of speeding through a gallery. I’ve learnt my lesson though; the tour was brimming with information that gave me a newfound respect for various types of works. When you get the chance, always go with the guide.

The tour focused on the Gallery’s collection, which was separated into eight themes. The first room was “Origins”, presenting the works the gallery acquired when it was first established. I have to say, this might’ve been my favourite room. The 1886 oil painting Ajax and Cassandra by Solomon J. Solomon caught my eye (of course it did, Greek mythology always does). Well, standing at 304.5 x 152.5cm, it was a little hard not to.

Ajax and Cassandra, Solomon J. Solomon

Image left: Solomon, Solomon J, Ajax and Cassandra, 1886,

Art Gallery of Ballarat, Accessed 01.07.21,

from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/

It’s a beautiful, stoic painting depicting the abduction of Cassandra from the Temple of Athena. This Temple to the Goddess of strategic war and wisdom was located in the centre of Troy. At the time of this scene, the rest of the city was being pillaged and demolished by the Greek Army. It was the end of the Trojan War, the end of a ten-year battle that even sometimes had the Gods actively participating. The oil painting’s overall beauty is confronting. Right after this scene, we know that Ajax rapes Cassandra, still in the temple. The Greek prince’s stoicism is ironic, considering his next actions are so brutal and disgusting. It’s these actions that cost him his life (rightfully so). Ajax wasn’t the only one to be so savage – Athena, Zeus and Poseidon punished the remaining Greeks, resulting in Ajax drowning at sea.

I do love the fact that the painting is frozen in time – you can just imagine what’s about to happen. The cauldron in the bottom left will clatter loudly, echoing throughout the barren temple. The flower offerings to the right will slap sadly onto the stone ground, pitiful petals gliding down. Useless. And Ajax, pushing off from the plinth of the statue with his foot. The base of the statue also serves as an altar to Athena, hence the flowers and the cauldron. Every part of this is an insult to the Goddess. It reminds me of the Prologue in Euripides’ Women of Troy;


Haven’t you heard. I’ve been insulted, my temple desecrated!


Yes, I know. When Ajax dragged Cassandra from sanctuary.


The Greeks didn’t punish him. Not even a reprimand.


I shall punish them for that.”

It’s a vital moment, illustrating how far gone the Greek soldiers are – how ruthless, and careless the ten-year war has made them. But really, the focus of this piece is on Cassandra. Her skin is porcelain white, perhaps symbolising her purity and innocence. It’s a purity she has long fought for, having turned down Apollo’s advances earlier in her life, and being cursed for it.

Here’s the myth of Cassandra’s curse in a nutshell: Cassandra was so pretty that Apollo started fancying her, as Gods are prone to do. He gave her the gift of prophecy, hoping this would win her over. But alas, she turned him down (fair enough, you shouldn’t give gifts expecting something in return – it’s quite rude). Apollo, incapable of dealing with rejection, turned the blessing into a curse. Cassandra still had the gift of prophecy, but whenever she tried telling anyone these insights into the future, no one would believe her. So, naturally, when she told people, “hey, Troy’s definitely going to be destroyed, please listen to me”, and everyone waved their hand at her, dismissing Crazy Cassandra. This makes Solomon’s scene ever the more painful. She had to live through a multitude of pain: a. the pain of living in suspense, dreading what is about to happen b. the pain of actually living through the events, and c. having fought for her purity, and having it inevitably stripped anyway.

Cassandra’s silk is stuck on something at the altar. It symbolises her connection to the Temple, and to her home, from which she is now being so visibly torn away. She reaches towards the statue, reaching for the divinity which isn’t there. In a last, desperate attempt, she holds onto the altar. But we know there’s nothing she can do. Ajax just carries her away like some war trophy.

I hate to say it (actually, that’s a lie. I love this bit), there is a slight problem with this painting. The cropped statue that Cassandra reaches for is what I assume is the Palladium, or the xoanon the Luck of Troy. When Ilus founded Troy (the city was also called Ilium, Ilios or Ilion. You may recognise this from the Iliad, which basically translates to the story of Troy), this Palladium was a gift from the Goddess Athena. I like imagining it was Athena’s way of claiming dibs on the city. The sculpture depicted the Goddess, which is a little bit egotistical considering she didn’t really do anything to help with the actual founding. Now, here are the problems… the Palladium is wood. In Solomon’s work, it’s a bit hard to see (due to the use of high tonal contrast). But to me, it seems to be marble. Also, it shouldn’t be there… Diomedes and Odysseus happened to steal the Palladium a little earlier in the war. The statue is definitely Pallas Athena, with her Aegis shield beside her. So I’m fairly certain it is the Palladium.

So what does this mean?

Not much. I just felt proud having picked up on it. This tiny mythological error does nothing to detract from the beauty and disturbing nature of the piece. The fact that it may not be wholly faithful to the original myths doesn’t take away from the general gist the artist was trying to convey. I mean, it was painted in the 1886. I’m lucky enough to be able to scour the internet, as well as check the books I have that were written in England (Troy by Stephan Fry) and America (Classical Mythology A to Z by Annette Giesecke). I’ve got a world’s worth of information at my fingertips, so… no judgement here.

When I started writing this, I didn’t realise how much I had to say. It was a load of fun analysing this work, and wow I just said writing an essay length piece was fun…

All that’s left to say is well done Solomon.