Cadmus

21.05.2015 |

Episode #9 of the course “Heroes of Greek Legend”

One of the most ancient of Greek mythological figures, Cadmus is credited with bringing the written language to Greece in addition to being the founder of the city of Thebes. A royal prince of Phoenicia, Cadmus was sent to retrieve his sister Europa when she was abducted by the king of the gods, Zeus. Unable to find Zeus, or unwilling to fight him, Cadmus traveled to the oracle of Delphi. The oracle told him to follow a special cow with a half-moon on her flank to the place where she laid down and create a city there. Cadmus founded Thebes on the spot and built the first acropolis, naming it Cadmea.

Intending to sacrifice the cow to Athena, Cadmus sent men to a nearby spring, where they were killed by a water dragon. Cadmus killed the dragon and sowed its teeth into the earth. From the soil sprang a group of warriors, whom Cadmus tricked into fighting one another. The remaining five became leaders of the most prominent families in Thebes. Ares, the god of war, considered the dragon sacred, though, and demanded eight years’ penance from Cadmus. At the end of his servitude, Cadmus was given Harmonia as a wife.

Thebes was plagued by misfortunes, and Cadmus eventually fled with Harmonia to Illyria, leaving his grandson to rule. It is clear that Cadmus and Harmonia were in Illyria when it fell to punishment from the gods, but their deaths are told in two versions. In one version, they were changed into snakes after their natural deaths. In the other version, Cadmus made a remark that angered Ares, who then turned him into a black snake. Harmonia then asked to be made into a snake as well. In both versions, Zeus saved the two by taking them to the Island of the Blessed.


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