Greek and Roman Mythology > Cadmus


Jupiter, under the disguise of a bull, had carried away to the
island of Crete, Europa, the daughter of Agenor king of
Phoenicia. Agenor commanded his son Cadmus to go in search of
his sister, and not to return without her. Cadmus went and
sought long and far for his sister, but could not find her, and
not daring to return unsuccessful, consulted the oracle of Apollo
to know what country he should settle in. The oracle informed
him that he should find a cow in the field, and should follow her
wherever she might wander, and where she stopped, should build a
city and call it Thebes. Cadmus had hardly left the Castalian
cave, from which the oracle was delivered, when he saw a young
cow slowly walking before him. He followed her close, offering
at the same time his prayers to Phoebus. The cow went on till
she passed the shallow channel of Cephisus and came out into the
plain of Panope. There she stood still, and raising her broad
forehead to the sky, filled the air with her lowings. Cadmus
gave thanks, and stooping down kissed the foreign soil, then
lifting his eyes, greeted the surrounding mountains. Wishing to
offer a sacrifice to Jupiter, he sent his servants to seek pure
water for a libation. Nearby there stood an ancient grove which
had never been profaned by the axe, in the midst of which was a
cave, thick covered with the growth of bushes, its roof forming a
low arch, from beneath which burst forth a fountain of purest
water. In the cave lurked a horrid serpent with a crested head
and scales glittering like gold. His eyes shone like fire, his
body was swollen with venom, he vibrated a triple tongue, and
showed a triple row of teeth. No sooner had the Tyrians (Cadmus
and his companions came from Tyre, the chief city of Phoenicia)
dipped their pitchers in the fountain, and the ingushing waters
made a sound, than the glittering serpent raised his head out of
the cave and uttered a fearful hiss. The vessels fell from their
hands, the blood left their cheeks, they trembled in every limb.
The serpent, twisting his scaly body in a huge coil, raised his
head so as to overtop the tallest trees, and while the Tyrians
from terror could neither fight nor fly, slew some with his
fangs, others in his folds, and others with his poisonous breath.

Cadmus having waited for the return of his men till midday, went
in search of them. His covering was a lion's hide, and besides
his javelin he carried in his hand a lance, and in his breast a
bold heart, a surer reliance than either. When he entered the
wood and saw the lifeless bodies of his men, and the monster with
his bloody jaws, he exclaimed, "O faithful friends, I will avenge
you, or share your death." So saying he lifted a huge stone and
threw it with all his force at the serpent. Such a block would
have shaken the wall of a fortress, but it made no impression on
the monster. Cadmus next threw his javelin, which met with
better success, for it penetrated the serpent's scales, and
pierced through to his entrails. Fierce with pain the monster
turned back his head to view the wound, and attempted to draw out
the weapon with his mouth, but broke it off, leaving the iron
point rankling in his flesh. His neck swelled with rage, bloody
foam covered his jaws, and the breath of his nostrils poisoned
the air around. Now he twisted himself into a circle, then
stretched himself out on the ground like the trunk of a fallen
tree. As he moved onward, Cadmus retreated before him, holding
his spear opposite to the monster's opened jaws. The serpent
snapped at the weapon and attempted to bite its iron point. At
last Cadmus, watching his chance, thrust the spear at a moment
when the animal's thrown back came against the trunk of a tree,
and so succeeded in pinning him to its side. His weight bent the
tree as he struggled in the agonies of death.

While Cadmus stood over his conquered foe, contemplating its vast
size, a voice was heard (from whence he knew not, but he heard it
distinctly), commanding him to take the dragon's teeth and sow
them in the earth. He obeyed. He made a furrow in the ground,
and planted the teeth, destined to produce a crop of men. Scarce
had he done so when the clods began to move, and the points of
spears to appear above the surface. Next helmets, with their
nodding plumes, came up, and next, the shoulders and breasts and
limbs of men with weapons, and in time a harvest of armed
warriors. Cadmus, alarmed, prepared to encounter a new enemy,
but one of them said to him, "Meddle not with our civil war."
With that he who had spoken smote one of his earth-born brothers
with a sword, and he himself fell pierced with an arrow from
another. The latter fell victim to a fourth, and in like manner
the whole crowd dealt with each other till all fell slain with
mutual wounds except five survivors. One of these cast away his
weapons and said, "Brothers, let us live in peace!" These five
joined with Cadmus in building his city, to which they gave the
name of Thebes.

Cadmus obtained in marriage Harmonia, the daughter of Venus. The
gods left Olympus to honor the occasion with their presence, and
Vulcan presented the bride with a necklace of surpassing
brilliancy, his own workmanship. But a fatality hung over the
family of Cadmus in consequence of his killing the serpent sacred
to Mars. Semele and Ino, his daughters, and Actaeon and
Pentheius, his grandchildren, all perished unhappily; and Cadmus
and Harmonia quitted Thebes, now grown odious to them, and
emigrated to the country of the Enchelians, who received them
with honor and made Cadmus their king. But the misfortunes of
their children still weighed upon their minds; and one day Cadmus
exclaimed, "If a serpent's life is so dear to the gods, I would I
were myself a serpent." No sooner had he uttered the words than
he began to change his form. Harmonia beheld it, and prayed to
the gods to let her share his fate. Both became serpents. They
lie in the woods, but mindful of their origin they neither avoid
the presence of man nor do they ever injure any one.

There is a tradition that Cadmus introduced into Greece the
letters of the alphabet which were invented by the Phoenicians.
This is alluded to by Byron, where, addressing the modern Greeks,
he says:

"You have the letters Cadmus gave,
Think you he meant them for a slave?"

Milton, describing the serpent which tempted Eve, is reminded of
the serpents of the classical stories, and says,

"-----pleasing was his shape,
And lovely; never since of serpent kind
Lovelier; not those that in Illyria changed
Hermione and Cadmus, nor the god
in Epidaurus."

The "god in Epidaurus" was AEsculapius. Serpents were held
sacred to him.

Myth Collection

Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
Aurora and TithonusBacchusBaucis and Philemon
CadmusCastor and PolluxCephalus and Procris
Ceyx and HalcyoneClytieCupid and Psyche
DaedalusDiana and ActaeonDryope
Echo and NarcissusEndymionErisichthon
Glaucus and ScyllaHebe and GanymedeHercules
IbycusIo and CallistoLeucothea dnd Palaemon
LinusMarsyasMedea and Aeson
MelampusMenelaus and HelenMidas
Minerva and ArachneMonstersMusaeus
NeptuneNereus and DorisNiobe
Nisus and ScyllaOrionOrpheus and Eurydice
Pegasus and the ChimaeraPenelopePerseus and Medusa
PhaetonPluto and ProsperinePrometheus and Pandora
PygmalionPyramus and ThisbePython
ThamyrisThe Calydonian HuntThe Camenae
The CentaursThe Golden FleeceThe Graeae and Gorgons
The Griffin, or GryphonThe IliadThe Myrmidons
The PygmiesThe Rural DeitiesThe Sphinx
The Trojan WarThe Water DeitiesThe Winds
TheseusThetisVenus and Adonis
Vertumnus and Pomona

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