Cadmus

Cadmus (Greek Κάδμος): name of the mythological founder of Thebes.

Europa and the bull

According to Greek myth, Cadmus was the son of Agenor, who lived in Phoenicia. Cadmus’ sister was Europa, who had been seized from the beach of Tyre by the supreme god Zeus (disguised as a bull) and taken to Crete, where she would give birth to Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon. Because the Phoenicians only knew that Europa had been abducted by a swimming bull, Agenor sent out Cadmus to search his sister.

Not having a notion of where Europa might be, he decided to visit the oracle of Delphi, where the pythia suggested him to give up his quest, and instead buy a cow, follow her, and build a city on the place where she would lay herself down. Obeying these orders, Cadmus bought the cow, followed this animal, and reached the place where he was to build a city: Thebes.

Cadmus and the water-dragon

He decided to sacrifice the cow to the goddess Athena and sent out some companions to fetch water and wood. When they did not return, Cadmus decided to have a look at the well, and discovered that it was guarded by a giant water-dragon, who had killed Cadmus’s companions. After a heroic fight, Cadmus overcame the monster and proceeded to sacrifice to Athena, who appeared to him and ordered him to sow the teeth of the dragon.

Cadmus did what he was told, and immediately, fully armed men sprang up from the soil, who started to prepare for a fight. Cadmus tossed a stone among these Spartoi, “sown men”, who immediately blamed the others and started to fight against each other. In the end, only five of them survived, who replaced Cadmus’ dead companions. With their help, he built the acropolis of Thebes, which was named Cadmeia.

Manuscript of Ovid's Metamorphoses with a picture of Cadmus

He would later marry Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite; the couple had a daughter named Agave, who married to Echion, one of the Spartoi, and would have a son named Pentheus. Three other daughters were called Autonoë, Ino, and Semele (another beloved of Zeus and the mother of Dionysus). After a happy reign, Cadmus resigned and was succeeded by Pentheus. The old hero and his wife went settled in Illyria, fought in several wars, and founded the city of Lychnidus (modern Ohrid).

Comment

The name Cadmus appears to come from the Semitic root QDM, “man from the east”.

This page was created in 2018; last modified on 9 November 2018.