Tale of Cadmus
(Zeus), under the disguise
of a bull, had carried away Europa, the daughter of Agenor,
king of Phoenicia (Tyros).
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
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, 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. Near by there stood
an ancient grove which had never been profaned by the
axe, in the midst of which there 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.
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.
sooner had the Tyrians dipped their pitchers in the fountain,
and the in-gushing 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
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
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 head 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
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.
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.
obtained in marriage Harmonia, the daughter of Venus (Aphrodite).
The gods left Olympus to honour the occasion with their
presence, and Vulcan (Hephaestos) 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 (Ares).
and Ino, his daughters, and Actaeon and Pentheus, 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 honour and made Cadmus their king.
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 live
in the woods, but mindful of their origin, they neither
avoid the presence of man nor do they ever injure any
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:
have the letters Cadmus gave, Think you he meant them
for a slave?" [The Isles of Greece, lines 59-60]
Milton, describing the serpent which tempted Eve,
is reminded of the serpents of the classical stories and
was his shape, And lovely: never since the serpent kind
Lovelier; not those that in Illyria changed Hermione and
Cadmus, nor the god In Epidaurus."