Category Archives: Boeotia
Alternate Spelling: Κάδμος Kadmos
Etymology: “From the East” or “He Who Excels”
In Greek mythology, Cadmus is the name of the legendary founder and first king of Thebes. He is distinguished by being one of Greece’s first heroes who slew monsters long before the birth of the mighty Heracles.
Parentage and Family
Father – King Agenor of Tyre
Mother – Queen Telephassa of Tyre
Alternatively, Phoenix and Perimede are given as Cadmus’ parents.
Phoenix – No, not the legendary fire bird that resurrects itself in flames, but his brother who returns to Tyre to rule where the region is renamed to Phoenicia.
Cilix – Brother, the city of Cilicia is named after him.
Europa – Sister, abducted by Zeus
Agave – Daughter, with her sisters Autonoe and Ino, she unknowingly killed her son Pentheus. She marries first the Spartoi Echion and then later King Lycotherses of Illyria whom she also murders in order to hand over the kingdom to her father.
Autonoe – Daughter, her son, Actaeon was killed by his hounds.
Illyrius – Youngest son and child born, from whom the Illyrians are descended.
Ino – Daughter, was driven mad by Hera leapt to her death to the sea with her only surviving son. Instead of dying, Ino becomes a sea goddess.
Polydorus – Eldest son, inherits the throne in Thebes, carrying on the family dynasty.
Semele – Daughter, she is killed later by Hera after a liaison with Zeus. In some stories, she is the mother of Dionysus. The controversy will say that Semele was raped from an unknown assailant and the blame is placed on Zeus in an effort to try keeping some dignity
Thasus – The son of Cilix. In some accounts, he is also Cadmus’ brother. The island of Thassos is named after him.
Pentheus – the son of Agave and the Spartoi Echion, he becomes king of Thebes after Polydorus.
Cadmus’ Lineage – Divine Heritage
I feel it’s worth mentioning that through Telephassa’s line, Cadmus and all of his siblings are the grandchildren of Nilus, the god of the Nile River and Nephele, a cloud nymph. Through their father Agenor, again, Cadmus and his siblings are the grandchildren of the sea god Poseidon and Libya, the goddess or personification of ancient Libya in North Africa.
During Mycenaean Greek, Poseidon is the head of the Greek pantheon, it is later during what most think of as ancient Greece when we have more concrete records and writing, that Zeus is the head of the pantheon. I feel that Cadmus’ myth does show where some of these changes to try giving Zeus more prominence start getting put in.
Fifth generation divinity! That’s gotta count for something though!
As early culture heroes, Cadmus and a few others some of the founding members are who get the ball rolling for Greek culture.
First King Of Thebes
Part of Cadmus’ claim to fame is that he’s the first king and founder of Thebes. A Grecian dynasty that stayed in power for quite some time. By Greek myths, this dynasty ruled Thebes for many generations, even during the time of the Trojan War.
His history goes back far enough to when oral history was getting passed on from one generation to the next before getting written down.
Antique Powerhouse – As far as Greek antiquity goes; Thebes did rival the ancient cities of Athens and Sparta. Come the time of Alexander the Great, when he set his sights on Thebes in 335 B.C.E., the city fell and never reclaimed its ancient glory.
Historical Conflicts – The Grecian historian, Herodotus (who lived between 484 B.C.E. and 425 B.C.E.) wrote about Cadmus, chronically him down. Herodotus writes down that he believes Cadmus to have lived some 1600 years before him, placing the timeline for Cadmus in 2000 B.C.E. With so much myth and legend interwoven into Cadmus’ story, how much is history and how much is a tall tale turned to legend that we aren’t sure if there really was a Cadmus.
Once again, Herodotus is to have seen and described the Cadmean writing inscribed on some tripods within the temple of Apollo at Thebes. Tripods that are to date back to when Laius, Cadmus’ great-grandson lived. The inscriptions effectively read as: “Ἀμφιτρύων μ᾽ ἀνέθηκ᾽ ἐνάρων ἀπὸ Τηλεβοάων in English “Amphitryon dedicated me don’t forget the spoils of the battle of Teleboae.”
Further confusion for how much myth and legend there is versus actual history comes from a later Roman writer, Ovid in his Metamorphosis. There are certainly a lot of additions and his versions of the myths are what many are familiar with when thinking of Greco-Roman mythology.
Hittite Connection – More like a controversy. There is a letter from the King of Ahhivawa to the Hittite King where a Cadmus is mentioned as the father of the Ahhivawa people. It is known that this is the term for the Achaeans in the Mycenaean Greek era and mentioned in Homer’s works. It’s not accepted by scholars that this is evidence of the actual Cadmus of mythology.
Cadmeia – This is the acropolis in Thebes named so in honor of Cadmus.
Fun Fact – Cadmeia is supposed to be the original name of the city before becoming Thebes. The name change came about a couple generations later during the reign of Amphion and Zethus who wanted to change the city’s name to honor his wife Thebe.
Al-Qadmus – The name of a Syrian city that is named after Cadmus.
Thebes – There is a city called Thebes in Egypt, no they are not the same city, they just happen to share the same name.
What’s In A Name?
There’s not a clear consensus on what Cadmus’ name means. Some scholars have put forward the idea that it might have a Semitic root of QDM meaning “East.” In Arabic, QDM is a verb meaning: “to come.” Then, in Hebrew, qedem means: “east,” “front” and “ancient.” Then there is the ver qadam meaning: “to be in front.” The Greek word kekasmai means: “to shine.” All this conjecture means that Cadmus translates as either “He who excels” or “From the east.”
I’d say we’re really close, there is a clue with Cadmus being from Tyre and his brother returning to rule there and the region becoming Phoenicia. Scholars studying the region and languages note that there are cognates between the Phoenician and Hebraic language.
The Alphabet – It’s Greek To Me!
Speaking of writing, Cadmus is who gets the credit by the ancient Greek historians for introducing the Phoenician alphabet where it would get adapted to become the Greek alphabet.
Herodotus goes as far as to say that Cadmus founded Thebes long before the events of the Trojan War, placing it during the Aegean Bronze Age. It’s a chronology that’s dubious as it conflicts with when both the Phoenician and Greek alphabets are to have originated.
The earliest known Greek inscriptions that involve Phoenician letters don’t appear until the late 9th and 8th century B.C.E. The belief is that the Phoenician alphabet didn’t develop until 1050 B.C.E., after the Bronze Age.
The Homeric depictions of the Mycenaean Greek (think really ancient Greek) doesn’t mention much about writing. The only reference to any Homeric writing is the phrase “grammata lygra” meaning: “baneful drawings.” This is a connection to the Bellerophontic letter, in which Proteus sent a sealed message with the hero Bellerophon to King Iobates who one reading the missive had instructions to kill the hero.
At any rate, there are several examples of Greek writing known as Linear B found in Thebes that seems to give credence to Cadmus as the inventor and bringer of writing to the Greeks. In Modern-Day Lebanon, Cadmus is still revered and accepted as the originator.
Once again, it’s just Cadmus’ legend that goes so far back that there are doubts and questions about the existing records for just how accurate any of it is.
Going To Find His Sister
All legends have their beginning.
Cadmus’ story begins when he and his brothers are sent by their parents, the King Agenor and Queen Telephassa to go find his sister Europa and bring her back to Tyre after she had been abducted by the god Zeus. Further, Cadmus and his brothers are told not to return without their sister.
Unable to find their sister, Cadmus’ brothers Phoenix and Cilix gave up in their quests. The region of Phoenicia is named after Phoenix and the city of Cilicia is named after Cilix. Here, it can go either way, either Cadmus was unsuccessful in finding his sister or Cadmus very wisely chose not to go up against Zeus.
He very likely decided not to press his luck and instead went to Samothrace, an island known to be sacred to the “Great Gods” or Kabeiroi.
On his journey to Samothrace, Cadmus was not alone. For his mother, Telephassa and his nephew Thasus were also present. Thasus is noted for naming the nearby island of Thasos after himself. It is at Samothrace, that Cadmus meets and marries Harmonia, the daughter of Electra and Zeus. Though, some accounts will say that Cadmus abducted Harmonia away the same way that Zeus did with Europa.
I can’t see that ending well though…
It will get confusing, as some accounts have Cadmus and Harmonia marrying on Samothrace or meeting later after the founding of Thebes and marrying then.
Bridal Gifts With A Curse
I mentioned things not ending well right? I did.
Some of Harmonia’ bridal gifts were a peplos (a type of dress) gifted by Athena and a necklace made by Hephaestus. This necklace will become known as the Necklace of Harmonia and it would bring misfortune to anyone who had it. Sure, the necklace will make any woman who wears it eternally young and beautiful. Eventually, the curse takes hold and Harmonia’s home city of Thebes faces civil unrest and misfortunes.
At first glance, that seems unusual, I’ll cover this further down.
The Founding Of Thebes
This is perhaps the story that Cadmus is best known for in his saga. As Cadmus and his mother continued their journey and search for Europa, the two settled in a place called Thrace. It is here, that Telephassa died of grief for her missing daughter. After performing the funeral rites for his mother, Cadmus sought out the Oracle of Delphi for help.
It is here, that Cadmus is told to stop his quest and search for Europa (thanks to the gods), and instead, Cadmus is to now follow a cow.
Not just any cow, this one has a half-moon on her flank and Cadmus is to follow her until she finally comes to a rest, exhausted. The spot where the cow rests is where Cadmus is to build a town in a land known as Boeotia along the banks of the river Cephisus.
With the exhausted cow, Cadmus decided to sacrifice it to Athena as thanks for the cow guiding him. While making his preparations, Cadmus sent off his companions, Deileon and Seriphus to get some water from the Ismenian spring. While the two were there, the guardian of the spring, a water-dragon belonging to Ares rose up and slew both Deileon and Seriphus.
Chaoskampf & Spartoi
On discovering what had happened, Cadmus then slew the dragon. It has been noted that this is a notable trait of culture heroes to slay a dragon and the whole order triumphing over chaos.
The dragon-slaying story usually ends here. However, a couple of different things will happen here. First, Athena appears to Cadmus and gives him half of the dragon’s teeth, instructing our stalwart hero to plant them. (The other half of the teeth will appear later in the story of Jason and the Argonauts). As Cadmus plants each tooth on the Aonian plain; from each tooth springs up a fully armed warrior. Fearing for his life, Cadmus threw a stone in amongst the warriors and they began to fight each other. Each thinking the stone had been thrown by another warrior. These warriors fought until there were only five of them left standing. Sometimes, depending on who’s telling the story, Athena instructed Cadmus to leave only five Spartoi living. These five remaining warriors’ names were: Chthonius, Echion, Hyperenor, Pelorus and Udeus who would become the founders of Thebes’ noble families. At Cadmus’ instructions, these five helped him to found and build the city of Thebes.
The first building that would-be built-in Thebes was a shrine dedicated to the Moon goddess Selene. The acropolis of Thebes would be called Cadmeia.
In his writings, when Cadmus planted the dragon’s teeth, only five warriors sprang up from the ground. There was no fighting it out among them. In addition, Hellanicus has Zeus step in to save Cadmus from the Ares’ wrath as the war god wanted to kill the mortal. And the Spartoi, Echion marries Cadmus’ daughter Agave and their son, Pentheus succeeds Cadmus to become king.
In this version of the myths with the Roman names for the gods in it, a voice (presumably Mars) speaks out to Cadmus, after he slays the giant serpent, that he too shall become one.
Ares’ Dragon & Eight Years Servitude
Slaying the dragon also held another problem to it. This dragon or drakon was a servant to the god of war, Ares; add, in some versions, the drakon is a son of Ares. Either way, Ares’ isn’t too pleased.
As restitution for this deed, Cadmus meets Ares’ demands by serving the war god for an “everlasting year” or eight years. At the end of this period, Cadmus marries Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares.
Sidenote: Yeah, I know, the marriage has been mentioned up above. It is a conflict of the narrative and it really depends on who’s telling the story.
The narrative that places Harmonia’s marriage to Cadmus here, as the daughter of Ares is meant to symbolize the coming of harmony and an end to war.
Harmonia would bear Cadmus several children, Agave who married Echion, one of the Spartoi, they would have a son named Pentheus. Cadmus and Harmonia’s other children are three daughters, Autonoe, Ino and Semele who would be the mother of Dionysus. There two sons are Polydorus and Illyrius from whom the Illyrians descend.
Something Rotten In Thebes
Married and the City of Thebes founded, no matter how divinely ordained this was, peace and harmony wouldn’t last.
Due to the cursed necklace that Harmonia received, she and Cadmus’ family would soon see misfortune befall them and a series of civil unrest. Eventually, Cadmus would abdicate his throne to his grandson, Pentheus.
Cadmus would go with Harmonia to Illyria to fight a war brewing over there as they took the side of the Enchelii. From there, Cadmus would go on and found the city of Lychnidus and Bouthoe.
Despite leaving Thebes and establishing other cities, misfortune continued to plague and follow Cadmus. It got so bad that Cadmus cried out that all this had to because of his slaying Ares’ dragon, if the gods were so obsessed with its death, why not turn him into one.
At that pronouncement, Cadmus begins to grow scales and to change into a serpent. Horrified by this transition of her husband, Harmonia begged the gods to change her too so she could share in Cadmus’ fate.
Variations to this ending are that both Cadmus and Harmonia are changed into snakes when they died. Both snakes watched over their tombs while their souls were sent by Zeus to the Elysian Fields.
Famous Grecian playwright Euripides’ in his The Bacchae, has Cadmus given a prophecy from Dionysus that both he and his wife will be turned into snakes before getting to enjoy an eternity of bliss in the Elysian Fields.
The First Earthly Marriage
If you were paying attention to the above narrative and Cadmus’ story, I noted that there are two different timelines to when he marries Harmonia and each one has a side not for who her parentage is.
I think it’s worth noting and remembering Cadmus’ Divine Lineage connecting him to Poseidon and thus a demigod. The story of Cadmus and the ruling, royal family of Thebes is likely a very old story, dating back to Mycenaean Greece and it is during Mycenaean Greece that Poseidon is the head of the Pantheon, not Zeus.
Zeus will become head of the Greek Pantheon during the era thought of as Ancient Greece when we have written records being kept that chronicle historical accounts.
It’s an important distinction and one seen in the conflicting timeline of when Cadmus is to have married Harmonia and who her parentage is to be.
Where Cadmus marries Harmonia on the island of Samothrace with Zeus and Electra given as her parents seems more like the later changes to the story to have Zeus hold a more prominent role within it.
Following a timeline for after Cadmus’ eight years of servitude to Ares and then marrying Harmonia with both Ares and Aphrodite as her parents seems far more likely the correct lineage. It would explain too so much better why Hephaestus would gift Harmonia a cursed necklace.
Knowing the backstory between Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares, the cursed necklace that is given to Harmonia makes more sense. Hephaestus was angry at Aphrodite for her affair with Ares and yes, he makes the necklace a means to punish Aphrodite’s infidelity by placing a curse on the child that resulted from hers and Ares’ affair.
Thus, all the misfortunes that Cadmus and Harmonia suffer are from the necklace, not slaying the dragon. Afterall, Cadmus had already paid penance to Ares and then is rewarded his daughter for marriage. It’s even in Harmonia’s name, harmony, there was to be an end to the strife and conflicts.
I do find it curious that there are versions of Cadmus’ story where the Necklace of Harmonia is not mentioned at all or having been made by Hephaestus. The misfortunes that befall Cadmus are attributed to the dragon that was slain. It makes no sense to have Ares forgive Cadmus after several years of servitude and giving his daughter to marry.
Of course, it’s easy to assume the Greek gods are perpetuating their pettiness. We have lots of stories of mortals being punished by the gods. If Hephaestus is keeping mums about the curse he placed on the necklace, of course, no one knows why bad things keep happening to Cadmus and Harmonia.
By Diodorus’ account of this story, Cadmus’ marriage to Harmonia is significant in that it was the first one celebrated on Earth and one wherein the gods are to have come, bringing gifts. There was supposed to be an end to conflicts and war, alas it could not last.
East Meets West – Another idea for Cadmus and Harmonia’s wedding is that it may be symbolic of the Eastern, Phoenician learning combining with the Western, Grecian love of beauty.
Fertility God – The Samothracian Connection!
The island of Samothrace is one of the places that Cadmus, his mother, and nephew are said to have stopped at in their search for a missing Europa.
There is a small Pantheon of the Great Gods whose members have been equated or identified with several of the Greek deities. One such god, is Kadmilus, a fertility god identified with the god Hermes. There are also a pair of Underworld deities, Axiokersos (Hades) and Axiokersa (Persephone) whose marriage gets equated to Cadmus and Harmonia courtesy of Diodorus Siculus’ trying to connect the island’s local myths to the overall Greek myths.
I can see it too, the similar-sounding names of Kadmilus and Cadmus.
Zeus Versus Typhon
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca where he recounts the story of Zeus battling the monstrous serpentine monster known as Typhon, Zeus asks the hero Cadmus to help him by recovering his lightning bolts with playing his pipes, to play a tune. Zeus promises Cadmus that if he helps, that he will receive the hand of Harmonia in marriage.
The Dionysiaca is written in the 5th century C.E. and reflects plenty of time to have rewritten the myths. This is the only myth to involve Cadmus with Pan, playing the pipes to distract Typhon so this fearsome monster can be defeated.
Earlier versions of this story have where it’s Hermes and Aeigipan (Pan) stealing back Zeus’ tendons, no mention of the thunderbolts.
Once again, if we are confusing Cadmus with Kadmilus, the Samothracian deity identified with Hermes. I can see the confusion.
However, yes Nonnus is equating Hermes with Kadmilus and thus Cadmus in the episode where Hermes comes in disguise as a mortal to announce that Zeus has decreed a marriage of Harmonia with Cadmus.
That’s just confusing if you can’t keep it straight.
The story of Cadmus slaying the dragon is sometimes cited as being one of many myths associated with this constellation.