Cadmus, or Kadmos ( _el. Κάδμος), in Greek mythology, was a Phoenician prince, [John B. Alden, (1883). "The Greek Anthology", pp. 160-162: "Cadmus am I: ...though I am Phoenician born, I taught you Greeks your Alpha, Beta, Gamma".] son of Agenor and the brother of Phoenix, Cilix and Europa. [A modern application of genealogy would make him the paternal grandfather of Dionysus, through his daughter with Harmonia, Semele, but no ancient Greek myth or cult was based on this connection.] Cadmus founded the Greek city of Thebes, and its acropolis was originally named "Cadmeia" in his honor. Though Cadmus' role in the founding myth of Thebes sets him in the Mycenaean age, the alphabet arrived in Greece centuries afterwards, [The introduction of the alphabet in mainland Greece postdated the setting of the myth of Cadmus, which, inasmuch as it is the founding myth of Thebes, lay previous even to the Trojan War, in which Theban warriors were engaged, the Homeric picture of this Mycenaean age is agreed to be pre-literate, rom internal evidence in "Iliad". This conclusion suggests that there would be a pre-literate stratum of the Cadmeia at Thebes, and there is. According to Walter Burkert, "The Orientalizing Revolution", literacy explodes within a few decades after 750 BCE: "The earliest Greek letters recognized to date originate in Naxos, Ischia, Athens, and Euboea, and appear arround or a little before 750" (Burkert p 26, noting the inscribed Dipylon jug at Athens, the Ischia inscription on the "cup of Nestor", a geometric period shard from Naxos and some Euboean material).] during the eighth century; nevertheless, Cadmus was credited by the Hellenes of Classical times with the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet, "phoinikeia grammata". [Herodotus. "Histories", [ Book V, 58] .] Herodotus who gives this account estimates that Cadmus lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 BC. [Herodotus. "Histories", [;query=chapter%3D%23367;layout=;loc=2.144.1 Book II, 2.145] ]

According to Greek myth, Cadmus' descendants ruled at Thebes on-and-off for several generations, including the time of the Trojan War. For a discussion of the mythical kings of Thebes, see Theban kings - Greek mythology.



After his sister Europa had been carried off by Zeus from the shores of Phoenicia, Cadmus was sent out by his mother to find her, enjoined not to return without her. Unsuccessful in his search, he came to Samothrace, the island sacred to the "Great Gods" [The "Megaloi theoi" of the Mysteries of Samothrace.] and the Kabeiroi, whose mysteries would be celebrated also at Thebes. At Samothrace, Cadmus was not journeying alone: he appeared with his "far-shining" mother Telephassa [Or known by another lunar name, Argiope, "she of the white face" (Kerenyi 1959:27.] in the company of his brother, who gave his name to the island of Thasos nearby. An identically-composed trio had other names at Samothrace, according to Diodorus Siculus: [Diodorus Siculus, v.48; Clement of Alexandria, "Proreptikos" ii.13.3.] Elektra and her two sons, Dardanos and Eetion or Iasion. There was a fourth figure, Elektra's daughter, Harmonia. [Harmonia at Thebes was accounted the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite; all these figures appeared in the sculptures on the pediment of the Hellenistic main temple in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods at Samothrace, the "Hieron"; the ancient sources on this family grouping were assembled by N. Lewis, "Samothrace. I: The Ancient Literary Soiurces" (New York) 1958:24-36.] whom Cadmus took away as a bride, as Zeus had absconded with Europa. [Kerenyi (1959) notes that Cadmus in some sense found another Europa at Samothrace, according to an obscure scholium on Euripides' "Rhesus" 29.] The wedding was the first celebrated on earth to which the gods brought gifts, according to Diodorus [Diodorus, v.49.1; when the gods attended the later wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the harmony was shattered by the Apple of Discord.] and dined with Cadmus and his bride. [The full range of references in Antiquity to this wedding is presented by Matia Rocchi, "Kadmos e Harmonia: un matrimonio problemmatico" (Rome: Bretschneider) 1989.]

Founder of Thebes

He came in the course of his wanderings to Delphi, where he consulted the oracle. He was ordered to give up his quest and follow a special cow, with a half moon on her flank, which would meet him, and to build a town on the spot where she should lie down exhausted.

The cow was given to Cadmus by Pelagon, King of Phocis, and it guided him to Boeotia, where he founded the city of Thebes. Robert Graves ("The Greek Myths") suggested that the cow was actually turned loose within a moderately confined space, and that where she lay down, a temple to the moon-goddess (Selene) was erected: "A cow's strategic and commercial sensibilities are not well developed," Graves remarked.

Intending to sacrifice the cow to Athena, Cadmus sent some of his companions to the nearby Castalian Spring, for water. They were slain by the spring's guardian water-dragon (compare the Lernaean Hydra), which was in turn destroyed by Cadmus, the duty of a culture hero of the new order.

By the instructions of Athena, he sowed the Dragon's teeth in the ground, from which there sprang a race of fierce armed men, called "Spartes" ("sown"). By throwing a stone among them, Cadmus caused them to fall upon one another until only five survived, who assisted him to build the Cadmeia or citadel of Thebes, and became the founders of the noblest families of that city.

The dragon had been sacred to Ares, so the god made Cadmus to do penance for eight years by serving him. According to Theban tellings, it was at the expiration of this period that the gods gave him Harmonia as wife. At Thebes, Cadmus and Harmonia began a dynasty with a son Polydorus, and four daughters, Agave, Autonoë, Ino and Semele.

At the wedding, whether celebrated at Samothrace or at Thebes, all the gods were present; Harmonia received as bridal gifts a "peplos" worked by Athena and a necklace made by Hephaestus. This necklace, commonly referred to as the Necklace of Harmonia, brought misfortune to all who possessed it. Notwithstanding the divinely ordained nature of his marriage and his kingdom, Cadmus lived to regret both: his family was overtaken by grievous misfortunes, and his city by civil unrest. Cadmus finally abdicated in favor of his grandson Pentheus, and retired with Harmonia to Illyria, whose inhabitants proclaimed him their king and founded the city of Lychnidos and Bouthoe. [Wilkes, J. J. "The Illyrians", 1992, ISBN 0631198075, p. 99. "After this had come about as foretold, Cadmus and Harmonia ruled over them and founded the towns of Bouthoe (Budva) and Lychnidus (Ohrid)."]

Nevertheless, Cadmus was deeply troubled by the ill-fortune which clung to him as a result of his having killed the sacred dragon, and one day he remarked that if the gods were so enamoured of the life of a serpent, he might as well wish that life for himself. Immediately he began to grow scales and change in form. Harmonia, seeing the transformation, thereupon begged the gods to share her husband's fate, and she did (Hyginus).

Lee Lawrie, "Cadmus" (1939). Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C.]

In another telling of the story, the bodies of Cadmus and his wife were changed after their deaths; the serpents watched their tomb while their souls were translated to the fields. In Euripides' "The Bacchae", Cadmus is depicted as being turned into a dragon, or alternatively a serpent, after Dionysus overthrows Thebes.

Cadmus as ethnic Greek

In Phoenician, as well as Hebrew, the Semitic root "qdm" signifies "the east", the Levantine origin of "Kdm" himself, according to the Greek mythographers; the equation of "Kadmos" with the Semitic "qdm" was traced to a publication of 1646 by R. B. Edwards; [Edwards, "Kadmos the Phoenician: A Study in Greek Legends and the Mycenaean Age" (Amsterdam 1979), noted by Walter Burkert, "The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Bronze Age" (Harvard University Press) 1992:2, and note), who remarks that the complementary connection of "Europa" with "rb", "West" was an ancient one, made by Hesychius.] nevertheless, to this day, some in Greece contend that Cadmus was originally a Boeotian, [This surmise, that nothing in the geography of Boeotia supports an Eastern influence was expressed, before the days of archaeology, by A. W. Gomme, "The Legend of Cadmus and the Logographi" "The Journal of Hellenic Studies" 33 (1913) , pp. 53-72, 223–45; Gomme finds the literary evidence for Cadmus' Phoenician origin first directly expressed by Pherecydes, Herodotus and in a scholium on Hellanicus, where in each case it is already assumed as well known.] that is, a wholly Greek autochthonous hero, ["There is little doubt that Cadmus was originally a Boeotian, that is, a Greek hero." "Encyclopaedia Britannica", 1911, "s.v." "Cadmus"; Walter Burkert, "The Orientalizing Revolution" ("Introduction") was written in part to lay such perceptions to rest.] and that only in later times, did the story of a Phoenician adventurer of that name become current, to whom was ascribed the introduction of the alphabet, the invention of agriculture and working in bronze and of civilization generally. But the name has been thoroughly Hellenised, and the fact that Hermes was worshipped in Samothrace under the name of Cadmus or Cadmilus seems to show that the Theban Cadmus was interpreted as an ancestral Theban hero corresponding to the Samothracian. Another Samothracian connection for Cadmus is offered via his wife Harmonia, who is said by Diodorus Siculus [Diodorus Siculus 5.48.2] to be daughter of Zeus and Electra and of Samothracian birth.

Historical legacy

Al-Qadmūs, Tartus, (in Syria) is named after Cadmus.

ee also

*Cadmus of Miletus



Classical sources

*Hyginus. "Fabulae", 178.
*Pseudo-Apollodorus. "Bibliotheke", III, i, 1-v, 4;
*Ovid. "Metamorphoses", III, 1-137; IV, 563-603.

econdary material

* [ Theoi Project]
*Kerenyi, Karl. "The Heroes of the Greeks", 1959.
*R.B. Edwards. "Kadmos, the Phoenician". Amsterdam, 1979.

Further reading

*cite book | last = Calasso | first = Roberto | title = The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony | publisher = Knopf | location = New York | year = 1993 | isbn = 0394581547

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  • Cadmus — [kad′məs] n. [Gr Kadmos] Class. Legend a Phoenician prince and founder of Thebes: he kills a dragon and sows its teeth, from which many armed men rise, fighting each other, until only five are left to help him build the city …   English World dictionary

  • CADMUS — I. CADMUS Agenoris fil. Phoenicum Rex. Alii eum e Tyro, alii autem e Sidone arcessunt, quibus habenda potior fides, quia Cadmi aevô Tyrus nondum erat condita. Regis filium Graeci faciunt, ut suo honori consulant, quia regnavit in Graecia; sed hoc …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Cadmus — /kad meuhs/, n. Paul, born 1904, U.S. painter and etcher. /kad meuhs/, n. Class. Myth. a Phoenician prince who introduced writing to the Greeks and who founded the city of Thebes in the company of five warriors. Cf. Sparti. * * * In Greek… …   Universalium

  • Cadmus — Kadmos (gr. Κάδμος) oder Cadmus (lat.) ist ein griechischer, männlicher Vorname. Die Bedeutung des Namens ist unbekannt und wahrscheinlich phönizischen Ursprungs. Bekannte Namensträger: Kadmos, Sohn des Agenor und der Telephassa, Gründer und… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cadmus — Cadmos Pour les articles homonymes, voir Cadmos (homonymie). Cadmos et le dragon, amphore à figures noires d Eubée, v.  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Cadmus — n. son of Agenor, Greek legendary hero, founder of the city of Thebes and creator of the Sparti (Greek Mythology); family name; Paul Cadmus (1904 1999), US etcher and painter; male first name …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Cadmus — /ˈkædməs/ (say kadmuhs) noun Greek Legend a Phoenician prince who planted the teeth of a dragon he had slain, from which sprang up many warriors who fought each other until only five survived. These five, led by Cadmus, founded Thebes. –Cadmean,… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Cadmus — noun Etymology: Latin, from Greek Kadmos Date: 14th century the legendary founder of Thebes …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Cadmus — noun A Phoenician prince, son of king Agenor of Tyre. Was sent by his royal parents to seek and return his sister Europa after being abducted from Phoenicia by Zeus. Credited with founding Greek city of Thebes and inventing Greek alphabet …   Wiktionary

  • Cadmus — Cạdmus,   griechischer Mythos: Kadmos …   Universal-Lexikon

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