The Myth of Cadmus
The mythical story of Cadmus
by Lilian Stoughton Hyde
The Loss of Europa
One day, a little girl called Europa was playing in a meadow by the seashore. She sat on the grass with her lap full of flowers, and was plaiting the flowers into wreaths for her three big brothers, Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix, who were not far away.
Suddenly she looked up and saw a snow-white bull, with beautiful silvery horns, standing near her. At first she was afraid, but the bull seemed so gentle, and looked at her in such a friendly way, that she lost all fear of it. Taking some clover blossoms from her lap, she ran up to it and held them to its mouth. It ate the flowers daintily from her fingers, and then began skipping around on the grass almost as lightly as a bird. Finally, coming to the place where Europa was plaiting her flowers, it lay down by her side. She patted it and threw some of the wreaths over its horns, then clapped her hands to see how pretty they looked. After this, she climbed up to its back, when it got up and galloped around the meadow with her. Europa, holding on by one of its white horns, laughed, and enjoyed the ride, and did not notice that the bull was taking her farther and farther away from home, and closer to the shore, till it suddenly jumped into the sea and began to swim away with her. Then she was frightened and screamed for her brothers, who heard her, and ran down to the shore. But they could not stop the white bull. Europa was carried off, and was never seen nor heard from again.
When the three brothers told their father, King Agenor, what had happened, he was quite broken-hearted and very angry besides. He said that little Europa should not have been left alone, and he blamed Cadmus more than the other brothers, because Cadmus was the oldest.
Finally he said to Cadmus, "Go and find Europa and bring her back; or, if you cannot find her, never enter the doors of your father's palace again."
In those days, one could not go far from a walled city without meeting with many dangers; hence, in order that Cadmus might not be entirely alone, his father sent two slaves to bear him company.
When the great gates of the city closed behind them, the three started out, walking toward the west, as that was the direction that the bull had taken. They passed through lonely forests; they crossed mountain-chains; they contrived to make their way across the sea to other lands; but they could not find Europa nor hear any news of her. Cadmus felt quite sure that the search was useless.
Picture of Cadmus slaying the Dragon
Cadmus and the Dragon
As Cadmus did not dare to go home without his sister, he asked the oracle at the shrine of Apollo what he should do. The shrine of Apollo was in a cave at the foot of Mount Parnassus, and the oracle was a mysterious voice that seemed to come from the heart of the mountain. The voice told Cadmus to follow a white heifer he would see, and afterward to build a city on the spot where he saw her lie down.
After leaving the cave, Cadmus hardly had time to scramble down into the road again before he saw a white heifer, which he followed, as the voice had told him to do. When the heifer came to a certain beautiful valley, she raised her head, as if she were looking up to heaven, and then made a great lowing, after which she lay down, seemingly quite contented with the spot. Cadmus knew that this was the place where he must build his city.
Near the spot the heifer had chosen was a grove of very old trees, and among the trees, in a rocky place, was a cave. The mouth of the cave was so choked with willows that one could not see what it was like inside, but Cadmus thought he could hear water trickling down, and the sound seemed so cool and inviting that he sent one of his slaves into the cave to look for a spring. The man did not come back. Then Cadmus sent the other slave to see what had become of the first one. But that one did not come back either.
So Cadmus threw a lion's skin around his shoulders, took his lance and his javelin, and went into the mouth of the cave himself. At first, it was so dark inside that he could see nothing. When his eyes had become accustomed to the change from the bright sunshine he had just left, he saw, in the darkness, two bright spots, and knew that they must be the two eyes of some beast. As he could see better, he made out the form of a huge dragon lying with one of its ugly claws across something, which he feared might be the body of one of his faithful slaves. He took up a large stone and hurled it straight at the creature's head, but the scales of the dragon were so hard and tough that the stone rolled away without doing it any harm. Then he threw his javelin at it, and wounded it with that; but not being much disabled, the creature came out of the cave hissing, and attacked him fiercely. As it came nearer, he pushed his lance straight into its open mouth, and finally pinned it to an oak which grew there, and so killed it.
As Cadmus stood looking at the dragon, he realized that although he had killed the monster, he had lost his two slaves, and was alone in a strange country, where, without help, he would have to build the city ordered by the oracle. Just then he was aware that some one was standing at his side. He looked up and saw a tall, strong-looking woman with clear gray eyes. She had a lance in her hand and a helmet on her head. He knew at once that it was the warrior-goddess, Minerva, and as he looked at her he felt his courage coming back.
Minerva told him to plough the ground near by and sow the dragon's teeth. This seemed like strange seed to plant, but Cadmus did as he was bidden to do, and then stood waiting to see what would happen. After a short time the soil began to heave up a little in places, as it does when corn is growing, then, instead of blades of corn, sharp steel points began to show. As they came up farther, these looked like spear-points; then helmets appeared all along the rows; finally, fully armed men had grown up out of the earth and stood looking around fiercely, ready to fight.
Cadmus thought he had a worse enemy now than the dragon, and made ready to defend himself. But there was no need. For the armed men were hardly out of the soil before they began fighting, one with another, and they fell so fast that soon only five were left.
But these last five were wiser than their brothers, for they saw that they gained nothing by killing one another. Instead, they threw their arms on the ground with a crash, and shook hands, to see what would come from helping others.
This worked much better. Cadmus shook hands with the rest, and then they all united to build the city on the spot where the heifer had lain down. The new city was called Thebes. It was prosperous, and all lived there happily for many years, with Cadmus as king.
The Legend and Myth of Cadmus