Cadmus was the brother of Europa, the princess carried off by Zeus in the form of a bull to Crete, to become the mother of Minos, king of Knossos. Cattle played an important role in Cadmus’ career, too. Searching for Europa, Cadmus consulted the oracle at Delphi. Its advice was to abandon his quest, and instead follow a cow with moon-shaped markings on both flanks, and, where it lay down exhausted, found a city.
The cow collapsed at Thebes. Joyfully Cadmus sacrificed it to Athene. Then he sent his followers to fetch water. But the local spring was guarded by a dragon, and only after the creature had slaughtered many of his men could Cadmus himself kill it. As he was still reeling from the fray, Athene appeared, commanding him to knock out the dragon’s teeth and sow them, like seed, across the earth.
Cadmus & the Sown Men Photo Gallery
He did so. Immediately armed men sprang out of the ground. But these Sown Men (Spartoi) were so belligerent that they attacked each other. Only five were left alive. These pledged allegiance to Cadmus and helped him build a wall round Thebes’ acropolis, the Cadmeia. Many an historical Theban claimed them as ancestors.
The gods loved Cadmus, and when he married Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, they attended his wedding in Thebes and showered his wife with gifts. But Cadmus was not comfortable with kingship, and eventually he abdicated in favour of his grandson Pentheus – with disastrous consequences as we have seen.