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Cadmus is known as the founder and the first king of Thebes, a powerful town in the ancient times, close to Athens. He is also known as the man who brough the writing and the alphabet from the Phoenicians to the Greeks, and through the Greeks to the whole world.
According to mythology, his life was long and adventurous. Everything started when his sister was abducted by Zeus, the chief of the gods. That is when he left his country to look for her. Although he probably didn't find her at the end, the Fates had planned a great life for him.
Looking for his sister
Cadmus was the son of Agenor, king of Tyre, and his queen, Telephassa. He was also the brother of Europa, who was abducted by Zeus in the guise of a white bull. The chief of the gods had been seduced by the beauty of Europa, so he decided to kidnap her.
One day, when Europa and her fellow nymphs were gathering flowers, Zeus came to her in the guise of a white bull. When Europa stepped on the bull to stroke him, the bull promptly ran off with Europa on his back and, swimming through the sea, he arrived in Crete where Europa realized that she had been abducted by none other than the chief god himself.
To make a long story short, Europa gave birth to three sons from Zeus, married a local king and became the first queen of Crete. Europa was the apple of the eye of King Agenor and he was devastated at the news of his daughter's mysterious disappearance. He entrusted his four sons, Cadmus, Phoenix, Cilix and Thasus, with the mission to find Europa, charging them never to return without his beloved daughter.
The queen Telephassa also accompanied her sons. They searched far and wide for Europa without getting any clue for her disappearance. Unable to find his sister, Phoenix gave up the quest and settled in a place which was said to have been later named Phoenicia after him. Europa's brothers Cilix and Thasus likewise gave up the search for their sister and settled in regions founding cities that were also named after them: Cilicia, in Asia Minor and Thassos, on a small island of the eastern Aegean.
Founding a new town
While his brothers dispersed in search of Europa, Cadmus along with his mother settled in Thrace where Telephassa soon died of grief at the loss of her daughter. After performing the last rites to his mother, Cadmus went on a pilgrimage to the oracle of Delphi to ask for his sister.
The oracle advised him to give up the search for Europa and instead to found a new city. He was instructed to follow a cow he would find outside the oracle and build a city on the spot where the cow would stop to rest. Sure enough, Cadmus soon found a cow a few meters from the oracle and followed it.
The cow reached Boeotia where, after crossing the shallow stream of Cephisus river, it lied to the ground in fatigue. Having found the place where he was to build a new city, Cadmus decided to sacrifice the cow to Athena, the goddess of heroic endeavor. For that purpose, he sent his companions to look for pure water to do the sacrifice.
They found the purest water in a lovely spring. As they were filling their vessels with water, a fierce serpent-like dragon, guardian of the spring, emerged from a nearby cave. The dragon happened to be son of Ares, the god of warfare. The horrid serpent, with its crest-like head and venomous teeth shining like gold, slaughtered all the unfortunate companions of Cadmus.
When his companions failed to return, Cadmus went looking for them and soon came face to face with the enraged dragon. Cadmus attacked the malevolent monster and, after a fierce struggle, managed to slay it. He then sacrificed the cow to Athena, who told him to get the teeth of the dragon and plant half of them in the ground.
As soon as Cadmus did so, a host of fierce warriors appeared out of the ground and, before Cadmus could engage them, the armed men began a ferocious and bloody battle among themselves. At the end of the vicious fight only five warriors were left alive and made peace among themselves.
These five people, called the "Spartoi" ("sown men"), subjected themselves to Cadmus and helped him to build the city of Cadmea. After a few years, Cadmus named the city Thebes, after the Egyptian Thebes, founded by his father, Agenor. In the ancient times, the noble families of Thebes claimed their descent directly from these five Spartoi.
A long and adventurous life
In the meanwhile, god Ares was outraged that his son was killed by Cadmus. He punished the valiant hero with servitude for a period of eight years, after which Ares not only forgave Cadmus but also gave him the hand of his daughter, Harmonia, in marriage. The wedding was solemnly celebrated in Cadmea in the presence of all gods. Cadmus gave his lovely bride a golden necklace made by god Hephaestus as a wedding present.
Harmonia bore Cadmus five children: Autonoe, Ino, Semele, Agave and Polydorus. Semele later became the mother of Dionysus, the god of wine. However, the curse of the dragon was still clinging over Cadmus and his family. His family members had troubles and were leading a miserable life.
Finally, when civil strife assailed the city he founded, Cadmus abdicated his throne and, along with his wife, settled in the land of the Enchelians, to the north of modern Epirus area, who made him their king. The Enchelians were engaged in a war with a neighbouring tribe that time, but with Cadmus as their leader, they managed to win. Cadmus had another son while he was there whom he called Illyria.
However, the misfortunes and tragedies in his family continued to trouble him profoundly. He began to have this strange idea that a serpent would be happier than him, as it would have no troubles. While he was having these thoughts, he was transformed into a serpent. So the sacred dragon of Ares had its final sweet revenge. Harmonia prayed to the gods to be allowed to share her husband's fate and was also turned into a serpent.
Taking pity on this couple, Zeus carried them to the Elysian Fields, where the people favored by the Gods would go when they died.
However, above all, Cadmus is famous for one thing: it is said that he was the man who introduced writing and the alphabet into Greece. Through Greece, writing was spread to the Romans and then the whole Europe.
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