In Greek mythology,
Cadmus (/ˈkædməs/; Greek: Κάδμος Kadmos),
was the founder and first king of Thebes.
Cadmus was the first
Greek hero and, alongside
Perseus and Bellerophon, the greatest hero
and slayer of monsters before the days of Heracles. Initially a
Phoenician prince, son of king
Agenor and queen
Telephassa of Tyre and
the brother of Phoenix,
Cilix and Europa, he was originally sent by
his royal parents to seek out and escort his sister Europa back to
Tyre after she was abducted from the shores of
Phoenicia by Zeus.
Cadmus founded the Greek city of Thebes, the acropolis of which was
Cadmeia in his honour.
Cadmus was credited by the ancient Greeks (Herodotus is an example)
with introducing the original alphabet to the Greeks, who adapted it
to form their Greek alphabet.
Herodotus estimates that
sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 BC. Herodotus
had seen and described the Cadmean writing in the temple of
Thebes engraved on certain tripods. He estimated those tripods to date
back to the time of
Laius the great-grandson of Cadmus. On one of
the tripods there was this inscription in Cadmean writing, which, as
he attested, resembled Ionian letters: Ἀμφιτρύων μ᾽
ἀνέθηκ᾽ ἐνάρων ἀπὸ Τηλεβοάων
Amphitryon dedicated me [don't forget] the spoils of [the battle of]
Though later Greeks like
Herodotus dated Cadmus's role in the founding
myth of Thebes to well before the
Trojan War (or, in modern terms,
during the Aegean Bronze Age), this chronology conflicts with most of
what is now known or thought to be known about the origins and spread
of both the Phoenician and Greek alphabets. The earliest Greek
inscriptions match Phoenician letter forms from the late 9th or 8th
centuries BC—in any case, the
Phoenician alphabet properly speaking
was not developed until around 1050 BC (or after the Bronze Age
collapse). The Homeric picture of the Mycenaean age betrays extremely
little awareness of writing, possibly reflecting the loss during the
Dark Age of the earlier
Linear B script. Indeed, the only Homeric
reference to writing was in the phrase "γράμματα
λυγρά", grámmata lygrá, literally "baneful drawings", when
referring to the Bellerophontic letter.
Linear B tablets have been
found in abundance at Thebes, which might lead one to speculate that
the legend of
Cadmus as bringer of the alphabet could reflect earlier
traditions about the origins of
Linear B writing in Greece (as
Frederick Ahl speculated in 1967). But such a suggestion, however
attractive, is by no means a certain conclusion in light of currently
available evidence. The connection between the name of
Cadmus and the
historical origins of either the
Linear B script or the later
Phoenician alphabet, if any, remains elusive. However, in modern-day
Cadmus is still revered and celebrated as the 'carrier of the
letter' to the world.
According to Greek myth, Cadmus's descendants ruled at Thebes on and
off for several generations, including the time of the Trojan War.
2.2 Founder of Thebes
3 Native Boeotian hero
6 Hittite records controversy
8 See also
11.1 Classical sources
11.2 Secondary material
12 Further reading
13 External links
The etymology of Cadmus' name remains uncertain. Possible connected
words include the Semitic triliteral root qdm (Ugaritic:
𐎖𐎄𐎎) signifies "east" (In Hebrew, qedem means "front",
"east"; the verb qadam (Syriac: ܩܕܡ) means "to be in
front"), and the Greek kekasmai (<*kekadmai) "to
shine".[note 1] Therefore, the complete meaning of the name might be:
"He who excels, from the east".
Cadmus and the dragon, black-figured amphora from Euboea, ca.
Louvre (E 707).
Cadmus (1939). Library of Congress John Adams Building,
After his sister Europa had been carried off by
Zeus from the shores
Cadmus was sent out by his father to find her, and
enjoined not to return without her. Unsuccessful in his search—or
unwilling to go against Zeus—he came to Samothrace, the island
sacred to the "Great Gods" or the Kabeiroi, whose mysteries would
be celebrated also at Thebes.
Cadmus did not journey alone to Samothrace; he appeared with his
mother Telephassa in the company of his nephew (or brother)
Thasus, son of Cilix, who gave his name to the island of Thasos
nearby. An identically composed trio had other names at Samothrace,
according to Diodorus Siculus:
Electra and her two sons, Dardanos
Eetion or Iasion. There was a fourth figure, Electra's daughter,
Cadmus took away as a bride, as
Zeus had abducted
The wedding was the first celebrated on
Earth to which the gods
brought gifts, according to Diodorus and dined with
Cadmus and his
Founder of Thebes
Cadmus Asks the Delphic Oracle Where He Can Find his Sister, Europa,
Cadmus 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.
Intending to sacrifice the cow to Athena,
Cadmus sent some of his
companions to the nearby Ismenian 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.
Cadmus Sowing the Dragon's teeth, by Maxfield Parrish, 1908.
He was then instructed by
Athena to sow the dragon's teeth in the
ground, from which there sprang a race of fierce armed men, called the
Spartoi ("sown"). By throwing a stone among them,
Cadmus caused them
to fall upon one another until only five survived, who assisted him to
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 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
("harmony", literally "well put together", or "well assembled") 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
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 went
with Harmonia to Illyria, to fight on the side of the
Enchelii. Later, as king, he founded the city of
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,
which they granted (Hyginus).
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 given a prophecy by
Dionysus whereby both he and his wife
will be turned into snakes for a period before eventually being
brought to live among the blest.
Native Boeotian hero
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. The name Kadmos has
been thoroughly Hellenised. The fact that
Hermes was worshipped in
Samothrace under the name of
Cadmus or Cadmilus seems to show that the
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 to be daughter of
Electra and of Samothracian
Some modern scholars argue that
Cadmus was originally an autochthonous
Boeotian hero 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. The "
Cadmus and Harmonia" is considered
as a conceptual symbolic coupling of Eastern (Phoenician) learning
with Western (Greek) love of beauty.
Cadmus was of ultimately divine ancestry, the grandson of the sea god
Poseidon and Libya on his father's side, and of Nilus (the River Nile)
on his mother's side; overall he was considered a member of the fifth
generation of beings following the (mythological) creation of the
Argive genealogy in Greek mythology
With Harmonia, he was the father of Semele, Polydorus, Autonoe, Agave
and Ino. Their youngest son was Illyrius.
Hittite records controversy
It has been argued by various scholars, that in a letter from the King
Ahhiyawa to the Hittite King, written in the Hittite language in
ca. 1250 BC, a specific
Cadmus was mentioned as a forefather of the
Ahhijawa people. The latter term most probably referred to the
Mycenaean world (Achaeans), or at least to a part of it.
Nevertheless, this reading about a supposed
Cadmus as historical
person is rejected by most scholars.
The Syrian city of
Al-Qadmus is named for Cadmus.
Cadmus of Miletus
Theban kings in Greek mythology
Robert Beekes rejects these derivations and considers it
^ Alden, John B. (1883) The Greek Anthology, pp. 160–162.
^ Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks (London: Thames and
Hudson) p. 75.
^ A modern application of genealogy would make him the paternal
grandfather of Dionysus, through his daughter by Harmonia, Semele.
Plutarch once admitted that he would rather be assisted by Lamprias,
his own grandfather, than by Dionysus' grandfather, i.e. Cadmus.
Book IX, question II Archived 13 October 2008 at the
^ Herodotus, Histories,
Book V, 58.
^ Herodotus. Histories,
Book II, 2.145.4.
^ Herodotus. Histories,
^ There are several examples of written letters, such as in Nestor's
Bellerophon and the "Bellerophontic letter",
another description of a letter presumably sent to Palamedes from
Priam but in fact written by
Odysseus (Hyginus. Fabulae, 105), as well
as the letters described by
Plutarch in Parallel Lives, Theseus, which
were presented to
Ariadne presumably sent from Theseus.
on to describe how
Theseus erected a pillar on the Isthmus of Corinth,
which bears an inscription of two lines.
^ F.M. Ahl. "
Cadmus and the Palm-Leaf Tablets." American Journal of
Philology 88.2, Apr. 1967, pp. 188-94.
LSJ entry Κάδμος
^ Gregorio del Olmo Lete; Joaquín Sanmartín (2003). A Dictionary of
the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition - Part One (PDF).
Brill. p. 694. ISBN 90-04-12891 3.
^ Compare: Graves, Robert (1955). "58: Europe and Cadmus". The Greek
Myths. 1. London: Penguin (published 1990). ISBN 9781101554982.
Retrieved 2016-11-11. [...] a small tribe, speaking a Semitic
language, seems to have moved up from the Syrian plains to
Cadmus is a Semitic word meaning 'eastern' [...].
^ Ruprecht, Louis A. Jr. (2008). God Gardened East: A Gardener's
Meditation on the Dynamics of Genesis. Wipf and Stock Publishers.
p. 31. ISBN 9781556354342.
^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p.
^ "The name
Cadmus is a Greek baby name. In Greek the meaning of the
Cadmus is: He who excels; from the east". SheKnows. Retrieved 14
^ The Megaloi theoi of the Mysteries of Samothrace.
^ Or known by another lunar name, Argiope, "she of the white face"
^ Diodorus Siculus, 5.48; Clement of Alexandria, to wit Proreptikos
^ Harmonia at Thebes was accounted the daughter of
Ares and Aphrodite;
all these figures appeared in 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
Sources (New York) 1958:24-36.
^ Kerenyi (1959) notes that
Cadmus in some sense found another Europa
at Samothrace, according to an obscure scholium on Euripides' Rhesus
^ Diodorus, 5.49.1; when the gods attended the later wedding of Peleus
and Thetis, the harmony was shattered by the Apple of Discord.
^ The full range of references in Antiquity to this wedding is
presented by Matia Rocchi, Kadmos e Harmonia: un matrimonio
problemmatico (Rome: Bretschneider) 1989.
^ Atsma, Aaron J. "Drakon Ismenia". Theoi Greek Mythology. Retrieved 5
^ Apollodorus. Library and Epitome, 3.5.4.
^ Pierre Grimal, Pierre, Maxwell-Hyslop, A. R. The Dictionary of
Classical Mythology. Blackwell, 1996, ISBN 0-631-20102-5, p. 83.
^ Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians. Blackwell Publishing, 1992,
ISBN 0-631-19807-5, p. 99.
^ 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.
Diodorus Siculus 5.48.2
^ "There is little doubt that
Cadmus was originally a Boeotian, that
is, a Greek hero." Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911, s.v. "Cadmus";
Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution ("Introduction") was
written in part to lay such notions to rest.
^ The argument that nothing in the geography of
Boeotia supports an
Eastern influence was expressed, before the days of archaeology, by
Gomme, A. W. (1913), "The Legend of
Cadmus and the Logographi",
Journal of Hellenic Studies, 33: 53–72, 223–245,
doi:10.2307/624086 ; 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.
^ Pierre Grimal, Pierre, Maxwell-Hyslop, A. R. The Dictionary of
Classical Mythology. Blackwell, 1996, ISBN 0-631-20102-5, p. 83,
^ Windle, Joachim Latacz. Transl. from the German by Kevin; Ireland,
Rosh (2004). Troy and
Homer towards a solution of an old mystery.
Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 244.
^ Rava, R D'Amato & A Salimbeti ; illustrated by Giuseppe.
Bronze age Greek warrior 1600-1100 BC. Oxford, UK: Osprey Pub Co.
p. 58. ISBN 9781849081955.
^ Strauss, Barry (2007). The Trojan War : a new history (1st
trade paperback ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 19.
^ ""أهلا بكم في مدينة الفينيقين القديمة
"القدموس". esyria (in Arabic). 20 April 2009.
Hyginus. Fabulae, 178.
Pseudo-Apollodorus. Bibliotheke, III, i, 1-v, 4;
Ovid. Metamorphoses, III, 1-137; IV, 563-603.
Homer. The Odyssey, 5.333.
Kerenyi, Karl. The Heroes of the Greeks, 1959.
Vian, F. Les origines de Thébes: Cadmos et les Spartes. Paris, 1963.
R. B. Edwards. Kadmos, the Phoenician: A Study in Greek Legends and
the Mycenaean Age. Amsterdam, 1979.
T. Gantz. Early Greek Myth., Volume 2, 467–73.
Matia Rocchi. Kadmos e Harmonia: un matrimonio problemmatico. Rome,
Svetlana Janakieva, "Lе Mythe de Cadmos et l'aire ethnolinguistique
paleobalkanique," Thracia, 11, 1995 (= Studia in honorem Alexandri
Fol. Sofia, 1995).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cadmus".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Calasso, Roberto (1993). The Marriage of
Cadmus and Harmony. New York:
Knopf. ISBN 0-394-58154-7.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911
Encyclopædia Britannica article
Media related to
Cadmus at Wikimedia Commons
Cadmus in the Warburg Institute Iconographic Database
Mythical King of Thebes
Kings of Thebes
Nycteus (regent for Labdacus) and Lycus I (regent for Labdacus)
Lycus I (regent for Laius)
Amphion and Zethus
Laius (second rule)
Creon (second rule) (regent for
Eteocles and Polynices)
Polynices and Eteocles
Creon (third rule) (regent for Laodamas)
Lycus II (usurper)
Peneleos (regent for Tisamenus)
Oedipus at Colonus
The Phoenician Women
Seven Against Thebes
Necklace of Harmonia