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Cadmus, Kadmus or Kadmos, in Greek and Phoenician mythologies, was a Phoenician prince, Cadmus founded the Greek city of Thebes, with its acropolis originally named Cadmeia in his honor, and most significantly he is generally accredited with the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet to the Greek. The Greek adopted the Phoenician alphabet and used it to form their Greek alphabet. There are however 'recent' controversial theories, mainly Greek, to discredit Cadmus in the founding of Thebes or to the history of the Greek alphabet. These theories mainly try to set Cadmus' role in the "founding myth" of Thebes, placing him in the Mycenaean age, to claim that the alphabet arrived in Greece centuries afterwards, during the eighth century. Even Greek of Classical times credit Cadmus with the introduction of the (Phoenician)alphabet, phoinikeia grammata.

In the modern country of Lebanon today (ancient Phoenicia), Cadmus is a commonly used male name and the historical exploits of Cadmus are revered and taught in schools and universities. Many Lebanese cultural organizations have adopted his name, and annual book festivals are also named after him in his honor. 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.

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, Autonoƫ, 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.

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).

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.

See also

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