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The son of Agenor, king of Phœnicia, and of Telephassa. His sister Europa being carried off by Zeus, Cadmus, with his brothers Phoenix and Cilix, was sent out with the command to look for her, and not to return without her. In the course of his wanderings he came to Thrace. Here his mother, who had accompanied him so far, breathed her last; and Cadmus applied for counsel to the Delphic oracle. He was advised not to seek his sister any more, but to follow a cow which would meet him, and found a city on the spot where she should lie down. The cow met him in Phocis, and led him into Boeotia. He was intending to sacrifice the cow, and had sent his companions to a neighbouring spring to bring the necessary water, when they were all slain by a serpent, the offspring of Ares and the Erinys Tisiphoné, that guarded the spring. After a severe struggle, Cadmus destroyed the dragon, and at the command of Athené sowed its teeth over the neighbouring ground. A host of armed men sprang up, who immediately fought and slew each other, all except five. The survivors, who were called Spartoi, “sown,” helped Cadmus to build the Cadmea, or the stronghold of what was afterwards Thebes, which bore his name. They were the ancestors of the Theban aristocracy; and one of them, Echion, “the serpent's son,” became the husband of Cadmus's daughter, Agavé. Cadmus did atonement to Ares for eight years for the slaughter of the dragon. Then Zeus gave him to wife Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodité, who bore him a son, Polydorus, and four daughters, Autonoé, Ino, Agavé, and Semelé. (See Harmonia; Semelé.) Crushed by the terrible doom which weighed upon his home, he afterwards sought retirement among the Euchelii in Illyria, a country which he named after his son Illyrius, who was born there. He resigned the kingdom to Illyrius; and then he and his wife Harmonia were changed into serpents, and carried by Zeus to Elysium.

The ancient tradition was that Cadmus brought sixteen letters from Phœnicia to Greece, to which Palamedes added subsequently four more, θ, ξ, φ, χ, and Simonides, at a still later period, four others, ζ, η, ψ, ω. The traditional alphabet of Cadmus is supposed to have been the following: Α, Β, Γ, Δ, Ε, Φ, Ι, Κ, Λ, Μ, Ν, Ο, Π, Ρ, Σ, Τ, and the names were, Ἄλφα, Βῆτα, Γάμμα, Δέλτα, Εἶ, Φαῦ, Ἰῶτα, Κάππα, Λάμβδα, Μῦ, Νῦ, Οῦ, Πῖ, Ῥῶ, Ζίγμα, Ταῦ. The explanation which has just been given to the myth of Cadmus, and its connection with the Pelasgi, have an important bearing on the question relative to the existence of an early Pelasgic alphabet in Greece. See Alphabet; Pelasgi.


A native of Miletus, who flourished about B.C. 520. Pliny (Pliny H. N. vii. 56) calls him the most ancient of the logographi. In another passage he makes him to have been the first prosewriter, though elsewhere he attributes this to Pherecydes. According to a remark of Isocrates (in his discourse Περὶ Ἀντιδόσεως), Cadmus was the first that bore the title of σοφιστής, by which appellation was then meant an eloquent man. He wrote on the antiquities of his native city. His work was abridged by Bion of Proconnesus. See Logographi.

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