The creative titling continues, eh? (Also, lateness.) Anyway, this picks up from, well, about half-way through last week’s, actually.
After his sister Europa was carried off by the strange bull that had risen from the sea, Cadmos swore that he would find her, promising his father that he would not return to Phoenicia without his sister. His father didn’t like the idea of losing his eldest — and finest — son, but he liked the idea of allowing his daughter to be carried off without retribution even less, so he allowed it without complaint.
So Cadmos sailed away from his native land of Tyre with only a single ship, seeking for his sister.
Based on what Europa’s friends had told him, Cadmos suspected that the bull with his sister on its back must have fetched up on the large island of Crete, halfway across the sea. He had never heard of there being any bulls on that island — in fact, he could recall one ship returning to Tyre after having put into port at Cnossos and complaining that there hadn’t been a single cow on the whole island — but surely that would make it more likely that the natives would be able to tell him what had happened to his sister, if something as unusual as a bull had come ashore with her.
When they arrived at the easternmost port on the island, Cadmos did his best to ask around, but the Cretans were being even less helpful than usual; in fact, they all said that they were on holiday, because the king was getting married, and so they didn’t have to deal with foreigners right now! It took him nearly a full day to find anyone who was willing to talk to him.
The garrulous chap was standing in the temple to one of the local gods — Cadmos wasn’t sure which one, since he had rarely paid much heed to foreign gods — and seemed surprisingly eager to talk. “You look wealthy,” the man said as soon as Cadmos approached him. “You one of those eastern princes I’ve heard so much about?”
“I suppose you could say that,” Cadmos answered uneasily. His father was a king, so he was a prince, and Phoenicia was certainly to the east of Crete, but something about the characterization made him uncomfortable. Just what had this man heard about princes from the east? “I’m looking for my sister, Europa.”
“Oh? That’s an unusual name for a Phoenician girl, isn’t it?” the other man chuckled.
“Is it?” Cadmos had never spent much time contemplating women’s names. Women, yes, but not their names. “Wait, what does that matter?! Look, just tell me if you’ve seen her! She–”
“Can’t say I’ve ever met any Phoenician princesses,” the man replied, shaking his head.
“But have you heard any rumors? She was carried off on the back of a bull that rose out of the sea! Surely people must talk if a thing like that comes walking up onto the shore!” Cadmos exclaimed, nearly shouting.
“A bull? Ain’t none of those around here!” the man assured him. “Try going further east,” he added. “In Hellas, there’s a shrine to Apollo in a place called Delphi. The prophetess there, the Pythia, she never speaks falsely. If you ask her, you’ll have the words of Apollo himself to tell you what to do about your sister.”
Cadmos frowned. He didn’t like the idea of asking a foreign god for help, but if she hadn’t fetched up on Crete, then he didn’t know quite where else to look. Maybe the foreign god was his only option? “Tell me where to find this Delphi,” he said, with a resigned sigh.
The man gave him detailed instructions as to how to get to Delphi, and Cadmos left Crete, setting sail for Hellas. Because Delphi was inland, Cadmos left most of his men on the ship, and continued his travels on foot, taking only a handful of guards with him. He didn’t want anyone to think he was invading, after all.
Once he had finally arrived at Delphi, Cadmos went through the necessary procedures to ask the Pythia for advice, a process that took longer than he was expecting. It frustrated him greatly that he was having to wait so long. At this rate, his sister could be suffering any number of terrible indignities at the hands of her abductors!
When he was finally ushered into the presence of the Pythia, Cadmos finally explained his situation to her. The woman nodded, and inhaled some of the vapors passing up through a crack in the floor before speaking to him. “You must abandon your quest, Cadmos of Phoenicia,” the woman told him, in a surprisingly deep voice: though it was mellifluous, it could easily have passed for a man’s voice. “It was by the will of Zeus that Europa was taken from her father’s lands, and she will not return there.”
“Zeus?” Cadmos repeated. “That’s one of your gods, isn’t it?”
“Zeus is the king of the gods of Olympos,” the Pythia told him sharply, “and you will come to worship him in time.”
“You must follow the cow,” the Pythia told him.
“Cow?” Cadmos didn’t like just repeating what was being said to him, but how else was he supposed to react?!
“You will find a cow with a white moon upon both her flanks,” the Pythia informed him, her voice just as masculine as ever. “The cow will lead you to the land where you must build your city.”
“Why am I going to build a city?” Cadmos asked, aghast. Why would he go to all that trouble when he already had a city at home, waiting for him to come home and be king? Oh, but no, he couldn’t go home: he had sworn not to return without Europa…
“Where the cow sinks to the ground, there you must build your walls,” the Pythia continued, ignoring his question. “You will be a king among the Hellenes, despite your foreign birth. It is a great honor.”
“I suppose it is, but I’m still not clear why I can’t be reunited with my sister.”
“I told you, it is the will of Zeus!” the Pythia snapped at him. She really did sound like a man, Cadmos couldn’t help thinking. “Are all Phoenicians so stupid, or is it just you?”
“I am not stupid,” Cadmos assured her, wondering if it was permissible to hit her for being so rude.
“Then stop acting like you are,” she laughed. “You came to seek my advice, and yet you refuse to take it.”
“That isn’t exactly…” Cadmos started, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to finish; it felt dishonest.
“Find the cow with the moons, and follow her until she collapses. There build your city, and rule over it for as long as your strength holds out. That is the will of Zeus,” the Pythia told him, her every word sharp and pointed, as if each word was an arrow being fired at him.
Cadmos sighed deeply. “All right, I understand,” he said, “but can you at least explain why Zeus doesn’t wish me even to see my sister again?”
For some reason, the Pythia only laughed at him, and then sunk to her knees. After a moment, she rose again, and smiled at him weakly. “The god has departed,” she told him, in an entirely different — and far more feminine — voice. “That is the extent of your answer.”
Uncertain, and decidedly dismayed, Cadmos left Delphi, unsure what to do. Was he really to live out the rest of his life in exile, just because some priestess claimed that her gods wished his sister to remain forever hidden from her own flesh and blood? It hardly seemed right! And yet to deny the will of the gods — even someone else’s gods — didn’t seem right, either.
Cadmos discussed the problem with his men, and after much consideration — and some argument — they all came to the agreement that they should spend a week hunting for the cow with the white moons on her flanks, and if they didn’t find such a cow, then they would consider that a sign from the gods that this Pythia had really been speaking nonsense, and they would continue on their search for Europa.
The week was nearly up when they found a lone cow standing in a field. She had a white circle on either flank, and looked at them passively as they approached, then suddenly turned and began to walk away.
Little knowing what else to do, Cadmos and his men followed the cow.
And followed her.
And followed her.
She wandered across all of Boeotia, with the Phoenicians wearily trailing along behind her, before she finally sank to the ground in exhaustion.
The place where she collapsed was wide and flat, yet with several possible defensive features nearby. It did seem like an ideal place to build a city, Cadmos had to admit. He could even hear water from a spring nearby.
“I suppose there’s nothing for it,” Cadmos sighed. “We’ll build a city, as the oracle told us to. We should sacrifice this cow to the local gods, asking their permission to build here. Go and fetch water from the spring,” he added, turning to his men.
The men nodded, and headed off to the spring.
They were not out of sight long before Cadmos heard them scream in terror and anguish. Running to see what had happened, Cadmos found them broken and bleeding all around the spring, an enormous serpent reared up above their mangled bodies.
Too frightened and shocked to think to draw his sword, Cadmos grabbed an enormous stone that lay near his feet, and as the serpent began to strike towards him, Cadmos threw the stone at it with all his might. It struck the serpent in the head, and the monstrous beast fell to the earth, quite as dead as its victims.
For a moment, all was still, except the water in the spring.
Then an enormous man clad in shining armor appeared before Cadmos, his face contorted with rage. “How dare you kill my serpent?!” the man demanded. “Don’t you know a sacred guardian when you see one!?”
Cadmos took a step backwards, alarmed and more than a little confused. But before he could think of anything to say, another being in shining armor appeared before him, just as large as the other, but this one was a beautiful woman, and her face was as placid as it was lovely. “Calm yourself, Ares,” the woman said. “You know this was Father’s will.”
“There’s no reason to let this barbarian get away with desecrating my spring!” the man, Ares, retorted furiously.
“If he hadn’t defended himself, he would be dead, and Father has plans for his family,” the woman replied, her voice hardening a little. “Let it go.”
“Would you be so calm if he’d slain your guardian, Athene?!” Ares demanded.
“I do not entrust my sacred places to brute beasts that attack all they see,” Athene laughed. “Blame yourself for your own mistakes, and accept that this is what Father wishes.”
“No! I’ll see him punished!”
The woman grimaced, then glanced at the corpse of the serpent, and turned an almost vicious smile at Ares. “Shall we let him determine his own fate?” she suggested. “The test of the Spartoi, perhaps?”
Ares laughed cruelly. “Fine, I can watch him torn to pieces, and get a good laugh out of it. Go on, then.”
Athene turned to look at Cadmos, who had for some time been wondering if he could escape while these two strange beings bickered. “Pluck the teeth from the dragon’s upper jaw,” she told him, gesturing towards the dead serpent, “then sow them in the fertile ground above.”
“Wh-what happens then?” Cadmos asked, wondering what a ‘Spartoi’ was, and how they planned on testing him…and just how being torn to pieces fit into the picture.
“That will depend on your actions,” Athene replied, with a mysterious smile. “I know you can survive it,” she added, her smile becoming more warm. “Father would not have chosen you for this honor if you weren’t able to measure up.”
“If I can ask one more question?” Cadmos asked, after a moment’s hesitation.
“You may ask,” Athene replied, “though we may not answer it.”
Cadmos tried not to frown at an answer like that. “Why only the upper jaw? Why not both?”
“You wouldn’t want to sow that many teeth,” Athene chuckled. “And we do have plans for the other half of the teeth. Father promised them to Helios, in repayment of some old debt.”
Cadmos wasn’t sure who Helios was — or who Athene’s father was, though he suspected her father was probably the same Zeus who had been behind Europa’s disappearance — but he decided it was probably best not to ask. Instead, he did as he had been told, and prized the teeth out of the serpent’s upper jaw. It was a rather smelly task, and he cut his fingers on the teeth more than once, but eventually he had gotten them all out. The thing had a surprisingly large number of teeth — in Phoenicia, serpents only had two fangs, so he hadn’t been expecting more than twenty teeth just on one jaw! — so he had to walk back up to the area near where the cow was still resting to have room enough to sow them in the ground.
He didn’t have a plow handy — who travels with a plow, after all? — so Cadmos had to use a stick to make the necessary number of holes. Hardly proper sowing, but he was a merchant prince and a warrior, not a farmer, so he wouldn’t have known how to do it right even if he’d had the proper equipment. He dropped a single tooth into each hole, and then turned to survey his work.
To his surprise, he could see that the first hole was puckering and swelling, and soon he could see a man — fully clad in heavy bronze armor! — climbing out of the hole.
Backing away, Cadmos watched in disbelief as each hole disgorged a fully armed warrior. Fully armed and from the sound of them very angry. If those men saw him, they would surely set upon him and kill him; they didn’t seem to like having been born in little holes in the ground. (And, in truth, Cadmos had to admit that he wouldn’t have liked that, either.)
Not knowing quite what to do to protect himself, Cadmos picked up a stone from the ground, and threw it at one of the sown men whose back was towards him.
The man who had been struck by the rock whirled around and immediately accused the man standing behind him of having hit him. The other sown man denied it — of course he did! — but the injured party refused to believe his innocence, and punched him in the face. The second man, naturally, punched back.
Soon all of the sown men were involved in the brawl, and it turned bloody as one after another drew his sword and began to hack the others to pieces.
By the time the fight was over, only five remained.
One of them noticed Cadmos, and all five of them approached him. “Are you the king?” one of them asked.
Uneasily, Cadmos shook his head. “I’m an exiled Phoenician prince,” he told them, “obeying an oracle’s command to build a city here.”
“Then you’re the king,” another sown man concluded, nodding. “I suppose we must obey you, then.”
To Cadmos’ surprise, the sown men were soon all vowing loyalty to him, and almost before he knew it, the six of them were planning and building the new city of Thebes.
That should have been an end to it, but the city had hardly been finished before it was struck by a plague. Sending to Delphi for advice, Cadmos received the message that Ares was still angry at him for having slain the sacred serpent. If he was to put an end to the plague, he would have to placate the god of war, and he could do that only by serving him for a year.
Hardly what Cadmos would have wanted — he had never much cared for war and fighting — but he couldn’t afford to have a god angry at him! (Especially since Thebes had gained a considerable population of locals, and so Cadmos had been forced to enter into the worship of the local gods.)
So Cadmos entered into the service of Ares for a year, and was forced to perform many menial and degrading tasks at the whim of the god of war. But when the year was up, just as he was looking forward to returning to Thebes and relaxing, he was surprised to find that Athene had come to speak to her brother Ares.
“Now that he’s done his penance, Father wants you to make peace with him,” Athene informed Ares.
“I don’t want to,” the other god grumbled.
“Regardless, you have to make peace with him, or Father will be cross, and you don’t want that, do you?” Athene asked, her voice light and cheery, and yet she had a threatening look in her eyes.
Ares blanched, and looked away. “No,” he muttered.
“Good. Then you’ll bind him to you in blood,” Athene informed him, then turned to look at a confused and more than slightly alarmed Cadmos. “You’ll marry Ares’ daughter Harmonia,” she told him.
This was definitely the best news Cadmos had had in…in his entire life, actually. In the course of his service to Ares, he had occasionally caught sight of Ares’ daughter Harmonia. She was the most beautiful creature that Cadmos had ever seen, and he doubted that even her mother, Aphrodite herself, could match up to Harmonia.
Naturally, Cadmos had never been allowed to speak to Harmonia, but he was sure he’d seen her looking at him on more than one occasion. At least, he certainly liked to think so…
Though Ares tried to object to his daughter marrying a mortal, Athene would allow no arguments to dissuade her, and soon Cadmos was sent back to Thebes to prepare for his wedding.
When the day of the wedding arrived, the bride was brought to Thebes by her parents, and all the other gods also came to celebrate the wedding, in the company of the Muses and the Graces. It was the most splendid wedding that the world had ever seen, and the prophetic Apollo commented that though there would someday be another wedding of a mortal man to an immortal maid which would surpass this one, until that day, Cadmos’ wedding would remain the finest any mortal man would ever have.
But the best part of the wedding, to Cadmos — apart from the joy to come on the wedding night — was the arrival of a herald from Crete.
“King Asterion and Queen Europa send you this gift,” the herald told him, handing Cadmos a necklace more beautiful than any mortal man had ever made.
“Europa?” Cadmos repeated. “My sister?!”
“Yes, the queen called you her brother,” the herald confirmed. “She asked me to convey the message to you that she is very happy where she is, and that she’s glad to hear you’ve found happiness as well.”
Overjoyed by the news that his sister was all right — though annoyed that the man in Crete had lied to him — Cadmos gave the herald a long message to relay to Europa, and then gladly presented the beautiful necklace to his new wife.
Yup. It’s official: I suck at finding a place to end things.
Anyway, where do I start with the apologies/explanations on this one?
First off, I’ve never heard of a Greek myth that acknowledges that other cultures had other gods — certainly the Greek historians didn’t acknowledge that, not as such; they tended to assign Greek names to the foreign gods (like Herodotos saying that the Egyptians worshiped Dionysos and Demeter as their primary gods) — but I wasn’t about to make Phoenicians worship the Greek gods. That would just be weird. (Though I’m not sure what gods it would be appropriate to say they did worship, considering the Phoenicians as we think of them wouldn’t have existed in the early Late Bronze Age, and I’m not sure who the proto-Phoenicians were or who they worshiped.)
Second, let’s see, what was second? Oh, yeah, the stuff about cows/bulls and Crete. As you’re probably aware, the “Minoan” culture on the real Crete had a bull cult, and many of the Greek myths involving Crete involve a bull in some manner. So why did I make the strange “no cows on Crete” bit in the story? Well, I thought I’d use this myth to explain why bulls were so important in Crete. Like before Europa arrived, no bulls, but afterwards, bulls are a focus of the local religious life. I’m not sure I can phrase it properly. (Especially not this late at night.) I think that’s why there are so many bull-related myths for Crete, though: the myths were, essentially, trying to explain the Cretan bull cult of the Late Bronze Age. Only by the time of the versions of the myths we know, the Late Bronze Age is barely more than a faded memory, so they don’t really get that that’s the reason there are so many bull-related myths about Crete.
Third, about the serpent/dragon’s teeth. Remember in Jason and the Argonauts, when Aeetes sows the dragon’s teeth to make the skeletons pop up out of the earth to go attack Jason and his friends? (And the movie then unceremoniously kills one of the Dioscuri without any fanfare or explanation of how he could die so early and in the wrong place and in the wrong way?) Well, they’re not supposed to be skeletons, but sown men really are part of the myth of the voyage of the Argo, only in the original myth, they’re the other half of the teeth from the same dragon/serpent that Cadmos slew. With no explanation — that I’m aware of (which isn’t saying much) — of how Aeetes got those particular teeth. So I made up the bit about giving them to Helios, who then presumably handed them over to his son, Aeetes. (Yup, Medea’s daddy is the son of the sun. That, of course, is why Medea is immortal: both of her parents are immortal.)
EDIT — After going to bed, I remembered what the other things I wanted to point out were, and thankfully I still remember them now, in the morning:
Fourth, the whole Pythia sequence is broken. That’s not how consulting Delphi worked; priests spoke to the Pythia and interpreted what she said into hexameters, and told those to the visitors, who likely never even got to lay eyes on the Pythia themselves. But she did — we think — inhale vapors coming up from a crack in the floor. They may have had a hallucinogenic effect…or they may not. There’s more I don’t know about Delphi than there is that I do. A whole book was published just on Delphi not too long ago (a year or two, max) but I haven’t had time to read it yet. (It is definitely on my list of things I want to read when I get the time, though! I also have a different, older book on Delphi waiting for me to read it…)
Fifth, the arrival at Thebes bit would be better if I had any idea what the terrain around Thebes looks like. Or rather what it might have looked like prior to the construction of the city. I just made something up that felt plausible, because I didn’t feel like I had time to look anything up, no matter how briefly. (It was, by that point, at least a quarter to 11 at night.) Okay, end of EDIT zone.
Anyway, the base myth here has surprisingly few surviving variations, but the exact reasoning behind the sowing of the dragon’s teeth has more variations, and they’re contradictory, so I tried to make a sensible version while accepting as many details as I could. Though I totally made up the “he’s seen Harmonia already and quite fancies her” bit. Because it feels a little less creepy this way, especially since it also allowed me to imply that she’s interested, too. (Given that she will eventually be turned into a serpent because of her husband, it seemed important that she should actually like him!)
Next week — and for the rest of October — I’m going to see if I can find something that feels suitably Halloween-related. So that presumably means something monster-related, as I’m pretty sure I won’t find any tales of the undead in ancient Greek myths. (Though there are some undead in Mesopotamian myths, so maybe if I look hard enough I can…?)