Cadmus, Greek Hero

The second hero is Cadmus, who is notable among the other figures of tradition as being the only one who was reckoned as not being of Greek race at all. He was said to be a Phoenician, who came to settle in Greece and brought with him the art of writing by means of the alphabet. The alphabet of Cadmus consisted of only sixteen letters, A, B, C, D, E, F, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T; and to these, men gradually added another ten.

Cadmus, like Deucalion, consulted Apollo's oracle on Parnassus, and was commanded to found the city of Thebes. As he went forth to do so, he encountered a monstrous dragon, or serpent, which was sacred to Mars, the god of war. The dragon slew the followers of Cadmus, whereon he attacked it, and, after a terrific combat, slew it. He then sowed the dragon's teeth like seed, and from them grew up a crop of armed men, who fought together until all but five were slain. Then these five helped Cadmus build his city.

In this story we have clear record that colonists of Phoenician blood came among the Greeks, who thus were not of pure race, and were themselves aware of this. If you will look on your map for Thebes, you will find it near Mount Parnassus in middle Greece; and close beside it lay another city, Orchomenos. The latter had been the old Aegean capital of the region. Thebes was a later city, whose people only very slowly won their way to be admitted and reckoned as genuine Greeks.

Cadmus became king of Thebes; but by slaying the serpent of Mars he had brought a curse upon himself and all his descendants. One after another they came to tragic ends. The most celebrated among them was Oedipus, whose story became a favorite theme among the later poets and dramatists. Oedipus was foredoomed by the Fates to slay his father and commit other awful sins. Knowing this, his father endeavored to kill the babe at birth; but the child was rescued and brought up secretly. When grown to manhood Oedipus learned of his doom, and, to avoid it, fled from the adopted father whom he supposed was his own. Meeting his real father by chance, Oedipus was attacked by him and slew him. The young adventurer then journeyed on to Thebes and there completed the catalogue of his fated sins upon his unknown family. For these unconsciously committed horrors he afterward suffered awful agonies, pursued in the name of justice by the vindictive gods.

At one time Oedipus was made king by the Thebans, and saved them from the Sphinx. This Grecian monster had no connection except in appearance with the Egyptian sphinxes. The Greek Sphinx was a living, man-eating horror, half tigress and half woman. It haunted the roads near Thebes and propounded a riddle to each person it met. No one could answer the riddle and each unfortunate who failed was promptly devoured by the Sphinx. Oedipus went out to meet the monster, to match it with his sword or with his wit. The Sphinx asked him its riddle, which is worth remembering as the very oldest known conundrum in the world: What is it that goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening? And Oedipus saw the point and answered, Man; for he crawls in childhood, walks erect in maturity, and hobbles with a cane in old age. The Sphinx, despairing at finding some one cleverer than she, killed herself; and Thebes was free.

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Read about Cadmus, Greek Hero in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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