Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Monday, 4 June 2012

Cadmus and Harmonia, Erichthonius

The  Ismenian dragon was a gigantic serpent which guarded the sacred spring of Ismenos near Thebes. When the hero Cadmus came to fetch water for the founding of the city of Thebes, he slew the deadly serpent with a cast of a stone.
The goddess Athena afterwards instructed him to sow the dragon's teeth in the earth, producing a crop of fully-grown, armed warriors, called Spartoi, five of whom became the ancestral lords of Thebes.
Ares, the father of the dragon, later avenged its death when he transformed Cadmus and his wife into serpents.

Cadmus, a son of Agenor and Telephassa, and brother of Europa, Phoenix, and Cilix. When Europa was carried off by Zeus to Crete, Agenor sent out his sons in search of their sister, enjoining them not to return without her. Telephassa accompanied her sons. All researches being fruitless, Cadmus and Telephassa settled in Thrace. Here Telephassa died, and Cadmus, after burying her, went to Delphi to consult the oracle respecting his sister. The god commanded him to abstain from further seeking, and to follow a cow of a certain kind, and to build a town on the spot where the cow should sink down with fatigue. (Schol. ad Eurip. Phoen. 638, ad Aristoph. Ran. 1256; Paus. ix. 12. § 1.) Cadmus found the cow described by the oracle in Phocis among  the herds of Pelagon, and followed her into Boeotia, where she sank down on the spot on which Cadmus built Thebes, with the acropolis, Cadmea. As he intended to sacrifice the cow here to Athena, he sent some persons to the neighboring well of Ares to fetch water. This well was guarded by a dragon, a son of Ares, who killed the men sent by Cadmus. Hereupon, Cadmus slew the dragon, and, on the advice of Athena, sowed the teeth of the monster, out of which armed men grew up, who slew each other, with the exception of five, Echion, Udaeus, Chthonius, Hyperenor, and Pelor, who, according to the Theban legend, were the ancestors of the Thebans. Cadmus was punished for having slain the dragon by being obliged to serve for a certain period of time, some say one year, others eight years. After this Athena assigned to him the government of Thebes, and Zeus gave him Harmonia for his wife. The marriage solemnity was honored by the presence of all the Olympian gods in the Cadmea. Cadmus gave to Harmonia the famous peplos and necklace which he had received from Hephaestus or from Europa, and became by her the father of Autonoë, Ino, Semele, Agave, and Polydorus. Subsequently Cadmus and Harmonia quitted Thebes, and went to the Cenchelians This people was at war with the Illyrians, and had received an oracle which promised them victory if they took Cadmus as their commander. The Cenchelians accordingly made Cadmus their king, and conquered the enemy. After this, Cadmus had another son, whom he called Illyrius. In the end, Cadmus and Harmonia were changed into snakes, and were removed by Zeus to Elysium.

Cadmus with a water-pitcher (hydria) in hand confronts the Drakon of the Ismenian spring near Thebes. The hero is accompanied by his wife Harmonia. Opposite, stands Ismene, the Naias Nymphe of the spring.
Various other gods observe the scene: Aphrodite, Hermes, Pan. ca 360 - 340 BC

Cadmus battles the guardian serpent of the sacred spring of Ismene. The beast strikes out from its place coiled around the pillar of the well-house. The hero, armed with a gorgon-emblazoned shield, fights back with a spear. ca 550 - 540 BC

Cadmus battles the guardian serpent of the sacred Ismenian spring. Ares (?) stands beside the 560 - 550 BC
Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 27 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"He [Kadmos] sent his henchmen forth to find a spring of living water for the ritual [upon his arrival in Boiotia]. There stood an ancient forest undefiled by axe or saw, and in its heart a cave close-veiled in boughs and creepers, with its rocks joined in a shallow arch, and gushing out a wealth of water. Hidden in the cave there dwelt a Snake, an Anguis Martius (Snake of Mars) [Ares]. Its crest shone gleaming gold; its eyes flashed fire; its whole body was big with venom, and between its triple rows of teeth its three-forked tongue flickered. The Tyrians reached the forest glade on their ill-fated quest and dipped their pales into the water. At the sound the Serpens (Snake) thrust from the cave its long dark head and hissed--a frightful hiss! Their blood ran cold. The pails fell from their hands and, horror-struck, they quaked in shock and terror. Coil by snaky coil the serpent wound its way, and, rearing up, curved in a great arching bow, erect for more than half its length, high in the air. It glared down on the whole wide wood, as huge, if all its size were seen, as in the sky the Snake that separates the two bright Bears (Arcti Geminae).

Francesco Zuccarelli  A Landscape with the Story of Cadmus Killing the Dragon.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 565 ff :
"Cadmus . . . overcome by sorrow and his train of troubles and so many warning signs, he left the city, Thebae, that he had founded, as if that city’s fortune, not his own, were crushing him, and with his pilgrim wife, after long wanderings reached Illyria. And now, worn by their woes and weight of years, the two were talking of their early times, the fortune of their house and their said toils, and Cadmus said ‘Was that a sacred Snake my spear transfixed when I had made my way from Sidon‘s walls and scattered on the soil the Serpent‘s teeth, those seeds of magic power? If it is he the jealous gods avenge with wrath so surely aimed, I pray that I may be a Snake and stretch along the ground.’
Even as he spoke he was a snake that stretched along the ground. Over his coarsened skin he felt scales form and bluish markings spot his  blackened body. Prone upon his breast he fell; his legs were joined, and gradually they tapered to a long smooth pointed tail. He still had arms; the arms he had he stretched, and, as his tears poured down still human cheeks, ‘Come, darling wife!’ he cried, ‘my poor, poor wife! Touch me, while something still is left of me, and take my hand while there‘s a hand to take, before the whole of me becomes a snake.’
More he had meant to say, but suddenly his tongue was split in tow; words failed his will; and every time he struggled to protest, he hissed; that was the voice that nature left. Beating her naked breast, his wife cried out ‘Stay, Cadmus, stay! Throw off that monstrous shape! Cadmus, what now? Your feet, your shoulders, hands where are they? And your colour and your shape, and, while I'm speaking, everything? Ye Gods, why don't you turn me too into a snake?’
He licked his poor wife's cheeks, and glided down to her dear breasts, as if familiar there, and coiled, embracing, round the neck he knew. All who were there - and courtiers were there - were terrified; but she caressed and stroked her crested dragon's long neck, and then suddenly there were two, their coils entwined. They crawled for cover to a copse nearby; and still, what they once were, they keeping in mind, quiet snakes, that neither shun nor harm mankind."

Hendrick Goltzius,  Cadmus slays the dragon

Maxfield Parrish, Cadmus Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth

Seneca, Oedipus 725 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"Our land [Thebes] has e’er produced strange monsters: either a serpent [the Ismenian Drakon], rising from the valley’s depths, hisses on high above the ancient oaks and overtops the pines; ever higher, above the Chaonian trees he lefts his dark-blue head, although his greater part still lies upon the ground; or else the earth, teeming with impious birth, brings forth armed men [the Spartoi] : loud resounding the battle-call from the curving horn, and the brazen trumpet sent forth its piercing notes. Their tongues and lips, ne’er nimble before, were first employed in the battle-cry of their unfamiliar voice. The kindred bands filled the plains, and this offspring, worthy the seed [i.e. the drakon's teeth] that had been sown, measured their life by a single day; born after the passing of Lucifer [Eosphoros, the dawn star], they perished ere Hesperus [the evening star] arose. The wanderer [Kadmos] quaked at prodigies so strange, and fearfully awaited the assault of the new-born folk; until the savage youth fell in death, and their mother [the earth] beheld the children she had but now brought forth returned to her own bosom."

 Workshop of P. Rubens, Cadmus sowing dragon's teeth

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 22 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Cadmus] sent some of his men to fetch water from the spring of Ares, but a Serpent, said by some to be a child of Ares, guarded the spring and destroyed most of those who had been sent. In outrage Cadmus killed the Serpent, and then, following the instructions of Athena, planted its teeth. From this sowing there sprang from the earth armed men, called Spartoi . . . As for Cadmus, to atone for the deaths he served Ares as a labourer for an ‘everlasting year,’ for a year then was equal to eight years now. After his period of labor, Athena provided Cadmus with the sovereignty [of Thebes], and Zeus gave him Harmonia, daughter of Aphrodite and Ares, as a wife."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 545 ff :
"[The Spartoi] Proles Marvotia (Race of Mars), you Anguigenae (Children of the Serpent) . . . Recall your lineage, brace your courage with the spirit of that Serpens (Snake) who killed, alone, so many. For his pool and spring he died. You, for your honor, you must fight and win! He did brave men to death."

Evelyn de Morgan, Cadmus and Harmonia 

Harmonia, a daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, or, according to others, of Zeus and Electra, the daughter of Atlas, in Samothrace. When Athena assigned to Cadmus the government of Thebes, Zeus gave him Harmonia for his wife, and all the gods of Olympus were present at the marriage. Cadmus on that day made her a present of a peplus and a necklace, which he had received either from Hephaestus or from Europa. (Apollod. iii. 4. § 2.) Other traditions stated that Harmonia received this necklace (hormor) from some of the gods, either from Aphrodite or Athena. (Diod. iv. 48, v. 49; Pind. Pyth. iii. 167; Stat. Theb. ii. 266; comp. Hes. Theog. 934; Hom. Hymn. in Apoll. 195.) Those who described Harmonia as a Samothracian related that Cadmus, on his voyage to Samothrace, after being initiated in the mysteries, perceived Harmonia, and carried her off with the assistance of Athena. When Cadmus was obliged to quit Thebes, Harmonia accompanied him. When they came to the Encheleans, they assisted them in their war against the  Illyrians, and conquered the enemy. Cadmus then became king of the Illyrians, but afterwards he and Harmonia were metamorphosed into dragons and transferred to Elysium; or, according to others, they were carried thither in a chariot drawn by dragons. (Apollod. iii. 5. § 4; Eurip. Bacch. 1233; Ov. Met. iv. 562, &c.)

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 6 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Cadmus along with Harmonia his wife, daughter of Venus [Aphrodite] and Mars [Ares], after their children had been killed, were turned into snakes in the region of Illyria by the wrath of Mars [Ares], because Cadmus had slain the Dracon, guardian of the fountain of Castalia [Hyginus confuses the Ismenian Spring of Thebes with the Kastalian of Delphi]

Erichthonius, mythical king of Athens who was born out of the earth and had a snake's tail. He was the son of Hephaestus and Gaea (Earth) and was given by his mother to Athena, who hid him in a basket. She took the basket to the three daughters of Cecrops, warning them not to open the basket. Because the girls were desperately curious they wen to have a little peak, and were horrified to see a child intertwined with a snake. Athena then took Erichthonius to her temple, and had him brought up there. Since then the snake was holy to her, which Phidias observed when making the huge statue of the goddess on the Acropolis: on the shield of Athena was a snake.

Erichthonius was often believed to be one and the same with Erechteus, or at least his father or grandfather.
According to the Bibliotheca, Athena visited the smith-god Hephaestus to request some weapons, but Hephaestus was so overcome by desire that he tried to seduce her in his workshop. Determined to maintain her virginity, Athena fled, pursued by Hephaestus. Despite Hephaestus' lameness, he caught Athena and tried to rape her, but she fought him off. During the struggle, his semen fell on her thigh, and Athena, in disgust, wiped it away with a scrap of wool (ἔριον, erion) and flung it to the earth (χθών, chthôn). As she fled, Erichthonius was born from the semen that fell to the earth. Athena, wishing to raise the child in secret, placed him in a small box.
Athena gave the box to the three daughters of Cecrops, the king of Athens (Herse, Pandrosus and Aglaurus), and warned them never to open it. Overcome with curiosity, Aglaurus and Herse opened the box, which contained the infant and future-king, Erichthonius ("troubles born from the earth"). (Sources are unclear whether only one sister or all three participated.) The sisters were terrified by what they saw in the box: either a snake coiled around an infant, or an infant that was half-man and half-serpent. They went insane and threw themselves off the Acropolis. Other accounts state that they were killed by the snake.
An alternative version of the story is that Athena left the box with the daughters of Cecrops while she went to fetch a mountain from Pallene to use in the Acropolis. While she was away, Aglaurus and Herse opened the box. A crow saw them open the box, and flew away to tell Athena, who fell into a rage and dropped the mountain she was carrying (now Mt. Lykabettos). As in the first version, Herse and Aglaurus went insane and threw themselves to their deaths off a cliff.

Birth of Erichthonius: Athena receives the baby Erichthonius from the hands of the earth mother Gaia, Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC

 Rubens, The Discovery of the Child Erichthonius

 Jacob Jordaens, Daughters of Kekrops Finding Erichthonios

 Jasper van der Laanen

 Melian clay relief, about 460 B.C. Gaia offers Erichthonios to Athena.