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Month: December, 2020

“The Story of of Cadmus” (lV) – Ovid

     Cadmus Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth” (1610/1690)


               Peter Paul Rubens





                Cadmus beheld him wallow in a flood
                Of swimming poison, intermix’d with blood;


swimming poison, the venom the

dragon had spewed, intermix’d

with blood, after Cadmus had

struck the beast with his jav’lin,

if you’ll remember

                When suddenly a speech was heard from high
                (The speech was heard, nor was the speaker nigh),


the suggestion here is that the voice

is disincarnate, ethereal, otherworldly,

from high, not nigh


                “Why dost thou thus with secret pleasure see,
                Insulting man! what thou thy self shalt be?”


secret pleasure, the self-satisfaction

of the soul, unspoken


what thou thy self shalt be, a prophecy

as cryptic as oracular pronouncements

ever tended to be,also ever ominous

                Astonish’d at the voice, he stood amaz’d,
                And all around with inward horror gaz’d:


all around, the detritus, the waste, the

ravages that surrounded him, that

Cadmus viewed, gaz’d at, amaz’d …

with inward horror

                When Pallas swift descending from the skies,
                Pallas, the guardian of the bold and wise,


Pallas, the goddess Athena, of Wisdom,

of War, bold and wise patroness,

protectress of, among other Greek

cities, incidentally, Athens, site of, on

the Acropolis there, the Parthenon,

her temple

                Bids him plow up the field, and scatter round
                The dragon’s teeth o’er all the furrow’d ground;


we’ve seen this happen before, if you’ll

remember, with Deucalion and Pyrrha,

casting the stones, their mighty mother‘s

bones, to replenish, after the flood, the

resurgent Earth with people

                Then tells the youth how to his wond’ring eyes
                Embattled armies from the field should rise.


wond’ring, startled


                He sows the teeth at Pallas’s command,
               And flings the future people from his hand.
               The clods grow warm, and crumble where he sows;


Cadmus is sow[ing] people, future

people, however, apparently, military,

at the command of the goddess, but

Pallas, remember, is goddess of  War,

these metamorphosizing, ahem, 

entities would be her progeny, her


                And now the pointed spears advance in rows;
                Now nodding plumes appear, and shining crests,
                Now the broad shoulders and the rising breasts;
                O’er all the field the breathing harvest swarms,
                A growing host, a crop of men and arms.


an army – listen, this is how I think

Shostakovich would’ve heard it,

from his 7th Symphony, the

Leningrad, its first movement, a

searing allegretto, a movement

he’d initially entitled War before

deciding against it


here’s the entire symphony, should

you be, and I highly recommend it,

into it, a much more convincing, to

my mind, production, however

significantly extended

                So through the parting stage a figure rears
                Its body up, and limb by limb appears
                By just degrees; ’till all the man arise,
                And in his full proportion strikes the eyes.


as each of the teeth develops, grow[s]

warm, as each figure rears … and limb

by limb appears, men arise, recognizable

as such, each in his full proportion

                Cadmus surpriz’d, and startled at the sight
                Of his new foes, prepar’d himself for fight:
                When one cry’d out, “Forbear, fond man, forbear
                To mingle in a blind promiscuous war.”


forbear, hold on, desist, stop


promiscuous, indiscriminate

                This said, he struck his brother to the ground,
                Himself expiring by another’s wound;
                Nor did the third his conquest long survive,
                Dying ere scarce he had begun to live.


the new foes are slaughtering each

other, Cadmus doesn’t have to lift

a finger


what’s up


stay tuned



R ! chard

“The Story of of Cadmus” (lll) – Ovid

File:Hendrick Goltzius Cadmus Statens Museum for Kunst 1183.jpg

             Cadmus Slays the Dragon


                       Hendrick Goltzius





             And now the scorching sun was mounted high,

             In all its lustre, to the noon-day sky;

             When, anxious for his friends, and fill’d with cares,

             To search the woods th’ impatient chief prepares.

th’ impatient chief, Cadmus, prince of

Tyre, had sen[t] his servants to a

neighb’ring grove / For living streams,

if you’ll remembersacrifice to Jove,

to thank that god for these new

dominionstheir new home

             A lion’s hide around his loins he wore,

             The well poiz’d javelin to the field he bore,

             Inur’d to blood; the far-destroying dart;

             And, the best weapon, an undaunted heart.


Cadmus here is a precursor of the

mythologically later Heracles, or

Herakles, or Hercules in Latin, a

hero, which is to say descended

from the gods, in that latter’s case,

son of Jove / Zeus / Jupiter, the

very deity who’d just abducted

Europa, Cadmus‘ sister, mother

of all Europeans, divine or human


             Soon as the youth approach’d the fatal place,

             He saw his servants breathless on the grass;


breathless, not breathing,


             The scaly foe amid their corps he view’d,

             Basking at ease, and feasting in their blood.


The scaly foe, the dragon


corps, corpses

             “Such friends,” he cries, “deserv’d a longer date;


a longer date, a longer life, a more

extended period of existence

             But Cadmus will revenge or share their fate.”


either [t]he scaly foe will die, the

dragon, or Cadmus himself, in the

attempt to avenge his friends, his

servants breathless on the grass,

he promises

              Then heav’d a stone, and rising to the throw, 

              He sent it in a whirlwind at the foe:


in a whirlwind, taking advantage

of a meteorological condition, as

one would a kite

             A tow’r, assaulted by so rude a stroke,

             With all its lofty battlements had shook;


a tower would’ve swayed at so

powerful a strike, I remember

an earthquake once rocking my

own high rise apartment building

for an unnerving moment before

settling, returning the ground, 

my ground, to its, otherwise

imperturbable, placidity


             But nothing here th’ unwieldy rock avails,

             Rebounding harmless from the plaited scales,

             That, firmly join’d, preserv’d him from a wound,

             With native armour crusted all around.


native, integral, a constituent

part of

             With more success, the dart unerring flew,


the dart, the javelin

             Which at his back the raging warriour threw;


the raging warriour, Cadmus


             Amid the plaited scales it took its course,

             And in the spinal marrow spent its force.

             The monster hiss’d aloud, and rag’d in vain,

             And writh’d his body to and fro with pain;

             He bit the dart, and wrench’d the wood away;

             The point still buried in the marrow lay.

             And now his rage, increasing with his pain,

             Reddens his eyes, and beats in ev’ry vein;

             Churn’d in his teeth the foamy venom rose,

             Whilst from his mouth a blast of vapours flows,

             Such as th’ infernal Stygian waters cast.


Stygian, of the River Styx, which

forms the boundary between the

Earth and the Underworld, named

after the Goddess Styx, daughter

of Tethys and Oceanus, god, and

river also, which encircled the

entire world

             The plants around him wither in the blast.

             Now in a maze of rings he lies enrowl’d,


enrowl’d, encircled, surrounded

             Now all unravel’d, and without a fold;


without a fold, without a hitch, without

an intervening obstacle


             Now, like a torrent, with a mighty force

             Bears down the forest in his boist’rous course.


Bears down the forest, advances,

like a torrent, against the wall of



             Cadmus gave back, and on the lion’s spoil

             Sustain’d the shock, then forc’d him to recoil;


gave back, drew back, backed

away, forc’d … to recoil


the lion’s spoil, the dragon’s

venom and its gore

             The pointed jav’lin warded off his rage:


the dragon readies for the onslaught,

overcoming his, otherwise consuming

rage, at the sight of [t]he pointed jav’lin


             Mad with his pains, and furious to engage,

             The serpent champs the steel, and bites the spear,

             Till blood and venom all the point besmear.

             But still the hurt he yet receiv’d was slight;

             For, whilst the champion with redoubled might

             Strikes home the jav’lin, his retiring foe

             Shrinks from the wound, and disappoints the blow.


the jav’lin is still no match for the,

however wounded, dragon


             The dauntless heroe still pursues his stroke,

             And presses forward, ’till a knotty oak

             Retards his foe, and stops him in the rear;


retards, stops, inhibits

             Full in his throat he plung’d the fatal spear,

             That in th’ extended neck a passage found,

             And pierc’d the solid timber through the wound.


the fatal spear has pierc’d not

only th’ extended neck, but also

the knotty oak behind it, which

had prevented the dragon from

moving onward toward his



             Fix’d to the reeling trunk, with many a stroke

             Of his huge tail he lash’d the sturdy oak;

             ‘Till spent with toil, and lab’ring hard for breath,

             He now lay twisting in the pangs of death.


ding dong, the dragon is, if not

dead, dying


stay tuned



R ! chard

“The Story of of Cadmus” (ll) – Ovid

St. George and the Dragon, c.1470 - Paolo Uccello

          “St. George and the Dragon” (c.1470)


                 Paolo Uccello





             Cadmus salutes the soil, and gladly hails

             The new-found mountains, and the nameless vales,

             And thanks the Gods, and turns about his eye

             To see his new dominions round him lye;


Cadmus, son of Agenor, brother of

Europa, has, on the advice of the

Delphick oracles, settled where

the lonely cow, / Unworn with yokes,

unbroken to the plow had stoop’d,

and couch’d amid the rising grass,

and stakes there his new appointed



vales, valleys

             Then sends his servants to a neighb’ring grove

             For living streams, a sacrifice to Jove.


Cadmus, a prince, would’ve had

a retinue, followers, Hamlet for

instance, his Horatio, his

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern


Jove, note, is the god who abducted

Europa, though Cadmus, according

to our story, isn’t yet supposed to 

know this, never having found his

sister, nor identified, consequently,

her ravisher, namely Jovethe god

to whom Cadmus is now about to

give sacrifice, give thanks

             O’er the wide plain there rose a shady wood

             Of aged trees; in its dark bosom stood

             A bushy thicket, pathless and unworn,

             O’er-run with brambles, and perplex’d with thorn:


perplex’d, a wonderful metaphor

here for entangled, enmeshed


             Amidst the brake a hollow den was found,

             With rocks and shelving arches vaulted round.


brake, bracken, brush


             Deep in the dreary den, conceal’d from day,

             Sacred to Mars, a mighty dragon lay,


Mars, god of War


a mighty dragon, dragons, it appears,

go back to very prehistory, perhaps

as a memory in our reptilian brain of

dinosaurs, and the like, that made its

way into our poetic imagination


see above 

             Bloated with poison to a monstrous size;

             Fire broke in flashes when he glanc’d his eyes:


glanc’d his eyes, threw glances at


             His tow’ring crest was glorious to behold,


crest, as in roosters, or reptiles

             His shoulders and his sides were scal’d with gold;


scal’d, having scales, plates,

overlapping surfaces

             Three tongues he brandish’d when he charg’d his foes;

             His teeth stood jaggy in three dreadful rowes.


rowes, rows, three dreadful ones,

one behind the other

             The Tyrians in the den for water sought,


The Tyrians, Cadmus and his men,

all originally from Tyre

             And with their urns explor’d the hollow vault:


urns, to collect from living streams

within the vault a sacrifice to Jove

             From side to side their empty urns rebound,


rebound, knock against a harder

surface repeatedly

             And rowse the sleeping serpent with the sound.


rowse, rouse


             Strait he bestirs him, and is seen to rise;


he bestirs him, he bestirs himself


             And now with dreadful hissings fills the skies,

             And darts his forky tongues, and rowles his glaring eyes.


rowles, rolls

             The Tyrians drop their vessels in the fright,


vessels, urns


             All pale and trembling at the hideous sight.

             Spire above spire uprear’d in air he stood,


Spire above spire, scale upon scale


uprear’d, reared up


he, the serpent

             And gazing round him over-look’d the wood:


overlook’d, looked over, surveyed

             Then floating on the ground in circles rowl’d;


rowl’d, rolled

             Then leap’d upon them in a mighty fold.


fold, embrace, encirclement


             Of such a bulk, and such a monstrous size

             The serpent in the polar circle lyes,

             That stretches over half the northern skies.


The serpent in the polar circle, Serpens,

a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere

in close proximity to the North Pole


lyes, lies

             In vain the Tyrians on their arms rely,


their arms, their weapons

             In vain attempt to fight, in vain to fly:
             All their endeavours and their hopes are vain;
             Some die entangled in the winding train;


the winding train, the serpent’s



             Some are devour’d, or feel a loathsom death,
             Swoln up with blasts of pestilential breath.


stay tuned




R ! chard