“The Story of of Cadmus” (lV) – Ovid

by richibi

     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