“The Story of of Cadmus” (V) – Ovid

by richibi

Minerva or Pallas Athena, 1898 - Gustav Klimt

         Minerva or Pallas Athena” (1898)


                Gustav Klimt





an interesting thing has happened with

the story of Cadmus, he is not only a

mythical figure, but also a legendary

one, which is to say that Cadmus has

roots in actual history, he’s not just an

imaginary construct like those that

until now have peopled Ovid’s text


Cadmus appears to have actually

founded Thebes, whose origins,

however, are lost in antiquity, going

back to, it appears, the late Bronze

Age, around 2000 BC, goodness


stories evidently grew around

Cadmus, that transformed him into

our first documented hero, indeed



counterparts exist in other traditions,

consider David, for instance, who

slew his own dragon, Goliath, before

becoming king of the Israelites, 10th

Century BCE, at Jerusalem, where

he consorted, incidentally, later, with

Bathsheba, however illicitly, but

that’s another story


King Arthur, late 5th to early 6th

Centuries CE, stems from British

lore, though his historical actuality

has been contested, is also a hero

with preternatural capabilities based

on some historical accountability


in our day, there’s James Bond,

based on real, living and breathing,



or, dare I say, even Jesus


the point here is that actual people

are being included in the, however

culturally specific, mythologies,

which, in each, had earlier consisted

of metaphorical constructs merely,

the concept of History, in other words,

was being born, memorable events

were to be remembered, recorded,

documented, if only, originally, orally,

around, say, campfires, however

aggrandized might have been their

recollected heroes


Cadmus, meanwhile, in our story, is

about to establish his own historical,

and archeologically confirmed, note,



            The dire example ran through all the field,
            ‘Till heaps of brothers were by brothers kill’d;


The dire example, the dragon’s teeth,

grown into men, had begun, if you’ll

remember, to slaughter one another


example, display

            The furrows swam in blood: and only five
            Of all the vast increase were left alive.
            Echion one, at Pallas’s command,
            Let fall the guiltless weapon from his hand,


Echion, one of the five surviving



Pallas, Pallas Athena, goddess of

Wisdom, also of War


see above


            And with the rest a peaceful treaty makes,
            Whom Cadmus as his friends and partners takes;


the rest, the four other survivors


            So founds a city on the promis’d earth,
            And gives his new Boeotian empire birth.


promis’d earth, the premonition of

the oracles whose counsel Cadmus

had sought at Delphi, if you’ll



            Here Cadmus reign’d; and now one would have guess’d
            The royal founder in his exile blest:


his exile, from Tyre, Cadmus’ original

home, from which his father, Agenor,

had sent him, not to return, he’d

warnedwithout his sister, Europa

            Long did he live within his new abodes,
            Ally’d by marriage to the deathless Gods;


Ally’d by marriage, at the end of a

period of penance for having killed

the dragon, which had been sacred

to Ares, god of War, the gods gave

Cadmus Harmonia, goddess of

Concord, to be his wife


Ares would eventually exact mighty

vengeance, but that’s another story


            And, in a fruitful wife’s embraces old,
            A long increase of children’s children told:
            But no frail man, however great or high,
            Can be concluded blest before he die.


even Cadmus, though he might

enjoy a long life, and many, a long

increase of, children, is not immune

to any of the vicissitudes of life either

until his own time has come, the poet

advises, however ominously


and here Ovid also introduces the

subject of his next metamorphosis,

Actaeon, however early, luring us

thereby, deftly, literarily, towards

his next instalment, Actaeon’s

story, eponymously, there, given

its title


            Actaeon was the first of all his race,

            Who griev’d his grandsire in his borrow’d face;

            Condemn’d by stern Diana to bemoan
            The branching horns, and visage not his own;


his grandsire, his grandfather,

Cadmus was the father of Autonoë,

who was the mother of Actaeon


borrow’d face, Actaeon was

transformed into a stag by the

goddess Diana / Artemis, of the

Hunt, of the Moon, of Chastity,

for having seen her naked as

she was bathing


he now has the face, the visage, of

someone, something, he hadn’t

been before, borrow’d

            To shun his once lov’d dogs, to bound away,
            And from their huntsman to become their prey,


having been transformed into a

stag, or metamorphized, Actaeon

would end up hunted, and worse,

by his own, once lov’d, dogs

            And yet consider why the change was wrought,
            You’ll find it his misfortune, not his fault;
            Or, if a fault, it was the fault of chance:
            For how can guilt proceed from ignorance?


to have been at the wrong place

at the wrong time, yet to suffer,

however unfairly, the consequences,

that, Ovid asks, is the question, the



stay tuned



R ! chard