In very early times, in the area that was destined to become the city of Thebes, Ares entrusted a dragon to stand watch over what is usually believed to be the sacred spring of Dirce. It came to be that Cadmus, the young son of Agenor was sent to search for his missing sister Europa , who unbeknownst to her family had been carried away by the god Zeus.
Not knowing how to approach the situation, Cadmus decided to consult Apollo's oracle at Delphi. Much to his surprise the priestess instead advised the young man to abandon his search and focus on founding a city of his own.
Cadmus listened intently as the priests deciphered the mysterious ramblings of the Pythia. She promised that in order to render a sign, the gods would beckon a cow to lie down upon the spot where the proposed city was to be built.
Knowing that the oracle was prone to speak in riddles, Cadmus was unsure of the prophecy's true meaning. In the ancient world it was common knowledge that taking the words of the priestess literally did not always serve in one's own best interests.
But this time would prove to be different, for just as Cadmus left the city of Delphi, a beautiful heifer bearing the shape of the full moon etched clearly on both of her sides suddenly appeared before him. She traveled on for a while and then just as predicted paused before slowly lowering herself down to the ground for a rest. Wanting to offer the animal as a sacrifice to Athena, Cadmus sent his men to the nearby spring of Dirce to retrieve some water for the rite.
The unsuspecting lot were promptly greeted by Ares' dragon, who without hesitation happily turned the unfortunate visitors into his afternoon meal. Cadmus rushed to save his companions but he was too late. In frustration he drew his sword and slew the beast before solemnly hanging his head in despair.
Knowing he could not build the city on his own, Cadmus prayed to Athena who aptly instructed him to carefully remove the teeth from the mouth of the dragon and sow half of them into the earth.
Cadmus did as he was told and to his amazement a legion of armed men known as the Sparti (or Sown-Men) sprang forth from the soil.
He then took a stone and threw it into the center of the crowd, causing all of the men to turn savagely upon each other.
The fighting went on until there were only five left standing; Echion, Udaeus, Chthonius, Hyperenor and Pelorus. Finally, Cadmus along with his newly acquired attendants was ready to build the great city of Thebes.
As punishment for killing Ares' dragon, Cadmus was placed in the service of the god for eight years. It was not until he had fulfilled his sentence that Athena formally crowned him the king of Thebes.
As an added reward Zeus presented Cadmus with Ares' beautiful daughter Harmonia as his bride. It was a splendid affair with all the gods in attendance. Apollo and the Muses supplied the music and there were countless plates full of delightful goodies to nibble upon. But in spite of all the merriment Ares spent the entire evening sulking in the corner, still unable to forgive Cadmus for slaying his beloved dragon.
Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods had grown very tired of his wife Aphrodite's numerous infidelities. Though the goddess had many paramours it was the relationship she shared with the war god Ares that he resented most of all. Vowing to one day have his revenge, Hephaestus waited until Harmonia, the daughter of the illicit couple announced that she had become engaged to Cadmus the king of Thebes.
Under the guise of celebrating the happy day, Hephaestus presented the maid with a beautiful necklace which he had carefully fashioned just for her. Made from the finest gold, this was no ordinary babble, as the piece had been secretly enchanted with godly magic. Though it granted the wearer the gift of eternal youth and beauty, it also promised to bring pain and ruin to all those captivated by its spell.
Though Harmonia herself seemed to avoid the curse, the same cannot be said for her children. The life of her daughter Semele came to a tragic end after she became pregnant with Dionysus, the son of Zeus.
Her daughter Ino married King Athama of Boeotia and went on to become the wicked stepmother of the children Phrixus and Helle.
While being in a Dionysian frenzy her daughter Agave took the life of her own son Pentheus and marched into Thebes bearing his head on the end of her thyrus. Her remaining daughter Autonoe sadly lost her son Actaeon to the arrows of the goddess Artemis.
Harmonia's oldest son Polydorus, ruled Thebes for a short time before dying of unknown causes. Could it be that through Harmonia's sorrow Hephaestus was able to receive the vindication that he so desired?
After the death of their grandson Pentheus, Cadmus and Harmonia fled Thebes and traveled into Illyria, a region located in the western Balkan Peninsula. Here the couple took part in helping a local tribe called the Encheleans (eel-people) fight off masses of neighboring Illyrian intruders. After leading the Enchelei to victory, Cadmus was made king. It is said that his youngest son and future leader Illyrius, from which the region takes its name, was born during this time of warfare.
When the Encheleans began plundering the temple of Apollo at Delphi, they were met with strong opposition from the people of Greece. In order to save Cadmus and Harmonia from the angry mob, Ares changed the couple into a pair of snakes and then whisked them off to live in the Elysian Fields. Just what caused Ares to have a change of heart will forever remain a mystery. It is interesting to note that in ancient times the snake was looked upon as a benevolent creature. It was also commonly believed that before returning to the world of the living, a dead hero first assumed the shape of a serpent.
Both of these ideas are positive indications that the physical changes incurred by Cadmus and Harmonia at the hands of the god were truly honorable and not meant to be acts of punishment.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2016.