Rape of Europe

The Rape of Europa by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (1750) (p.d.)

The tale of Cadmus and Europa begins, ostensibly enough, with the "woman" that Europe was named for, Europa.  In Greek mythology Europa (Greek Ευρώπη Eurṓpē) was a Phoenician woman of high lineage, from whom the name of the continent Europe has ultimately been taken.[1] The story of her abduction by Zeus in the form of a white bull was a Cretan story; as Kerényi points out "most of the love-stories concerning Zeus originated from more ancient tales describing his marriages with goddesses. This can especially be said of the story of Europa".

Europa's earliest literary reference is in the Iliad, which is commonly dated to the 8th century B.C. Another early reference to her is in a fragment of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, discovered at Oxyrhynchus. The earliest vase-painting securely identifiable as Europa, dates from mid-7th century B.C.

The Tale of Europa, or EuropeEdit

Europa was the daughter of the King Agenor of Sidon (located in the Levant or Palestine). She had the continent of Europe named for her. Somewhat miraculously Hera was distracted during her affair with Zeus and never punished her for it.

One night Europa had a dream. In this dream two continents, which were in the forms of women were arguing over Europa. Asia maintained that since Europa had been born in Asia she belonged to it. The other continent, which was nameless, said that her birth was not important, that Zeus would give her to it.

It was early morning, disturbed by the dream Europa did not go back to sleep. She summoned her companions, who were all daughters of nobility and of her age. It was a beautiful day and they went off gathering flowers by the sea. Zeus noticed this charming group, particularly Europa, who was the prettiest of the maidens. Some say that Eros, induced him into action with one of his darts. Although, Zeus often made due with self motivation. In any case, Zeus appeared to the group as a white bull. A white bull more beautiful then any other. A bull that smelled of flowers, and lowed musically. A bull so obviously gentle that all the maidens rushed to stroke and pet it.

The bull laid down in front of Europa. She slid on to its back. Instantly, the bull charged off, plunging into the sea, and began to swim rapidly from the shore. Europa saw that a procession had joined them, Nereids riding dolphins, Triton blowing his horn, even Poseidon. From this she realized that the bull must be a god. She pleaded with him to pity her. Zeus spoke to her and explained his love. He took her to Create, where he had been raised. He promised that she would bear him many famous sons.

Cadmus' ResponseEdit

Img ismenios

Cadmus and the Dragon, unknown Athenian pottery painter. (pd.)

Cadmus, being a son of King Aegnor, promised to venture forth and to find Europa and bring her back to Phoenicia (Palestine). Cadmus gathered what he could for the journey and set off to find Europa. He journeyed to a new land and explored it, naming it Europe after his sister. He then came into the Peloponessus and went up into Delphi, having not found his sister. The Oracle then promised that the girl belonged to Zeus (the Dyaus Pitar of the Greeks) and that Cadmus should follow a cow, and where it stopped he should found a city.

Follow a cow? She said to follow a cow? Yet, that is what the priestess from the oracle suggested to Cadmus, and Cadmus did just that. He followed a cow where ever it leads him, and it stopped at a spring with a dragon by it.  The spring in question was in Boeotia and it was called the Castalian Spring. The Castalian Dragon was similar to the Lernean Hydra.  

Cadmus slays the dragon and extracts the teeth, sowing them to gain a number of warriors named the Spartoi or the "Sown Men." He throws rocks amongst them, and many of them slay one another. Once down to a manageable company, Cadmus declares himself their leader and they found the city of Thebes. These spartoi became the nobility of Thebes.

The dragon had been sacred to Ares, so the god made Cadmus do penance for eight years by serving him. According to Theban tellings, it was at the expiration of this period that the gods gave him Harmonia ("harmony", literally "well put together", or "well assembled") as wife. At Thebes, Cadmus and Harmonia began a dynasty with a son Polydorus, and four daughters, Agave, Autonoë, Ino and Semele.

At the wedding, whether celebrated at Samothrace or at Thebes, all the gods were present; Harmonia received as bridal gifts a peplos worked by Athena and a necklace made by Hephaestus. This necklace, commonly referred to as the Necklace of Harmonia, brought misfortune to all who possessed it. Notwithstanding the divinely ordained nature of his marriage and his kingdom, Cadmus lived to regret both: his family was overtaken by grievous misfortunes, and his city by civil unrest. Cadmus finally abdicated in favor of his grandson Pentheus, and went with Harmonia to Illyria, to fight on the side of the Encheleans. Later, as king, he founded the city of Lychnidos and Bouthoe.

Cadmus in his Later YearsEdit


Cadmus, as stylized on the Library of Congress (p.d.)

Nevertheless, Cadmus was deeply troubled by the ill-fortune which clung to him as a result of his having killed the sacred dragon, and one day he remarked that if the gods were so enamoured of the life of a serpent, he might as well wish that life for himself. Immediately he began to grow scales and change in form. Harmonia, seeing the transformation, thereupon begged the gods to share her husband's fate, which they granted (Hyginus).

In another telling of the story, the bodies of Cadmus and his wife were changed after their deaths; the serpents watched their tomb while their souls were translated to the fields. In Euripides' The Bacchae, Cadmus is given a prophecy by Dionysus whereby both he and his wife will be turned into snakes for a period before eventually being brought to live among the blest.

Cadmus' ContributionsEdit

Although modern scholars disagree with him, Herodotus -- the father of History -- attests that that Cadmus was a real person. Who he could be, is still hotly debated among many circles. He could be anyone, from King David to a person actually named Cadmus. Cadmus is credited with the following contributions to Greek culture:

  • He is responsible for bringing the Phoenician Alphabet to Hellas.
  • Founding Thebes.
  • Founding two other cities, as mentioned above
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