Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

Sowing Dragon's Teeth

Phoenicia was a kingdom on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Its king had a daughter named Europa, who went out one day and never came home. Some said that Zeus had taken her, others declared that pirates had carried her off in their ship.

The called his sons together and said, "Without your sister the palace is dark and my heart is broken. Go through the world and find her. Do not come back without her, for you will not be welcome."

The young men scattered in all directions. They did not find their sister, but found wives in different lands where they settled. One of the brothers, named Cadmus, went to the oracle of Apollo and asked where he should make his home. The oracle told him to follow a cow until she stopped, and there he should build a city and call it Thebes.

Cadmus went out from the cave, and saw a cow before him. She walked along very slowly, stopping only for a minute to eat a mouthful of grass, then going on again until the youth was nearly tired out. Finally she came to a broad plain, where she lay down.

Cadmus was glad and thankful. He needed some pure water for a sacrifice, perhaps to drink. He told his servants to go and find a spring. They found one in a thick grove where was a cave overgrown with bushes, and from it a clear stream of sparkling water flowed out.

As the servants dipped their pitchers, they heard a frightful hiss. At the same moment a terrible head came out of the cave,—a dragon's head. The dragon had a body like a snake, covered with scales like a fish. Its claws were those of a lion, its head had a beak like that of an eagle, and its teeth were like those of any wild beast. It breathed out fire and smoke, and was altogether a dreadful thing to meet.

The strangers from Phœnica stood still with surprise and fright. The dragon struck some with its claws, crushed some with its teeth, stifled others with its breath and strangled in its coils those who were left.

Cadmus waiting a long time, but his men did not return. He followed them and found a fiery dragon. A battle began between them, but the man kept his spear always at the dragon's mouth so that the monster could not reach him. He already wounded the creature, and by one strong push of the spear he fastened its head to a tree.



When it was dead he heard a voice say, "Sow the dragon's teeth! Sow the dragon's teeth!" he took the sharp white teeth out of the jaws and planted them in the ground. In a few minutes armed men began to come up out of the earth. They had shields, breastplates, helmets and swords. Some had bows and arrows.

As soon as they saw each other, they began to fight savagely. Cadmus expected them to turn upon him, but they never looked at him.

They struck and shot and stabbed each other until only five were left. One of these said, "Stop! We are all brothers, why should we fight any more? Let us live in peace!"

Then turning to Cadmus he added, "You have brought us here. What shall we do to serve you?"

Cadmus was glad to see them peaceable. He said, "The oracle told me to build a city here. I cannot do it alone, and the dragon destroyed my servants. If you will help me I shall be very glad."

They answered, "You are our master. What you command we perform."

They very willingly helped to build the city, which was not very large at first, but grew in time to be rich and splendid.

Cadmus is said to have taught the Greeks the alphabet which was used at his old home in Phœnicia. Before he went to Greece, there were no books in that land, and nobody wrote a letter, for nobody could read one. Instead of written histories, men told their children what their own grandfathers had told them. Poets carried their verses in their memories, or made them up as they went along. There were no schools and no teachers, except that every father taught his boys how to farm and to fight, and girls learned from their mothers how to spin and weave and sew.

The coming of Cadmus made a great difference. First men learned to write, then to read, for no one can read when nothing is written. After books came schools, and Greek civilization and learning went on together.