Cultures around the world have admired dragons and believed that even a small part of a dragon’s body held immense power. From Greece, we inherit two legends involving teeth of a dragon. When sown like grain, they sprouted a crop of warriors!
The older legend is that of Cadmus (or Kadmos) and the founding of Thebes. Cadmus was born into the royal family of Tyre. His father was King Aegnos, his mother Queen Telephassa, his brothers Phoenix, Cilix and Thasus, and his only sister was named Europa. Yes, that Europa, who was carried off by Zeus in the guise of a bull. After Europa disappeared, her whole family was distraught. King Aegnos ordered his four sons to go in search of Europa and never return without her. For whatever reason, Queen Telephassa journeyed with Cadmus.
Three of the four eventually gave up on finding Europa, and settled down to found a new civilization. Phoenix founded Phoenicia, Cilix a city called Cilicia, and Thasus settled the Aegean island of Thassos. On the island of Thrace, Telephassa died of grief and Cadmus buried her with honor. Then he sought out the Oracle at Delphi for advice.
The Oracle told Cadmus he must allow Europa her own fate (which was to found the nation of Crete) and follow a cow that he would find near the temple. Wherever the cow went, he must follow, until it stopped to rest. In that place, he should found his own great city. In sorrow, Cadmus did as the Oracle said. He found a cow, which wandered far into the land of Boetia and settled to rest on the banks of the Cephesis River.
Cadmus gathered his followers and prepared to sacrifice the cow to Athena, patroness of brave ventures. To do this, they needed clean water. Cadmus’s followers went to a nearby spring, where the water was exceptionally pure. Unfortunately, this was the home of a dragon, son of Ares the god of War. It didn’t like having its water stolen and killed them all in vengeance.
Eventually Cadmus wondered where his companions had gone. He confronted the dragon, which had a head like a crested helm and teeth of glittering gold. After a terrible battle, Cadmus slew the vicious beast and took water from the spring to complete the sacrifice. Athena herself had watched Cadmus’s deed and been pleased. She appeared to him and told him to gather all the dragon’s teeth. Half he should save, but he should plow the earth and plant the rest of the teeth like seeds.
The hero did as she advised. To his amazement, when he planted the teeth, a host of mighty warriors rose up fully grown! Cadmus named them Spartoi, or “sown men.” To test their vigor, he tossed a gem into their midst. Immediately the Spartoi began to fight over the prize. It was a bloody melee, and in the end only five were left alive.
Cadmus stopped the battle and took these fiercest fighters as his new companions. The city they founded was Thebes, one of the most powerful in all Greece. Even into historic times, the noble families of Thebes traced their lineage back to the five Spartoi.
And what about the other half of the dragon’s teeth? All shall be revealed on Tuesday!