3. The Spartoi

An ancient story says that Cadmos killed a serpent, pulled out its teeth and scattered them on his own land. Then men and weapons grew from them. But if this were the truth, no person would plant anything else but serpents' teeth. And if they did not grow anywhere else, even so they would still be planted in that land in which they grew before.

The fact of the matter is this. Cadmos was of Phoenician extraction and came to Thebes after contending with his brother Phoenix for the throne. The king of Thebes at the time was Dracon son of Ares, and he had the various sorts of things that kings possess, including some elephant teeth. Cadmos killed him and himself became king. Dracon's friends made war against Cadmos, and Dracon's sons joined their cause. Now when Dracon's friends came off badly in the battle, they seized Cadmos' possessions and the elephant teeth (which had been put in the temple), then up and fled to their own lands. They all scattered in different directions, some to Attica, others to the Peloponnese, Phocis and Locris. From there they began a war with the Thebans. They proved troublesome enemies, for they spoke the same language as the Thebans and knew the lay of the land.

Since they had fled after taking the teeth, the citizens of Thebes said this: "Cadmos has done us grave harm by killing Dracon {= "dragon" or "serpent"}. Because of his teeth many brave men have scattered {spartoi} and are fighting with us." This is the matter as it truly happened; the myth was based on it.


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