Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Delphi (DEL-fi). Site of Apollo’s oracle in the Greek province of Boeotia that was known as the “navel,” or center of the Greek world. Delphi was the meeting place between the divine and human realms, where the Pythia conveyed the will of the gods to men. When Cadmus arrives at Delphi while still searching in vain for Europa, oracle tells him to give up his quest, then follow a cow–a symbol of female fecundity–and found a new city where it lies down to rest and call the city Thebes. These instructions from the most famous oracle in Greece serve to validate the status of Thebes as a sacred site, while the role of Cadmus may indicate that Phoenicians really did found a colony there in the Bronze Age.
*Thebes (theebz). Most important city in Boeotia, near Mount Cithaeron. After following the cow to this location, Cadmus kills a dragon guarding a nearby spring. From the dragon’s teeth spring warriors, who found Thebes’s first aristocratic families. This motif reflects Eastern notions of humans being born from the ground but also ensures that the city’s aristocratic families could claim to be genuinely Hellenic in origin. The city that Cadmus founds on this site has seven gates and famously high walls. An alternative story ascribes the foundation of Thebes to twins, Amphion and Zethus, who named the city after Thebe, Zethus’s wife. Thebans reconciled these different accounts by crediting Cadmus with founding the higher city on the acropolis, the Cadmeia, and making the twins responsible for walling the lower part of the city.
Thebes ultimately became one of the most mysterious locations in Greek mythology. A site of close encounters between gods and mortals and between East and West, it is the city where the Eastern god Dionysus chose to reveal himself to the Greeks. Although Cadmus enjoyed a happy marriage to Harmonia, the history of their descendants was jinxed by misfortunes; moreover, Cadmus and his wife left Thebes for Illyria in their old age. After they died, they were transported to the Elysian Fields in the underworld. The myth of Cadmus and Thebes suggests that the encounter between Greece and the East was fraught with conflict, and that the foundation of cities is accompanied by violent sacrifice. Thebes is a prime location in Greek mythology for such encounters.