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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    Chapter VII
    Cadmus. The Myrmidons.

    Jupiter, under the disguise of a bull, had carried away to the
    island of Crete, Europa, the daughter of Agenor king of
    Phoenicia. Agenor commanded his son Cadmus to go in search of
    his sister, and not to return without her. Cadmus went and
    sought long and far for his sister, but could not find her, and
    not daring to return unsuccessful, consulted the oracle of Apollo
    to know what country he should settle in. The oracle informed
    him that he should find a cow in the field, and should follow her
    wherever she might wander, and where she stopped, should build a
    city and call it Thebes. Cadmus had hardly left the Castalian
    cave, from which the oracle was delivered, when he saw a young
    cow slowly walking before him. He followed her close, offering
    at the same time his prayers to Phoebus. The cow went on till
    she passed the shallow channel of Cephisus and came out into the
    plain of Panope. There she stood still, and raising her broad
    forehead to the sky, filled the air with her lowings. Cadmus
    gave thanks, and stooping down kissed the foreign soil, then
    lifting his eyes, greeted the surrounding mountains. Wishing to
    offer a sacrifice to Jupiter, he sent his servants to seek pure
    water for a libation. Nearby there stood an ancient grove which
    had never been profaned by the axe, in the midst of which was a
    cave, thick covered with the growth of bushes, its roof forming a
    low arch, from beneath which burst forth a fountain of purest
    water. In the cave lurked a horrid serpent with a crested head
    and scales glittering like gold. His eyes shone like fire, his
    body was swollen with venom, he vibrated a triple tongue, and
    showed a triple row of teeth. No sooner had the Tyrians (Cadmus
    and his companions came from Tyre, the chief city of Phoenicia)
    dipped their pitchers in the fountain, and the ingushing waters
    made a sound, than the glittering serpent raised his head out of
    the cave and uttered a fearful hiss. The vessels fell from their
    hands, the blood left their cheeks, they trembled in every limb.
    The serpent, twisting his scaly body in a huge coil, raised his
    head so as to overtop the tallest trees, and while the Tyrians
    from terror could neither fight nor fly, slew some with his
    fangs, others in his folds, and others with his poisonous breath.

    Cadmus having waited for the return of his men till midday, went
    in search of them. His covering was a lion's hide, and besides
    his javelin he carried in his hand a lance, and in his breast a
    bold heart, a surer reliance than either. When he entered the
    wood and saw the lifeless bodies of his men, and the monster with
    his bloody jaws, he exclaimed, "O faithful friends, I will avenge
    you, or share your death." So saying he lifted a huge stone and
    threw it with all his force at the serpent. Such a block would
    have shaken the wall of a fortress, but it made no impression on
    the monster. Cadmus next threw his javelin, which met with
    better success, for it penetrated the serpent's scales, and
    pierced through to his entrails. Fierce with pain the monster
    turned back his head to view the wound, and attempted to draw out
    the weapon with his mouth, but broke it off, leaving the iron
    point rankling in his flesh. His neck swelled with rage, bloody
    foam covered his jaws, and the breath of his nostrils poisoned
    the air around. Now he twisted himself into a circle, then
    stretched himself out on the ground like the trunk of a fallen
    tree. As he moved onward, Cadmus retreated before him, holding
    his spear opposite to the monster's opened jaws. The serpent
    snapped at the weapon and attempted to bite its iron point. At
    last Cadmus, watching his chance, thrust the spear at a moment
    when the animal's thrown back came against the trunk of a tree,
    and so succeeded in pinning him to its side. His weight bent the
    tree as he struggled in the agonies of death.

    While Cadmus stood over his conquered foe, contemplating its vast
    size, a voice was heard (from whence he knew not, but he heard it
    distinctly), commanding him to take the dragon's teeth and sow
    them in the earth. He obeyed. He made a furrow in the ground,
    and planted the teeth, destined to produce a crop of men. Scarce
    had he done so when the clods began to move, and the points of
    spears to appear above the surface. Next helmets, with their
    nodding plumes, came up, and next, the shoulders and breasts and
    limbs of men with weapons, and in time a harvest of armed
    warriors. Cadmus, alarmed, prepared to encounter a new enemy,
    but one of them said to him, "Meddle not with our civil war."
    With that he who had spoken smote one of his earth-born brothers
    with a sword, and he himself fell pierced with an arrow from
    another. The latter fell victim to a fourth, and in like manner
    the whole crowd dealt with each other till all fell slain with
    mutual wounds except five survivors. One of these cast away his
    weapons and said, "Brothers, let us live in peace!" These five
    joined with Cadmus in building his city, to which they gave the
    name of Thebes.

    Cadmus obtained in marriage Harmonia, the daughter of Venus. The
    gods left Olympus to honor the occasion with their presence, and
    Vulcan presented the bride with a necklace of surpassing
    brilliancy, his own workmanship. But a fatality hung over the
    family of Cadmus in consequence of his killing the serpent sacred
    to Mars. Semele and Ino, his daughters, and Actaeon and
    Pentheius, his grandchildren, all perished unhappily; and Cadmus
    and Harmonia quitted Thebes, now grown odious to them, and
    emigrated to the country of the Enchelians, who received them
    with honor and made Cadmus their king. But the misfortunes of
    their children still weighed upon their minds; and one day Cadmus
    exclaimed, "If a serpent's life is so dear to the gods, I would I
    were myself a serpent." No sooner had he uttered the words than
    he began to change his form. Harmonia beheld it, and prayed to
    the gods to let her share his fate. Both became serpents. They
    lie in the woods, but mindful of their origin they neither avoid
    the presence of man nor do they ever injure any one.

    There is a tradition that Cadmus introduced into Greece the
    letters of the alphabet which were invented by the Phoenicians.
    This is alluded to by Byron, where, addressing the modern Greeks,
    he says:

    "You have the letters Cadmus gave,
    Think you he meant them for a slave?"

    Milton, describing the serpent which tempted Eve, is reminded of
    the serpents of the classical stories, and says,

    "-----pleasing was his shape,
    And lovely; never since of serpent kind
    Lovelier; not those that in Illyria changed
    Hermione and Cadmus, nor the god
    in Epidaurus."

    The "god in Epidaurus" was AEsculapius. Serpents were held
    sacred to him.


    The Myrmidons were the soldiers of Achilles in the Trojan war.
    >From them all zealous and unscrupulous followers of a political
    chief are called by that name down to this day. But the origin
    of the Myrmidons would not give one the idea of a fierce and
    bloody race, but rather of a laborious and peaceful one.

    Cephalus, king of Athens, arrived in the island of AEgina to seek
    assistance of his old friend and ally AEacus, the king, in his
    wars with Minos, king of Crete. Cephalus was kindly received,
    and the desired assistance readily promised. "I have people
    enough," said AEacus, "to protect myself and spare you such a
    force as you need." "I rejoice to see it," replied Cephalus,
    "and my wonder has been raised, I confess, to find such a host of
    youths as I see around me, all apparently of about the same age.
    Yet there are many individuals whom I previously knew that I look
    for now in vain. What has become of them?" AEacus groaned, and
    replied with a voice of sadness, "I have been intending to tell
    you, and will now do so without more delay, that you may see how
    from the saddest beginning a happy result sometimes flows. Those
    whom you formerly knew are now dust and ashes! A plague sent by
    angry Juno devastated the land. She hated it because it bore the
    name of one of her husband's female favorites. While the disease
    appeared to spring from natural causes we resisted it as we best
    might by natural remedies; but it soon appeared that the
    pestilence was too powerful for our efforts, and we yielded. At
    the beginning the sky seemed to settle down upon the earth, and
    thick clouds shut in the heated air. For four months together a
    deadly south wind prevailed. The disorder affected the wells and
    springs; thousands of snakes crept over the land and shed their
    poison in the fountains. The force of the disease was first
    spent on the lower animals; dogs, cattle, sheep, and birds. The
    luckless ploughman wondered to see his oxen fall in the midst of
    their work, and lie helpless in the unfinished furrow. The wool
    fell from the bleating sheep, and their bodies pined away. The
    horse, once foremost in the race, contested the palm no more, but
    groaned at his stall, and died an inglorious death. The wild
    boar forgot his rage, the stag his swiftness, the bears no longer
    attacked the herds. Everything languished; dead bodies lay in
    the roads, the fields, and the woods; the air was poisoned by
    them. I tell you what is hardly credible, but neither dogs nor
    birds would touch them, nor starving wolves. Their decay spread
    the infection. Next the disease attacked the country people, and
    then the dwellers in the city. At first the cheek was flushed,
    and the breath drawn with difficulty. The tongue grew rough and
    swelled, and the dry mouth stood open with its veins enlarged and
    gasped for the air. Men could not bear the heat of their clothes
    or their beds, but preferred to lie on the bare ground; and the
    ground did not cool them, but on the contrary, they heated the
    spot where they lay. Nor could the physicians help, for the
    disease attacked them also, and the contact of the sick gave them
    infection, so that the most faithful were the first victims. At
    last all hope of relief vanished and men learned to look upon
    death as the only deliverer from disease. Then they gave way to
    every inclination, and cared not to ask what was expedient, for
    nothing was expedient. All restraint laid aside, they crowded
    around the wells and fountains, and drank till they died, without
    quenching thirst. Many had not strength to get away from the
    water, but died in the midst of the stream, and others would
    drink of it notwithstanding. Such was their weariness of their
    sick-beds that some would creep forth, and if not strong enough
    to stand, would die on the ground. They seemed to hate their
    friends, and got away from their homes, as if, not knowing the
    cause of their sickness, they charged it on the place of their
    abode. Some were seen tottering along the road, as long as they
    could stand, while others sank on the earth, and turned their
    dying eyes around to take a last look, then closed them in death.

    "What heart had I left me, during all this, or what ought I to
    have had, except to hate life and wish to be with my dead
    subjects? On all sides lay my people strewn like over-ripened
    apples beneath the tree, or acorns under the storm-shaken oak.
    You see yonder s temple on the height. It is sacred to Jupiter.
    Oh, how many offered prayers there; husbands for wives, fathers
    for sons, and died in the very act of supplication! How often,
    while the priest made ready for sacrifice, the victim fell,
    struck down by disease without waiting for the blow. At length
    all reverence for sacred things was lost. Bodies were thrown out
    unburied, wood was wanting for funeral piles, men fought with one
    another for the possession of them. Finally there were none left
    to mourn; sons and husbands, old men and youths, perished alike

    "Standing before the altar I raised my eyes to heaven. 'Oh,
    Jupiter,' I said, 'if thou art indeed my father, and art not
    ashamed of thy offspring, give me back my people, or take me also
    away!' At these words a clap of thunder was heard. 'I accept
    the omen,' I cried; 'oh, may it be a sign of a favorable
    disposition towards me!' By chance there grew by the place where
    I stood an oak with wide-spreading branches, sacred to Jupiter.
    I observed a troop of ants busy with their labor, carrying minute
    grains in their mouths and following one another in a line up the
    trunk of the tree. Observing their numbers with admiration, I
    said, 'Give me, oh father, citizens as numerous as these, and
    replenish my empty city.' The tree shook and gave a rustling
    sound with its branches though no wind agitated them. I trembled
    in every limb, yet I kissed the earth and the tree. I would not
    confess to myself that I hoped, yet I did hope. Night came on
    and sleep took possession of my frame oppressed with cares. The
    tree stood before me in my dreams, with its numerous branches all
    covered with living, moving creatures. It seemed to shake its
    limbs and throw down over the ground a multitude of those
    industrious grain-gathering animals, which appeared to gain in
    size, and grow larger, and by-and-by to stand erect, lay aside
    their superfluous legs and their black color, and finally to
    assume the human form. Then I awoke, and my first impulse was to
    chide the gods who had robbed me of a sweet vision and given me
    no reality in its place. Being still in the temple my attention
    was caught by the sound of many voices without; a sound of late
    unusual to my ears. While I began to think I was yet dreaming,
    Telamon, my son, throwing open the temple-gates, exclaimed,
    'Father, approach, and behold things surpassing even your hopes!'
    I went forth; I saw a multitude of men, such as I had seen in my
    dream, and they were passing in procession in the same manner.
    While I gazed with wonder and delight they approached, and
    kneeling, hailed me as their king. I paid my vows to Jove, and
    proceeded to allot the vacant city to the new-born race, and to
    parcel out the fields among them. I called them Myrmidons from
    the ant (myrmex), from which they sprang. You have seen these
    persons; their dispositions resemble those which they had in
    their former shape. They are a diligent and industrious race,
    eager to gain, and tenacious of their gains. Among them you may
    recruit your forces. They will follow you to the war, young in
    years and bold in heart."

    This description of the plague is copied by Ovid from the account
    which Thucydides, the Greek historian, gives of the plague of
    Athens. The historian drew from life, and all the poets and
    writers of fiction since his day, when they have had occasion to
    describe a similar scene, have borrowed their details from him.

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