Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kadmos, dragon teeth, and earth tones

Watch my hands.
K might turn out to be the trickiest letter in the color alphabet. Most lists had exactly one entry for it: Khaki, which is not only a "meh" color, it also has no good stories attached to it. So I decided to go the alternate route and look at colors in Hungarian (hey it's not cheating if you're bilingual!). This is how I ran into cadmium colors, and from there it was only a step further to spell them the Greek way.

Cadmium is an element. Combined with other elements it can produce pigments of different hues, such as cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, and cadmium green. Back when it was discovered they named it after a common zinc ore generally known as "cadmean earth."
In turn, cadmean earth, first found near Thebes, was named after the city's founder and first king, Cadmus, or rather, Kadmos (Greek spelling).
Ta-da! Story.

Kadmos was not Greek. He was Phoenician, and also happened to be the brother of Europe, the girl that was kidnapped by a very horny Zeus and gave her name to a continent. While being the mother of Zeus' children is usually presented as an honor in Greek mythology, parents rarely ever approve. In this case, they sent big brother Kadmos to bring Europe back home.
Kadmos, however, did not find his sister; he had another destiny. Consulting the Oracle of Delphoi, he was told to follow a cow with the sign of the moon on its flank, and build a city where it lay down. The spot was found in Boeotia, but when Kadmos' companions went to fetch some water for a sacrifice, they were all devoured by a giant snake-dragon that lived in a nearby spring. Kadmos, being a true hero, killed the dragon. Athena (who runs a counseling program for heroes) instructed him to take the dragon's teeth and sow them into the ground; from the dragon teeth sprang an army of warriors. Kadmos threw a rock in their midst and they started fighting (not the brightest) until only 5 remained; these five helped him build the legendary city of Thebes.
In the process, however, he managed to piss off Ares, god of war, who happened to be fond of that dragon in particular. Kadmos ended up serving him for several years before he was granted forgiveness, and Ares and Aphrodite's daughter, Harmonia. But even then, misfortune followed him till the end of his life, until he cursed the entire dragon thing over and over. The gods, who have a wicked sense of humor, turned him (and his wife) into dragons.

Kadmos is obviously tied to the earth with many threads in these stories (building a city, growing warriors from the ground, slaying a dragon and then becoming one). No wonder they credit him with cadmean earth (and also minding gold for his kingdom). Incidentally, they also credit him with bringing the Phoenician alphabet to Hellas.


  1. Taking full advantage of being bilingual...I like that :) Love reading all those witty things in parentheses in your stories!

  2. He really wasn't a lucky guy, was he - nice use of the bilingual thing there :)
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX - A to Z Drabblerotic

  3. Poor Kadmos seems to have got the short straw there. Ares had to be fond of that particular dragon of course. Very enterprising your use of languages :)
    Tasha's Thinkings - AtoZ (Vampires)
    FB3X - AtoZ (Erotic Drabbles)

  4. Intelligent use of K here! Very interesting story. I did Khaki :)

  5. Perfect! Your ingenuity is amazing. I agree, 'K' is one of the difficult letters. I never thought of another language. Great job!

  6. My son asked me the other day if we could plant dragon teeth . . .

  7. I love gods stories. Thanks for this one.

  8. What a fabulous and interesting post. I knew some of this, but had completely forgotten it. I once was very involved with the Hungarian scientific community on the East coast as my first husband was from Hungary. I have only good memories.

  9. I think we don't have to be bilingual to use other languages. It is a global world and global internet. Love Athena running a counseling service for heroes. There is a great book there, or at least a short story. Fun post. :)

  10. Lucky for us your bilingualness (it's a word) led us to Kadmos. Fascinating story. Much more interesting than a khaki related story, I'm sure. ;)

  11. Not sure I heard of Cadmium before today. Interesting story.