Hendrick Goltzius: A dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus (1588)


(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

An engraving by the Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617). This gruesome print shows an episode from Greek Mythology. Cadmus was a Greek hero who received a quest from the oracle of Delphi. Cadmus was instructed to follow a special cow and build a town at the spot where the cow would lie down exhausted. Cadmus followed the cow to Boeotia and wanted to sacrifice the cow to the goddess Athena. He sent two of his companions, Deioleon and Seriphus, to a nearby spring to get some water. At the spring Deioleon and Seriphus were killed by the dragon who guarded the water (shown here on the print). Cadmus managed to kill the dragon (shown in the back of the print), removed the dragon's teeth and planted the teeth in the ground. From the teeth a race of fierce warriors emerged. The warriors started to attack each other and in the end five of them survived - these would become the founders of the noblest families of the city of Thebes which Cadmus founded at the place. The dragon which Cadmus had killed was to the god Ares, so the god made Cadmus do penance for eight years by serving him. This engraving is from 1588.

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