This has been driving me absolutely nuts, as it is universally referenced across the internet, but nowhere cited.

It looks like Theoi originally grabbed it from Encyclopedia Britannica, not strictly a scholarly source (although I have no doubt the authors of the Britannica knew their classics;) back when Theoi still had a Cadmus page. Even more frustratingly, I found an actual book on mythology that references the dead Theoi page from an internet archive. But Theoi didn't provide an attribution either.

2 Answers 2


It is quite well attested anciently.

There is Book 9 Chapter 12 of Pausanias' Description of Greece (which you have already noted in your own Answer). Roughly contemporaneous with Pausanias is Apollodorus' Bibliotheka 3.4.1:

When Telephassa died, Cadmus buried her, and after being hospitably received by the Thracians he came to Delphi to inquire about Europa. The god told him not to trouble about Europa, but to be guided by a cow, and to found a city wherever she should fall down for weariness. After receiving such an oracle he journeyed through Phocis; then falling in with a cow among the herds of Pelagon, he followed it behind. And after traversing Boeotia, it sank down where is now the city of Thebes. Wishing to sacrifice the cow to Athena, he sent some of his companions to draw water from the spring of Ares. But a dragon, which some said was the offspring of Ares, guarded the spring and destroyed most of those that were sent. In his indignation Cadmus killed the dragon, and by the advice of Athena sowed its teeth. When they were sown there rose from the ground armed men whom they called Sparti. These slew each other, some in a chance brawl, and some in ignorance. But Pherecydes says that when Cadmus saw armed men growing up out of the ground, he flung stones at them, and they, supposing that they were being pelted by each other, came to blows. However, five of them survived, Echion, Udaeus, Chthonius, Hyperenor, and Pelorus.

That is from James George Frazer's 1921 translation of the text, one of whose footnotes on this passage also points out that the visit is mentioned in the scholion on Homer's Iliad 2.494 as well as the one on Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes 486. This footnote also says that "The Scholiast on Homer (l.c.) agrees almost verbally with Apollodorus, and cites as his authorities the Boeotica of Hellanicus and the third book of Apollodorus. Hence we may suppose that in this narrative Apollodorus followed Hellanicus" [emphasis added].

Fast-rewinding to about a century and a half prior to Pausanias and the Bibliotheka, the Roman writers Hyginus and Ovid each make mention of this story. Hyginus' Fabulae 178 (in Mary Grant's 1960 translation) says:

Europa was the daughter of Argiope and Agenor, a Sidonian. Jupiter, changing his form to that of a bull, carried her from Sidon to Crete, and begat by her Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadamanthus. Her father Agenor sent his sons to bring their sister back, or else not to return to his sight. Phoenix set out for Africa, and there remained. From this the Africans are called Phoenicians. Cilix from his own name gave the name to Cilicia. Cadmus in his wanderings came to Delphi. There the oracle told him to buy from farmers an ox which had a moon-shaped mark on its side, and to drive it before him. Where it lay down it was fated that he found a town and rule. When Cadmus heard the oracle, he did as he was told. While seeking water he came to the fountain of Castalia, which a dragon, the offspring of Mars, was guarding. It killed the comrades of Cadmus, but was killed by Cadmus with a stone. Under Minerva’s instructions he sowed the teeth and ploughed them under. From them sprang the Sparti. These fought themselves, but from them five survived, namely, Chthonius, Udaeus, Hyperenor, Pelorus, and Echion. Moreover, Boeotia was named from the ox Cadmus followed.

In Book 3 of the Metamorphoses, Ovid has his own narration of the story, although therein he never mentions the word Delphi. He refers to Phoebique oracula, "the oracle of Phoebus" (A.S. Kline's translation, as below, interprets it a step further, having "Apollo's oracle"), in Line 8, and "Castalia's Grotto" in Line 14.

And now the god, dispensing with the deceptive image of the bull, confessed who he was, and made for the fields of Crete. Meanwhile Europa’s father, in ignorance of this, orders his son Cadmus to search for the stolen girl, and adds that exile is his punishment if he fails to find her, showing himself, by the same action, both pious and impious. Roaming the world (for who can discover whatever Jupiter has taken?) Agenor’s son, the fugitive, shuns his native land and his parent’s anger and as a suppliant consults Apollo’s oracle and asks in what land he might settle. Phoebus replies ‘A heifer will find you in the fields, that has never submitted to the yoke and is unaccustomed to the curved plough. Go where she leads, and where she finds rest on the grass build the walls of Thebes, your city, and call the land Boeotia.’

Cadmus had scarcely left the Castalian cave when he saw an unguarded heifer, moving slowly, and showing no mark of the yoke on her neck. He follows close behind and chooses his steps by the traces of her course, and silently thanks Phoebus, his guide to the way. Now he had passed the fords of Cephisus and the fields of Panope: the heifer stopped, and lifting her beautiful head with its noble horns to the sky stirred the air with her lowing. Then looking back, to see her companion following, she sank her hindquarters on the ground and lowered her body onto the tender grass. Cadmus gave thanks, pressing his lips to the foreign soil and welcoming the unknown hills and fields.

Intending to offer a sacrifice to Jupiter, he ordered his attendants to go in search of water from a running stream for a libation. There was an ancient wood there, free from desecration, and, in the centre of it, a chasm thick with bushes and willow branches, framed in effect by stones making a low arch, and rich with copious springs. There was a snake sacred to Mars concealed in this cave, with a prominent golden crest. Fire flickered in its eyes, its whole body was swollen with venom, its three-forked tongue flickered, and its teeth were set in a triple row.

After the people of Tyre, setting out, a fatal step, reached the grove, and let their pitchers down into the water, it gave out a reverberation. The dark green snake thrust his head out of the deep cavern, hissing awesomely. The pitchers fell from their hands, the blood left their bodies, and, terrified, a sudden tremor took possession of their limbs. The snake winds his scaly coils in restless writhings, and, shooting upwards, curves into a huge arc. With half its length raised into thin air, it peers down over the whole wood, its body as great, seen in its entirety, as that Dragon that separates the twin constellations of the Bear. Without pause he takes the Phoenicians, whether they prepare to fight, run, or are held by fear itself. Some he slays with his bite, some he kills in his deep embraces, others with the corrupting putrefaction of his venomous breath.


According to William Smith's 1888 Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, the scholion on Aristophanes' Frogs 1256 mentions the story, as does the one on Euripides' Phoinissai 638. Frazer mentions the latter of these two scholia in the above-mentioned footnote as well, saying that this scholion "quotes the oracle at full length".

In Early Greek Mythography Vol. 2: Commentary, Robert Louis Fowler cites the 300s BC Athenian comic poet Eubulus, whose work currently survives only in fragments, as having said, in Fragment 33 (entitled Europa), that the Pythia instructed Cadmus to "found a city of Boiotoi [Boeotians]".


It's Pausanias 9.12.1&2 (the section on Boetia):

The Thebans in ancient days used to sacrifice bulls to Apollo of the Ashes. Once when the festival was being held, the hour of the sacrifice was near but those sent to fetch the bull had not arrived. And so, as a wagon happened to be near by, they sacrificed to the god one of the oxen, and ever since it has been the custom to sacrifice working oxen. The following story also is current among the Thebans. As Cadmus was leaving Delphi by the road to Phocis, a cow, it is said, guided him on his way. This cow was one bought from the herdsmen of Pelagon, and on each of her sides was a white mark like the orb of a full moon.

Now the oracle of the god had said that Cadmus and the host with him were to make their dwelling where the cow was going to sink down in weariness. So this is one of the places that they point out. Here there is in the open an altar and an image of Athena, said to have been dedicated by Cadmus. Those who think that the Cadmus who came to the Theban land was an Egyptian, and not a Phoenician, have their opinion contradicted by the name of this Athena, because she is called by the Phoenician name of Onga, and not by the Egyptian name of Sais.
Source: Perseus

Interestingly, this section can be found on Theoi in the W.H.S. Jones translation, although it was Robert Graves' The Greek Myths that guided me to the reference per his comprehensive and highly useful index.

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