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Cadmus or Kadmos (Greek: Κάδμος), in Greek, Roman and Phoenician mythologies, was a Phoenician prince,[1] the son of king Agenor and queen Telephassa of Tyre and the brother of Phoenix, Cilix and Europa. He was originally sent by his royal parents to seek out and escort his sister Europa back to Tyre after she was abducted from the shores of Phoenicia by Zeus.[2] Cadmus founded the Greek city of Thebes, the acropolis of which was originally named Cadmeia in his honor.

Cadmus was credited by the ancient Greeks (Herodotus[3] is an example) with introducing the original Alphabet or Phoenician alphabet -- phoinikeia grammata, "Phoenician letters" -- to the Greeks, who adapted it to form their Greek alphabet. Herodotus estimates that Cadmus lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 BC.[4] Herodotus had seen and described the Cadmean writing in the temple of Apollo at Thebes engraved on certain tripods. He estimated those tripods to date back to the time of Laius the great-grandson of Cadmus.[5] On one of the tripods there was this inscription in Cadmean writing, which as he attested, resembled Ionian letters: Ἀμφιτρύων μ᾽ ἀνέθηκ᾽ ἐνάρων ἀπὸ Τηλεβοάων ("Amphitryon dedicated me from the spoils of [the battle of] Teleboae.").

Though later Greeks like Herodotus dated Cadmus's role in the founding myth of Thebes to well before the Trojan War (or, in modern terms, during the Aegean Bronze Age), this chronology conflicts with most of what is now known or thought to be known about the origins and spread of both the Phoenician and Greek alphabets. While a Phoenician origin for the Greek alphabet is certain, the earliest Greek inscriptions match Phoenician letter forms from the late 9th or 8th centuries BC -- and, in any case, the Phoenician alphabet properly speaking wasn't developed until around 1050 BC (or after the Bronze Age collapse). The Homeric picture of the Mycenaean age betrays extremely little awareness of writing, possibly reflecting the loss during the Dark Age of the earlier Linear B script. Indeed the only Homeric reference to writing [6] was in the phrase "γράμματα λυγρά", grámmata lygrá, literally "ominous etchings", when referring to the Bellerophontic letter. (According to Walter Burkert in The Orientalizing Revolution, literacy explodes within a few decades after 750 BC: "The earliest Greek letters recognized to date originate in Naxos, Ischia, Athens, and Euboea, and appear around or a little before 750".[7]) Linear B tablets have been found in abundance at Thebes, which might lead one to speculate that the legend of Cadmus as bringer of the alphabet could reflect earlier traditions about the origins of Linear B writing in Greece (as Frederick Ahl speculated in 1967[8]). But such a suggestion, however attractive, is by no means a certain conclusion in light of currently available evidence. The connection between the name of Cadmus and the historical origins of either the Linear B script or the later Phoenician alphabet, if any, remains elusive. However, in modern day Lebanon, Cadmus is still revered and celebrated as the 'carrier of the letter' to the world.

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