Kadmos and Kalliope


My original plan was to spotlight the Indian name Karna and the Hungarian name Kincső, since there are no K names in The Divine Comedy, but then I realized I could use the original Greek forms of some of the Latinized C names.

Cadmus Killing the Serpent, by Wilhelm Janson and Antonio Tempesta

Kadmos is the original Greek form of Cadmus, a name of uncertain etymology. Some people believe it comes from the Greek kekasmi (to shine) or the Semitic root qdm (the east), though others believe it has older, non-Hellenistic origins.

In Greek mythology, Kadmos was the founder of Thebes (original name Kadmeia), and the first Greek hero. He was born a Phoenician prince, the son of King Agenor and Queen Telephassa of Tyre and the brother of Europa, Cilix, and Phoenix. His story began when his parents sent him to rescue his kidnapped sister Europa from Zeus. Either unwilling to fight Zeus or unsuccessful in his search, Kadmos wandered around and eventually came to Delphi. The oracle told him to abandon his quest and instead follow a special cow with a half-moon on her face. Kadmos was to build a town on the spot where the cow lay down from exhaustion.

Kadmos and the goddess Harmonia had the first Earth wedding to which the deities brought gifts.

Another adventure involved the slaying of a dragon sacred to Ares. Unsurprisingly, this really angered Ares, and Kadmos was forced to serve the god for eight years. Waves of misfortune were also heaped upon his family, and Kadmos was turned into a serpent when he remarked that if the gods were so in love with the life of a serpent, he might as well become one himself. Harmonia begged to share her husband’s fate, and her wish was granted.

The ancient Greeks credited Kadmos with introducing them to the original Phoenician alphabet, which they based the Greek alphabet on. The historian Herodotus believe he lived around 2000 BCE (the Aegean Bronze Age), though modern evidence re: the Greek and Phoenician alphabets suggests Kadmos, if he existed, couldn’t have lived that early.

Kadmos is mentioned as an example of mutation in Canto XXV of Inferno.

Calliope, by Giuseppe Fagnani

Kalliope is the original Greek form of Calliope, and means “beautiful voice,” from the roots kallos (beauty) and ops (voice). She was the oldest of the nine Muses, and the goddess of epic poetry and eloquence. Ovid called her Chief of All Muses, and Hesiod (a poet contemporary with Homer) called her the wisest and most assertive Muse.

Her parents were Zeus and Mnemosyne, who according to Greek mythology slept together on nine consecutive nights to produce the Muses. One version of Kalliope’s story has her as the lover of Ares, by whom she bore Mygdon, Edonus, Biston, and Odomantus, the founders of four different Thracian tribes. Kalliope had two other sons, Orpheus and Linus, by Apollo or King Oeagrus of Thrace.

One story depicts Kalliope as defeating the daughters of King Pierus of Thessaly in a singing contest, and turning them into magpies as punishment for daring to think they could defeat the Muses.

In Canto I of Purgatorio, Dante invokes her:

 Here let dead Poetry upspring from her grave,
O sacred Muses, whom I serve and haunt,
And sound, Calliope, a louder string
To accompany my song with that high chant
Which smote the Magpies’ miserable choir
That they despaired of pardon for their vaunt.


3 thoughts on “Kadmos and Kalliope

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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