“Cadmus Slays the Dragon” by Hendrik Goltzius. The Greek myth of Cadmus fighting the serpent may be an allegory for the discovery of the Amazon River. In various accounts, the snake is instead referred to as a dragon or serpent.

Could Ancient Greek Myths Hint at Contact With South America?

(Read the article on one page)

By Tara MacIsaac , Epoch Times

The ancient Greek myth of Cadmus battling a snake could be an allegory for the discovery of the Amazon River, said Dr. Enrico Mattievich, a retired professor of physics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Brazil. Mattievich wrote a book titled “Journey to the Mythological Inferno” in 2011, exploring connections between Greek myths and South American geographical and historical sites.

Some scholars have said the Cadmus myth was based on a simple fight between a man and a real snake. Some Jungian psychologists said it represents a battle against the impulse to commit incest. Mattievich thinks it is more significant; the snake is the unruly, winding, and sometimes tempestuous South American river conquered by early Greek explorers.

The snake’s fiery eyes and noxious venom describe the imposing volcanoes along the Amazon. It’s rows of teeth are the mountain ranges, and it’s many tongues are the branching rivers.

We will look at passages of the Cadmus myth, as told in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” along with Mattievich’s analysis, which he gives in his Q-mag article “Cadmus Slays the Serpent.” We will also briefly discuss Mattievich’s theory that Odysseus’s journey to Hades in Homer’s “Odyssey,” was actually a journey to an underworld of a different sort—to South America, a land below Greece.

He makes these archaeomythological arguments in the context of other, controversial evidence that contact began between the Old World and South America long before it is commonly thought to have started.

It is beyond the scope of this article to examine that evidence, but we will briefly mention an interesting experiment carried out by Dr. Thor Heyerdahl in 1969 and again in 1970. He built a boat using papyrus, similar to the boats constructed by ancient Egyptians. He sailed it from Morocco to Barbados twice to show that America was accessible to the people of those days.

Thor Heyerdahl's raft Ra II, in the Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, Norway.

Thor Heyerdahl's raft Ra II, in the Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, Norway. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )

Why the Snake May Represent a River

Verses 77–80 of “Metamorphoses,” describe the snake in very river-like terms, Mattievich pointed out: “The snake would at one point curl up within its coils making a vast circle, then it would stand up straighter than a length of planking, or be carried forward in a mighty rush, like a stream swollen by rainstorms, and with its breast push aside the woods standing in its way.”

Though the allegory is a “masterpiece of poetic creativity,” Mattievich wrote, “it was not able to transfigure completely the true nature of the ‘aquatic monster.'”

He also noted that Greek myths are known to portray battles with rivers. For example, Homer wrote of Achilles’s battle against the river Scamander. Ancient Greek literature also includes precedents for describing a river as an animal. The Achelous River, for example, was represented at times in the forms of a bull, a dragon, or a man with the head of a bull.

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, Brazil.

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, Brazil. ( CC BY NC-ND 2.0 )

A Snake the Size of a River

In verses 44–45, Ovid described the enormity of the creature: “[The snake] looked down on the whole copse with a body as large as, were you to see it all, as the one that separated the twin Bears.”

Draco, the constellation that separates Ursa Major from Ursa Minor

Draco, the constellation that separates Ursa Major from Ursa Minor ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Ovid is comparing the snake’s size to the constellation Draco, located between the Great Bear and Little Bear.

Mattievich wrote, “In astronomy one knows that the distances between stars are comparable to geographical distances on the Earth, if their respective arcs are projected over a sphere.”

The arc between Draco’s head and tail coincides roughly with the length of the Amazon River.

Gold, Fire, and Venom

The snake was distinguished by a golden crest, its eyes “gleamed with fire, and all its body swelled with venom,” Ovid wrote. In verses 72–76, he wrote: “When this fresh grievance had been added to its usual anger, its throat swelled up with full veins, and a whitish foam round its noxious jaws; its scales scraped noisily on the Earth, and black breath came from its Stygian mouth to infect the corrupted air.”

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