Saturday, April 4, 2009


Europa left behind by the European bureaucrats

Europa (Greek Ευρωπη) was a Levantine woman in Greek mythology, from whom the name of the continent Europe was ultimately taken. There were two competing myths relating how Europa came into the Greek world: in the more familiar one she was seduced by the god Zeus in the form of a bull and carried away to Crete on his back, but according to Herodotus she was kidnapped by Minoans, who likewise were said to have taken her to Crete. The mythical Europa cannot be separated from the mythology of the sacred bull, which had been worshipped in the Levant. The etymology of her name (ευρυ- "wide" or "broad" + οπ- "eye(s)" or "face") suggests that Europa represented a cow, at least at some symbolic level.

Greek 2 Euro Coin, Zeus and Europa, European Central Bank

According to legend, Zeus was enamored of her and decided to seduce or rape her, the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth. He transformed himself into a white bull (or possessed one) and mixed in with her father's herds. While Europa and her female attendants were gathering flowers, she saw the bull and caressed his flanks and eventually got onto its back. Zeus took that chance and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. He then revealed his true identity and Europa became the first queen of Crete. Zeus gave her three gifts: Talos, Laelaps and a javelin that never missed. Zeus later re-created the shape of the white bull in the stars which is now known as the constellation Taurus. Some legends relate that this same bull was also encountered by Hercules, and that it eventually fathered the Minotaur.

Europa's family

Sources differ in details regarding her family but agree that she is Phoenician, and from a lineage that descended from Io, the mythical princess who was transformed into a heifer. Most commonly, she is said to be the daughter of the Phoenician King Agenor and Queen Telephassa of Tyre. Other sources, such as the Iliad, claim that she is the daughter of Agenor's son, Phoenix. It is generally agreed that she had two brothers, Cadmus, who brought the alphabet to mainland Greece, and Cilix who gave his name to Cilicia in Asia Minor. After arriving in Crete, Europa had three children: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. She married Asterion; and then later, Asterius. According to mythology, her children were fathered by Zeus.

Europa in literature


The poet Ovid wrote the following depiction of Zeus' seduction:

Europa in a fresco at Pompeii contemporary with Ovid
And gradually she lost her fear, and he
Offered his breast for her virgin caresses,
His horns for her to wind with chains of flowers
Until the princess dared to mount his back
Her pet bull's back, unwitting whom she rode.
Then—slowly, slowly down the broad, dry beach—
First in the shallow waves the great god set
His spurious hooves, then sauntered further out
Till in the open sea he bore his prize
Fear filled her heart as, gazing back, she saw
The fast receding sands. Her right hand grasped
A horn, the other lent upon his back
Her fluttering tunic floated in the breeze.

His picturesque details belong to anecdote and fable: in all the depictions, whether she straddles the bull, as in archaic vase-paintings or the ruined metope fragment from Sikyon, or sits gracefully sidesaddle in a mosaic from North Africa, there is no trace of fear. Often Europa steadies herself by touching one of the bull's horns, acquiescing.


According to Herodotus, Europa was kidnapped by Minoans who were seeking to avenge the kidnapping of Io, a princess from Argos. His variant story may have been an attempt to rationalize the earlier myth.

Europa in the visual arts

Greek vase paintings
Roman frescoes (see image above)
François Boucher, The Rape of Europa
Gustave Moreau, Europa and the Bull (see image above)
Titian, The Rape of Europa
Paolo Veronese, The Rape of Europa

Europa as the continent's name

The continent of Europe is called Europa in all Germanic languages except English, Hungarian (Európa) and in all Slavic languages that use the Latin alphabet, as well as in Greek and Latin. Her name appeared on postage stamps commemorating the "United Europe", which were first issued in 1956.


Helge Jörns (1941) Europa und der Stier (Oper in einem Bild)

Europa and Zeus, Hydria , Louvre Museum


Europa Mythology,

Jupiter moon Europa

Asteroid 52 Europa


Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, III, i, 1-2

Herodotus, The Histories, Book 1.2

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 862, translation by A.D. Melville (1986), p.50


A metope from Sicily, carved with Europa, ca 550 - 540 BC the bull's face, turned head-on, clearly reveals his Near Eastern iconic antecedents

Mythology Images

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