While picking flowers Europa is approached from the sea by Zeus in the form of a bull.
Europa and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture
Europa was the daughter of Agenor, who rode from Phoenicia to
Greece on the back of a bull. Herodotus has her carried off from Tyre by Cretans. In the Iliad (Book XIV) Zeus refers to her as: “the daughter of Phoenix, who bore me Minos and Rhadamanthus:…” In Hesiod she is listed, along with Doris, Ianeira, and Asia, as one of the daughters of Ocean and Tethys. These are nymphs who are named for the lands over which they preside. Europa over Europe, Doris over Land of the Dorians, Ianeira, Lady of the Ionians, and Asia over Asia.
The name ‘Europa’ is not of Indo-European origin. Rather it is a loan word to the ancient Greek language from another culture. Since the myth relates Phoenicia to Crete the word could be attributed to either ancient Cretan or Phoenician Culture. It has been attributed to Semetic origins. It has been said to mean land of the setting sun. It is interesting to note that from the point of view of the Minoan Culture Europe is west and Asia is East. The name ‘Asia’ means land of the rising sun. This word is believed to be Akkadian from Akkadian asu “to go out, to rise,” in reference to the sun, thus “the land of the sunrise.” This may be akin to the Hebrew yatza, ‘went out’. But ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’ may also be of Minoan origin.
Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1358 fr. 1 (3rd cent. A.D.): (20)
(ll. 1-32)—….So she (Europa) crossed the briny water from afar
to Crete, beguiled by the wiles of Zeus. Secretly did the Father
snatch her away and gave her a gift, the golden necklace, the toy
which Hephaestus the famed craftsman once made by his cunning
skill and brought and gave it to his father for a possession.
And Zeus received the gift, and gave it in turn to the daughter
of proud Phoenix. But when the Father of men and of gods had
mated so far off with trim-ankled Europa, then he departed back
again from the rich-haired girl. So she bare sons to the
almighty Son of Cronos, glorious leaders of wealthy men — Minos
the ruler, and just Rhadamanthys and noble Sarpedon the blameless
and strong. To these did wise Zeus give each a share of his
honour. Verily Sarpedon reigned mightily over wide Lycia and
ruled very many cities filled with people, wielding the sceptre
of Zeus: and great honour followed him, which his father gave
him, the great-hearted shepherd of the people. For wise Zeus
ordained that he should live for three generations of mortal men
and not waste away with old age. He sent him to Troy; and
Sarpedon gathered a great host, men chosen out of Lycia to be
allies to the Trojans. These men did Sarpedon lead, skilled in
bitter war. And Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, sent him
forth from heaven a star, showing tokens for the return of his
dear son…. ….for well he (Sarpedon) knew in his heart that
the sign was indeed from Zeus. Very greatly did he excel in war
together with man-slaying Hector and brake down the wall,
bringing woes upon the Danaans. But so soon as Patroclus had
inspired the Argives with hard courage….
Scholiast on Homer, Il. xii. 292:
Zeus saw Europa the daughter of Phoenix gathering flowers in a
meadow with some nymphs and fell in love with her. So he came
down and changed himself into a bull and breathed from his mouth
a crocus (21). In this way he deceived Europa, carried her off
and crossed the sea to Crete where he had intercourse with her.
Then in this condition he made her live with Asterion the king of
the Cretans. There she conceived and bore three sons, Minos,
Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys. The tale is in Hesiod and
The story of Europa is interesting because it reveals something of the nature of myth. Even in ancient times Herodotus recognized the story as relating to a political act of one culture on another. He thought that Cretans went to Phoenicia and captured a princess, perhaps in a bull-shaped vessel. But archeology has revealed the importance of the bull to the Cretans. To the Minoans of Crete the bull was a symbol of their religion. And the crocus is of particular interst to young Minoan women. The myth may reveal the transfer of an important goddess cult from Phoenicia. Perhaps Aphrodite, who came from Phoenicia, is implicated. The myth may mean that
when Aphrodite came, she dominated the Minoan religion, just as Europa rides the bull. Eventually the Minoan civilization was conquered by the Mycenaeans of the mainland. The fact that Zeus rapes Europa suggests this fact. But she does produce her effect on the Greek culture, as suggested by the fact that her sons become important components of Greek religion.
Europa was one of the mortals who was raped by Zeus, though she did not suffer much. She was the mother of Minos and Rhadamanthus. Her story is told by the third century Alexandrian poet Moschus.
Herodotus puts Europa in a class with Ino and Helen. First Ino was a Greek princess stolen by Asians. Then Europa was an Asian princess stolen by Greeks and finally Helen was a Greek princess stolen by Asians. When the Greeks launched an army to regain Helen then the trading stopped.
Europa was left by Zeus on Crete to bear her children without a husband. Does this suggest that as a matriarch she ruled Crete and was the source of those stories about Crete that suggest a female deity was worshiped?
When we consider the Oceanides there are several who have names related to places like the name Europa:
- Asia — Goddess of the land of the rising sun.
- Europa — Goddess of the land of the Setting sun.
- Doris — Goddess of the land of the Dorians.
- Ianeira — Goddess of the land of the Ionians.
- Calypso — Goddess of Ogygia.
Most lands are named for men:
- Hellas from Hellen.
- Phoenicia from Phoenix
- Egypt from Aegyptus
One has to wonder why Crete is not the name of an Oceanide. The name “Crete” like the name Doris and Calypso has a connection to the Indo-European language predecessor. Crete may come from ker-(1) which means horn or head. Evans was immediately struck by the horned images associated with Minoan ruins and so this derivation may be appropriate. But it would have been a name applied by the Mycenaeans and not the Minoans. Likewise Doris may be derived from derived from do- (to give) and Calypso from kel-(4) (to cover,conceal). But Asia Europa, and Ianeira have no derivation. The proposed meanings of the names of Asia and Europa do make sense in relation to Crete. They may actually be Minoan place names. Cretan religion has long been associated with goddess worship and it makes more sense that names derived from goddesses would be Minoan. It was Evans and not the Minoans who chose the name Minoan after Minos. It may have been more appropriate to call the Minoans after his wife Pasiphae.
Pictures of Europa:
- Europ seated side saddle on a bull.
- Europa on the bull
- Europa riding side saddle on the bull, profile to the left
- Europa on bull
- Europa, Bull, and Scylla
Questions and Answers
Question: One myth said that Europa’s father sent his sons in search of
their sister. Did Europa ever see her brothers again?
Answer: “On the disappearance of Europa her father Agenor sent out his sons in search of her, telling them not to return until they had found Europa. With them her mother, Telephassa, and Thasus, son of Poseidon, or [p. 301] according to Pherecydes, of Cilix,7 went forth in search of her. But when, after diligent search, they could not find Europa, they gave up the thought of returning home, and took up their abode in divers places; Phoenix settled in Phoenicia; Cilix settled near Phoenicia, and all the country subject to himself near the river Pyramus he called Cilicia; and Cadmus and Telephassa took up their abode in Thrace and in like manner Thasus founded a
city Thasus in an island off Thrace and dwelt there.” Apollodorus, Library and Epitome 3.1.1
Question: Where can I find allusions to Europa?
Answer: Hesiod mentions Europa in some detail. She is also mentioned in The Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius and An Account of Egypt, by Herodotus. “…the ancient writer Palaiphatos interpreted the story of Europa (carried off to Crete on the back of a handsome bull, which was actually Zeus in disguise) as that of a woman abducted by a Cretan called Tauros,…” (Click Here). Europa is illustrated on Greek pottery: Europa on the bull.
- Titian: “Rape of Europa” (c. 1559-62; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)
- Hendrick van Minderhout (1632-1696) “Landscape with the Rape of Europa”
- COYPEL, NOEL N. “The Rape of Europa”
- VERONESE, PAOLO “The Rape of Europa”
- Francesco Di Giorgo (1439-1502) “The Rape of Europa”.
- Antonio Carracci, 1583 – 1618, “Th’ Abduction of Europa”, Click here
Question: painting of abduction of europa by coypel
Answer: I have no further information on this painting.
Question: Is it not more plausible that Europe came with the Agaeans from Greece with Zeus worshipped in the form of a bull, as was already done in Thessaly. The name Europe is mentionned too often in Greek history and mythology to be Asian
Answer: Normally Europa and the bull is associated with the Bull cult of the ancient Minoans. Archeological research suggests this cult came from a range from Anatolia to Syria. The association with Zeus seems a later addition. The name “Europa” like the names of most of the Greek dieties is not a Greek word and its meaning is not certain but it may be of semitic origin and mean ‘land of the setting sun’. There is no doubt that the Greeks took the myth in its present form from the mainland of greece to Crete about 1400 BCE but the
most likely origin is that about 3000 BCE the story went from Syria to Cyprus to Crete to Greece.
What do you think of this theory that I just came up with.
Zeus takes one of his lovers Europa to Crete and her son Minos becomes the King of Crete. Isn’t that another clue to your theory about that the Myceneans destroyed the religion of the Minoans and conquered them? Zeus, a Greek Male God puts his son on the Isle and he becomes the heir to the throne! Isn’t that a clever way of taking over? Because if your son is the boss, the people have to obey him, and if he wants his people to believe in a male divinity instead of a female.. In my opinion it could be something…? Unless you say it is complete nonsense I think I’m gonna put this in my essay about the Minoans for school.
Answer: It is not complete nonsense. It is actually an interesting idea. Now see if you can support it.