In Greek mythology Europa (Greek: Εὐρώπη Eurṓpē; Doric Greek: Εὐρώπα Eurṓpā) was a Phoenician woman of high lineage, for whom the continent Europe was named. The story of her abduction by Zeus in the form of a white bull was a Cretan story; most of the love-stories concerning Zeus originated from more ancient tales describing his marriages with goddesses. This can especially be said of the story of Europa”.
Europa’s earliest literary reference is in the Iliad, which is commonly dated to the 8th century B.C. Another early reference to her is in a fragment of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, discovered at Oxyrhynchus. The earliest vase-painting securely identifiable as Europa, dates from mid-7th century B.C.
The etymology of her Greek name (εὐρυ- “wide” or “broad” and ὤψ “eye(s)” or “face”) suggests that Europa as a goddess represented the cow (with a wide face) Hathor, at least on some symbolic level. Metaphorically, at a later date her name could be construed as the intelligent or open-minded, analogous to glaukopis (γλαυκῶπις) attributed to Athena.
Sources differ in details regarding Europa’s family, but agree that she is Phoenician, and from a lineage that descended from Io, the mythical nymph beloved of Zeus, who was transformed into a heifer. She is generally said to be the daughter of Agenor, the Phoenician King of Tyre; the Syracusan poet Moschus makes her mother Queen Telephassa (“far-shining”) but elsewhere her mother is Argiope (“white-faced”). Other sources, such as the Iliad, claim that she is the daughter of Agenor’s son, the “sun-red” 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, with the author of Bibliotheke including Phoenix as a third. So some interpret this as her brother Phoenix (when he is assumed to be son of Agenor) gave his siblings name to his three children and this Europa(by this case, niece of former) is also loved by Zeus, but because of the same name, gave some confusions to others. After arriving in Crete, Europa had three sons fathered by Zeus: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon, the three of whom became the three judges of the Underworld when they died. In Crete she married Asterion also rendered Asterius and became mother (or step-mother) of his daughter Crete.
There were two competing myths relating how Europa came into the Hellenic world, but they agreed that she came to Crete, where the sacred bull was paramount. In the more familiar telling she was seduced by the god Zeus in the form of a bull, who breathed from his mouth a saffron crocus and carried her away to Crete on his back—to be welcomed by Asterion, but according to the more literal, euhemerist version that begins the account of Persian-Hellene confrontations of 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 mythographers tell that Zeus was enamored of Europa and decided to seduce or ravish her, the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father’s herds. While Europa and her helpers were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity 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 a necklace made by Hephaestus and three additional 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 readers interpret as manifestations of this same bull the Cretan beast that was encountered by Heracles, the Marathonian Bull slain by Theseus (and that fathered the Minotaur). Roman mythology adopted the tale of the Raptus, also known as “The Abduction of Europa” and “The Seduction of Europa”, substituting the god Jupiter for Zeus.
According to Herodotus’ rationalizing approach, 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; or the present myth may be a garbled version of facts—the abduction of a Phoenician aristocrat—later enunciated without gloss by Herodotus.
The name of Europe as a geographical term came in use by Ancient Greek geographers such as Strabo to refer to part of Thrace below the Balkan mountains. Later, under the Roman Empire the name was given to a Thracian province.
It is derived from the Greek word Eurōpē (Εὐρώπη) in all Romance languages, Germanic languages, Slavic languages, Baltic Languages, Celtic languages, Iranian languages, Uralic languages (Hungarian Európa, Finnish Eurooppa, Estonian Euroopa).
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