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Europa (mythology)

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This article is not about the daughter of Tityus and mother of Euphemus (by Poseidon), who was also named Europa.

Europa and Zeus, on the Greek €2 coin

In history and Greek mythology Europa is the woman for whom the continent of Europe is named. There are two primary legends regarding Europa; in one, she is seduced by the god Zeus (who takes her to Crete); in the other, she is kidnapped by Minoans, who also take her to Crete.



Sources differ in details regarding her family but agree that she is Phoenician. 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'Phoenix" title ="Phoenix">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.


According to Herodotus, Europa was kidnapped by Minoans who were seeking to avenge the kidnapping of Io, a princess from Argos.


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'Crete" title ="Crete">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.


The continent of Europe is called Europa in all Germanic languages (except English), and in all Slavic languages which 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.


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

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.


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