The Name Giver of Europe

The arrival of Europa on a mural in Matala
Picture copyright deTraci Regula; licensed to

Europa's Appearance: Europa is a beautiful perpetually-young woman.

Symbol or Attributes of Europa: She is usually portrayed riding on the back of a bull, often with one hand on its horn. She may also be wearing a floating, sail-like garment. More rarely, she is depicted sitting in a tree. In Europe, you may not have to go far to find her image - she is on the original national side of the 2 Euro coin for Greece, so if you're in Greece right now, just look in your pocket. About 2300 years ago, she was also depicted in a similar fashion on coins issued at Gortyna.

Europa's Strengths: Fertile, beautiful, associated with dreams, herbs, and divination.

Europa's Weaknesses: Some suggest she did not fight too hard to get off the back of the bull; some depictions of Europa in art seem to have her going along quite happily, though in Renaissance times, the depiction of the "rape" or, more accurately, the abduction of Europa were common.

Europa's Parents: Agenor, King of Libya, and Telephassa, daughter of Io, another bovine goddess who wandered.

Europa's Spouse: Zeus and King Asterion.

Children of Europa: Europa is said to have borne Minos and Rhadamanthys to Zeus; later, a third son, Sarpedon was added to the myth. She is also said to have borne a daughter, Crete, to her husband King Asterion.

Some Major Temple Sites of Europa: Europa did not generate much in the way of temples, but the tree where she is said to have mated with Zeus is at Gortyna on the Greek island of Crete. With her husband Asterion, she lived in the Asterousia Mountains. It is said by local modern Greeks that she gave birth to her sons, with Zeus's assistance, in a cave on Mount Ida.

Europa's Basic Story:Europa was a beautiful princess, the daughter of King Agenor of Libya. After being long troubled with dreams where two goddesses apparently representing Africa and Europe fought over her, each claiming "ownership" of the young princess, she went to gather flowers - perhaps saffron crocuses - with her maidens along the shore. A beautiful white bull came up to them, and was so tame that the maidens decorated it with garlands of flowers. Europa, showing off a bit, climbed on its back and actually kissed it. Oops! The bull reared up, catching Europa on its back, and plunged into the sea. Europa called out to one of her brothers who was in a nearby ship, telling him she was gone for good. But that didn't stop her brothers and her mother Telephassa from launching an intense search for her... yet they never apparently looked at the closest landfall in that general direction, the island of Crete.

Once in Crete - at Matala if the modern Matalans are to be believed, further inland in a tree at Gortyna if the Gortynians are to be believed, Zeus mated with Europa in three forms - once as an eagle, once as a bull, and once as a rooster.

As all of these unions bore fruit, a very enceinte Europa was married off to a convenient local aging childless king, Asterion, who ruled over the Asterion Mountains to the east. Asterios is another name of Zeus; the even earlier name Asteria refers to a goddess.

Frequent Misspellings and Alternate Spellings: Europe, Europi. In Greek, Europa is pronounced more like Ev-roh-pea.

Interesting Facts about Europa: Europa, though from the African continent, eventually gave her name to the semi-continent of Europe, though it is not clear exactly why a relatively minor demi-goddess or even mere mortal was so honored. And in Crete, she is said to be the "wife" of Zeus, not just another nymph. Her name means "Wide-seeing" or "Far seeing".

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