Princess Europa

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Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1562.

Europa (meaning “broad browed”), according to Greek myth, was the daughter of Agenor, the king of Tyre. She was desired by Zeus who assumed the form of a bull (or, in another form of the myth, he sent a bull) which came from the sea as she played on the shore and so impressed Europa with its beauty and gentleness that she climbed upon its back.

It immediately returned to the water and carried her away to Crete. In due course she bore Minos, who was to become king of Crete, Rhadymanthus, who was to become king of Elysium and, in some accounts, Sarpedon, who would be involved in the Trojan War. The bull became the constellation, Taurus.

As mother of Minos, Europa was considered by the ancients as the founder of the most ancient branch of civilisation in what became known as Europe. Her journey from the Levant to Crete to found what the Greeks considered to be the forerunner of their culture, is allegorical reference to the transfer of culture that enabled the rise of the Minoan Civilization in the early third millennium B.C.

A historicised version of her story was recounted by Herodotus, in which Europa was kidnapped by human Cretans in revenge for the kidnapping of Io.[1]