The old continent Europe, the land that unites more than fifty geographical regions, with the special cultural heritage, took its name from a mythical event. It is said that Europe was the daughter of the ruler of Phoenicia, sister of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. Europe, a young woman with big eyes as the term “wide-eyed” means, went to the meadows to play with other young girls. There she met the god Zeus who was enchanted by the beauty of Europe. Zeus, struck by the god Eros, transformed into a strong white bull and calmly approached Europe and tried to arouse her interest. She was enchanted and started to play with him and eventually she rode him. Then, he started running like lightning with the beautiful girl on his back. Europe was crying and was afraid to jump, because she thought that she would be killed. Zeus, accompanied by the Tritons and the Nereides, arrived in Crete and hide her in the Diktaeus Andros cave, where Rhea gave birth to Zeus himself. There Minoas, Rhodamanthos and Sarpedon were born as a result of the love of Europe and Zeus. But Zeus left Europe for his throne and after that she married the king of Crete Asterios. Later, her son Minoas became the king of Crete. The cult of Europa spread widely and many places used her name, such as the river Evropos which originates from Olympus.

This legend has been a source of inspiration for many artists both in mosaics, such as the one found in Sparta and dating back to the 4th century, but also in vases and in more recent artworks of contemporary paintings and sculptures, such as in Tiziano, Veronese, Rubens, Rembrandt, Jean Batiste and Matisse (Zuffi, 2006). The oldest representation is in front of the Temple in Selinundas (600 BC). Today the scene of the rapture dominates the coin of the European Union in the Greek version of 2 Euros.

Photos by Chatzisavva Despina

Zuffi, S. (2006). Tiziano. Αθήνα: Ημερησία