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 The Myth of Europa 
 The myth of Europa - Antique iconography :  metopes and statuettes,  ceramics,  roman paintings and mosaics - Europa in greek and latin litterature - References and links 
Create your own file about Europa - Study two modern representations of the myth

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Antique Iconography
The representations of the myth of Europa

  Websites   Purposes of the study   The evolution of the myth 

The representations of the Rape of Europa show important variations over the centuries. From the first sculptures to Roman mosaics, a constant evolution in the utilisation of the Myth can be perceived. It can be interesting to help students see these representations in perspective by highlighting the elements showing this evolution.

We are helped in this presentation by an important work by Odile Wattel-de-Croizant, Mosaics Representing the Myth of Europa (Ist - VIth Centuries) - Evolution and Interpretation of Greek Models in Roman Environment (Les mosaïques représentant le mythe d'Europa (Ier-VIe siècles) - Évolution et interprétation des modèles grecs en milieu romain (De Boccard, 1995). In this book, the author analyses the whole of the representations since the origin of the Myth, in order to lay the foundations for her own study of mosaics, more specialised in the Roman Era.


Many reproductions can be consulted on the Internet.

  • " The Beazley Archive " groups together approximately fifty antique vases. (Greek Painted Pottery > Heroes & Myths > Europa)
    Adresse : http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/BeazleyAdmin/Script2/default.htm
  • " The Perseus Digital Library " proposes a selection of coins, as well as some major representations.
    Adresse : http://www.perseus.tufts.edu
  • The Hellenic Ministery of Culture offers a cultural map and lists of monuments, archeological sites and monuments, with notes and photographs.
    Adresse : http://www.culture.gr
  • The database Atlas reproduces some of the works from the Louvre Museum. The database of the "Agence photographique de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux" (Photographic Agency of the National Museums Reunion) and the service "Joconde" of the French Ministery of Culture reproduce works from all the french museums.
    Adresse : http://www.louvre.fr - http://www.culture.fr

However, concerning the study of Roman mosaic we must recognise the fact that it is difficult to find major documents on the Internet. Look for :
- representations of Pompei by browsing the main sites dedicated to this city,
- those of Herculanum and of Stabies,
- mosaics from large Gallo-Roman cities (Arles, Nîmes) or those found on Tunisian sites (House of Ikarios at Uthina).

Purposes of the Study

In all cases a purpose must be defined before choosing a work. The following purposes can be combined :
- learn to read an image (organisation, patterns, movements, meaning, details...) ;
- learn to recognise a given style (red figures, black figures...) ;
- learn to locate an artefact or work of art historically and geographically.

But finally the image must take on meaning. In the case of Europa :
- discover the way the Myth is conceived (violent abduction or wilful departure) ;
- understand the meaning of supplementary elements (the presence of a dolphin or a rabbit, etc.), which are perceived by the students during the study ;
- establish a link with Literature when studying a myth.

Choice of works

- Limit the choice to four or five particularly significant works ;
- Be sure the series chosen are coherent, coherent in time (works from a determined era), coherent on a strictly thematic level (violence or, on the contrary, exaltation...).
- Classify the works so as to form a readable whole : reading together the four works will allow students to read a fifth on their own

Analysis Grid

Criterion 1 Scene's general composition

Have them analyse the scene's general composition so as to identify the precise moment in the story represented.
- Who are the main characters ?
- Where does Europa stand in relation to the bull ?
- Do other characters appear ?
- Do other motifs appear ? (floral decorations, animal decorations, natural decorations)

Criterion 2 Europa Pinpoint details which will be classified for interpretation :
- Europa's general attitude (dynamic, static),
- position of her arms and hands,
- clothing,
- facial expression, hairstyle and its dynamics.
Criterion 3 The bull Pinpoint details which will be classified for interpretation :
- general attitude (dynamic, static),
- orientation of the presentation (movement towards the right / the left),
- orientation of the bull's head (the bull's gaze),
- importance of the horn (simple/double), size of the horn,
- importance of the tail (form, meaning for dynamics).
Criterion 4 Supplementary elements Systematic survey and "problematisation".
Any supplementary detail, for example the presence of the hare in the Hydria from Caere (Louvre Museum).

The Evolution of the myth

Statuette of Beotia (550-500 B.C.) - Louvre Museum - © R.M.N
Statuette of Beotia, Louvre Museum

First Era

  Greek Sculptures
  Original Myth
The Rape of Europa as told by Hesiod.
  Reading : Hesiod - Fragments
Metope from Temple Y at Selinonte (510-500 av. J.-C.) - Archaeological Museum, Palermo, Sicily
Metope from Temple Y at Selinonte, Archaeological  Museum of  Palermo

Second era


Greek Sculptures


Introduction of Movement in the Representations.
Symbolic Representation of the Sea.

Black-figure hydria, from Caera (about 540-530 B.C.) - Louvre Museum - © RMN
Black-figure hydria, from Caera, Louvre Museum

Third Era

  Greek Ceramics

Europa appears more undressed; she's falling down the side of the bull.
Contamination with elements from the Myth of Dionysos.

Red-figure crater (340 B.C.) - The Getty Museum, Malibu - © The Perseus Digital Library
Red-figure crater, The Getty Museum, Malibu - The Perseus Digital Libray

Fourth Era

  Greek Ceramics
  The Myth becomes more gentle; presence of Cupid or of marriage torches.
Presence of the Nereids who accompany Europa during the crossing of the sea.
  Reading : Moschos, Europa
Mosaic, Villa of San Marco at Stabies (1st century A.D.) - Museum Condé, Chantilly's Castle
Mosaic, Villa of San Marco, Stabies - Musée Condé,  Chantilly's Casthe Museum

Fifth Era


Roman paintings ans mosaics

  Contamination with the Myth of Flora.
Hierogamy. Consent.

Reading : Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book II.
               Lucian of Samosata, Dialogues of the Sea-Gods, XV