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 The Myth of Europa 
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 The myth of Europa - Antique iconography :  metopes and statuettes,  ceramics,  roman paintings and mosaics - Europa in greek and latin litterature - References and links 
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The myth of Europa

With the year of the introduction of the new European money, the desire to study the Myth of Europa came quite naturally. Moreover, it can be noted that among the three series chosen by Greece for this money, besides the important historical figures of the fight for Independence and various ships, two emblems were retained : the Owl of Athena and the représentation of the Rape of Europa.


Liberale da Verona (~1498 - ~1528), The Rape of Europa
panel - 39 cm x 118 cm - © Louvre.edu - Photo Béatrice Oravec

At first, the Myth of Europa appears quite simple.

Everyone remembers how Europa, daughter of Agenor, the king of Tyr, awakened Zeus' desire. The King of the Gods transformed himself into a bull and came to the young maiden who was playing with her friends near the seaside. He was so beautiful, and he looked so sweet when he lay down at the young maiden's feet that she dared to climb onto his back. Then the bull swam away and crossed the sea to Crete. It was near a spring at Gortyn that Zeus united with the young maiden and gave her three sons : Minos, Sarpedon, Rhadamantos.

An educational service offers cartographic images illustring maps from the Ancient Period : 6th century B.C. (108) to 450 B.C. (109).

However, this Myth reveals itself to be very rich, as it has gone through important changes over the years : the research that it favours in class is far from being uniform.
First of all because it is a very ancient Hierogamic Myth (the union of Zeus and Europa at Gortyn, in Crete), which was taken up again by mythographers and transformed. The ancient Aegean 'Goddess with the Bull', became Europa, the Phoenician, Agenor's daughter. And this transformation brought about many variations of the Myth which lived on under different forms illustrated by the arts over the years.
Moreover, the variety stems from the fact that Literature also made use of the Myth and made it go through many transformations. The most important mutation was due to Moschos, the Poet. It was a radical change since it introduced two new dimensions - the young maiden's initiation rites and eroticism. Artistic representations were thereafter inspired by this Poetic text, up until the last "re-creation" due to the Romans at the beginning of the Empire.

The Myth of Europa then became a favourite subject for beginning the study of Antique iconography, for the representations are numerous, and it is relatively easy to do a rapid comparative analysis. The variations shown by the figurative representations, the appearance of a detail, such as the veil, the expression of the heroin, the insistence on a given aspect of the Myth (prelude to the abduction, crossing of the sea, or the arrival in Crete, the addition of the presence of a god, Hermes or Eros) become significant. These variations lead us to a careful second reading of the texts which allow for a better understanding of ancient mentalities. For the choices made are not governed by the esthetical alone. We can discern the link that exists between the state of a civilisation and its artistic creations when we see the oscillation between the Myth and its representations, for example, "Neronian" eroticism and the sacredness of divine marriage. The study of the different representations permits a first approach to the phenomena, which results in the syncretism of myths. Thus we see, in Vth Century Greece, contamination with the Myth of Dionysos and the Maenads, and in the Roman Era contamination with the Sea Myths and the Nereids.

Ever since the Renaissance the Myth has aroused interest and the paintings found in the Louvre Museum also permit us to ask ourselves about the way it was perceived from the beginning of the XVIth Century on.

The studies presented here are meant to be the reflection of this richness, for each teacher has been able to explore with students the paths which best correspond to his teaching needs. Thus they propose paths for research more than a general study of the Myth.