Europa and the White Bull
All through the steamy summer night, Europa - the Phoenician princess and daughter of King Agenor - twisted and turned as a dream of two bickering old ladies hounded her.
“She’s mine! This is a matter of birthright!” The glaring face of someone named Asia insisted the Egyptian-born Europa belonged to her.
“No, Europa belongs to me! Zeus is the one who defines heritage – no one else.” Another nameless woman with fiery, decisive eyes insisted birth didn’t matter. “Zeus will GIVE Europa to ME.”
Finally dawn streaked the sky and Europa was relieved to be done with the night’s drama. Morning dew graced the grass as she invited her female companions to join her for a walk through the flower-strewn meadow.
Europa swished her filmy lavender-and-gold gown as she tip-toed along the paths with bare feet, making her way toward the ocean. As the girls quietly gathered wildflowers in the still of the morning, Europa’s warm, olive skin, flashy brown eyes, and supple body caused her to stand out amongst her friends - all of whom were also of noble birth and similar age. Truly, she personified the word “beauty.”
From a nearby post, Zeus watched with lustful eyes.
As the sun climbed over the treetops, Zeus changed his form into that of a white bull more beautiful and gentle than any other – a bull that lowed musically as if to invite trust and comradeship. He ambled onto the scene, enticingly but without force, luring the group of unsuspecting girls to his side. They all gathered near with hopes of petting and stroking such massive muscles enveloped in silky white, but not without a sense of awe that kept them at arm’s length.
Europa seemed to have no fear, perhaps because she’d spent so many idle and happy hours roaming outdoors among the palace herds. The great bull sensed her ease. He knelt before her as if in submission, then laid himself down at her feet.
Delighted by his overtures, she climbed on his back while draping ropes of multicolored flowers around his neck and across his horns.
“Look! He’s my friend; he’s inviting me to decorate him!”
Suddenly the bull sprang to his feet. Europa’s friends jumped back, terrified.
“Watch out, Europa!”they squealed in fright.
Without hesitation the bull turned and galloped toward the rolling white breakers pounding onto shore. He dove decisively into the water with a shrieking Europa clinging to his neck for dear life.
Every few seconds Europa anxiously peered back over her shoulder, but he bull’s powerful strokes surpassed the efforts of the rescuers who followed in hot pursuit.
When it became obvious they were headed far out to sea and would not be turning back, Europa pleaded with the bull. “Where are you taking me? Don’t you know who I am?” The bull remained silent except for heavy snorts of breath, and continued swimming.
Her father’s kingdom shrunk ever smaller until the beach and its backdrop knoll covered with flowers faded from sight. The rhythmic strokes of the bull’s muscular legs were Europa’s only hope in the midst of the swells of the high sea. The bull swam for many hours. Finally another land mass appeared: the island of Crete.
With his abduction complete, the bull climbed onto the empty shore and stood, a dripping statue-like animal – one that would later be fashioned by ancient and modern artists alike in the form of various carvings and sculptures. When Europa slipped off his back and into a heap on the sand, he suddenly changed from the white bull to a human form.
“AH! Now Europa – Egyptian maiden by birth, and virginal Phoenician princess by circumstance – now you are MINE!”
Passion had its way. Zeus seduced Europa and continued to live with her for several years. In time, she bore him three sons: Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon.
Myth doesn’t explain the details of their life together, or the interim between that era and her marriage to Asterius, King of Crete, who adopted the sons born to Europa and Zeus as his own. A few legends speak of Europa’s two brothers who unsuccessfully searched for her for many years.
What we do know is that the tale of Eurpoa’s abduction by the white bull was forever commemorated in the heavens in the bull-shaped constellation, Taurus. Europa’s fame spread to the mainland of Greece, and eventually by 500 BC her name extended to the lands to the north that became known as Europe.
Author’s note: This story is a compilation of various tales from Greek mythology. In all of them. Europa - an abducted Phoenician princess - is the namesake for the continent of Europe.
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