Europa Being Brought to Crete

(Il Ratto di Europa)

by Paolo Veronese

c. 1580

Zeus was said to have seen the Phoenician princess Europa at her home in Tyre, Lebanon, where she walked beside the sea gathering wildflowers. He immediately fell in love with her. As the ancient poet Ovid tells us, he. . . .

. . . .headed for the shore, where the great king’s daughter, Europa, used to play together with the Tyrian virgins. Royalty and love do not sit well together, nor stay long in the same house. So the father and ruler of the gods, who is armed with the three-forked lightning in his right hand, whose nod shakes the world, setting aside his royal sceptre, took on the shape of a bull. [He] lowed among the other cattle, and, beautiful to look at, wandered in the tender grass.

In colour he was white as the snow that rough feet have not trampled and the rain-filled south wind has not melted. The muscles rounded out his neck, the dewlaps hung down in front, the horns were twisted, but one might argue they were made by hand, purer and brighter than pearl. His forehead was not fearful, his eyes were not formidable, and his expression was peaceful. Agenor’s daughter marvelled at how beautiful he was and how unthreatening.

But though he seemed so gentle she was afraid at first to touch him. Soon she drew close and held flowers out to his glistening mouth. The lover was joyful and while he waited for his hoped-for pleasure he kissed her hands. He could scarcely separate then from now. At one moment he frolics and runs riot in the grass, at another he lies down, white as snow on the yellow sands. When her fear has gradually lessened he offers his chest now for virgin hands to pat and now his horns to twine with fresh wreaths of flowers.

The royal virgin even dares to sit on the bull’s back, not realising whom she presses on, while the god, first from dry land and then from the shoreline, gradually slips his deceitful hooves into the waves. Then he goes further out and carries his prize over the mid-surface of the sea. She is terrified and looks back at the abandoned shore she has been stolen from and her right hand grips a horn, the other his back, her clothes fluttering, winding, behind her in the breeze.

Ovid, Metamorphoses  

Book II: 844-875  

Once they had arrived on Crete, the lovers Zeus and Europa gave birth to three children, including Minos who became king of the Minoans. The great and beautiful Minoan civilization left many bequests for the Classical Greeks who followed. And the name of this Phoenician princess was given to the entire new continent, which was called Europe.

The Abduction of Europa

Roman Mosaic

Byblos, Lebanon

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