10

I just re-read the story of Zeus and Europa, and in the notes provided by my book, it mentions that the continent of Europe was named after the mythological Europa.

It gave no more explanation, and this confuses me, since Europa was taken to the island of Crete, not the continent of Europe.

Which leads me to ask, why was Europe named after Europa? I can't figure it out from the myth alone. But I assume there's more to it.

16

As with other Greco-Roman myths, the connection is often through children, descendants or other family members. While Europa herself does not seem to have made it to the continental mainland, her brother Kadmos [Cadmus] did, and there, in memory of their hometown, he founded a Greek version of the hundred-gated Egyptian city of Thebes, although his rendition had only seven gates.

Kadmos' arrival on the mainland and his importation of the alphabet used by their people, the Tyrians and Sidonians, is significant because it only happens on account of his fervent search for his sister. It might be an intentional ironic twist that he never finds her (his sister, the Tyro-Sidonian princess) but he does find "her" (Europa, the continent). The mythology makes the effort to locate Kadmos not just in Greece but also further inland and northward in Illyria, where later misadventures end him up.

While Europa's eldest child Minos remained on Crete Island as its king, his daughter Phaidra [Phaedra] became queen of Athens, his brother Rhadamanthys became king of Okaleia in Boiotia [Boeotia] and his sister Alagonia moved to Peloponnesos [Peloponnesus] where the town of Alagonia in Lakedaimonia [Lacedaemonia] was named after her. The idea is, additionally, that the abducted princess Europa is the "mother" of these cities and their peoples.

There is a much less dramatic version, by the way, in which all the continents (or rather major regions) with which the Greeks were familiar—Europe, Africa and Anatolia—were named after daughters of the Titan Okeanos [Oceanus]: Europa, Libya and Asia respectively.1


1. According to Robert Fowler's Early Greek Mythography, the earliest attestation of this occurs in a fragment written by a certain Andron, who says that Europe & Thrace [or "Thraike," the region of warlike peoples to the NW of Greece] were Okeanos' daughters by an otherwise unknown Parthenope while the same Titan had another, even more obscure wife, named Pampholyge (or Pompholyge), who bore him Asia & Libya. John Tzetzes' commentary on Lycophron expounds upon Libya in this context.

Herodotus might be the only ancient mythographer to write explicitly about the Oceanid Asia giving her name to Europe's adjacent continent. Europa is an Oceanid in Hesiod's Theogony. This Oceanid, says Stephanus of Byzantium, bore Zeus a son called Dodon, after whom the city of Dodona, with its famous oracle, was named.

  • Great answer. I'm familiar with the myth of Cadmus so that makes sense to me. I enjoy the irony you point out, of his not finding his sister, but finding something else by the same name. I definitely prefer the longer, more dramatic version you give over the alternative. – ktm5124 Jun 18 '16 at 16:32
  • 1
    Indeed, less drama make for less interesting storytelling, so doubtless why the Oceanid version seems to have been far less compelling for the ancients themselves. Incidentally in the more popular version where Europa becomes queen of Crete, Libya is her grandmother. – Adinkra Jun 19 '16 at 14:29
  • The Okeanos connection is quite interesting and makes a great deal of sense. Where does it derive from? – DukeZhou Jan 4 '17 at 20:00
  • According to Robert Fowler's Early Greek Mythography, the earliest attestation of this occurs in a fragment written by a certain Andron, who says that Europe & Thrace [or "Thraike," the region of warlike peoples to the NW of Greece] were Okeanos' daughters by an otherwise unknown Parthenope while the same Titan had another, even more obscure wife, named Pampholyge (or Pompholyge), who bore him Asia & Libya. John Tzetzes' commentary on Lycophron expounds upon Libya in this context. – Adinkra Jan 5 '17 at 8:56
  • Herodotus might be the only ancient mythographer to write explicitly about the Oceanid Asia giving her name to Europe's adjacent continent. Europa is an Oceanid in Hesiod's Theogony. This Oceanid, says Stephanus of Byzantium, bore Zeus a son called Dodon, after whom the city of Dodona, with its famous oracle, was named. – Adinkra Jan 5 '17 at 8:57
3

Zeus kidnapped Europa and took her from Greece, to an island across the sea in lust. The people of her kingdom(she was a princess) freaked out and tried to find her but they never came across the particular island. Eventually they gave up, and called the general area where she had been Europa, which over time, became Europe.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.