On the distant shores of Phoenicia, the king had a beautiful daughter as well as several sons. The daughter, named Europa, was the light of all who looked upon her, and was especially treasured by her brother, Cadmos, who devoted himself to protecting her from unwelcome suitors.
Little did Cadmos know that Europa had another admirer, far different — and more powerful! — than the suitors he was used to fending off!
Europa’s most devoted suitor, married though he was, could one day wait no longer to make her his own, and decided to set about getting her safely separated from her family. It would have been a tricky task for any man, but he had no difficulty arranging it…
Europa was playing in the fields with some of her friends when a beautiful bull walked out of the sea and approached them. Her friends were frightened by the animal, but Europa noticed something sparkling on his horns, and went to investigate. It was an elegant necklace, crafted too perfectly to have been made by any mortal. As her fingers grazed the necklace, she was filled with a desire to own it, but it had been tied to the bull’s horn, and Europa couldn’t simply remove it.
The more she tried to untie the necklace, the more it seemed to cling to the bull’s horn, as if it had a mind of its own. Eventually, Europa decided that she needed a better angle to see what she was doing, and so she climbed up onto the bull’s back. As soon as she had done so, the bull turned around and began wading back out to sea, with the girl clinging to his back in confused alarm. Her friends set off running back to the palace to fetch her brother, but by the time he arrived at the shore, Europa and the bull had long since vanished from sight.
No longer so interested in the necklace as in keeping from falling off the bull and drowning, Europa clung to its massive shoulders and prayed to her gods that she wouldn’t drown.
Eventually, the bull walked back out of the water and onto a piece of distant shoreline that Europa had never seen before. The bull kept walking, until it reached a man standing in the mouth of a cave at the base of a mountain. He seemed a handsome enough man, perhaps her father’s age, or maybe a little younger, and he smiled at her charmingly as Europa rode up on the bull.
After helping her down, the man lifted the necklace off the bull’s horn as easily as if it had never been tied there at all — indeed, it seemed to untie itself as the astonished girl watched! — and set the necklace upon her shoulders. “I hope you like my gift?” he asked.
“Who are you? Where am I? How can I get home again?” Europa asked, her fears overwhelming everything else.
“This is the island of Crete,” the man told her, “and you cannot go home. But have no fear; you’ll be a queen here, and your sons will be the greatest men in the land.”
“A queen?” Europa repeated, uncertainly. “Are you the king, then?”
“I am a king,” the man agreed, with another suave smile. “Come, I’ll explain it all to you…”
So saying, he led the girl inside cave, where a bridal bed had been set up for them. And while there were certainly many things he made clear to Europa while they were in that cave, there were many more that he did not. In fact, it was only with great reluctance that he eventually admitted to her that he was not the king of any mortal land, but Zeus, king of the Olympian gods.
Adjusting to the idea of gods other than those she had been raised worshiping was difficult for Europa — and all the more so, accepting a foreign god as her lover! — but she could not resist his charms for long, and the adulterous deity soon had all he had desired from her since the moment he had first laid eyes upon the girl.
After Zeus was gone, back to Mt. Olympos, Europa wandered the island of Crete uncertainly, until she came to one of its towns. The people were astonished to see the Phoenician beauty wandering their land, and quickly took her to see their king, Asterion, who instantly fell in love with her, and begged her to be his wife.
Tearfully, Europa explained everything that to Asterion, including her encounter with the amorous Zeus, and the king decided that he did not mind accepting a sullied bride, so long as she had only shared her bed with a god.
And so the two were married, though Europa was already carrying the sons of Zeus within her body…
Bleah, what an ending.
I knew there was a reason I’d never done this one before. Almost no story to tell, and every inch of it has variants. Europa’s father could be Phoinix, Agenor or Belos. (NB, Phoinix essentially just means “Phoenician” and “Belos” is a loan-word from “Bel” meaning “lord” so technically I guess that means her father’s name should be Lord Agenor the Phoenician…) Zeus could have turned into a bull or sent one to fetch her. And Europa sometimes has two sons by him, sometimes three. Oh, and the number of brothers she has other than Cadmos also varies. And the necklace isn’t always there. And….
Yeah, this myth is a mess. It’s just not the type that was really meant to be told like this.
Should be easier next week when I get to Cadmos. Hopefully.