Europe in mythology (and on the 5 € banknotes ...)

The new € 5 note put into circulation includes among others the figure of Europe, daughter of the king of Tire Agénor and lover of the king of the gods: Zeus / Jupiter. The opportunity to rediscover this figure of classical culture honored in the Metamorphosis of the poet Ovid, but obviously little known to the general public and the media, who improperly qualify her as a "goddess", which reflects their worship of money more than the mythological tradition ...

At the dawn of our era, the Roman poet Ovid, turning forty, abandoned erotic poetry to embark on the writing of his famous Metamorphosis, fifteen chapters in verse sailing through Greek and Roman mythologies. It is in the second chapter that he tells us about Europe, taking up elements of a much older legend.

A Phoenician princess ...

In Ovid's poem, Europe is the daughter of Agénor, the king of Tire. Tire was then a Phoenician city, located in present-day Lebanon, 70 km south of Beirut. Very interested in the young princess, the king of the gods Jupiter orders his son Mercury (born from adultery between Jupiter and the nymph Maïa ...) to graze his herds in the land of Sidon, capital of Phenicia, near the shore where the princess has taken to playing with her friends. This done, Jupiter metamorphoses into a white bull and mingles with the herd to approach incognito the one who sharpens his desires. Bramant, strutting around, showcasing his immaculate whiteness and massive animal musculature, he attracts the attention of young girls astonished to see such a beautiful animal so not very shy. Princess Europe walks up to him, hands him flowers, the bull shows off, gets stroked and licks his hands. Confidence, the young girl begins to cover him with garlands and even ends up riding on his back ... It is then that the bull soars into the sea, moving away from the shore with its captive ...

... became a Cretan queen

The rest of the story is not told by Ovid, but in the Greco-Roman tradition it is generally said that Europe was deposited on the island of Crete. There, Jupiter resumes an anthropomorphic appearance and carnally unites with the young princess. The princess becomes pregnant with triplets. Europe being only one of her many conquests, Jupiter does not linger with her, but nevertheless offers her as husband the king of the island, Asterion. A few months later were born Minos the legendary king of the island of Crete (whose wife Pasiphaé would later unite with another white bull to give birth to the Minotaur) and Rhadamanthe who both became judges of the Underworld, but also Sarpédon who will participate in the Trojan War and will be killed by Patroclus.

Mad with grief over the disappearance of their daughter, King Agenor ordered his sons to search for the missing woman and only return with her. Cadmos left with his two brothers Thasos and Cilix and his mother Telephassa. He searched for a long time, in vain, and ended up founding his own city, Thebes, on the advice of the Oracle of Delphi. Thasos settled in the Thracian Islands. Cilix settled in Cilicia. As for Queen Telephassa, she died of grief ...

European posterity

The scene of the kidnapping of Europe was a great success, we find it in literature, in the arts, in astronomy (constellation of the bull) ... More generally it holds an important place in the art of the European continent, and carves out a place of choice nowadays in the symbolism of the European Union which avoids references to Judeo-Christian culture, preferring a Greco-Roman culture.

Yet Europe is a Middle Eastern princess forcibly implanted in Crete, truly on the fringes of what is generally considered to be the European continent. So why did she give the continent its name?

In fact, the question is posed differently, since it would seem that the word "europe" used to designate our continent has a Semitic origin, "ereb", which would refer to the setting sun. The etymology of the word is still debated, but this explanation would therefore make the word "europe" a primarily geographical denomination based on a world centered on the eastern Mediterranean. The assimilation of the continent's name to that of the princess would then only be an attempt at a later explanation to link the continent to Greek culture.

Princess Europe and her white bull had already conquered the wallets of the euro zone on Greek € 2 coins. The portrait of the mythical Phoenician princess is now visible on the new € 5 banknotes, although it is difficult to identify in the absence of the bull and the crown, two elements that appeared on the € 2 coin. Gradually, the whole series of "architecture" banknotes will be replaced by the "Europe" series with the effigy of the princess.

German graphic designer Reinhold Gerstetter used a red-figure bell crater from the 4th century BC to produce his design. AD painted by what is called the painter of Ilioupersis. This crater produced in Puglia was discovered in Taranto and is now exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Video: New 20 Euro Banknotes Printing Production (May 2021).