The legend of Europa and Zeus begins when the ruler of the Olympian gods glimpses the young woman one day. At first sight of Europa, Zeus is instantly overcome by her beauty and grace. Not being one to ignore his desires, the god immediately comes up with a plan - he assumes the form of a glorious white bull and swims to the shore on which Europa and her female companions are playing (it should be noted that in some versions of the story, rather than disguising himself, Zeus sends a real white bull to lure the girl). The bull is so sleek and handsome, not to mention gentle, that the maidens all take turns stroking and petting the pretty creature.
In time, Europa feels comfortable enough with the bull to climb upon his back for a little ride. However, as soon as she is safely seated, the bull moves toward the sea, carrying the object of his affection with him. They together cross the water. Their strange but compelling journey leads them eventually to the island of Crete.
Upon arriving in Crete, Zeus finally casts off his disguise and reveals his divine identity to Europa. The mortal woman then becomes yet another of the god's lovers. Ultimately, Europa gives birth to a trio of sons - Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon.
It was said that Zeus so loved Europa that he gave her three priceless presents. The first was Talos, a magical man made of bronze, who served as a guard on Crete. The second was Laelaps, a dog that excelled at the hunt. And the third and final gift was a javelin that always hit its target. In addition, as a last poetic touch, it is worth mentioning that the bull that "stars" in this story was transformed into the constellation Taurus.
Europa and Zeus in Art History
Gallery | For pictures and information about Europa and Zeus in art, visit the Mythography gallery!
Who's Who in Classical Mythology