The Rape of Europa

Titian’s painting of “The Rape of Europa” tells of how Zeus turned himself into a bull, seduced the beautiful Europa, and impregnated her. Here is one version of the tale from Greeka.Com:

The name of Europa is mentioned in many contexts, most of which deal with the divine union between a young girl and Zeus. The most popular myth about Europa says that she was the daughter of Agenor, a Phoenician king, and later became a wife of Zeus, the King of Gods.

According to the legend, Europa was the epitome of feminine beauty on Earth. Zeus once saw her on the seashore of Phoenicia playing with her friends. He was so captivated by her beauty that he fell in love with her and developed a strong desire to possess her. Immediately, he took the form of a white bull and approached her. The bull looked wonderful with its snow-white body and gem-like horns. Europa looked at the extraordinary animal curiously and dared to touch and later hang him because he appeared so calm to her. Later, she was somehow motivated to climb on his back.

As soon as she did so, Zeus ran to the sea and carried her all the way from Phoenicia to the island of Crete. There he regained his human form and mated with her under an evergreen tree. This was the abduction of Europa, who later gave birth to three sons of Zeus, Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. These men were known for their fairness and became the three judges of the Underworld, when they died. In fact, Minos founded the town of Knossos and gave his name to an entire civilization, the Minoan civilization.

Zeus loved Europa so much that he showered her with three priceless gifts. The first one was a bronze man, Talos, who served as a guard to her. He was the bronze giant that the Argonauts met and killed in their attempt to shore on Crete. The second was a dog, Laelaps, which could hunt anything she wanted. The last one was a javelin that had the power to hit the target, whatever it was. Europa was later married to one of the kings of Crete, Asterius, who adopted her sons and made her the first queen of Crete.

And here is the Roman poet Ovid’s telling of the legend from The Metamorphoses, as translated by Darrell Hine:

Majesty is incompatible truly with love; they cohabit
Nowhere together. The father and chief of the gods, whose right hand is   
Armed with the triple-forked lightning, who shakes the whole world with a nod, laid   
Dignity down with his sceptre, adopting the guise of a bull that   
Mixed with the cattle and lowed as he ambled around the fresh fields, a   
Beautiful animal, colored like snow that no footprint has trodden   
And which no watery south wind has melted. His muscular neck bulged,   
Dewlaps hung down from his chin; his curved horns you might think had been hand carved,   
Perfect, more purely translucent than pearl. His unthreatening brow and   
Far from formidable eyes made his face appear tranquil. Agenor's   
Daughter was truly amazed that this beautiful bull did not seem to   
Manifest any hostility. Though he was gentle she trembled at first to   
Touch him, but soon she approached him, adorning his muzzle with flowers.   
Then he rejoiced as a lover and, while he looked forward to hoped for   
Pleasures, he slobbered all over her hands, and could hardly postpone the   
Joys that remained. So he frolicked and bounded about on the green grass,   
Laying his snowy-white flanks on the yellowish sands. As her fear was
Little by little diminished, he offered his chest for her virgin   
Hand to caress and his horns to be decked with fresh flowers. The royal   
Maiden, not knowing on whom she was sitting, was even so bold as   
Also to climb on the back of the bull. As the god very slowly   
Inched from the shore and the dry land he planted his spurious footprints   
Deep in the shallows. Thus swimming out farther, he carried his prey off   
Into the midst of the sea. Almost fainting with terror she glanced back,   
As she was carried away, at the shore left behind. As she gripped one   
Horn in her right hand while clutching the back of the beast with the other,   
Meanwhile her fluttering draperies billowed behind on the sea breeze.

Serendipity: “Nothing Perishes”

C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Translator

C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Translator (Painting by Edward Stanley Mercer)

This is a translation of a passage by the Roman poet Ovid from The Metamorphoses. The remarkable thing is that is was made by a thirteen-year-old boy who later grew up to translate Marcel Proust’s multi-volume masterwork, In Search of Lost Time:

Everything is changed but nothing perishes. The spirit wanders, going hence, thither, coming thence, hither and takes possession of any limbs it pleases. With equal ease it goes from beasts into human bodies and from us into beasts, nor in any length of time does it fail. And as wax is easily moulded in new shapes, nor remains as it had been before, nor keeps the same form, but is yet itself the same; so do I teach that the soul is ever the same, but migrates into different shapes.

Although many think that Scott Moncrieff’s translations are growing a little long in the tooth, there is no doubt of their excellence. As Walter Kaiser wrote in The New York Review of Books (June 4, 2015):  “Not surprisingly, Scott Moncrieff’s translations from Latin and Greek in the examination that year [1903] were awarded higher scores than anyone else’s, for it turns out that the astutely ingenious, poetic use of language for which he is celebrated in his great translation of Proust was his from an early age.”