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The Myth of Europa and the Bull

459982. SOLD $5750

CRETE, Gortyna. Circa 330-270 BC. AR Stater (24mm, 11.37 g, 4h). Europa seated right in tree, head left, lifting chiton with left hand / Bull standing right, head reverted. Svoronos, Numismatique 98; SNG Copenhagen –; BMC 26. Good VF, toned.


Ex Hanbery Collection; Lawrence R. Stack Collection (Stack’s, 14 January 2008), lot 2077; Edward J. Waddell II (12 September 1987), lot 188.

While the myth of Europa as one of Zeus’ numerous trysts is well-known and has been the subject of literature and art since at least the fifth century BC, certain portions of the entire episode received more attention than others. What occurred when Zeus brought Europa to Crete is one such part. According to the later authors Theophrastos (371-ca. 287 BC) and Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), Zeus consummated his abduction of Europa in a plane-tree (ἡ πλάτανος), an event commemorated on a series of silver and bronze issues from the Cretan city of Gortyna, the site of that event.

According to the traditional account, Europa was the daughter of Agenor, king of Tyre, the sister of Kadmos, the legendary founder of Corinth, and Kilix, for whom Cilicia was named, and was a descendant of Io, one of Zeus’ numerous other mortal female trysts. Europa, too, attracted the eye of Zeus, who, transforming himself into a white bull, seduced the young girl, carrying her across the Aegean Sea to the region of Gortyna on Crete, where she was made the first queen of Crete. Gortyna’s special involvement in this myth – it was claimed the plane-tree was still extant centuries after the event – made its depiction on the civic coinage an important reminder of the city’s role in Crete’s early history.