The legend of Zeus as a bull seducing Europa is honored on a circulating
commemorative €2 coin first issued in Greece in 2002, but the story
has ancient roots.
The legend also has a place on ancient coins.
A silver drachm from the third century — issued in Gortyn on the
island of Crete — is an example of an ancient coin depicting the
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An example of the coin is among thousands of items being offered
during Gorny and Mosch’s March 7 to 9 auctions in Munich. An offering
of “high quality ancient coins” (including this and several other
coins from Gortyn) is scheduled for March 7, followed by auction No.
237 of ancient coins and lots on March 8, and auction No. 238 of
medieval, modern and Russian coins, on March 9.
The obverse of the silver drachm from Crete shows the Greek god
Zeus, wearing a laurel wreath, while the reverse shows Europa riding
According to Greek mythology, the notable playboy and Olympian chief
god Zeus was drawn to the Phoenician maiden named Europa because of
her beauty and grace (her name would give the continent of Europe its name).
To seduce her (and to avoid detection by his wife Hera), Zeus turned
himself into a white bull. The young maiden, gathering flowers, caught
sight of the bull, began to caress him and then took a seat to ride
Zeus abducted Europa, fleeing across the ocean to the island of
Crete, where he revealed his true identity and forcibly impregnated
her. The resulting child, known as Minos, would become the king of Crete.
The earliest literary reference to the legend of Europa is in the
Iliad, commonly dated to the eighth century B.C. The legend has a long
life in paintings and sculpture, continuing to the present, with its
mentioned appearance on euro coinage in modern times.
The silver drachm from Crete offered in the Gorny & Mosch
auction is graded Extremely Fine by the auction firm. It has an
estimate of €2,500 (about $2,724).
That estimate is about double the estimates for three other silver
coins (two staters and one didrachm) from Gortyn that show Europa and
the bull on opposite sides of the coins.