How did the continent Europe get its name?

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As with many things in Greek mythology, the story of the name our continent bears began with Zeus. The leader of the Gods was known for his escapades in the world of the living. He descended Mount Olympus to influence the lives of mortals as he saw fit. Such was the case when he saw the daughter of Agenor, king of Phoenicia.

Zeus was so impressed by her beauty that he decided to come down and seduce her. When he descended from Olympus, he was transformed into a white bull, with a rare appearance and so beautiful that many attributed it to the influence of the Gods. After meeting the king’s daughter, Zeus carried her onto his back and set off for the island of Crete.

There the girl, who was called Europa, gave birth to 3 sons of Zeus. Minos (who would later become the king of Crete), Rhadamantis (who would become the king of the Cyclades Islands) and Sarpedon (who would become the king of Lydia). After this, Zeus would leave, while Europa married Asterius, the king of Crete at the time, who also took care of her orphaned sons.

Europa would be worshiped by the islanders, leading to the spread of her name across the Aegean Sea. The name Europe would be closely associated with the land. Some accounts in Ancient Greece even described Europa as the Earth Goddess. As such, its name was widely used to describe what we now know as Europe when maps began to separate it as a continent from all the other land masses around it.

Other theories

Linguists point to several other theories about the origin of the name Europe. Many assume that the name Europe comes from two Greek words, εὐρύς (eurys), meaning wide, and ὤψ (ops), meaning either look or eye depending on its usage.

So together, Europe, εὐρύςὤψ means “wide view”, a name believed to derive from the seafaring experience of the ancient Greeks in the Mediterranean Sea, which they saw as extending as far as the naked eye could see. Another theory mentions the civilization of Mesopotamia, and its language as the origin of the name Europe.

In the language of this civilization, especially in the Akkadian Semitic language, the word for “sunset” was erebu, while for “sunrise” it was asu. Linguists cite this as the origin of the word Europe, since Europe was located to the west of the old Mesopotamian empire.

Hence the name ‘erebu’ was used to describe it, while ‘asu’ Asia which was east of Mesopotamia, thus leading to the theory of the etymology of the name Asia. The exact origin of the etymology of Europe is still debated by many scholars, as references to the continent are very old at a time when records are not as accurate as today.

As such, many of the theories on the etymology of the name Europe are only guesses. Without a revolutionary new discovery, we may never know when Europe began to be called Europe.

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