Saturday, September 12, 2015

Purple People, Europe, and Syria

The children of Europa are seeking asylum in Europe.

"One of every five displaced persons in the world is Syrian." –CNN was a princess of Phoenicia carried off to Crete by Zeus in the form of a white bull.  The myth tells how Europa becomes a queen of Crete and bears three sons: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. Each of these becomes a great king and, after life, they become the three judges of the dead in the underworld, Hades.

Though inconclusive, much of ancient tradition holds that the continent of Europe gained its name from Europa.

"As for Europe, no one can say whether it is surrounded by the sea or not, neither is it known whence the name of Europe was derived, nor who gave it name, unless we say that Europe was so called after the Tyrian Europa, and before her time was nameless, like the other divisions. But it is certain that Europa was an Asiatic, and never even set foot on the land which the Greeks now call Europe, only sailing from Phoenicia to Crete, and from Crete to Lycia." ––Herodotus, The Persian Wars

 The myth still haunts the modern world. 
A performer depicting Europa, a Phoenician princess rides a white bull representing the Greek god, Zeus during the Opening Ceremony for the Baku 2015 European Games at the Olympic Stadium on June 12, 2015 in Baku, Azerbaijan…Credit: Michael Steele
Phoenicia was a maritime civilization from about 3,200-300 B.C.E. The Phoenicians formed a collection of city states along the Mediterranean coast of what is today Lebanon, northern Israel, and Syria. They were excellent traders, sailing throughout the Mediterranean and as far along the north Atlantic as Cornwall in England. They cross-pollinated the ancient world with many raw materials such as tin and copper, essentially supplying the Bronze Age. As well, they were excellent craftsmen and famous for fine, manufactured goods, including purple dye from Tyre, which is how they came to be known as "the purple people." Phoinikes is 'purple' in Greek.  Phoenicia came to be known also as Canaan, which name comes from the Hurrian language for 'purple.'[ For more, see Joshua J. Mark's articles on Phoenicia for the Ancient History Encyclopedia.] 
Compare ancient Phoenician trade routes (above) with today's refugee migration (below).

Traveling to Europe by land is very difficult, so most Syrians begin their journey in northern Africa, where smuggling networks send them north by sea.Joe Burgess/The New York Times

 This is the sad, mythic, irony of the present migration of Syrian refugees north in search of sanctuary: they are the ancestors of Europa.
The Europa myth is likely a reference to the migration of cultural cosmology. Europa is closely related to the Phoenician Astarte, 'Queen of the Stars,' and associated with the moon. The bull cults of Crete derive from earlier goddess worship in the Middle East. The moon-cow and the maiden spread throughout the ancient world and left their traces in shreds and tatters of modern memory.

The cow jumped over the moon....

Today's refugees are being followed by that moon-shadow of Europa. If we can remember our mythic past, we might begin to see through the false separations of our ethnicity and into the true union of our humanity.

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