In Greek mythology Europa was a Phoenician woman of high lineage, from whom the name of the continent Europe has ultimately been taken. The name Europa occurs in Hesiod’s long list of daughters of primordial Oceanus and Tethys. The story of her abduction by Zeus in the form of a white bull was a Cretan story; as Kerényi points out “most of the love-stories concerning Zeus originated from more ancient tales describing his marriages with goddesses. This can especially be said of the story of Europa”.
The daughter of the earth-giant Tityas and mother of Euphemus by Poseidon was also named Europa.
Europa’s earliest literary reference is in the Iliad, which is commonly dated to the 8th century BC. Another early reference to her is in a fragment of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, discovered at Oxyrhynchus. The earliest vase-painting securely identifiable as Europa, dates from mid-7th century BC.
The etymology of her Greek name (“wide” or “broad” + “eye(s)” or “face”) suggests that Europa as a goddess represented the cow (with a wide face) Hathor, at least on some symbolic level. Metaphorically, at a later date her name could be construed as the intelligent or open-minded, analogous to glaukopis attributed to Athena. However, Ernest Klein suggests a possible Semitic origin in Akkadian erebu “to go down, set” (in reference to the sun) which would parallel occident.