The Sons of Zeus and Europa in Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, Zeus is well known for his numerous wives and lovers, and also the large number of offspring these relationships produced. Ancient writers would name hundreds of Zeus children, and whilst many of these offspring are forgotten today, some remain famous, including the three sons of Zeus born to Europa.
The Abduction of Europa
Zeus and Europa
Europa was a princess of Tyre, the beautiful daughter of King Agenor. Zeus was so taken by the beauty of Europa that he decided to abduct her; something the god achieved by transforming himself into a magnificent white bull.
When Europa climbed on the back of the bull, the transformed Zeus swam away from Tyre, all the way to the island of Crete.
Revealing himself for who he was, Zeus and Europa would then have a brief relationship beneath a cypress tree. This brief relationship would bring forth three sons, Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon.
The three sons of Zeus and Europa would subsequently be adopted by the King of Crete, Asterion, when the king married Europa; and whilst the story of Europa ends at this point, the story of her sons continue.
Statue of King Minos
Minos is the most famous of the three sons of Zeus and Europa, as well as being one of the most famous kings of Greek mythology. The fame of Minos was such that when archaeological excavations were being undertaken on Crete, the discovered Minoan civilisation of the island was named in his honour.
Following the death of Asterion, the three adopted sons of the Cretan king would argue about who should succeed him.
Minos would pray to Poseidon for assistance, and in answering the prayers, the Greek sea god would send forth a white bull to indicate his preference for Minos. The sign of the god would ensure that Minos took the Cretan throne, and the new king would subsequently exile his brothers.
Minos, guided by Zeus, would introduce new, just laws by which Crete would be governed; and the suitability of the laws were such that they spread through other parts of the ancient world.
The justness of King Minos though was offset by some rash decisions and cruelness.
The first rash act made by Minos was in trying to deceive Poseidon by sacrificing an inferior bull in place of the magnificent white beast. Poseidon would subsequently curse Minos’ wife to fall in love with the bull, resulting in the birth of the Minotaur.
The cruelness of the king was also shown in his attitude towards Athens, for when Athens was bested by the army of Crete, Minos would subsequently demand human sacrifices, youths and maidens that were given over to the Minotaur.
Theseus would of course eventually kill the Minotaur, and when subsequently Daedalus, the king’s famous artisan, escaped from Crete, Minos would set off in pursuit.
This pursuit would prove deadly for Minos, for Daedalus found sanctuary in Sicily. Minos would eventually track the artisan down, but the daughters of King Cocalus would kill Minos whilst he bathed, as they had no wish to see Daedalus leave Sicily.
The story of Minos though even continues after his death, for it is said that Zeus appointed his son as one of the three judges of the dead, alongside Aeacus and Rhadamanthus; this position being in recognition for the introduction of just laws on Crete.
To reconcile the idea of a just and cruel king, some ancient sources would suggest that there were two different kings called Minos; one being the son of Zeus, and the other being the grandson of the first Minos.
Rhadamanthus, Minos and Aeacus
The second son of Zeus and Europa was Rhadamanthus, and in some ancient sources, it was claimed that it was he who first succeeded Asterion, before being usurped by Minos.
Exiled from Crete, Rhadamanthus would travel to Ocaleia in Boeotia, and there, the son of Zeus would become king. Rhadamanthus would also find himself a bride, for he would wed Alcmene, the mother of Heracles. Rhadamanthus would become one of the tutors of Heracles, teaching his stepson the art of archery.
As a ruler, Rhadamanthus would become known for being just and honest, making fair judgements in all cases. King Rhadamanthus could not be bribed, nor could he be swayed by social standing, all those who came before him were treated the same. The fairness of Rhadamanthus was such that other kings of Ancient Greece would even come to Ocaleia to seek the guidance of Rhadamanthus.
Eventually though, Rhadamanthus would die, and again in recognition, Zeus would appoint him as one of the three Judges of the Underworld, as well as making him king of the Elysian Fields (paradise).
In truth, Zeus had no authority to appoint Rhadamanthus as a judge, nor as a king of paradise, for the underworld was the realm of Hades, not Zeus, but nevertheless, Rhadamanthus continued in Greek mythology in this position.
The Body of Sarpedon transported by Hypnos and Thanatos
The third son of Zeus and Europa, Sarpedon, is probably the least famous of the three brothers, and his story is probably the most confusing, for it is not necessarily clear in Greek mythology, whether there was one of two famous figures named Sarpedon.
Presuming there was one Sarpedon; the son of Zeus and Europa would leave Crete and would then settle in Milyas, which later become known as Lycia. Sarpedon would later be regarded as the king of Lycia.
Zeus would bless his son with the gift of long life, a life said to be equivalent to three generations.
The name of Sarpedon becomes famous when it appears in accounts of the Trojan War, for when the Achaeans attacked Troy, Sarpedon led Lycian forces to aid in the defence of King Priam’s city.
During the 10 year war, Sarpedon’s name would be amongst the most prominent of all Troy’s heroes. In one story, Sarpedon, along with his cousin Glaucus, would lead a two pronged attack against the Achaean’s camps, endangering the beached shops.
It had been foretold though that Sarpedon was destined to die at Troy, by the hand of Patroclus, and when Patroclus took to the battlefield in the armour of Achilles, the two would meet face-to-face.
Zeus pondered about sparing his son from his destiny, but other gods and goddesses pointed out that their own children were dying at Troy, and so Sarpedon was killed by Patroclus.
Glaucus would recover the body of his cousin, and then the god Apollo would cleanse the body. Hypnos and Thanatos would then carry the body of the Lycian king back to his homeland where funeral rites were completed.
Some writers would dismiss the three generation life line of Sarpedon as a myth, and like Minos, would instead regard the Sarpedon who fought and died at Troy, as the grandson of the original son of Zeus.