The Ambivalence of Europe

Western Culture and its “Other”
  • Fred Dallmayr
Part of the Culture and Religion in International Relations book series (CRIR)


According to Homer, Europa was the daughter of Phoenix, who was king of Phoenicia, a country in the Middle East. Because of her great beauty, the Greek god Zeus approached Europa in the form of a “white” bull and carried her away to Crete, where she became the mother of king Minos. Couched in mythological language, the story is revealing (as only thoughtful myths can be). In his account, “good Homer” (bonus Homerus) tells us about the ambivalence of origins, and especially about the ambivalent origin of what later came to be known as Europe. Judged in terms of that later history beautiful Europa was by no means native or indigenous to European culture; rather, reared in the “Oriental” customs of the Near East, she was forcefully abducted by a conquering hero and only later domesticated or “naturalized” in her new surroundings. No other continent on earth (to my knowledge) has a similarly intriguing story about its origins; nowhere else is there such an explicit reference to the interlacing of identity and difference, inside and outside, familiarity and strangeness—an interlacing constitutive of the very beginnings of the continent.


European Culture Modern Project Cultural Pluralism European Identity Western Modernity 
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© Fred R. Dallmayr 2002

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  • Fred Dallmayr

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