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  • Female Gaze and Desire in the Europa and Carmen 64
  • Florence Klein (bio)

The Europa, a Hellenistic poem written by Moschus, relates the well-known myth of the princess's abduction by Zeus in the shape of a bull; it thus belongs to the literary tradition that depicts young virgins sexually violated by gods. However, a striking feature of this poem is that it portrays the girl as fully consenting to her abduction. To summarize the narrative: Europa has been warned twice of her destiny—through a dream sent by Aphrodite, and through an image depicted on her golden basket (the abduction of her ancestress Io, whose rape/love-affair with Zeus announces Europa's erotic future). Thus informed, far from having negative feelings, she experiences the stirrings of desire and longs for the erotic adventure that awaits her. In more than one way, the poet implies that, at some level, Europa consents to her future union with her abductor and even provokes it.1 Now, as it appears, the issue of feminine 'willingness' that pervades Moschus's epyllion strongly depends on the emphasis placed by the poet on Europa's gaze as the focalizer of the text as a whole. In this paper, I seek to explore this link between viewing through a woman's eyes as represented in the Europa and the assertion of her desire, or, more precisely, the assertion of her consent to male erotic abduction (be it a wedding or a rape), in order to contend that it might have inspired one of Moschus's Roman readers—Catullus. I will thus suggest that the framed epyllion in Carmen 64, foregrounding Ariadne's desiring gaze at Theseus, can be read, inter alia, as a reaction to Moschus's particular treatment of these issues.

I. Europa

The link between desire and gaze is asserted at the very beginning of the poem. The text features the young virgin in her bed enjoying a sweet slumber, as the goddess of love sends her a dream in which she sees herself being fought over by two women (who embody the continents Asia and the future Europe). Whereas the first woman, claiming to be her mother, is described as having held on tightly to the girl, "the other, [End Page 109] using the force of her strong hands, drew her not unwillingly along" (ἡ δ' ἑτέρη ϰϱτερῇσι βιωομένη παλάμῃσιν / εἴϱυεν οὐϰ ἀέϰουσαν, Eur. 13–14). As Marco Fantuzzi and Richard Hunter (2004, 217–218) suggest, the paradoxical assertion that Europa is abducted by force and violence and nontheless consents to this violence relies on "a familiar feature of the male view of female sexuality." As to the wording οὐϰ ἀέϰουσαν (not against her will), it has long been interpreted as creating a contrast with the text's own model in the poetic tradition of divine rapes: the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in which Persephone is carried off ἀέϰουσα (Hom. Hymn. Dem. 19).2 Here, on the contrary, Moschus states Europa's 'willingness' and her (possibly innocent?) receptivity in erotically charged situations, which are both confirmed as the girl awakens from her sleep (Eur.18–27):

ἐζομένη δ' ἐπὶ δηϱὸν ἀϰὴν ἔϰεν, ἀμφοτέϱας δὲεἰσέτι πεπταμένοισιν ἐν ὄμμασιν εἶχε γυναῖϰας.ὀψὲ δέ δειμαλέην ἀνενείϰατο παϱθένον αὐδήν;‛τίς μοι τοιάδε φάσματ' ἐπουϱανίων πϱοΐηλεν;ποῖοί με στϱωτῶν λεχέων ὕπεϱ ἐν θαλάμοισινἡδὺ μάλα ϰνώσσουσαν ἀνεπτοίησαν ὄνειϱοι,τίς δ' ἦν ἡ ξείνη, τὴν εἴσιδον ὑπνώουσα;ὥς μ' ἔλαβε ϰϱαδίην ϰείνης πόθος, ὥς με ϰαὶ αὐτὴἀσπασίως ὑπέδεϰτο ϰαὶ ὡς σφετέϱην ἴδε παῖδα.ἀλλὰ μοι εἰς ἀγαθὸν μάϰαϱες ϰϱήνειαν ὄνειϱον.'

Sitting down, she kept a long time silent; and still she kept a vision of both women before her wide-open eyes. At last the girl raised her frightened voice: "Which of the gods in heaven has sent such visions upon me? What sort of dreams appearing above my covered bed have scared me as I slept so sweetly in my chamber? Who was the foreign woman whom I saw as I slept? How love for her seized my heart! How joyfully she herself welcomed me and looked on me as her own child! May the blessed gods bring this dream to fulfillment for me with a good result!"3

Now awake, Europa still has the vision of her dream before her eyes, while she is amazed at the "desire" (πόθος) that she feels for her abductor, and she hopes that the dream will come true for the best. As has been noted, Europa's sensual and 'positive' reaction to the images of her dream contrasts with the epic models that lie behind this first scene: the [End Page 110] dream sent by Athena to Nausicaä in Odyssey 6...


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pp. 109-125
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