"Sweet Europa" — a note to Tennyson's "The Palace of Art"

George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University

One can make several obvious points about this stanza, which presents Tennyson's rather mild version of the myth of Europa and the bull. First, it obviously offers an oddly tranquil, undisturbing version of the myth in which Zeus in the guise of an animal rapes Europa in both classical senses of the word, since rape meant both "to snatch or kidnap" (as in the Roman story of the rape of the Sabine women, when the founders of Rome kidnap and marry local women), and "to violate sexually." Second by not focusing on the story's obvious violence and bestiality, Tennyson can also make it his second example of erotic love (after Indian Cama). Finally, it represents an example in classical mythology of what will later become a central concern of the poet, especially in In Memoriam 95: the meeting of the divine and the human, the supernatural and the natural.

[Back to the passage in "The Palace of Art"]


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Last modified 12 October 2005