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01:00 Sat 29th Dec 2001 |

Q. Where does the word Europe come from

A. The derivation of the word is as obscure as the boundaries of Europe are ill defined. However, there are a number of theories as to how it came about.

Q. Which are

A. One theory is that it comes ultimately from the Phoenician word ereb, meaning 'sunset' - the 'land where the sun set' was west of Phoenicia, which was in the Middle East. This is supported by the fact that the word for 'sunrise', acu, may well have referred to the lands east of Phoenicia and thus be a precursor to the name Asia.

The most commonly held theory is that the name is derived from that of Europa, the daughter of Phoenix in Greek mythology; Phoenix had another daughter, Asia. Europa married the Greek god Zeus and accompanied him to the region of the Aegean, while Asia remained in the east. These two names may well have derived from the Phoenician words, so this is in a sense an extension of the same idea.

Q. So, what concepts does the word express

A. The whole idea of Europe and Asia being separate lands is attributable to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and it has been perpetuated by all subsequent European societies. The Greek Europe did not equate with the modern continent, however, but was one of the three divisions of the then known world: Libya (Africa), Asia (east of the Black Sea) and Europe, approximately the Mediterranean and those countries that bounded it to the north and west. Its northern boundary was the range of mountains running across the northern borders of modern Greece, Italy and Spain.

Q. Why is it harder to define Europe rather than other continents

A. Unlike the land masses of the Americas, Africa, Antarctica and Australia (if Australia counts as a continent rather than simply the world's largest island), Europe doesn't have easily defined geographical eastern and south-eastern boundaries. By the same token where Asia's western border lies is equally vague.

The western frontiers of the continent of Europe seem clearly defined by its coastline, though the position of the offshore nations, such as those in British Isles, remains equivocal. To outsiders, they seem clearly part of Europe, but to many British and Irish people Europe means the Continent.

To the south, Europe ends on the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, but the greatest uncertainty lies to the east. If the Ural Mountains - as is generally accepted - mark the eastern boundary of Europe, where does it lie to the south of them Do the Caucasus, for example, count as European, or are they Asia or perhaps some transitional zone in neither camp

Q. Is it a cultural rather than geographical notion, then

A. In that in broad terms a pan-European culture actually exists - as defined by a shared Christian tradition, membership of one of the related Slav, Germanic or Romance language groups and being of 'white' pigmentation - then yes. The fact that, for the most part, Australia, New Zealand, North America and urban Central and South America are all culturally European, with regional variations - despite their obvious physical distance from the continent of Europe - supports this notion. However, the term Europe does have currency in both the cultural and geographical senses.

Q. And the EU

A. Unity in Europe is an ancient ideal, and it was prefigured by the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, it was embodied first by Charlemagne's empire and then by the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic church. Later, a number of political theorists proposed plans for European union, and both Napoleon and Hitler tried to unite Europe by conquest.

It was not until after Second World War, however, that European statesmen began to seek ways of uniting Europe peacefully on a basis of equality instead of domination by one or more great powers. Underlying this policy is the conviction that Europeans have more in common than divides them.

See also the answerbank article on the naming of America

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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