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Idea of Europe

European Identity, European Regions, Political Integration And European Citizenship, Bibliography

In classical times Europe was above all a geographical and mythological notion, the word referring to one of the three known continents—Asia and Africa (or Libya) being the other two. In the famous story of "the rape of Europa," the daughter of Phoenix, king of Phoenicians, was kidnapped and abducted by the Greek god Zeus, who in the guise of a white bull brought her to the island of Crete. In the Middle Ages, Europe was identified with Western Christianity or the commonwealth of Christians. This commonwealth, however, was considered to include only the western part of the Continent, thereby excluding the Eastern Church. The term Europe was commonly replaced by Christianity, although as early as the ninth century Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, was honored as "the king, father of Europe" (rex, pater Europae).

In the early modern period Europe was increasingly compared with the other continents and considered the most civilized part of the world. After the "discovery" of America, world maps usually depicted Europe as an empress surrounded with various symbols of power. The idea of Europe had been secularized by the Enlightenment, and the term was used The Rape of Europa by Maerten de Vos (1531–1603). According to myth, the Greek god Zeus changed into a beautiful white bull to lure the princess Europa onto his back. He then swam with her to Crete, where he seduced her. Europa's name was given to the continent as recompense for her ill treatment. © ARCHIVO ICONOGRAFICO, S.A./CORBIS without its former religious connotations. This was the first time in history when the urban elites thought of themselves as Europeans and proclaimed in Parisian salons that, in the words of the conservative Englishman Edmund Burke, "no European can think himself as a foreigner in any part of the continent."

The American Revolution and the new U.S. Constitution were models for many Europeans wanting to establish "the United States of Europe." In the nineteenth century, however, when waves of nationalism swept across Europe, the idea of a federal European state was not powerful enough to seize the people of the Continent. Having shed his illusions in World War I, an inhabitant of the lost Austro-Hungarian Empire, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, sought in the 1920s to raise a Pan-European movement based on the Continental superpowers, excluding Britain as "an Atlantic empire." In Coudenhove-Kalergi's view, Europe had to unite because the East (that is, Russia) wanted to conquer it, and the West (the United States) aimed to buy it. It was only the two world wars of the twentieth century, though, that finally forced the nations of Europe to pursue more peaceful cooperation.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical Background