“An engaging introduction to a fascinating topic… Graziosi narrates the many metamorphoses of the Greek gods with humor and erudition.” The Christian Science Monitor
“Cutting-edge history… Deploying an intriguing combination of old-fashioned and inventive approaches to the classical world and its reception, Barbara Graziosi here breaks new ground in the interpretation of the major Greek gods” Times Higher Education (London)
“There is still life in the Olympians… An erudite and engaging account of their history and remarkable survival.” The Literary Review (London)
“Graziosi’s knowledge is obvious, and easy to trust… Her writing is accessible and entertaining, her passion for her subject obvious; The Gods of Olympus will equally thrill longtime lovers of the classics, and appeal to readers seeking a friendly, engaging introduction.… For novices and enthusiasts alike, a comprehensive and absorbing study of the gods of Olympus and how their cultural roles have changed over the centuries.” Shelf Awareness
“Engaging… An intelligent and entertaining examination of the Greek deities' timeless ability to ‘express different, human truths'… Graziosi crosses the centuries elegantly, using the gods' constant presence to suggest that history is an ongoing continuum.” Publishers Weekly
“The examination of each period is fascinating… Accessible to general readers, this work will be fun for anyone wondering whatever happened to the Greek gods over the centuries, as well as those specifically interested in classical reception.” Library Journal
“A book to savor.” Kirkus Reviews
“A delightfully entertaining study… In an impressive feat of research and synthesis, Barbara Graziosi has made the Greek gods vivid, accessible, and relevant for all of us. Graziosi's affection for her subject is exciting and infectious, and her beautifully seamless writing style, keen intelligence, and lovely sense of humor kept me eagerly reading. An excellent history.” Rosemary Mahoney, author of Down the Nile and For the Benefit of Those Who See
“Humankind is at its most creativeand most revealingin its desire for the divine, and its imagining of gods. Barbara Graziosi’s absorbing history of the twelve Olympians follows their extraordinary journeys through the world and inside the human mind, where they have subtly coexisted with other gods, and continue to outlive us all.” Patricia Storace, author of Dinner with Persephone
By knowing the history of Olympian gods, argues Graziosi (classics; Durham Univ.), we can better understand the human condition. She starts with a look at the 12 major gods who appear in the Elgin marbles and their origin stories. The gods reflect various aspects of human nature and attitudes, which have shifted over time. For instance, the Greek war god Ares was a marginalized and somewhat despised figure, but in the Roman pantheon, he became the major god Mars. Graziosi also addresses the tensions among archaic poetic descriptions of the gods in Homer and Hesiod and classical Athenian religion, the mythmaking of Hellenistic Egypt, and the allegorical use of the gods in other religions, including the representations of the gods in classical Islamic astronomy. Covering so much in a short book does not always result in compelling explanations for why we still pay attention to the Olympian gods. Nevertheless, the examination of each period is fascinating. VERDICT Accessible to general readers, this work will be fun for anyone wondering whatever happened to the Greek gods over the centuries, as well as those specifically interested in classical reception.—Margaret Heller, Loyola Univ. Chicago Libs.
Graziosi (Classics/Durham Univ.; Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic, 2002, etc.) celebrates the longevity of the "cruel, oversexed, mad, or just plain silly" Olympian gods, "the most uncivilized ambassadors of classical civilization." The author leaves aside the secondary gods, demigods and Roman household gods but not the soi-disant gods such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, who spread the word. This is a study of how the cult of Olympus flourished in ancient Greece and spread through conquest. Alexander was the prime catalyst as he conquered lands from India to Africa and brought his gods along to marginalize the local gods. The library at Alexandria allowed the educated to read and learn from the writings of Homer, Hesiod and other thinkers. Plato first challenged the divinity of the gods, envisioning a single, good, everlasting God as opposed to the radical, cruel gods of early literature. He opened a debate that continued through the Stoics, Epicureans and beyond. When the Romans took Greece, they translated the entire pantheon to Rome. They adopted the Greek culture for the simple reason that it was predominant in the regions they conquered, and they tended to maintain local rule. The leaders of Christianity tried the hardest to topple the Olympians, wooing believers away with promises of eternal life and the resurrection of the body. Ultimately, the gods were turned away but not forgotten. It was during the Renaissance that their presence was felt again, resurrected by poets and taken up by artists and sculptors. Even today, a complete education is based on classical Greek writings, and "thinking about humanity," writes the author, "must include at least some consideration of the Olympian gods." Graziosi's easy style and focus on the history of the world as told by the gods of Olympus make this a book to savor.