The gods of Olympus are the most colorful characters of Greek civilization: even in antiquity, they were said to be cruel, oversexed, mad, or just plain silly. Yet for all their foibles and flaws, they proved to be tough survivors, far outlasting classical Greece itself. In Egypt, the Olympian gods claimed to have given birth to pharaohs; in Rome, they led respectable citizens into orgiastic rituals of drink and sex. Under Christianity and Islam they survived as demons, allegories, and planets; and in the Renaissance, they triumphantly emerged as ambassadors of a new, secular belief in humanity. Their geographic range, too, has been little short of astounding: in their exile, the gods of Olympus have traveled east to the walls of cave temples in China and west to colonize the Americas. They snuck into Italian cathedrals, haunted Nietzsche, and visited Borges in his restless dreams.
In a lively, original history, Barbara Graziosi offers the first account to trace the wanderings of these protean deities through the millennia. Drawing on a wide range of literary and archaeological sources, The Gods of Olympus opens a new window on the ancient world and its lasting influence.
At Home in Greece
Tall, broad, and covered in snow for much of the year, Mount Olympus stands alone, fully visible from every side. It dominates the landscape for miles; its dazzling peaks seem particularly incongruous when viewed from the hot, low plains around. From the sea, the mountain sometimes looks like a cloud.
In antiquity, Mount Olympus lay very much off the beaten track. People had little reason to go near it, and no incentive at all to climb it, but they could see it—and in turn they felt observed. The Greeks thought that the gods lived among the mountain’s
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“A book to savor.”
“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 creative—and most revealing—in 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