This is a smart, fun book that covers over two millennia of material about the ancient Greek gods The prose is very readable and often broken up by helpful images that illustrate something being discussed Ranging from the earliest texts of the Mycenaeans to modern authors like Borges, Graziosi is at her best when situated in the earlier Greek material The chapters on later receptions of the gods in the Middle Ages and Renaissance are easier to read than slogging through Seznec s Survival of the Pagan Gods, but lack the depth and masterful touch that G demonstrates in the earlier chapters Surprisingly, there isn t much on Greek tragedy, but perhaps this isn t really a surprise, since tragedy is about men than gods I m assigning this as a textbook to give students in my Mythology class a basic outline and rough historical narrative to follow There is a decent amount of plot summary in here, but I see that as a good thing This book is a good bouncing off point to get into the texts themselves If you are planning on reading this book alone, you might end up wishing for in the way of direct engagement with the texts, e.g in the chapter on Petrarch she mentions 3 major passages about the gods in P s Africa, but never quotes any of them The endnotes give helpful citations to enable you to consult the texts directly and each chapter has a thorough list of suggested further readings. Unlike Burkett s study, Greek Religion this eschews detailed and dry study of each individual god in favour for a fascinating study of the ways in which the gods have been received and used by successive generations and cultures and the problems all have had with them be they worried Greeks, traditionalist Romans, or monotheistic Christians I finished wanting to go back to the Homeric Hymns and read some Petrarch always a good sign. The Olympians 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 Flaws, They Proved To Be Survivors, Far Outlasting Classical Greece Itself In Egypt, The Olympians Claimed To Have Given Birth To Pharaohs In Rome, They Led Respectable Citizens Into Orgiastic Rituals Of Drink Sex Under Christianity Islam They Survived As Demons, Allegories Planets In The Renaissance, They Reemerged As Ambassadors Of A New, Secular Belief In Humanity Their Geographic Range, Too, Has Been Astounding In Their Exile, The Gods Of Olympus Have Traveled East To The Walls Of Cave Temples In China, West To Colonize The Americas They Snuck Into Italian Cathedrals, Haunted Nietzsche Visited Borges Restless Dreams In An Original History, Graziosi Offers The St Account To Trace The Wanderings Of These Protean Deities Thru The Millennia Drawing On A Wide Range Of Literary Archeological Sources, The Gods Of Olympus Opens A Window On The Ancient World Its Lasting InfluencePreface Simonides Was WiseIntroduction A Family PortraitPart I Birth Archaic Greece Part II Dialogue Classical AthensPart III Travel Hellenistic EgyptPart IV Translation The Roman EmpirePart V Disguise Christianity IslamPart VI Born Again The RenaissanceEpilogue A Marble HeadAppendix The Twelve GodsList Of IllustrationsNotes Further ReadingAcknowledgmentsIndex This book is a rather unconventional biography of the ancient Greek gods Rather than examining ancient Greek cultic practise, which is merely one section of the book, it examines how the Olympians have been thought about and considered by a range of societies over a much wider span of time, up to and including the Renaissance era It is far less about the layout of temples and the exact rituals that went on, than how people thought about the gods and how they were reconceptualised Newcomers to the subject may be surprised to learn that classical Greeks debated whether the gods made me do it was a viable excuse for evil doers if it wasn t acceptable in their courts, why was it an acceptable explanation for Helen of Troy in their myths This ties into a whole shift in thought about being responsible for one s own actions rather than feeling compelled by some outside force upon which blame can be laid And in the Hellenistic era, Greeks even dabbled with the idea that all anthropomorphic gods had at one time been monarchs, and that the only true gods were the natural forces which had never been anthropomorphised albeit this idea was encouraged by one monarch in order to discourage another s divine aspirations An unusual and fascinating biography of the Olympians.8 out of 10 Barbara Graziosi Classics, Durham University has written what she calls a history of the Olympians, defining them by a depiction of the twelve on the Parthenon frieze The list includes Zeus Latin, Jupiter , Hera Juno , Ares Mars , Demeter Ceres , Dionysos Bacchus , Hermes Mercury , Hephaistos Vulcan , Poseidon Neptune , Apollo Apollo , Artemis Diana and Aphrodite Venus Her treatment of them is periodized, chapters surveying archaic Greece, classical Athens, Hellenistic Egypt, imperial Rome, Christianity and Islam, and the Renaissance In fact, however, The Gods of Olympus is not quite so neat, the Pantheon serving as a symbol for classical culture Her actual discussion ranges widely than the rubrics suggest This book is about archetypes and symbols, their appropriations and re appropriations, than it is about history As regards origins, Graziosi depends almost entirely on Homer and Hesiod Similarly, her treatment of Hellenic beliefs is almost entirely based on literary and artistic evidences This is not a book about theogony, about the hypothetical origins of religion, nor is it about cultic or ritual beliefs and practices in the Greek speaking world Rather, it is about the idea of Greek religion, of classical culture, as retrospectively reconstructed through the ages an ideal which, like the gods, never actually existed Indeed, in her discussion of the classical Athenian paradigm, Graziosi gives substantial attention to how, even then, the gods and goddesses were contested, criticized, even denied Such critiques ranged in character Some of the Presocratics proposed various kinds of scientific naturalism as alternatives to supernatural explanation Xenophanes treated the gods and goddesses as human projections Herodotus related them to the deities of other lands, thereby relativizing them Theogenes allegorized them Socrates purportedly propounded an alien theology Protagoras admitted agnosticism Meanwhile, comics and tragedians played loosely, often quite irreverently, with traditional beliefs The treatment of Hellenisticism begins with the conquests of Alexander of Macedon, describing the processes of syncretism, adaptation and globalization which were to profoundly influence, then be extended by, Rome Conversely, Egypt and the East introduced astronomical factors as well as the belief that living men could themselves, like Alexander, become divine Roman religion, ancestor and state oriented, was radically changed by the Greek a transformation particularly well described in this text The Romans did not originally recognize a preeminent group of twelve gods That was itself a foreign import So, too, few of the Olympians had viable Roman counterparts and Apollo had none Still, an amalgamation occurred, political and intellectual, old Roman gods and rites coexisting with the lively and poetically fruitful imports from Greece and further afield While monotheism was prefigured in Hebrew and pagan henotheisms, it only became hegemonic under mature Christianity and Islam While this spelled a retreat of the gods, it did not destroy them Instead, they became the demons sometimes, covertly, the saints or angels of the new faiths They abided also as powerful symbols, in astronomy, in astrology, in alchemy and in the arts It is in her handling of the Renaissance that Graziosi becomes enthusiastic, as evinced by her meaty portrayal of Petrarch Here, of course, the Olympians have been almost entirely shorn of their supernatural power, but not of their glamor, of their symbolic richness and relevance to the new, and apparently perdurant, humanism. For me, there weren t many surprises here in Barbara Graziosi s analysis of the Greek pantheon and their afterlife I already knew how they translated into the Roman world thank you, Mrs Wilson, for many fascinating lessons in classics and I had some idea of how they translated into the medieval and Renaissance world as well I believe thanks there must go to Richard Wilson, Martin Coyle and Rob Gossedge I can t untangle in my mind quite who was responsible for this, but I blame my degree all the same.Nonetheless, it s a good survey of the Greek pantheon and the enormous influence they had on religious thought and, in the end, literature I could wish for a bit on modern paganism, since I have friends who have revived the worship of the Olympians, but that s probably a little much to ask.It s an enjoyable read, though not a particularly enlightening one, for me.Reviewed for The Bibliophibian. Very pleasant writing style More narrative than textbook Plenty of footnotes and references A great, condensed overview of the main Greek gods from the earliest Cycladic culture through Classical Greece, then through the adoption by Rome and the rise of Christianity, all the way up to modernity. Barbara Graziosi does a wonderful job explaining how our understanding of the Olympians has developed over time From tangible individuals all the way to symbols of scientific and intellectual exploration, Graziosi shows that societies have adapted Zeus and his entourage to fit their needs and value from the time they first entered into the collective consciousness Although they are immortal, they are certainly not unchanging, but rather are tied to the same ebbs and flows of history as anyone else The end product is a detailed yet easy to read exploration of the nature of humanity s relationship with the divine. I enjoyed this though I think it helps that I went in with absolutely no expectations.Prior to reading this, I was familiar with the Olympian gods and the mythology surrounding them, and this was a nice review.I ve also done some reading on the Greek and Roman empires, and this provided a nice summary of the role religion and the Olympian gods played in these cultures as well as how these cultures shaped and reshaped the gods.The second half of the book deals with the preservation and evolution of the myths primarily through art and literature as monotheism emerges and slowly replaces the gods of Olympus Not sure there is anything new here, but for me the book pulled together a lot of reading I have done on individual subjects, which was a plus The book was also well organized, which I appreciated. This book claims to be about the Olympian gods from antiquity to the renaissance and this is in my opinion a bit misleading Graziosi devotes four parts of her six part book to the ancient world In fairness her observations are insightful and clearly illustrated with good examples Graziosi clearly knows her stuff when it comes to the ancient world And that for me is this books fundamental problem The author should have stopped at the rise of Christianity From this point onwards admittedly only two parts she struggles to convincingly make her arguments Her observations become much superficial and her evidence is tenuous at best Rather than a history of the role of the Olympian gods, this is a very competent introduction to their role in the ancient world with a few general comments about their place in a Christian Europe to finish up Readers looking for an insight into the reception of classical mythology in the renaissance would be better looking to other writers in reception studies.That is not to say however that there is not some value for general readers interested in the role of myth Coming to the subject with no prior knowledge this book would be a gentle introduction to a fascinating subject More experienced readers will find nothing new it has to be said.
Arts and Humanities director of Durham s Institute of Advanced Study and Professor of Classics and Ancient History.
- 290 pages
- The Gods of Olympus
- Barbara Graziosi
- 23 July 2017 Barbara Graziosi