The Gods of Olympus A History

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2014-03-11
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books
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An elegant and entertaining account of the transformations of the Greek gods across the ages, from antiquity to the Renaissance and the present day

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 and goddesses 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, religion, mythology, and its lasting influence.

Author Biography

Barbara Graziosi is the author of Inventing Homer and Homer in the Twentieth Century, among other works. In 2011, she provided the introduction and notes for a new translation of the Iliad for Oxford World’s Classics. A professor of classics at Durham University, Graziosi is also a contributor to The Times Higher Education Supplement, the London Review of Books, and BBC radio programs on the arts. The Gods of Olympus is her first trade book. She lives in the U.K.

Table of Contents


Preface: Simonides Was Wise          1
Introduction: A Family Portrait          5

Part I • Birth: Archaic Greece          15
     1. At Home in Greece          17
     2. Epic Visions          29
     3. Critical Views          43

Part II • Dialogue: Classical Athens          51
     4. An Education for Greece          53
     5. Exile and Death          65
     6. Fictions and Fantasies          77

Part III • Travel: Hellenistic Egypt          89
     7. Farther Than Dionysos          91
     8. Dead Gods and Divine Planets          104
     9. At Home in Alexandria          115

Part IV • Translation: The Roman Empire          125
     10. The Muses in Rome          127
     11. Ancestors, Allies, and Alter Egos          138
     12. Mutants          148

Part V • Disguise: Christianity and Islam          159
     13. Human Like You          161
     14. Demons          171
     15. Sackcloth and Scimitars          185

Part VI • Born Again: The Renaissance          197
     16. Petrarch Paints the Gods          199
     17. A Cosmopolitan Carnival of Deities          210
     18. Old Gods in the New World          225

Epilogue: A Marble Head          235

Appendix: The Twelve Gods          247
List of Illustrations          251
Notes and Further Reading          253
Acknowledgments          277
Index          281

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