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The Gods of Olympus: A History

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  308 ratings  ·  52 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 1st, 290 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co. (NYC) (first published November 2013)
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Daniel Chaikin
This was fun, but was a little less than what I was hoping. Graziosi traces the history of the Greek gods from their origins within the Greek cultural area through their evolution in time, merging with various Roman, Egyptian and Near Eastern gods, falling out of their religious context then being reinvented anew.

One of the interesting insights was how the Greek pantheon served as cultural unifying force, establishing norms across the Greek world and essentially establishing what was Greek. It
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 (admittedl
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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

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
Dec 01, 2017 rated it liked it
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 a ...more
James Miller
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Erik Graff
Nov 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: classics fan
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: religion
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, ...more
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
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 ...more
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Barbara Graziosi’s The Gods of Olympus is a socio-cultural history (from the Archaic Age to contemporary times) of the Olympian gods and this is, indeed, the book’s strength. There is much ink spilled on the myths in comparison of the Olympian gods, but Graziosi’s departure from this was refreshing for someone who has read a number of those. I enjoyed much that I read in this book.

This book’s perspective relates how the cultures of Greece, Rome, and European, in general, understood and interacte
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Tim Atkinson
This is a book I feel I should’ve enjoyed a lot more than I did. It’s got everything I like: classical mythology, history, theology, art, culture, literature. But although well-written and wearing its author’s learning lightly, it never seems to get going. It doesn’t help that it’s a short book, ironically. It never really gets under the skin of any of the many areas it covers, leaving one oddly unfulfilled. I feel the concept deserves better, and I wonder how much of a compromise this is betwee ...more
Aaron Carpenter
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
At some point you've got to ask, "What WAS Homer talking about? Where did this pantheon come from?" Christianity has its historical points of origin, but the ancient mythologies? What did the ancients - Greeks, especially - think they were worshipping? How does this shed light on man's inherent spiritual orientation? (How does this set a backdrop for the New Testament?)

With respectful treatment of all faiths, Graziosi comes as close as perhaps is possible to answering most of these question. Tho
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
While it wasn't exactly as I expected, I still enjoyed this one. I had anticipated an in-depth look at/discussion of each of the gods and goddesses and their evolution over time. Instead it looked at the gods and goddesses collectively, which worked out fine in the end. The book was strongest at the beginning, but overall I enjoyed it. I would've liked to have seen some color photos, particularly when discussing some of the artwork of the Renaissance. ...more
Matthew Grenier
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: mythology, owned, history
While I did enjoy this book, I didn't find the style to be very engaging. It had everything I wanted as far as the fact/history of the Olympian Gods and chronicled their history well, but the author's writing style wasn't really for me.

If you are interested in learning about Greek/Roman mythology I would recommend this book as it does tell a pretty complete story of how they came to be and how they evolved in the minds of people over the centuries.
Matthew Graham
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I read this after Tim Whitmarsh's Battling the Gods (BtG) which covers much of the same material in the first half of this book in a more rigorous and informed fashion, although this has some interesting anecdotes missing from BtG. The second half of this book deals with medieval and later ideas about the Greek gods where it is much better.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, owned
A fantastic read. Traces the history of the Olympic gods from their inception through Roman assimilation as well as Egyptian and Babylonian influencing all the way to modern times. Great pacing and flow, and never really got dry, which was wonderful. I wish it was a bit longer so it could go more into depth, but that's just my personal preference. ...more
Rowena Abdul Razak
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really well written and witty history of how the gods of Olympus have remained immortal. Too little focus on the post-renaissance period but otherwise, a good overview of how the gods have changed their appearance through the ages, been manipulated for political and religious reasons but somehow maintained their divinity and sense of permanence. Good read.
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent book tracing the Olympians from their earliest known beginnings in Greece, through their aassimulation in Rome, through the Renaissance, and onwards.

Interesting and absorbing.

Highly recommended.
Dearna (Words of the Roses)

I really enjoyed this book! I loved seeing the ways in which the Greek Gods’ presence has continued through the ages. Just goes to show the empires don’t destroy their the culture of those it conquers but rather adapts it for its on purpose.
Pedro Martins Barata
Nice historical overview

Thoroughly researched, the book provides an excellent introduction to the history of the Gods from their creation bu Homer and others, up until the XXth century. Very enjoyable reading.
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
A nice companion to any survey study of the classics. More analysis than history, the book builds upon knowledge readers might already know and digs deeper and looks more critically at certain aspects of the development of mythology and how these ideas were transmitted and affected Western culture.
Nathan Dehoff
May 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
There are a lot of books about ancient Greek mythology and religion out there. The hook for this one is that it describes how people's views on the Olympians developed over time. We don't know exactly when the worship of these gods began, but there are mentions of some of them from as far back as the second millennium BC. Much of what we know about them comes from Homer and Hesiod, who wrote around the seventh or eighth century BC. These early accounts describe the gods as both forces of nature ...more
Sarah Holz
*I received this as an ARC from the publisher through Goodreads.

Barbara Graziosi has taken a subject that many with an interest in the classics think they know, the history and evolution of the Greek Olympian deities, and managed to spin an engaging micro-history of the most recognizable of Ancient Greece's cultural ambassadors. The book traces the twelve major gods (Graziosi makes references to Heracles and to lesser extent Hestia, but chooses to pursue Dionysus as the twelfth Olympian) from th
Joseph F.
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
There are many books about the classical gods. What attracted me to this one is that it is not just what the gods meant to the ancients, but also how the gods were transformed over the ages depending on the needs of the people and the cultures they grew up in.
The author starts with a description of this amusing, somewhat dysfunctional family, then proceeds to recount the many interpretations people gave them. These people were of course historians, artists, sculptors, military leaders, and philo
Jack Hrkach
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it
I very much enjoyed this book on the history of the twelve Greek gods usually known as the Olympians.
The author looks at how the gods were perceived from the earliest mention of them (Archaic Greece) through classical Greece, Alexander's empire, ancient Rome, early Christianity, the Medieval Era and finally the Renaissance. Even if you think you know the gods, you'll be impressed and probably surprised at times (not to be sensational, but the depiction of a naked Hera enchained in, of all place
Apr 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014-reads
The first half of Graziosi's The Gods of Olympus provides an excellent chronicle of the titular mythological superstars' origins and how they influenced and were influenced by the cultures around them. Around the halfway point, however, the author - a Classics professor at Durham Universtiy - moves out of her period and her comfort zone, and while the book stays interesting it breezes through the later time periods so quickly that the last few signatures might as well have been printed on glossy ...more
Apr 07, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A curious and entertaining look at the Greek pantheon and its history (and historiography) from earliest times through to the present. (I said curious, right?) This isn't whimsy, though - it's serious work with a philosophical bent, as Graziosi traces the gods through time, literature, art, and religion to show the lasting influences of ancient thought and practice in the western (and even in the eastern) world. Highly original and thought provoking.
Especially useful for the Notes and Further R
Denise Louise
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives a nice review of the gods of the Greeks, and especially discusses their evolution through the ages and into different cultures. It does a good job in pointing out how the concept of the gods was in constant flux, and not a static belief, as we generally understand them from our perspective. Well-written and worth reading if you are interested in ancient civilizations and cultural evolution.
Margaret Sankey
May 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Solid overview of how the Greeks shaped the Gods to reflect their needs, from explaining how there was a population from Crete at Delphi (that Apollo!) to including local deities as their locations became more important. Graziosi follows the Greek Gods through their handling by an expansionist Hellenistic world, the scoffing of Roman politicians, Christian syncretists and Renaissance artists, even Incans who altered their sun temples after exposure to classical statuary.
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Arts and Humanities director of Durham’s Institute of Advanced Study and Professor of Classics and Ancient History.

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