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The Gods of Olympus: A History by Barbara…

The Gods of Olympus: A History

by Barbara Graziosi

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76. The Gods of Olympus : A History by Barbara Graziosi
2014, 276 page paperback
read Nov 26-29
Rating: 3.5 stars

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 was also interesting to see how gods were force-molded in such strange ways, such as how the Romans combined their very important god Mars into the minor and rather pathetic Greek God Ares.

What was missing, I felt, was a good sense of who these gods were in the religious and mythological context. She not only doesn't bring them alive, but doesn't really even spend much time on them. She walks through the Elgin marbles and gives a short bit on each of the twelve gods there, which I did find of interest. But she pretty much leaves off the biographies at that and moves on to their evolution. ( )
  dchaikin | Dec 11, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Even though the tone was light and energetic, I just couldn't get into this book. Perhaps it's because I've been out of school for a while, but I felt like there was so much information being thrown at me but nothing was sticking, partly because the information was all so foreign and there were few points of reference to help me retain anything. So, it's not totally the author's fault. It's also the reader's fault (aka me). I guess I didn't want to learn about the gods as badly as I thought I did. Or maybe the author didn't go a good enough job of maintaining my interest. Or maybe both. I would, however, suggest this book to those who a) are already familiar with mythology, or b) willing to put in enough brainpower to ensure they retain enough information to make reading this book worthwhile. ( )
  JacobSeifert | Mar 13, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book traces the development of the Olympian gods, with a focus on the twelve depicted on the Parthenon's frieze (Zeus, Hera, Ares, Apollo, Demeter, Dionysus, Hermes, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Athena, Poseidon, and Artemis), and their adaptation into other religions and societies.

The book is divided into six sections, each dealing with a particular time period and society and further divided into three chapters. The first two sections deal with the basic development of the pantheon, mostly by Homer and Hesiod, and the rise of Athens and Athenian views. The next sections cover their spread under Alexander the Great and his successors and their adoption by the Roman Empire and association with its (less defined) deities. The fifth details their near-disappearance and very significant changes during the rise of Christianity and Islam, while the sixth covers the re-emergence of something closer to their classical images during the Renaissance. After this, an appendix covers, in a somewhat rushed fashion, some of their cultural usage since the Renaissance.

For the most part, the book is well-written, making its case without getting too bogged down in obscure detail or stretching interpretations to fit its arguments. As noted above, the appendix is somewhat cursory and, possibly because of this, feels like it is reaching at times (in particular, one work mentioned sounds, from the description, more like an adaptation of Greek theater than the Olympians specifically). I also was slightly annoyed by the author's habit of describing things as if the Olympians were actively working to maintain some sort of relevance, but that's a matter of taste.
2 vote Gryphon-kl | Jan 27, 2014 |
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"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"--… (more)

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