The mad, bad and over-sexed gods of Olympus

In Egypt they claimed to have given birth to pharaohs, while in Rome they were said to have led respectable citizens into orgiastic rituals of drink and sex. Now, a new book traces the history of the Greek Olympian gods and their transformations from antiquity to the present day.

A Greek statue depicting a head and penis.

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In Egypt they claimed to have given birth to pharaohs, while in Rome they were said to have led respectable citizens into orgiastic rituals of drink and sex. Now, a new book traces the history of the Greek Olympian gods and their transformations from antiquity to the present day.

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Written by Barbara Graziosi, The Gods of Olympus: A History reveals how under Christianity and Islam the Gods survived as demons, allegories, and planets, and in the Renaissance emerged as ambassadors of a new, secular belief in humanity.

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Graziosi, a professor of classics at Durham University, draws on a range of literary and archaeological sources to open a new window on the ancient world and its lasting influence.

This cartoon contrasts the Berlin Olympics with the values represented by the ancient Mercury, seen here as an ambassador of international good will. Provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
This cartoon contrasts the Berlin Olympics with the values represented by the ancient Roman god Mercury, seen here as an ambassador of international good will. Provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Composite mythological monsters like Typhon posed a challenge to Plato's theory of imitation. Although their constituent parts were usually recognisable - e.g. snake legs and bird wings - the overall composition did not simply imitate reality. (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)
Composite mythological monsters like Typhon posed a challenge to Plato’s theory of imitation. Although their constituent parts were usually recognisable – e.g. snake legs and bird wings – the overall composition did not simply imitate reality. (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)
One side of the coin bears an image of the goddess Athena, c305-281 BC). (British Museum, London)
A coin bearing an image of the goddess Athena, c305-281 BC. (British Museum, London)
Athenian statesmen lcibiades once mutilated the local herms (sculptures of head and sometimes torsos) in an act of sacrilegious vandalism that shocked the city. (D Yalouris; Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport/Archaeological Receipts Fund)
Athenian statesmen lcibiades once mutilated the local herms (sculptures of head and sometimes torsos like the one above) in an act of sacrilegious vandalism. (D Yalouris; Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport/Archaeological Receipts Fund)
Some believe that this painting, The Punishment of Juno, decorated the entrance of a convent of nuns in Parma, was meant as a warning to novices tempted to forsake their vows. (The Yorck Project: 10,000 Meisterwerke di Malenei, 2002)
Some believe that this painting, depicting the punishment of Juno and decorating the entrance of a convent of nuns in Parma, was meant as a warning to novices tempted to forsake their vows. (The Yorck Project: 10,000 Meisterwerke di Malenei, 2002)
Buddha. (RMN-Grand Palais/Musée Grimet Paris/Matthieu Ravaux)
Buddha. (RMN-Grand Palais/Musée Grimet Paris/Matthieu Ravaux)
An image of Cupid acquired by noted art collector Henry Walters some time before 1929. (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)
An image of Cupid acquired by noted art collector Henry Walters some time before 1929. (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)