Coping With the Gods
H.S. Versnel
Religion & Spirituality
Coping With the Gods

Inspired by a critical reconsideration of current monolithic approaches to the study of Greek religion, this book argues that ancient Greeks displayed a disquieting capacity to validate two (or more) dissonant, if not contradictory, representations of the divine world in a complementary rather than mutually exclusive manner. From this perspective the six chapters explore problems inherent in: order vs. variety/chaos in polytheism, arbitrariness vs. justice in theodicy, the peaceful co-existence of mono- and polytheistic theologies, human traits in divine imagery, divine omnipotence vs. limitation of power, and ruler cult. Based on an intimate knowledge of ancient realia and literary testimonia the book stands out for its extensive application of relevant perceptions drawn from cultural anthropology, theology, cognitive science, psychology, and linguistics.

Chapter One Many Gods Complications of Polytheism
1. Order versus Chaos
1. The Greek pantheon: kosmos or chaos?
2. Ingredients for Chaos
1. In search of identities
2. Names and surnames: one god or many?
3. Creating Order: Taking Place
1. “The gods who dwell in our city”
2. Beyond the polis border (and back)
3. Ducking out: gods in personal religiosity
4. Conclusions
Chapter Two The Gods Divine Justice or Divine Arbitrariness?
1. Introduction
1. Controversial diction in archaic poetry
2. Modern Voices
2. Homer
3. Herodotus
1. Two tales, many perspectives
2. Modern voices: fear of diversity
4. Saving the Author
5. Solon Again
6. Once More: Chaos or Order?
1. Paratactic multiplicity
2. ‘Gnomologisches Wissen’
3. The rehabilitation of parataxis
4. Thinking in gnomai—speaking in parataxis
7. Putting to the Test: Hesiod
8. Envoy
Chapter Three One God Three Greek Experiments in Oneness
1. Introduction
2. One and Many: The God(s) of Xenophanes
1. One or many?
2. One and Many
3. Concluding remarks
3. One is Many: The Gods, the God and the Divine
1. On singular plurals
2. Concluding remarks
4. “One is the God”
1. Praising the god
2. Aretalogy
3. Nine characteristics of henotheistic religion
4. The nature of oneness in henotheistic religion
5. Questions of origin
6. Concluding remarks
5. Conclusion
Chapter Four A God Why is Hermes Hungry?
1. Hungry Hermes and Greedy Interpreters
2. Hermes: The Human God in the Hymn
3. Hermes: The Eternal Dupe in the Fable
1. Burlesques
2. Paying a social call
4. Hermes: The Present God in Visual Art
1. Socializing
2. More burlesques
Herms and sacrifice
5. Hungry Hermes: The Sacrificial Meal
1. “The warm splanchna which I used to gobble up”
2. “The titbits Hermes likes to eat”
3. “Companion of the feast” (δαιτὸς ἑταίρε)
6. Conclusion
Chapter Five God the Question of Divine Omnipotence
1. God: Self and Other
1. Self
2. Other
3. Self and other
4. Gods: Self and other
5. Some inferences
2. God: Powerful or All-Powerful?
3. Miracles in Double Perspective: The Case of Asklepios
4. God: Powerful and All-Powerful
1. Omnipotence, ancient philosophers and modern theologians
2. Inconsistency in religious expression
5. Conclusions
Chapter Six Playing (the) God did (the) Greeks Believe in the Divinity of their Rulers?
1. Men into Gods
1. A swollen-headed doctor: the case of Menekrates
2. A charismatic prince: the case of Demetrios Poliorketes
2. Modern Perplexities
3. The Construction of a God
1. Language
2. Performance
4. Did (the) Greeks believe in the Divinity of their Rulers?
5. Ritual Play: Sincere Hypocrisy
6. Birds into Gods: Comic Theopoetics
7. Making a God: A Multiple Perspective Approach
Appendix One Grouping the Gods
1. All the Gods
2. The Twelve Gods
Appendix Two Unity or Diversity—One God or Many? A Modern Debate
Appendix Three Drive Towards Coherence in Two Herodotus-Studies
Appendix Four Did the Greeks Believe in their Gods?
Index of Passages Cited
Greek Words
General Index
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