An A-Z of the World – E. H. Gombrich on: Zeus (and Apollo)

As an aid to students, teachers and parents dealing with the challenges of home learning, we have constructed an A–Z of the World taken from E. H. Gombrich’s, A Little History of the World. Day by day, we will be sharing a bite size introduction to a historical figure, event or period – using Gombrich’s magical words – along with links to free resources, so that readers of all ages can discover more. Today, Gombrich covers Zeus (and Apollo).


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Zeus (and Apollo)

E. H. GombrichOne thing united the Greeks: their religion and their sport. And I say ‘one thing’ because, strangely enough, sport and religion weren’t two separate things – they were closely connected. For instance, in honour of Zeus, the Father of the Gods, great sporting contests were held every four years in his sanctuary at Olympia.

But it wasn’t only the Olympic Games that brought all the Greeks together. There was another sanctuary which they all held sacred. This one was at Delphi, and belonged to the sun god Apollo, and there was something most peculiar about it. As sometimes happens in volcanic regions, there was a fissure in the ground from which vapour issued. If anyone inhaled it, it literally clouded their mind. It was as if they were drunk or delirious, and nothing they said made any sense. The very meaninglessness of these utterances seemed deeply mysterious to the Greeks, who said that ‘the god himself speaks through a mortal mouth’. So they had a priestess – whom they called Pythia – sit over the fissure on a three-legged stool, while other priests interpreted her babble as predictions of the future.

The shrine was known as the Delphic Oracle, and at difficult moments of their lives Greeks from everywhere made pilgrimages to Delphi, to consult the god Apollo. The answer they received was often far from clear, and could be understood in a variety of ways. And in fact we still say that a vague or enigmatic answer is ‘oracular’.

Free Resources to Learn More about Zeus and Apollo

BBC Bitesize (KS2) 

Who were the ancient Greek gods and heroes? 

BBC In Our Time

The Greek Myths 

The School Run

Greek gods and mythology

History.com

Greek mythology 

Ancient History Encyclopedia

Zeus 

Ducksters.com

Zeus, and more an ancient Greece, for younger students 

WorldHistory.edu

Zeus: Myths, Power, and Facts 

SoftSchools.com

Zeus Facts 

This page provides access to a list of free online resources. It is not intended to endorse any particular resource.


A Little History of the World

All the descriptions in this A-Z are taken from E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World.

Philip Pullman described the book as, “A brilliant piece of narrative, splendidly organised, told with an energy and confidence that are enormously attractive, and suffused with all the humanity and generosity of spirit that Gombrich’s thousands of admirers came to cherish during his long and richly productive life. It’s a wonderful surprise: irresistible, in fact.”

Discover More

Following in the footsteps of E. H. Gombrich’s worldwide bestseller A Little History of the World, the books in our Little Histories series explore the history of the world’s most remarkable people, events and ideas. With engaging personal insights, our authors will take you on a whistle-stop journey from ancient times to the present – exploring all of life’s big subjects from archaeology to science. Other Little Histories available include, Philosophy, Economics, Science, Literature, Language, Religion and Poetry. More details about the whole series can be found on the Little Histories website.

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