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Home > Books & Reviews > Pagan > Greek Religion Search

Book Review:
Greek Religion

Author: Walter Burkert
Trade Paperback, 493 pages
Publisher: Havard University Press
Publication date: March 1985
ISBN: 0674362810
Price & More Info: Click Here

Additional books by this author


The Harvard University Press edition (1985), translated from the German by John Raffan, is not for the faint of heart. This is an extremely scholarly look at the religion of the ancient Greeks, and details over 400 pages of information and sources. This edition has a stunning 150 pages of endnotes/bibliography attached - a most welcome change from many of the Pagan 101 books that are being published.

Up front, my one complaint on this book is the reliance on non-English works for information. While I haven't gone in search of translations, and they may be out there, the reader does need to be aware that Burkert draws heavily from non-English sources that may be difficult to locate. However, this complaint is a very minor one and isn't totally unexpected. It also isn't a reason for readers who are looking for a serious view of Greek religion to skip this book.

One word of warning, this author is considered one of the primary sources for Hellenic Reconstructionists. As such, much of the information included in Greek Religion may go directly against much of what readers will find being published by Occult/New Age publishers or on websites (sacrifices, the triple goddess concept and lack of magic in religious observations comes to mind). Burkert's treatment of Hellenic deities, beliefs and cultic practices may be an eye opener for some, but his academic background is solid and his sources are good, scholarly and track quite well with what is known of religious practices/beliefs of the time.

The author takes the reader through a brief introduction that gives a taste of things to come in the body of the book. Touching on some of the various late 19th and early 20th century schools of thought on Greek religion, the reader gets a glimpse of what influenced some of the modern beliefs and misconceptions of the cultic practices in Greece.

Greek Religion covers seven well-researched sections, with numerous sub-sections under each. The sections (and some sub-sections) included are:

1. Prehistory and the Minoan-Mycenean Age (cultic places, Minoan/Mycenean deities, Linear B and the dark ages)

2. Ritual and Sanctuary (various ritual practices, religious offerings/sanctuaries and oracles/seers)

3. The Gods (self-explanatory, but a superb look at the Olympians and minor and nature deities)

4. The Dead, Heroes, and Chthonic Gods (burial customs, afterlife mythology and Herakles)

5. Polis and Polytheism (festival calendar and description of the various festivals included in the Athenian calendar)

6. Mysteries and Asceticism (sanctuaries, family mysteries and a look at the Eleusinian, and Bacchic mysteries)

7. Philosophical Religion (a view of the various Greek philosophers and their impact on the Ancient Greek cultic practices)

As that brief listing shows, this book is jam packed with information, and isn't a light or fast read. Burkert brings together a huge amount of information, but does it in such a way that the reader is most likely to want more. The endnotes and sources give the reader that option, and he has authored several other books that address some of the listed sections in greater detail.

Exceptionally well thought out and with superb attention to detail, Greek Religion is a must for anyone who is looking for historical information on the Ancient Greek cultic practices and beliefs.

Reviewed by LyricFox

Additional Books by Walter Burkert

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