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Home > Reconstructionism > Greek/Hellenic > Hellenic Reading List Search

Hellenic Polytheism Reading List
by Drew Campbell


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General History

*Prudence Jones & Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe (London/New York: Routledge, 1995).

A careful, well-documented study of pagan religions in Europe from ancient times to today. Emphasizes continuity of practice while avoiding speculation about organized medieval "witch cults" and the like.

*Thomas R. Martin, Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times (New Haven: Yale UP, 1996).

A solid introduction to the topic with many illustrations.

Primary Sources

*Homer, Iliad; Odyssey; Homeric Hymns (various editions).

Even though most scholars now agree that "Homer" is convenient shorthand for a literary tradition rather than the name of a single poet, the ancients believed that the Archaic blind bard was the foundation of religious understanding and cultural literacy. And so he is.

*Hesiod, Theogony; Works and Days (various editions).

"It was Homer and Hesiod who created for the Greeks a genealogy of the gods, gave the gods their epithets, distributed their honours and competences, and stamped them with their form," wrote Herodotos. Hesiod's Theogony is the best-known recounting of the origins of the Gods and the rise of Zeus to power. The Works and Days is a sort of ancient farmer's almanac and sacred calendar all in one.

*[Pseudo-]Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, trans. Robin Hard (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997).

This first- or second-century C.E. compilation organizes the traditional stories by family and region.

Also of interest: Apostolos N. Athanassakis, ed. & trans., The Orphic Hymns: Text, Translation and Notes (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1977). The Orphic tradition stood in conscious opposition to the official religion of the polis, and continues to fascinate scholars and modern Hellenes alike. This rather late (probably third century C.E.) collection of hymns displays their unusual mythology.

Religious History and Sourcebooks

*Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1985).

Burkert's magnum opus rewards careful, slow reading, pencil in hand: the author crams so many details into the 337 pages of text (one-third of the volume is endnotes) that it's almost impossible to get it all in one go. Perhaps most important, Burkert is not afraid to admit how much we don't know about ancient religion, and his unwillingness to indulge in unsubstantiated speculation or to promote his pet theories at the expense of concrete facts has made him a great favorite with Hellenic Reconstructionists. If you can only afford one secondary source, let this be it.

* Jan Bremmer, Greek Religion (Greece and Rome New Surveys in the Classics No. 24) (Oxford: OUP, 1994).

A brief update to Burkert's book, taking into account the more recent research. Available through interlibrary loan.

*Louise Bruit Zaidman & Pauline Schmitt Pantel, Religion in the Ancient Greek City (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992).

The French edition of this work was used as a textbook in schools, and with good reason. It presents a clear summary of its subject, with a focus on Athens, while not overwhelming the reader with too many details. A good, solid introduction.

*Jon D. Mikalson, Athenian Popular Religion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983) and Honor Thy Gods: Popular Religion in Greek Tragedy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

The first title is a concise guide to the religion of the average Athenian—rather than the distinctly unaverage philosophers—believed. The second compares these views to those presented in tragedy. Highly recommended.

*Robert Garland, The Greek Way of Life (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990) and The Greek Way of Death (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985).

What Burkert does for Greek religion generally, Garland does for the Hellenic life cycle specifically. Taken together, these two studies provide a survey of rites relating to birth, childhood, adolescence, marriage, and death. Invaluable resources for Hellenic families and priests.

*Timothy Gantz, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, 2 vols. (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993).

Gantz's large compendium traces the history of myth variants back to the earliest known literary or artistic sources. Not only will readers learn about the myths in historical context—and discover how many "canonical" variants are really late interpretations from authors like Ovid—but they will also get a feel for the gaps in our knowledge, particularly of Archaic sources.

*David G. Rice & John E. Stambaugh, eds., Sources for the Study of Greek Religion (n.p. [Atlanta?]: Scholars Press, 1979).

Substantial selections from primary texts ranging from the Iliad to the lyric poets to dramatists to inscriptions, arranged by subject.

*Marvin W. Meyer, ed., The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1987).

Drawing on histories, dramas, hymns, and theological treatises, this sourcebook provides selections from primary sources relating to a range of ancient initiatory Mysteries, including those of the Two Goddesses at Eleusis, of Dionysos, and of the Great Mother, Kybele. Also includes Roman and Egyptian Mystery traditions.

*Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985).

This collection of essays and primary sources shows clearly the ambivalence with which magic was viewed in the ancient world. Fascinating material, clearly presented.

Also of interest: Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Volume One: Texts (Chicago/London: U of Chicago P, 1996). Early magical eclecticism at its best. These texts derive from Greek-speaking communities in Egypt, and give us a glimpse into the world of ancient thaumaturgy.

Reference Works

*Lesley Adkins & Roy A. Adkins, Handbook to Life in Ancient Greece (New York/Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997).

An affordable, encyclopedia-style handbook covering all aspects of ancient life, from architecture to warfare.

*The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

Listed at close to $100, the OCD is much less affordable that Adkins & Adkins, but it is the ultimate Classics reference work, with thousands of articles on every imaginable subject. Readily available in the reference section of your local public library.

*Liddell & Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997).

Originally published in 1889, this mid-size abridgement of the voluminous "Great Scott" is very helpful for looking up all those words that scholars throw around in their books with bothering to translate them. A smaller version is also available.

Modern Practice

Drew Campbell, Old Stones, New Temples: Ancient Greek Paganism Reborn (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2000). ISBN 0738832104

Comprehensive introduction to Hellenic Reconstructionist Paganism, with emphasis on scholarly sources. Annual rituals, life cycle events, polytheology, ethics. Available online from the publisher and by special order from local bookstores and major online booksellers.

Jennifer Reif, Mysteries of Demeter: Rebirth of the Pagan Way (York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1999).

Although not reconstructionist, this book provides information on the modern worship of Demeter, especially, though not exclusively, for women.

last updated January 12, 2002

This article originally appeared on Andrew Campbell's Nomos Arkhaios site which is currently on hiatus.
This article is copyright © 2000-2003 by Andrew Campbell and is reprinted here with permission.

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