Greek Religion / Edition 1

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Overview

In this book Walter Burkert, the most eminent living historian of ancient Greek religion, has produced the standard work for our time on that subject. First published in German in 1977, it has now been translated into English with the assistance of the author himself. A clearly structured and readable survey for students and scholars, it will be welcomed as the best modern account of any polytheistic religious system.

Burkert draws on archaeological discoveries, insights from other disciplines, and inscriptions in Linear B to reconstruct the practices and beliefs of the Minoan-Mycenaean age. The major part of his book is devoted to the archaic and classical epochs. He describes the various rituals of sacrifice and libation and explains Greek beliefs about purification. He investigates the inspiration behind the great temples at Olympia, Delphi, Delos, and the Acropolis - discussing the priesthood, sanctuary, and oracles. Considerable attention is given to the individual gods, the position of the heroes, and beliefs about the afterlife. The different festivals are used to illuminate the place of religion in the society of the city-state. The mystery cults, at Eleusis and among the followers of Bacchus and Orpheus, are also set in that context. The book concludes with an assessment of the great classical philosophers' attitudes to religion.

Insofar as possible, Burkert lets the evidence -- from literature and legend, vase paintings and archaeology -- speak for itself; he elucidates the controversies surrounding its interpretation without glossing over the enigmas that remain. Throughout, the notes (updated for the English-language edition) afford a wealth of further references as the text builds up its coherent picture of what is known of the religion of ancient Greece.

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Editorial Reviews

London Review of Books

Greek Religion...already has the standing of a classic, and the publication of an English version, which incorporates new material and is in effect a second edition, demands a toast...Anyone who pretends to survey Greek religion must be phenomenally learned. Burkert is. His book is a marvel of professional scholarship...Anyone with an interest in the ancient world can follow the book with pleasure and advantage. No one whose interest has been caught by the Parthenon or by Homer's stories should miss it.
— Jonathan Barnes

New York Times Book Review

In this new book by Walter Burkert, professor of Greek at the University of Zurich and possibly the most eminent living student of ancient Greek religion, we are given the opportunity to enter into this strange world [of ancient Greece]...Mr. Burkert has told his fascinating story not only with immense learning but in a way that captures the interest and sympathy of the reader.
— John Macquarrie

History Today

The subject of Greek religion has recently received a masterly and elegant treatment in Walter Burkert's Greek Religion...beautifully translated by John Raffan. Like the Decalogue in the old saw, it arouses feelings of reverence not unmixed with awe at the author's grasp of his material and the acuity with which he uses the insights of psychology and sociology to show how the forms of Greek religion were able to satisfy many of the deepest needs of men...One will not often read a book that illuminates so profoundly what it was like to live in ancient Greece.
— Richard Stoneman

Manuscripta
The German edition of this book was published in 1977, and the author has added references to important new publications since that date. The introduction has a survey of previous scholarship, a discussion of the sources, and an explanation of the scope of the volume. What this book seeks to do is to indicate the manifold variety of the evidence and the problems of its interpretation, always with an awareness of the provisional nature of the undertaking. This new paperback edition makes an important work available at an economic price.
New England Classical Newsletter

The many fine qualities of this book's original German version (Griechische Religion der archaischen and klassichen Epoche, 1977) have been noted in a veritable forest of reviews...The present English translation, with updated references and an inexpensive paperback edition, offers the prospect of use by American teachers and/or students...It is comprehensive in subject, rich in evidence of many types...and current...It is a peculiar excellence of this book that its usefulness to scholars does not make it less appropriate for students. Its length, in fact, is not at all excessive for a college text, and its many subdivisions make it easy to excerpt.
— Robert M. Simms

London Review of Books - Jonathan Barnes
Greek Religion...already has the standing of a classic, and the publication of an English version, which incorporates new material and is in effect a second edition, demands a toast...Anyone who pretends to survey Greek religion must be phenomenally learned. Burkert is. His book is a marvel of professional scholarship...Anyone with an interest in the ancient world can follow the book with pleasure and advantage. No one whose interest has been caught by the Parthenon or by Homer's stories should miss it.
New York Times Book Review - John Macquarrie
In this new book by Walter Burkert, professor of Greek at the University of Zurich and possibly the most eminent living student of ancient Greek religion, we are given the opportunity to enter into this strange world [of ancient Greece]...Mr. Burkert has told his fascinating story not only with immense learning but in a way that captures the interest and sympathy of the reader.
History Today - Richard Stoneman
The subject of Greek religion has recently received a masterly and elegant treatment in Walter Burkert's Greek Religion...beautifully translated by John Raffan. Like the Decalogue in the old saw, it arouses feelings of reverence not unmixed with awe at the author's grasp of his material and the acuity with which he uses the insights of psychology and sociology to show how the forms of Greek religion were able to satisfy many of the deepest needs of men...One will not often read a book that illuminates so profoundly what it was like to live in ancient Greece.
New England Classical Newsletter - Robert M. Simms
The many fine qualities of this book's original German version (Griechische Religion der archaischen and klassichen Epoche, 1977) have been noted in a veritable forest of reviews...The present English translation, with updated references and an inexpensive paperback edition, offers the prospect of use by American teachers and/or students...It is comprehensive in subject, rich in evidence of many types...and current...It is a peculiar excellence of this book that its usefulness to scholars does not make it less appropriate for students. Its length, in fact, is not at all excessive for a college text, and its many subdivisions make it easy to excerpt.
Library Journal
Chapter titles suggest Burkert's scope and treatment of the multiple facets of Greek religion, focusing upon the period 800-300 B.C.: Prehistory and the Minoan-Mycenaean Age; Ritual and Sanctuary; The Gods; The Dead, Heroes, and Chthonic Gods; Polis and Polytheism; Mysteries and Asceticism; Philosophical Religion. References to publications since the German edition of 1977 are included. Generally, this is a praiseworthy overview of a difficult subject. However, an unidiomatic English translation makes for added difficulties in coping with Burkert's relentless scholarshipreplete with dogmatic hypotheses and often unconvincing conclusions. Greater judicious clarity would have made this important work less frustrating for the scholar and more accessible to the student of religion. Robert J. Lenardon, Classics Dept., Siena Coll. & SUNY at Albany
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674362819
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 7/3/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 472,182
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Burkert is Professor Emeritus of Classics, University of Zurich.
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Table of Contents

Preface to the English Edition

Introduction

1. A Survey of Scholarship

2. The Sources

3. The Scope of the Study

I Prehistory and the Minoan-Mycenaean Age

1. The Neolithic and Early Bronze Age

2. Indo-European

3. The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion

3.1 A Historical Survey

3.2 The State of the Sources

3.3 The Cult Places

Caves

Peak Sanctuaries

Tree Sanctuaries

House Sanctuaries

Temples

Graves

3.4 Rituals and Symbols

3.5 The Minoan Deities

3.6 The Mycenaean Gods and Linear B

4. The 'Dark Age' and the Problem of Continuity

II Ritual and Sanctuary

1. 'Working Sacred Things': Animal Sacrifice

1.1 Description and Interpretation

1.2 Blood Rituals

1.3 Fire Rituals

1.4 Animal and God

2. Gift Offerings and Libation

2.1 First Fruit Offerings

2.2 Votive Offerings

2.3 Libation

3. Prayer

4. Purification

4.1 Function and Methods

4.2 The Sacred and the Pure

4.3 Death, Illness, and Madness

4.4 Purification by Blood

4.5 Pharmakos

5. The Sanctuary

5.1 Temenos

5.2 Altar

5.3 Temple and Cult Image

5.4 Anathemata

6. Priests

7. The Festival

7.1 Pompe

7.2 Agermos

7.3 Dancing and Hymns

7.4 Masks, Phalloi, Aischrologia

7.5 Agon

7.6 The Banquet of the Gods

7.7 Sacred Marriage

8. Ecstasy and Divination

8.1 Enthousiasmos

8.2 The Art of the Seer

8.3 Oracles

III The Gods

1. The Spell of Homer

2. Individual Gods

2.1 Zeus

2.2 Hera

2.3 Poseidon

2.4 Athena

2.5 Apollo

2.6 Artemis

2.7 Aphrodite

2.8 Hermes

2.9 Demeter

2.10 Dionysos

2.11 Hephaistos

2.12 Ares

3. The Remainder of the Pantheon

3.1 Lesser Gods

3.2 Societies of Gods

3.3 Nature Deities

3.4 Foreign Gods

3.5 Daimon

4. The Special Character of Greek Anthropomorphism

IV The Dead, Heroes, and Chthonic Gods

1. Burial and the Cult of the Dead

2. Afterlife Mythology

3. Olympian and Chthonic

4. The Heroes

5. Figures who cross the Chthonic-Olympian Boundary

5.1 Heracles

5.2 The Dioskouroi

5.3 Asklepios

V Polis and Polytheism

1. Thought Patterns in Greek Polytheism

General Considerations

The Family of the Gods

Pairs of Gods

Old and Young

Dionysos

2. The Rhythm of the Festivals

2.1 Festival Calendars

2.2 Year Ending and New Year

2.3 Karneia

2.4 Anthesteria

2.5 Thesmophoria

3. Social Functions of Cult

3.1 Gods between Amorality and Law

3.2 The Oath

3.3 The Creation of Solidarity in the Playing and the Interplay of Roles

3.4 Initiation

3.5 Crisis Management

4. Piety in the Mirror of Greek Language

4.1 Sacred'

4.2 Theos

4.3 Eusebeia

VI Mysteries and Asceticism

1. Mystery Sanctuaries

1.1 General Considerations

1.2 Clan and Family Mysteries

1.3 The Kabeiroi and Samothrace

1.4 Eleusis

2. Bacchica and Orphica

2.1 Bacchic Mysteries

2.2 Bacchic Hopes for an Afterlife

2.3 Orpheus and Pythagoras

3. Bios

VII Philosophical Religion

1. The New Foundation: Being and the Divine

2. The Crisis: Sophists and Atheists

3. The Deliverance: Cosmic Religion and Metaphysics

3.1 Pre-Socratic Outlines

3.2 Plato: The Good and the Soul

3.3 Plato: Cosmos and Visible Gods

3.4 Aristotle and Xenocrates: Spirit, God, and Demons

4. Philosophical Religion and Polis Religion: Plato's Laws

Notes

Bibliography

Index of Greek Words

Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 28, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Best secondary source

    There are actually few books out there on this subject. I guess books on Greek mythology just sell better. While there is mythology in this book it focuses on the actual religious practices of the ancient Greeks. This is a priceless resource for anyone interested in the subjects of Classics, Ancient Greece, Ancient Religions, or Mythology. This book was the starting ground for my own research area in Classics (Ancient Religions of Greece and the Mediterranean in general). It's extremely well organized and informative. I've read it many times and will probably read it many more. There's a lot of information but it's given in a very understandable way.

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