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Greek Religion / Edition 1

Greek Religion / Edition 1

by Walter BurkertWalter Burkert
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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674362819
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 03/15/1987
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Walter Burkert was Professor Emeritus of Classics, University of Zurich.

Table of Contents

Preface to the English Edition


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


Peak Sanctuaries

Tree Sanctuaries

House Sanctuaries



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


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



Index of Greek Words


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