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Ancient Mystery Cults (Carl Newell Jackson Lectures) Paperback – 1 Jul 1989

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (1 July 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674033876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674033870
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.1 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 511,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Fascinating...The writing is clear and engaging...[Readers will] learn much about how ancient human beings attempted to find security and joy in a difficult world. They will be able to enter, at least partially, into very different minds and glimpse experiences of ecstasy and wonder that took place many centuries ago. -- Judith Amory Wilson Library Bulletin Widely recognized as our best scholar of ancient Greek religion...Burkert deals with the evidence directly, clearing away misconceptions and discussing problems of interpretation...Extremely valuable. The Key Reporter Walter Burkert's publication of his 1982 Jackson Lectures at Harvard University is another of his important contributions to our understanding of the religions of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern cultures. Everything from his pen is welcome and an education...His knowledge of the sources is encyclopedic, his judgment in combining them original, illuminating, and persuasive...This study is bound to become a standard text in the history of religion and in the interpretation of individual experiences in antiquity...This slender but packed volume is another powerful document in intellectual history. -- Emily Vermeule American Historical Review The standard book on the subject , encyclopedic in nature, well structured, and readable, all that the interested student and scholar wants to know about ancient Greek polytheism. Classical World

About the Author

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Will Staffs on 18 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent - but you wouldn't expect less from Burket.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
119 of 122 people found the following review helpful
A great book, but one side of an argument 10 May 2000
By W. Eric Vandever - Published on
Format: Paperback
Walter Burkert is one of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century in the field of ancient Greek religion, and this contribution is an excellent book which, for the most part, lives up to such a standard. I recommend it to any and all students of Greek religion who are looking to expand their knowledge of the particulars of mystery cults and what they were all about. I do, however, have reservations about recommending it as an overview or introductory work for laymen or students just getting interested in the subject. Burkert's methodology, while a great improvement over the "myth and ritual" debates which dominated earlier scholarship, is very much oriented in a psychological viewpoint which sees ancient mystery religion as somehow fundamentally less psychologically satisfying than religions like Christianity ("confessional" religions). In every chapter he tries to make the point that these cults were nothing like early confessional religions like Christianity because he is responding to another faction of scholars who tried to assimilate the two, but, unfortunately, in doing so Burkert makes a number of misleading (and, some would say, wrong) arguments about the nature of mystery religion and the mentality of its devotees. It is for these reasons that I recommend this book highly to someone who already knows enough to recognize when Burkert is making controversial statements and would not take him at face value.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Excellent comparative overview 20 April 2006
By S W - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read _Ancient Mystery Cults_ with great interest. Burkert takes what I would call the "comparative approach" with this book, touching on aspects of the various cults and discussing them collectively. For example, his chapter titles are: 1. Personal Needs in This Life and After Death; 2. Organizations and Identities; 3. Theologia and Mysteries: Myth, Allegory, and Platonism; 4. The Extraordinary Experience. Thus, if you are interested in the general ideas about these mystery cults, and how they were interconnected, you will be most pleased with this book. Now, one thing that I will say that I didn't like about the book was this: if you are looking for info on a specific cult you will be a bit frustrated. There is no single chapter on the Eleusinian Mysteries, for example; he discusses them all throughout the book as they are applicable to the topic on hand. However, that is no reason not to read the book-- no cult existed in a vacuum, and knowing the general atmosphere in which even a single cult thrived is as important as knowing the details of that one particular cult.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Lucid ideas about ancient mystery cults. 31 Aug. 2002
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on
Format: Paperback
I recommend this book as an introduction for everybody who is interested in this daunting subject. Daunting, because it was forbidden for the initiated to speak about the mystery. Nearly everything we know (besides artwork - Athens - architectural sites) came to us indirectly (e.g. the formidable play 'Bakchai' by Euripides).
Furthermore, all sanctuaries were destroyed after the imperial decrees (391/392) of Theodosius the Great prohibiting all pagan cults.
The author analyses 5 mystery cults : Eleusis, Meter, Isis, Mithras, and the Dionysian and Bacchian mysteries.
As we can learn from the work of Karl Kerenyi, the influence of Eleusis on Christianity should not be underestimated. Apparently, through the myth of Demeter/Persephone, the initiated were 'shown' that there was life after death. Plato was initiated (as nearly all Roman emperors) and as Hannah Ahrendt tells us in her book 'The origins of Totalitarianism', Plato must be considered as one of the fathers of the Christian creed.
For the mysteries of Mithras, I recommend the work of J. Vermaseren.
As Burkert states, most of the mysteries were expensive clubs and the experience was purely individual. That is the reason why they disappeared so rapidly: they lacked any lasting organization as the Christian Church. Another reason for Burkert was the inclusion of the family as the basic unit of piety in Christianity. The Church got the upper hand for demographic reasons.
Contrary to Burkert, we know from the work of Kerenyi on Eleusis that the taking of drugs (the kykeon) was important (it was taken after a longer period of fasting).
Burkert gives us a very good summary indeed.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful and intriguing overview of mystery cults 27 Mar. 2011
By Derek Murphy - Published on
Format: Paperback
Walter Burkert is a reputable scholar and provides a great deal of information regarding early mystery cults. I found the information useful even when I disagreed with him about his conclusions; specifically he aims to lead readers away from the conclusion that Christianity had too much in common, or was based upon, early mystery cult traditions - although based on the text this would be an easy assumption to make.

The main difference it seems is that Burkert treats these cults as dead religions with a certain amount of condescension, while not concealing his higher evaluation of Christianity. He claims that "there is no evidence" for the resurrection of Attis or Osiris (as opposed to the presumed evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead) and that Persephone's followers are not resurrected (as opposed to Christians, who will be).

Read the book yourselves, but focus on the information provided rather than the beliefs of the author.
Good and historical 5 Mar. 2014
By Roberto Quintas - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When you come to the Path, from someone or somewhere, you have heard about the Mystery. This books gives to the student, academic or pagan a good historical research of what can be the Mystery that we celebrate.
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