When it comes to starting out in Hellenic Polytheism, the most daunting thing for most is the avalanche of information and publications. Too much choice often leads to being confused as to where to even start. The following list attempts to remedy this by giving recommendations of trustworthy authors (specialists in their fields) that are at an introductory level.
Note: If you have no knowledge of Ancient Greece whatsoever, it would be advisable to start with getting familiar with basic information such as a simple chronology and geography. This is not necessary to start worshipping, but this knowledge will make further research much easier and help understand why certain gods rule over certain things. No need for any fancy recommendation, something as simple as Wikipedia or The Ancient Greeks for Dummies (Stephen Batchelor, 2008) will have you covered on this.
Format used: Author, Title, Publisher, Year
Introductions to Greek religion
- Jennifer Larson, Ancient Greek Cults: A Guide, Routledge, 2007
A very good introductory book organized in 15 chapters. The first goes over the main key concepts of ancient Greek religion, while the others are all about separate deities. Larson’s writing style is accessible and this book in particular has the great advantage of giving comprehensible overviews of the cult of deities that are otherwise hard to research. You will find information there about Zeus, Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Demeter & Persephone, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Hermes, Pan & nature deities, Ares & Enyalios, Ge & Helios, Hephaistos, Hestia, the Graces, Eileithyia, Hekate, the Erinyes, as well as some Hellenistic and regional deities.
- Robert Parker, On Greek Religion, Cornell University Press, 2011
Like the above, this is a book written with accessible vocabulary. It completes the former recommendation nicely as it focuses more key concepts of the religion. The preface alone contains explanations about the concept of kharis (reciprocity), the importance of locality, what ancient sanctuaries were, divine justice etc. You will find information about how worship was organized, about how sacrifice and festivals were carried out as well how to understand the diversity of religious experience in Greek religion.
- Jennifer Larson, Understanding Greek Religion, Routledge, 2016
While still at an introductory level, this work by Larson goes more in depth into important theological concepts. Key chapters and topics to consider learning from this book are the difference between the representation of Hera in myth and in cult, a more complete explanation of reciprocity in Greek religion, the concept of orthopraxy, amongst other things. This work also features an introduction to Greek religious mysteries and associated concepts.
Introductions to Specific Deities
Routledge publishes a collection titled “Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World” which make up for excellent overviews. The series is well-made and meant to be concise, easy to read and include illustrations, timelines, family trees and maps that help navigate the information. They have the advantage of going through ancient cults but also the influence of those deities until modern times in Western culture.
Books of the series relevant to Hellenic polytheism:
- Arlene Allan, Hermes, Routledge, 2020
- Monica S. Cyrino, Aphrodite, Routledge, 2010
- Stephanie Lynn Budin, Artemis, Routledge, 2015
- Emma Stafford, Herakles, Routledge, 2011
- Fritz Graf, Apollon, Routledge, 2008
- Ken Dowden, Zeus, Routledge, 2005
- Richard Seaford, Dionysus, Routledge, 2006
- Susan Deacy, Athena, Routledge, 2008
- Daniel Ogden, Perseus, Routledge, 2008
- Lowell Edmunds, Oedipus, Routledge, 2006
- Carol Dougherty, Prometheus, Routledge, 2005
- Marta Gonzales Gonzales, Achilles, Routledge, 2019
- Emma Griffiths, Medea, Routledge, 2005
Source Material (Hymns and Mythology)
Ancient sources are often available online for free. However, if you plan to buy a copy, it is advisable to pick a recent translation (most of the ones available for free are old, ranging between the 18th and early 20th century). Editions that include commentaries and annotations are also preferred, as they provide explanations and contextualization. Unfortunately, not all Greek works are retranslated on a regular basis, and sometimes the old ones are still the most recent available.
- Homer (trans. Emily Wilson), The Odyssey, Norton & Company, Inc., 2018
- Homer (trans. Peter Green), The Iliad, University of California Press, 2015
- Diane J. Rayor (trans.), The Homeric Hymns: A Translation with Introduction and Notes, University of California Press, 2004
- Apostolos N. Athanassakis & Benjamin M. Wolklow (trans.), The Orphic Hymns: Translation, Introduction and Notes, The John Hopkins University Press, 2013
- Hesiod (trans. Kimberly Johnson), Theogony and Work and Days: A New Bilingual Edition, Northwestern University Press; 2017
- William D. Furley & Jan Maarten Bremer, Greek Hymns: Selected Cult Songs from the Archaic to the Hellenistic Period Volume 1., Mohr Siebeck, 2011*
*This one is a complete study and not particularly an easy read. However, it is still in the list because it brings together in one volume a lot of hymns that would otherwise be scattered across many different sources. For this reason, it can be used as a reference tool.
On modern worship
- Christos Pandion Panopoulos & Panagiotis Panagiotopoulos & Erymanthos Armyras, Hellenic Polytheism: Household Worship, Labrys (self-published), 2014
Labrys is a religious group based in Athens and founded in 2008. Their book provides a good overview of what worship in the 21st century can look like. It has flaws, and they have taken some liberties on historicity which are worth knowing about, but otherwise the book is fairly well-cited and places itself as a solid starting point.