Before picking up this book, you should be prepared with the following knowledge: this book is lengthy and very dry. It is not a book that can be breezed through and probably would not appeal to everyone. Don’t let that scare you away though! It’s also an absolute treasure trove of information about the gods, both of myth as well as how they were actually viewed and worshipped by the ancient Greeks. It is very thorough, relatively unbiased, and, in my opinion, deserves to be a staple in the library of any Hellenic Polytheist, especially those who practice reconstructionism.
This is a book you will want to take notes in. I don’t typically mark in my books, but I would in this one. The version I got was the e-book for Kindle, which makes it less difficult for me to mark in, allows for instant look up of terms, and was cheaper than the physical copy. It’s still not what I would consider a cheap book, but it’s absolutely worth the cost for the info it contains.
Burkert covers a lot of ground in this book. Included is information on some of the major gods, locations of their temples, types of offerings that were given, exploration of myths and criticisms of them, festivals, morality and ethics, history of some of the gods (where they came from, how they came to be worshipped in Ancient Greece, other deities which they were syncreticised with etc), to name just a few topics! It’s organized well and contains plenty of footnotes; it’s a very well-researched book.
Interestingly there’s also a section on some of the mysteries and what little we know about them. The Eleusinian mysteries are discussed a good deal, though most of what survives about them are minor allusions. He also includes other mystery cults: Bacchic, Orphic and Pythagorean.
Burkert finishes the book with discussion of philosophy from its pre-history to criticism of the religion and the authors who influenced the future of the polytheistic society and up to Plato and his take on the polis. It’s a fitting end to a very complex and thought-provoking book, which brings it full circle.
After the end of the text itself is several appendices, including sources, of which there are a great many. They are listed by chapter so if anything within has piqued the reader’s interest it’s easy to find further reading material on that topic.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a serious reconstructionist. It is one you will likely reference often.