Monday, May 5, 2014


Walter Burkert, La religion grecque à l'époque archaïque et classique. Traduction et mise à jour bibliographique par Pierre Bonnechere. Antiquité/Synthèses 13. Paris: Picard, 2011. Pp. 477. ISBN 9782708409064. €61.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Yulia Ustinova, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (

Version at BMCR home site

Walter Burkert's Griechische Religion, first published in 1977, was immediately recognized as "the central treatment of Greek religion," to which "enthusiasm is the reader's appropriate response," to cite R. Parker's review of this invaluable work of scholarship.1 Then, more than thirty years ago, W. Burkert was already the foremost authority on Greek religion, and since the 1970s, his work has shaped the study of this field, as well as other aspects of Greek culture, by those who accept his views and those who debate them. Griechische Religion is universally praised by the reviewers as a book that "few scholars nowadays could hope to rival."2 Its second edition, with many updates and new bibliography, was published in 2011, and after all the years that have passed since the appearance of the first edition, is still acclaimed as the unmatched work on Greek religion.3 Griechische Religion, as P. Bonnechere observes in his introduction to the reviewed book, has had such an impact on the scholarship on Greek religion that much of the contemporary research would be unthinkable without it.

Translations of W. Burkert's book have appeared in many languages; the present reviewer is aware of its Italian, English, Portuguese, Greek, Russian, and Spanish versions.4 In this list, a French translation remained conspicuous by its absence for decades. Whatever the reasons for the delay in rendering Griechische Religion available to the Francophone audience, this gap no longer exists: in 2011 Pierre Bonnechere published a long-awaited French version of W. Burkert's fundamental work. La religion grecque is a volume in a series directed by Yann Le Bohec and entitled Antiquité/Synthèse, which brings together original and translated studies on antiquity, aiming at presenting a panoramic view of ancient cultures. The fact that Greek religion is now considered as important component of Classical civilization as politics and philosophy deserves a particular note: promotion of the study of ancient religion as a field of research owes much to W. Burkert.

P. Bonnechere translated the second edition of Griechische Religion, thus endowing the Francophone public with the privilege to be the first, after W. Burkert's German-speaking readership, to peruse the updated version of the book. However, La religion grecque offers the reader much more than a mere translation: P. Bonnechere, an expert on Greek religion and history, who has published numerous works on various aspects of Classical civilization,5 has thoroughly extended and updated the footnotes of the original. In addition to the bibliography provided by W. Burkert, the French translation contains more than a thousand new references; in particular, references to LIMC and ThesCRA with their exhaustive lists of ancient testimonies and modern studies are very helpful. Furthermore, in the French edition quotations of ancient sources have also been updated: TrGF is cited instead of Nauck, IG I3 instead of IG I2, etc. Finally, the book is supplied with an extensive index of names, places and realia.

W. Burkert's dense German, many sentences charged with ideas that could be developed into articles, is not easy to render in another language. P. Bonnechere's French translation is flowing, clear and reader-friendly. The decision to use footnotes, as in the German original, rather than endnotes, as in several translations, facilitates reading the book. Moreover, P. Bonnechere abandoned the cumbersome system of cross-references within the volume, adopted in the original and in other translations. He uses instead a simple system of direct references, liberating the reader from incessant jumping back and forth from the main text to the end of the book or the chapter, and to notes to other chapters. The only quibble concerns the maps of the Greek world that appeared on the fly-leaf of the original German edition: they were left out of the second edition and do not appear in the French translation. This omission makes the use of the book by students and researchers who specialize in areas other than Greek civilization less convenient, but it is a minor shortcoming, given the accessibility of maps in the internet age.

In sum, the French version of Griechische Religion is a highly professional new edition of W. Burkert's encyclopedic work, enriched owing to the translator's own comprehensive in-depth knowledge of the subject. Important additions, modifications and enhancements make La religion grecque useful even to those students of Greek religion who can read the book in original.


1.   CR 29. 1 (1979): 86-88.
2.   N. J. Richardson, Numen 26. 2 (1979): 262-267.
3.   A. Herda, BMCR 2012.02.21.
4.   Italian: La religione greca di epoca arcaica e classica, trad. P. Pavanini (Milan, 1984); third edition: La religione greca di epoca arcaica e classica, terza edizione italiana con aggiunte dell'Autore a cura di G. Arrigoni (Milan, 2010); English: Greek Religion, translation J. Raffan (Cambridge Mass., 1985); Greek: Αρχαία ελληνική θρησκεία Αρχαϊκή και κλασσική εποχή, trans. N. P. Bezantákos and A. Abagianoû (Athens, 1993); Portuguese: Religiâo Grega na época clássica e arcaica, trad. de M. J. Simôes Loureiro (Lisbon, 1993); Russian: Греческая религия. Архаика и классика, пер. М. Витковской и В. Витковского (St.Petersburg, 2004); Spanish: Religiòn griega arcaica y clàsica, trad. A. Bernabé (Madrid, 2007).
5.   To cite only his books: Le sacrifice humain en Grèce ancienne (Athènes-Liège, 1993); L'art et l'âme des jardins (with O. De Bruyn, Annvers, 1998); Index to FHG (Leiden, 1999); Trophonios de Lébadée (Leiden, 2008); Profession historien (Montréal, 2008).

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