Walter Burkert

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Walter Burkert
Born(1931-02-02)February 2, 1931
Neuendettelsau, Germany
DiedMarch 11, 2015(2015-03-11) (aged 84)
Zurich, Switzerland
NationalityGerman
Awards Balzan Prize (1990)
Sigmund Freud Prize (2003)
Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2008)
Academic background
Alma mater Erlangen University
Munich University
Academic work
Discipline Classics
Sub-discipline Ancient Greek Religion
Institutions TU Berlin
Zurich University
Notable works Homo Necans (1972)

Walter Burkert (German: [ˈbʊɐ̯kɐt] ; born 2 February 1931, Neuendettelsau; died 11 March 2015, Zurich) [1] was a German scholar of Greek mythology and cult.

Neuendettelsau Place in Bavaria, Germany

Neuendettelsau is a local authority in Middle Franconia, Germany. Neuendettelsau is situated 20 miles southwest of Nuremberg and 12 miles east of Ansbach. Since 1947 it has a Lutheran seminary.

Greek mythology body of myths originally told by the ancient Greeks

Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the ancient Greeks. These stories concern the origin and the nature of the world, the lives and activities of deities, heroes, and mythological creatures, and the origins and significance of the ancient Greeks' own cult and ritual practices. Modern scholars study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the religious and political institutions of ancient Greece and its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

Contents

A professor of classics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, he taught in the UK and the US. He has influenced generations of students of religion since the 1960s, combining in the modern way the findings of archaeology and epigraphy with the work of poets, historians, and philosophers.

University of Zurich university in Switzerland

The University of Zurich, located in the city of Zürich, is the largest university in Switzerland, with over 25,000 students. It was founded in 1833 from the existing colleges of theology, law, medicine and a new faculty of philosophy.

Epigraphy Study of inscriptions or epigraphs as writing

Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions, or epigraphs, as writing; it is the science of identifying graphemes, clarifying their meanings, classifying their uses according to dates and cultural contexts, and drawing conclusions about the writing and the writers. Specifically excluded from epigraphy are the historical significance of an epigraph as a document and the artistic value of a literary composition.

He published books on the balance between lore and science among the followers of Pythagoras, and more extensively on ritual and archaic cult survival, on the ritual killing at the heart of religion, on mystery religions, and on the reception in the Hellenic world of Near Eastern and Persian culture, which sets Greek religion in its wider Aegean and Near Eastern context.

Pythagoras ancient Greek philosopher and mystic

Pythagoras of Samos was an ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and the eponymous founder of Pythagoreanism. His political and religious teachings were well known in Magna Graecia and influenced the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and, through them, Western philosophy. Knowledge of his life is clouded by legend, but he appears to have been the son of Mnesarchus, a gem-engraver on the island of Samos. Modern scholars disagree regarding Pythagoras's education and influences, but they do agree that, around 530 BC, he travelled to Croton, where he founded a school in which initiates were sworn to secrecy and lived a communal, ascetic lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed a number of dietary prohibitions, traditionally said to have included vegetarianism, although modern scholars doubt that he ever advocated for complete vegetarianism.

Greece republic in Southeast Europe

Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, also known as Hellas, is a country located in Southern and Southeast Europe, with a population of approximately 11 million as of 2016. Athens is the nation's capital and largest city, followed by Thessaloniki.

The Near East is a Eurocentric geographical term which roughly encompasses a transcontinental region centered on Western Asia, Turkey, and Egypt. Despite having varying definitions within different academic circles, the term was originally applied to the maximum extent of the Ottoman Empire. The term has fallen into disuse in American English and has been replaced by the terms Middle East, which includes Egypt, and Western Asia, which includes Transcaucasia.

First academic era

Burkert married Maria Bosch in 1957 and has three children, Reinhard, Andrea and Cornelius. He studied classical philology, history, and philosophy at the Universities of Erlangen and Munich (1950–1954), and obtained his doctorate in philosophy at Erlangen in 1955. He became an Assistant in course teaching at Erlangen for five years (1957–1961) and, following his marriage, returned to his former University as Lecturer for another five years (until 1966). From early 1965 he worked as a Junior Fellow in the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. for one year. The first academic era of his life ended with a placement as Professor of Classical Philology at the Technical University of Berlin (1966–1969), and as Guest Professor at Harvard University for a year (1968).

Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics. Philology is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts as well as oral and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning. A person who pursues this kind of study is known as a philologist.

University of Erlangen–Nuremberg public research university in the cities of Erlangen and Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany

Friedrich–Alexander University Erlangen–Nürnberg is a public research university in the cities of Erlangen and Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany. The name Friedrich–Alexander comes from the university's first founder Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, and its benefactor Christian Frederick Charles Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach.

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich university in Munich, Germany

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich is a public research university located in Munich, Germany.

Second academic era

The start of a new era began in 1981 when his work of ancient Greek religious anthropology, Homo Necans (1972), was published in an Italian translation, followed in 1983 by an English translation. The book is today considered an outstanding account of concepts in Greek religion.[ citation needed ] He was Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Zurich (1969–1996); Visiting Professor of Classical Literature at the University of California for two years (1977 and 1988); Lecturer at Harvard in 1982; Dean of the Philosophical Faculty I at Zurich (1986–1988); and presented the Gifford Lectures at the University of St Andrews in Scotland (1989). After holding these posts and receiving numerous honorary awards (including Balzan Prize in 1990, for Study of the Ancient World), he retired as an Emeritus in 1996.

<i>Homo Necans</i> book by Walter Burkert

Homo Necans: the Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth is a 1972 book on ancient Greek religion and mythology by Walter Burkert. It won the Weaver Award for Scholarly Literature, awarded by the Ingersoll Foundation, in 1992.

University of California public university system in California

The University of California (UC) is a public university system in the U.S. state of California. Under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the University of California is a part of the state's three-system public higher education plan, which also includes the California State University system and the California Community Colleges System.

Academic works

Three of his most important academic works (a selection from seventeen books and two hundred essays, including encyclopedia contributions and memorabilia), which are still at the base of the study of Hellenic religion, are Homo Necans (1972, English 1983), Greek Religion (1977, English 1985), and Ancient Mystery Cults (1982 lectures, published 1987).

In his preface to the English translation of Homo Necans Burkert, who characterised himself on this occasion as "a philologist who starts from ancient Greek texts and attempts to find biological, psychological and sociological explanations for religious phenomena", [2] expressed some of the principles underlying a book that had seemed somewhat revolutionary to German readers in 1972 in its consistent application of inter-relationships of myth and ritual, the application to texts of the kind of functionalism espoused in Jane Ellen Harrison's Themis [3] and the use of structuralism to elucidate an ethology of Greek religion, its social aspect. Burkert confirmed that an impetus for his book had come from Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression , "which seemed to offer new insight into the disquieting manifestations of violence." The book argues that solidarity was achieved among the Greeks through a sacred crime with due reparations: "for the strange prominence of animal slaughter in ancient religion this still seems to be the most economical, and most humane explanation" (p. xv). Its first chapter "Sacrifice as an Act of Killing" offers conclusions that are supported in the ensuing chapters through individual inquiries into myth, festival and ritual, in which the role of poetic creation and re-creation are set aside "in order to confront the power and effect of tradition as fully as possible". The term gods, Burkert concludes, remains fluid, whereas sacrifice is a fact (p. xv).

Jane Ellen Harrison British classical scholar, linguist and feminist

Jane Ellen Harrison was a British classical scholar and linguist. Harrison is one of the founders, with Karl Kerenyi and Walter Burkert, of modern studies in Ancient Greek religion and mythology. She applied 19th century archaeological discoveries to the interpretation of ancient Greek religion in ways that have become standard. She has also been credited with being the first woman to obtain a post in England as a ‘career academic’. Harrison argued for women's suffrage but thought she would never want to vote herself. Ellen Wordsworth Crofts, later second wife of Sir Francis Darwin, was Jane Harrison's best friend from her student days at Newnham, and during the period from 1898 to her death in 1903.

Ethology Scientific study of animal behaviour

Ethology is the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour, usually with a focus on behaviour under natural conditions, and viewing behaviour as an evolutionarily adaptive trait. Behaviourism as a term also describes the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour, usually referring to measured responses to stimuli or to trained behavioural responses in a laboratory context, without a particular emphasis on evolutionary adaptivity. Throughout history, different naturalists have studied aspects of animal behaviour. Ethology has its scientific roots in the work of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and of American and German ornithologists of the late 19th and early 20th century, including Charles O. Whitman, Oskar Heinroth (1871-1945), and Wallace Craig. The modern discipline of ethology is generally considered to have begun during the 1930s with the work of Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1988) and of Austrian biologists Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch (1886-1982), the three recipients of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Ethology combines laboratory and field science, with a strong relation to some other disciplines such as neuroanatomy, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Ethologists typically show interest in a behavioural process rather than in a particular animal group, and often study one type of behaviour, such as aggression, in a number of unrelated species.

Konrad Lorenz Austrian zoologist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973

Konrad Zacharias Lorenz was an Austrian zoologist, ethologist, and ornithologist. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch. He is often regarded as one of the founders of modern ethology, the study of animal behaviour. He developed an approach that began with an earlier generation, including his teacher Oskar Heinroth.

Burkert's theory of sacrificial ritual

In 1985, Burkert used ancient sources (both literary and visual representations) to put together some of the pieces of how ancient Greek sacrificial ritual actually proceeded, and to link together the ritual with myth. Firstly, under the direction of the priest, priestess, father, mother (at least, in certain women's rites like Thesmophoria), or king, a basket containing the utensils and a bowl of water were placed around the altar. The participants then dipped their hands into the consecrated water, and sprinkled it on the altar, victim and offerer. Salted-barley corns from the basket were thrown on the animal’s head and into the altar fire. A lock of hair from the animal is then cut and burned, libation being poured on the altar with prayer. After silence is proclaimed, the music of flutes begins and the animal is slain. The larger animals were killed with a sacrificial axe. The head is turned toward the heavens, and the throat cut. The blood then spreads on the altar and is caught in a vessel. In early literary sources such as the Homeric epics the Iliad and Odyssey , onlooking women raise a cry of worship ( ololugma ) at this point in the ritual .

After the animal is skinned and cut into pieces, the inner parts are tasted and shared, and a part burned on the altar with incense. The remainder is roasted and eaten by all participants present. If the entrails are of normal shape and color, it is an omen that the sacrifice is acceptable to the gods. In both the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as other early sources such as the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the priest or sacrifice-leader wrapped the thigh pieces in fat and burned them on the altar. The tail and back, along with other bones and pieces with less meat left over were burned with a libation. After this procedure, it was then that the worshippers shared the roasted meal, while music and dance took place in the service of the gods. At some special festivals, there are instances where everyone in the banquet consumes hundreds of animal sacrifices.

Works

Articles by Walter Burkert

See also

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References

  1. Walter Burkert: Classical scholar whose fascinating books on religion were packed with fresh insight
  2. Introduction, p. xix. Burkert's stress is actually sociological and scarcely biological.
  3. Harrison's Themis is specifically instanced, p. xiii.