Walter Burkert

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Walter Burkert (born February 2, 1931 in Neuendettelsau ; † March 11, 2015 in Uster ) was a German classical philologist and was known as an excellent expert on the Greek religion and mystery cults .

Live and act

Walter Burkert studied classical philology , history and philosophy at the University of Erlangen and the University of Munich and received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Erlangen in 1955. In 1962 he completed his habilitation in Nuremberg with wisdom and science. Studies on Pythagoras , Philolaus and Plato . In 1965 he was a fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies .

From 1966 to 1969 he was Professor of Classical Philology at the Technical University of Berlin and from 1969 to 1996 at the University of Zurich. He was visiting professor at Harvard University , at the University of California , where he was Sather Professor from 1976-1977 , and at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where he gave the Gifford Lectures from 1988-1989 .

Burkert drew on non-literary iconographic sources earlier than other classical scholars and also included the cultures of the Near East via the area of Classical Antiquity . Following the teachings of James Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualists , Burkert has emphasized in his studies that there is a close connection between religious rituals and myths . In contrast to these, however, he gives violence an important place in the creation process of human culture : For Burkert, violence is one of the most primal biological mechanisms that shape human societies.


Walter Burkert received numerous academic honors, including the 1990 Balzan Prize for Classical Studies. He was a full member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the Academia Europaea , Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy , Corresponding Member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences , the Braunschweig Scientific Society , the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and the Austrian Academy of Sciences , Foreign Member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , Honorary Member of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies . Since 1999 he has been a holder of the Pour le Mérite order for sciences and arts . He received honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto (1988), the University of Friborg (Switzerland) (1989), the Augustana University Neuendettelsau (1993), the University of Oxford (1996) and the University of Chicago (2001). In 2003 he received the Sigmund Freud Prize for scientific prose and in 2008 he was honored with the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany with a star .


Walter Burkert is the author of seventeen books and hundreds of articles, including contributions to encyclopedias . Some he published in English or Italian, others were translated into French, Spanish, Modern Greek, Turkish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Polish and Serbian. His most important works include:

His smaller works were reprinted in 8 volumes. The output is complete:


  • Anton Bierl , Wolfgang Braungart (ed.): Violence and victims. In dialogue with Walter Burkert. (= MythosEikonPoiesis. Vol. 2). de Gruyter, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-11-022116-9 .
  • Fritz Graf (Hrsg.): Views of Greek rituals. Birthday symposium for Walter Burkert, Castelen near Basel March 15 to 18, 1996. Teubner, Stuttgart, Leipzig, 1998, ISBN 3-519-07433-8 .
  • Christoph Riedweg : Not just Homer. For the 70th birthday of the Zurich antiquarian Walter Burkert. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , February 2, 2001.
  • Christoph Riedweg: Antiquity and Anthropology. On the death of the classical philologist Walter Burkert. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , March 13, 2015.
  • Christoph Riedweg: Walter Burkert †. In: Gnomon 87 (2015), pp. 666-671.
  • Heinz Schlaffer : Searching the Mesopotamia with the soul. Walter Burkert lets the ancient Greeks look to the Orient. In: Frankfurter Rundschau, March 19, 2003.
  • Wolfgang Schuller : Review: W. Burkert, Kleine Schriften II. Göttingen 2003. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , March 31, 2003.
  • Izabela Taraszczuk: Walter Burkert i "Stwarzanie świętości. Ślady biologii we wczesnych wierzeniach religijnych". In: Tomasz Jaworski, Marek Maciantowicz (eds.): Lasyzielonogórskie na przestrzeni wieków. Kulturowa rola lasu w dziejach. (= Zielonogórskie Studia Łużyckie. Vol. 6). Oficyna Wydawnicza Uniwersytetu Zielonogórskiego, Zielona Góra 2009, pp. 253-257, ISBN 978-83-7481-278-8 (Review: Cults of antiquity. Biological foundations of religion , in Polish).
  • Bernhard Zimmermann : Walter Burkert (2.2.1931–11.3.2015). In: Yearbook of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences for 2015 , Heidelberg 2016, pp. 340–345 ( online )

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Christoph Riedweg : Antiquity and Anthropology. On the death of the classical philologist Walter Burkert . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , March 13, 2015, international edition, p. 46. online .
  2. ^ Afterword to the second edition Homo necans. Interpretations of ancient Greek sacrificial rites and myths (de Gruyter, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-11-015099-9 ).