Journey into Greco / Roman Paganism: Essential Reading List for Beginners


Amidst the majestic temples and mythical landscapes of Greece and the Italic peninsula, lies a world steeped in rich mythologies, powerful deities, and a profound connection to the cosmos. Greek and Roman paganism, ancient spiritual traditions, continue to captivate the imagination of modern seekers and scholars alike. If you are drawn to the enchanting tales of gods and heroes, the mysteries of ancient rituals, and the wisdom of the Hellenic worldview, then this article is your gateway to the world of Greco-Roman paganism.

Discovering the myths and epics

At the heart of Greco-Roman paganism stands a diverse and intricate pantheon of gods and goddesses, each possessing unique attributes and captivating narratives. From the wise and thunder-wielding Zeus (Jupiter), to the love goddess Aphrodite (Venus), and the mighty Poseidon (Neptune), the sea god – these divine figures embody human virtues, desires, and emotions, making them relatable and yet awe-inspiring. Embark on a journey into the realms of Mount Olympus, exploring the stories of these ancient deities and their interactions with mortals.

Greek and Roman mythology are a treasure trove of epic tales that have inspired art, literature, and philosophy for millennia. The exploits of heroes like Heracles, Perseus, and Odysseus are etched into the cultural fabric of the Western world. As you delve into these timeless narratives, you will encounter the quests for honor, the trials of love, and the triumphs of the human spirit against all odds. The myths are not just fantastical stories; they also offer valuable insights into the Greek and Roman understanding of the human condition and the nature of the universe.

Continuity and Influence of Greek Paganism

Though ancient Greek paganism has largely given way to other religious traditions, its influence remains palpable in art, literature, philosophy, and modern cultural expressions. Discover how the legacy of Greco-Roman paganism continues to shape our understanding of the world and ourselves, leaving an indelible mark on the collective consciousness of humanity.

A lot of the greatest literature of the West has a pagan theme, and the items listed in this reading-list are all widely acknowledged as literary masterpieces.

The Greco / Roman paganism reading list

As you embark on this journey into the realms of Greco-Roman paganism, let this essential reading list for beginners be your guiding light. The tales of gods and heroes, the mysteries of rituals, and the wisdom of ancient beliefs await you, inviting you to explore the timeless wonders of Greco-Roman paganism. A large part of the literature listed below, consists of primary sources. Many pagan branches of Europe lack these kind of primary sources, but for Greco-Roman paganism we luckily have an abundance of them. May the exploration of this reading list ignite your curiosity and open doors to the wisdom and captivating allure of this ancient spiritual tradition, enriching your understanding of the timeless mysteries as well as the bedrock of Western civilization.

On the Gods and the Cosmos

On the gods and the cosmos book cover

Sallustius (4th century CE) was a Neoplatonic philosopher and writer, and he is best known for his work “On the Gods and the Cosmos” or “On the Gods and the Universe.”

In this philosophical treatise, Sallustius expounds on the Neoplatonic worldview, drawing on the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and other Neoplatonists. He discusses the nature of the gods, their hierarchy, and their relationship with the cosmos and humanity. Sallustius explores the metaphysical principles that govern the universe, the divine intellect, and the concept of the One or the Good.

The work emphasizes the importance of spiritual ascent and the pursuit of knowledge to achieve unity with the divine. It provides valuable insights into the Neoplatonic understanding of the universe, offering a profound and mystical exploration of the nature of reality and the divine order.

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The Iliad

The Iliad book cover

“The Iliad” is an ancient Greek epic poem attributed to the legendary poet Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the poem unfolds over a period of several weeks and centers around the conflict between the Greek hero Achilles and the Trojan prince Hector. The story begins with a quarrel between Achilles and King Agamemnon, leading to Achilles’ withdrawal from battle and devastating consequences for the Greek army.

Through vivid and powerful storytelling, Homer weaves a tapestry of heroic feats, tragic deaths, and divine intervention, showcasing the intricacies of human emotions and the consequences of pride and vengeance. The poem explores themes of honor, glory, fate, and the complexities of war, while also offering insights into the divine world of the Olympian gods and goddesses, who play an active role in shaping the outcome of the conflict.

“The Iliad” remains a timeless masterpiece, celebrated for its rich characterization, poetic prowess, and profound exploration of the human condition.

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The Odyssey

The Odyssey book cover

“The Odyssey” is an ancient Greek epic poem attributed to the legendary poet Homer. It follows the adventures of Odysseus, the wily and heroic king of Ithaca, as he journeys home after the Trojan War. The story begins with Odysseus’ absence, and we witness the struggles of his wife Penelope and son Telemachus as they face the pressures of suitors vying for Penelope’s hand in marriage.

Throughout the poem, Odysseus encounters various mythical creatures, navigates treacherous waters, and faces divine intervention from the gods, including the sea nymph Calypso and the sorceress Circe. His long journey home is fraught with obstacles and trials, all while he yearns to reunite with his family and reclaim his kingdom.

“The Odyssey” is a timeless tale of adventure, bravery, and perseverance, exploring themes of homecoming, loyalty, and the enduring power of the human spirit. It remains a monumental work in world literature, celebrated for its poetic brilliance and profound insights into the complexities of human nature.

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Metamorphoses book cover

“Metamorphoses” is a masterpiece of Latin literature, comprising fifteen books of narrative poetry. It is a poetic retelling of over 250 mythological tales, spanning from the creation of the world to the deification of Julius Caesar. The poem explores themes of transformation, love, power, and the enduring impact of divine intervention on mortal lives.

Through captivating storytelling, Ovid weaves together the stories of gods, heroes, and mortal beings, showcasing the fluidity and interconnectedness of the universe. The transformations of characters into animals, plants, and celestial bodies serve as powerful metaphors, revealing profound insights into the human condition and the unpredictable nature of life.

“Metamorphoses” has been a source of inspiration for countless artists, writers, and thinkers throughout history, and its influence continues to resonate in modern culture. It remains a significant and enduring work, celebrating the richness of Greek and Roman mythology and the timeless allure of storytelling.

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The Homeric Hymns

The Homeric Hymns book cover

“The Homeric Hymns,” are a collection of thirty-three ancient Greek hymns attributed to Homer or the Homeric tradition.

“The Homeric Hymns” were composed between the 7th and 3rd centuries BCE and are dedicated to various gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, including Zeus, Demeter, Apollo, Hermes, and Aphrodite. Each hymn praises and celebrates the specific deity, recounting their origins, attributes, and significance in Greek religious beliefs.

These hymns provide valuable insights into ancient Greek religious practices, rituals, and the cultural importance of various deities. They offer a glimpse into the religious fervor and reverence of the ancient Greeks towards their gods and serve as a significant source for understanding Greek mythology and the religious life of the time.

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Theogony book cover

“Theogony” is an ancient Greek poem written by Hesiod, believed to have been composed in the 8th or 7th century BCE. The poem is a seminal work of Greek mythology, chronicling the origins of the cosmos and the genealogy of the gods.

In “Theogony,” Hesiod narrates the creation of the world, beginning with Chaos and the emergence of the first deities, such as Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (Underworld), and Eros (Love). He traces the succession of gods, including the Titans, Cyclopes, and Hecatoncheires, as well as the birth of the Olympian gods like Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon.

The poem also delves into the struggles for power and the epic battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods, resulting in Zeus’s establishment as the supreme ruler of the cosmos.

“Theogony” serves as a fundamental source for understanding ancient Greek cosmology and religious beliefs, providing valuable insights into the early development of Greek mythology and the divine order that governed the universe.

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The Aeneid

The Aeneid book cover

“The Aeneid” is an epic poem written by the Roman poet Virgil, completed in 19 BCE. It follows the journey of Aeneas, a Trojan prince, who escapes the ruins of Troy after the Trojan War and embarks on a perilous quest to found a new homeland in Italy. The poem traces Aeneas’s travels across the Mediterranean, where he faces numerous challenges and confronts both human and divine adversaries.

“The Aeneid” is not only a heroic tale of war and destiny but also a profound exploration of the themes of fate, duty, and the struggles of a leader torn between personal desires and the greater destiny of his people. Throughout the poem, Virgil weaves together elements of Roman history, mythology, and cultural values, celebrating the origins of Rome and promoting the virtues of piety, loyalty, and bravery.

As one of the greatest works of Western literature, “The Aeneid” has had a profound influence on subsequent literature, art, and politics, solidifying its place as a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with audiences to this day.

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Mythos book cover

“Mythos” by Stephen Fry is a captivating retelling of the timeless Greek myths, woven together with wit, humor, and deep appreciation for the enduring power of storytelling. In this engaging narrative, Fry introduces readers to the pantheon of Greek gods, goddesses, and legendary heroes, recounting their fascinating origins and heroic exploits.

From the creation of the universe by Chaos to the birth of the Titans, the rise of Zeus to the rule of Mount Olympus, and the iconic tales of heroes like Heracles and Perseus, Fry brings these ancient myths to life with vivid detail and modern sensibility.

With a masterful blend of historical accuracy and contemporary language, “Mythos” serves as an accessible and delightful entry point into the world of Greek mythology. Fry’s storytelling prowess allows readers to revel in the complexities of these captivating narratives and discover the timeless wisdom and eternal truths embedded within the rich tapestry of Greek myths.

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