The Cults of the Greek States

The Cults of the Greek States is a series of works by Lewis Richard Farnell, D. Litt., first published between 1896 and 1909, in five volumes (at the outset Farnell had only planned for there to be three), at the Clarendon Press, Oxford. The works were groundbreaking because it was the first time that any scholar, let alone an Oxford scholar, had attempted to disentangle the history of Greek religion from that of Greek mythology. There was need for the two to be separated since Greek mythology had at the time, in literary circles at any rate, a reputation of being a "bizarre and hopeless thing".[1]

The work, as Farnell freely states in his preface, is indebted to Frazer's The Golden Bough, which generated a whole new way of method of studying and analysing religion, i. e. comparatively and abstractly. The author states in his preface to the work that, "a compendious account of Greek cults [...] has long been a desideratum in English,"[2] and as such Farnell wrote The Cults of the Greek States to sate that desire. Farnell, however, ensured that his work was thoroughly modern for its time. His work did not draw the criticism that Frazer's did since Farnell made no bold comparisons to Christianity but the comparisons he brought to bear within the sole context of Greek culture were no less radical.

The five volumes, as they stand, are in a sense incomplete since they lack "an account of the cults of the dead and the worship of heroes".[3] Nonetheless, Farnell's magnum opus continues to be used as an aid in the study of ancient Greek religion.


The list below serves to provide an idea of the scope and magnitude of this work. The first volume has twelve chapters focussing on the beginnings of cult in Greece and the cults of Cronos, Zeus, Hera and Athena. The second volume focusses on Artemis, Hecate, Eileithyia and Aphrodite. The third volume focusses on Demeter, Kore-Persephone, and Hades/Plouton, followed by the fourth volume, which focusses on Poseidon and Apollo. The fifth, and final, volume focusses on Hermes, Dionysus, Hestia, Hephaestus, Ares and minor cults.


  1. Vol. 1, Preface, p. vii.
  2. Vol. 1, Preface, p. vii.
  3. The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Oct., 1910), pp. 282-285.



Farnell, Lewis Richard. The Cults of the Greek States, vol. 1 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1896).


Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough (Oxford University Press, 1994).

Berriedale, Keith A. The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Oct., 1910), pp. 282–285. (Cambridge University Press, on behalf of the Classical Association, 1910.)

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