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If you're interested in the history, philosophy and ideas behind The Orpheus Descent, these are the books I used to research it. If you want to read Plato in his own words, which I highly recommend, the most accessible dialogue is probably The Symposium, in the excellent Penguin Classics translation by Christopher Gill. To get a feel for the sights, sounds and politics of Athens around Plato's time, Bettany Hughes' The Hemlock Cup is wonderfully evocative and readable.


Five Key Books

Understanding Plato – David Melling

Pythagoras: His Lives and the Legacy of a Rational Universe – Kitty Ferguson

Orpheus: The Song of Life – Ann Wroe

Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic – Peter Kingsley

Instructions for the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets – Alberto Bernabé and Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal


Ancient Sources

Plato, Complete Works – ed. John M Cooper

Plato, Republic – tr. Desmond Lee (PC)

Plato, Symposium – tr. Christopher Gill (PC)

Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates – tr. Hugh Tredennick and Robin Waterfield (PC)

The First Philosopers: The Presocratics and the Sophists – tr. Robin Waterfield

Euripides, The Bacchae – tr. John Davie (PC)

Homer, The Iliad – tr. Robert Fagles (PC)

Homer, The Odyssey – tr. Robert Fitzgerald

Pindar, The Odes – tr. C M Bowra (PC)

Herodotus, The History – tr. David Grene

The Landmark Thucydides – ed. Robert B Strassler

Theophrastus, Characters – tr. R C Jebb

Diogenes Laertius, The Lives of the Eminent Philosophers – tr. R D Hicks

(PC = Penguin Classics)



The Cambridge Companion to Plato – ed. Richard Kraut

A Companion to Plato – ed. Hugh Benson

Plato: The Man and his Work – A E Taylor

Interpreting Plato: Dialogues as Drama – James A Arieti

The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics – Debra Nails

The Name of Plato – James A Notopoulos in Classical Philosophy Vol. 34 (1939)

Agora, Academy and the Conduct of Philosophy – Debra Nails

Platonica: The Anecdotes Concerning the Life and Writings of Plato – Alice Swift Riginos


Pre-Platonic Philosophy

Reality – Peter Kingsley

The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life – Bettany Hughes

Socrates: Man and Myth – Anton Hermann Chroust

Archytos of Tarentum: Pythagorean, Philosopher and Mathematician King – Carl A Huffman

Philolaus of Croton: Pythagorean and Presocratic – Carl A Huffman

Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans: A Brief History – Charles H Kahn

Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism – Walter Burkert

To Think Like God: Pythagoras and Parmenides, the Origins of Philosophy – Arnold Hermann

Reason’s Dark Champions – Christopher W Tindale


Greek Religion and Mystery Cults

The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secrets of the Mysteries – R Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofman and Carl Ruck

The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi – William J Broad

Mystery Cults in the Ancient World – Hugh Bowden

The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook – ed. Marvin Meyer

The Earth, the Temple and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture – Vincent Scully

Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion – Robert Parker

The Greeks and the Irrational – E R Dodds

Orpheus and the Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement – W K C Guthrie

The Orphic Poems – M L West

Les Lamelles D’Or Orphiques – Pugliese Carratelli tr. (to French) Segondas

Myths of the Underworld Journey: Plato, Aristophanes and the ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets – Radcliffe G Edmonds III

In the Footsteps of Orpheus – Robert F Paget


The Ancient Greek World

Ancient Athens on Five Drachmas a Day – Philip Matyszak

Ancient Greece: A Handbook – Lesley Adkins and Roy A Adkins

The Ancient City – Peter Connolly and Hazel Dodge

A Day in the Life of Ancient Athens – Hilary J Deighton

Political and Social Life in the Great Age of Athens – ed. John Ferguson and Kitty Chisholm

Courtesans and Fishcakes – James Davidson

Country Life in Classical Times – ed. K D White

Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World – Lionel Casson

Dionysius I: War-Lord of Sicily – Brian Caven

The Life of Dion – Plutarch

A History of Sicily: Ancient Sicily – M I Finley

A History of Sicily from the Earliest Times – Edward A Freeman

The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily – Luca Cerchiai et al.


Modern Aspects

Process and Reality – Alfred North Whitehead

The Fabric of Reality – David Deutsch

Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid – Douglas R Hofstadter

Ancient Helike and Aigialeia: Proceedings of the Second International Conference – ed. Dora Katsonopoulou et al.

Altered State: The Story of Ecstacy Culture and Acid House – Matthew Collin