Walter Burkert was born in Neuendettelsau, Bavaria, on 2 February 1931. He was educated in philology, history and philosophy at the University of Erlangen and the University of Munich, and obtained his PhD from Erlangen in 1955. He served there as an assistant teacher from 1957 to 1961, and as a lecturer from 1961 to 1965. He spent a year as a junior fellow of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC, before becoming a professor of classical philology at the Technical University of Berlin in 1966. In 1969 he became professor of classical philology at the University of Zurich, where he remained until his retirement in 1996. He gave the 1989 Gifford Lectures at the University of St Andrews.
Burkert’s English-language publications include: Homo necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (1972, trans. 1983); Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual (1979); Greek Religion (1985); Ancient Mystery Cults (1987); The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (1992); Savage Energies: Lessons of Myth and Ritual in Ancient Greece (2001); Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis: Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture (2004).