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Dumézil, George

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56228.  Wed Mar 01, 2006 2:10 am Reply with quote

A French philologist who suggested that the Indo-European cultures have a commonality expressed in myth and language that indicates an ancient inter-relation and communication between geographically distant societies.

philology (aka Historical Linguistics)

1. Literary study or classical scholarship.
2. The study of linguistic change over time in language or in a particular language or language family, sometimes including the reconstruction of unattested forms of earlier stages of a language.

Of particular note is his trifunctional hypothesis - proposing the division of society into divine, martial and agricultural (economic) realms.

Some web articles comment on Dumezil's view of the inter-relatedness/similarity of ancient pantheons or elements thereof.

According to Georges Dumézil, Loki shows a great resemblance with Syrdon, a demonic creature from Caucasian legends.

Foucault found this understanding reinforced in the structuralist linguistics and psychology developed, respectively, by Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Lacan, as well as in Georges Dumézil's proto-structuralist work on comparative religion.

The assumed tripartite structure of the Indo-European society and religion was specified by Dumézil through a distinction of two aspects of the first function, which should represent the binding, punishing, disquieting and the reliable, animical, benevolent implication of rulership and sovereignty. This position is held in the Vedic pantheon by Varuna and in the Eddic mythology by Odin.

The genetic model, where one posits a derivation from a common ancestor in order to interpret developments in the languages, religions, or other aspects of cultures of related peoples, has been used in Indo-European studies since the inception of the field. The application of this model is evident in both the work of Georges Dumézil and his critic Bruce Lincoln. The difference in their respective methods of application of the model begins to explain a basic element of their disagreement. By tempering the methods of application employed by Lincoln and Dumézil, a resolution of the disagreement is possible. An example of this tempered method of application is provided: myths concerning the movements of the soul to a particular cosmological structure described in Plato's Phaedrus are compared with those recounted about a similar structure in Vedic hymns.

56363.  Wed Mar 01, 2006 1:07 pm Reply with quote

Ah, Georges Dumézil.

The trifunctional hypothesis is controversial, having some strengths and some weaknesses.

The main strength is that it fits tolerably well to Classical European societies. His extension of it to all Indo-European cultures, but not to non Indo-European cultures, is less convincing.

For instance, in the case of Classical India, Dumézil identified the three parts of the structure as the Brahmin (priest class), the Kshatriya (military class) and everyone else. This is artificial for two reasons: first, not all Brahmin are priests and second, Hindu society in fact recognises five castes, so the lumping together of three of them into the "everyone else" category is clearly done just to suit his purpose. [OK, technically there are four castes - Hindu society considers the Dalit (aka Untouchables) as outside the caste system.]

In Norse society, the Gods were divided into two types, the Ćsir and the Vanir. The Ćsir were in charge of power and war, while the Vanir - seen as lesser deities - were in charge of agriculture. It would be artificial to split the Ćsir into two just to make the society fall into three parts.

If the tripartite hypothesis was only meant to be a typology for academic study, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But for Dumézil to assert, as he did, that societies deliberately structured themselves in this way, is difficult for me to accept.

Dumézil's linguistic work is more mainstream, for instance the identification of commonalities between Greek and Sanskrit which got him his doctorate. But even then, there was some suspicion that he changed some of the facts to fit his theory. Even so, his belief that there once existed a single "Proto Indo European" language is generally accepted, and has come up on this board before.

Just finally, don't set too much on the fact that Foucault agreed with Dumézil. Foucault was both Communist and homosexual, and as a result no French university would hire him. Since Dumézil got him a job (at the University of Uppsala in Sweden), you'd hardly expect him to come out in disagreement!

56456.  Thu Mar 02, 2006 1:54 am Reply with quote

Thanks suze.

Dumézil was first brought to my attention on another site when I posted on parallels in ancient religions, with particular reference to sun deities in that instance.

That this similarity extends beyond the Indo-European is something I postulated independently as a result of my brief study. A sort of archetypal sun deity exists with features common not only in Indo-European versions but also in North and South American ones. Whether this is the result of a common cultural root, communication or an inherent function of the human mind is another question but the similarities do exist. I should say that there are exceptions, the Japanese sun deity for example is atypical in many respects, this leads me to believe that the shared perceptions are not 'encoded' by the psyche and that there is therefore no archetypal sun deity in the strictly Jungian sense, that is of course just my opinion.

The trifunctional hypothesis is a neat theory, a catch all for fuedal-type systems (used eg in Babylon 5 for the Minbari) but it has the major drawback of not being an accurate representation of any actual system. I have a certain sympathy with it as a template on which a real system may be formed, the 'everyone else' category changes with the development of society and the formation of specialist roles eg potter, wheel maker, tailor etc which are in themselves a form of compartmentalisation. The medieval guild systems are an indication of likely societal developments, as are trades unions. Interesting stuff, with any luck there's someone out there who has some formal knowledge in this area and can tell me more than I can guess at for myself.


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