Georges Dumézil

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Georges Dumézil

Georges Dumézil (French: [ʒɔʁʒ dymezil]; 4 March 1898 – 11 October 1986, Paris) was a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society. He is considered one of the major contributors to mythography, in particular for his formulation of the trifunctional hypothesis of social class in ancient societies.

Quotes about Dumézil[edit]

  • Georges Dumézil (1898-1986) is among the few historians of religion whose theories have found a wider audience outside the discipline, and even outside the academy. For half a century—from the 1930s up until his death—Dumézil was one of the foremost humanists in France, a status which was confirmed at the Panthéon in 1979 when he was welcomed into the Académie Française by Gaude Lévi-Strauss as one of the “Forty Immortals.“1 The scholarly work that had led Dumézil to this position was based on a wide-ranging hypothesis that all peoples who spoke Indo-European, or, as they were sometimes called even as late as the i960s, "Aryan“ languages had also inherited a common ideology. In the course of his historical and philological research, Dumézil had found traces of this ideology in Roman texts, Greek myths, Indian hymns, and Old Norse saga literature. The ideology was characterized by a special three-part structure that organized distinct cultural fields. This structure above all guided the pantheon and the social order, but also such things as the classification of various kinds of heroic types, punishments, and taxes. At the highest level in this “Indo-European" tripartite structure was the "function“ of the sovereign holders of power—the priests, lawmakers, and kings; below it, that of the war­ riors; and at the bottom, the function of the people, or producers.
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • The debate about Dumézil is still far from resolved.4 At its core is the question of whether it was only the Nazis who used the historical writing about "Aryans," "Indo-Europeans," or, as the Germans say, “Indo-Germans” for po­ litical aims. Did Dumézil, and perhaps other researchers who were active during the 1930s and 1940s, do so as well? If that is the case, what does this entail for the postwar scholarship, which has largely followed the guiding principles of Dumézil? On a more general level, the debate is about whether there is something in the nature of research about Indo-Europeans that makes it especially prone to ideological abuse—perhaps something related to the fact that for the past two centuries, the majority of the scholars who have done research on the Indo-Europeans have considered themselves descendants of this mythical race.(3)
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • "During the postwar (post 1945 CE) period, these two theories (Father Wilhelm Schmidt and Father Wilhelm Kopper's theory of primal cultures, and Georges Dumezil's theory of Indo-European mythology) have completely dominated research about Indo0-European religion and culture—in spite of the fact that they arose in an ideological atmosphere that did not differ much from the Nazi one (Arvidsson 2006, p. 239, parentheses added)."
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Lincoln argues that Dumézil was, on the contrary, deeply anchored in a Germanophobie French Fascism.2
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Through Eribon’s defense, it has nevertheless been shown that Dumézil really did support the French Fascist organization Action française during the 1930s, and that he wrote articles, under a pseudonym, in which he praised Mussolini.3
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • The debate about Dumézil is still far from resolved.4 At its core is the ques­tion of whether it was only the Nazis who used the historical writing about "Aryans," "Indo-Europeans," or, as the Germans say, “Indo-Germans” for po­litical aims. Did Dumézil, and perhaps other researchers who were active during the 1930s and 1940s, do so as well? If that is the case, what does this entail for the postwar scholarship, which has largely followed the guiding principles of Dumézil? 3
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • It was during the 1920s and 1930s that Georges Dumézil supported Action française and wrote for its journals.2 It was also during this period that he began to develop his own theories about Indo-European mythology. Is it possible that Dumézil used the ancient Indo-Europeans in the same way that the Nazi scholars did (albeit with an entirely different level of scientific accuracy and methodological acuteness)—to give historical legitimacy to a Fascist movement? Did Action française perhaps receive a mythology of origin, a narrative that ascribes such a fundamental meaning to certain ideas and norms that they seem natural and eternal, through the work of Georges Dumézil? 240-1
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • In other cases, this suspicion is quite misplaced, e.g. in the case of Georges Dumézil, actually a critic of Nazism, cautious in public but quite outspoken in his minor writings and private communications. It is true that Dumézil sympathized with Italian Fascism, but Fascism stricto sensu contrasted with Nazism in very important respects, esp. in not being racist (the Communist-imposed usage of “fascism” as a generic term or as a synonym of National-Socialism, resulting from Stalin’s desire to avoid staining the term “socialism” with Hitlerian associations, obscures the contrast between the two systems). It has been shown that Dumézil’s sympathy for Fascism and contempt for Nazism may have influenced his views of ancient Germanic religion, which he contrasted unfavourably with ancient Roman religion. In Dumézil’s studies ca. 1940, Germanic religion is criticized as a defective evolute of IE religion, having lost the spiritual and overemphasized the martial function: this was at least partly a projection onto the past of the militarization of Germany in Dumézil’s own day.
  • Dumezil was an entirely different sort of person from Pearson, Haudry, and de Benoist, infinitely more intelligent, decent, and much, much less crude. To the best of my knowledge, he had no dealings with Pearson, and over the years he maintained a cautiously ambiguous relation with the two others, both of whom courted him avidly .
    • Lincoln, Bruce (1999), Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 123

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