Biography of Georges Dumézil (1898-1986)

Anthropologist, philologist and historian of religions and French mentalities, born in Paris in 1898 and died in the same city in 1986.

Belonging to a family that, since childhood, encouraged cultural and scientific concerns, was interested very early in the study of classical Greek and Sanskrit. After studying at the École Normale Supérieure, he obtained a teacher at the Lycée de Beauvais square. In 1924 he published two works that testify to his early interests our and his conviction that there was an Indo-European cultural community since very ancient times: Le festin d'inmortalite: étude de mythologie comparée indo-européene (the feast of immortality: study of Indo-European comparative mythology) and Le crime des Lemniennes: rites et légendes du monde (the crime of the lemnios egeen(: rites and legends of the Aegean world). At that time he devoted himself to learning various Indo-European languages, Sanskrit and several Asian languages up to the old Norwegian. In fact, Dumézil method was always based on the linguistic comparatism, which was the main route to trace the texts and made culture a common prototype. In 1929, with Le problème des Centaures (the problem of the Centaurs), opened in an effective way the comparative study of religions of the Indo-European peoples. Between 1925 and 1931 was Professor of history of religions at the University of Istanbul (Turkey), and between 1931 and 1933 in Uppsala (Sweden). In 1933 he met the sinologist Marcel Granet, which further stimulated his interest in Asian cultures, myths and religions. Ouranos-Varuna (Ouranos-Varuna) (1934) in it delved into issues of the hypothetical existence and influence of deep mental structures and mechanisms and so-called genetic relationships to explain counterparts lifestyle behaviors in various Indo-European peoples. Already by then, which showed less interest in the action of mutual influences by evidence that Indo-European peoples have a common cultural marker inscribed in the respective languages of the common trunk to which all belonged.

In 1935 was founded for him a professorship of comparative mythology in section V of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and in 1948 he held the Chair of Indo-European civilization of the College de France. It would also be several seasons of teaching at various universities in the United States.

Throughout his whole oeuvre, Georges Dumézil tried to show that there was a fully organized Indo-European civilization before their dispersion, and that such a society is organized on the basis of ideology and tripartite social structuring. According to him, all beliefs and religious and social functions were organized around a sovereign or spiritual function (whose references divine would be Zeus, Jupiter, Mitra or Odin), reserved to the priest, the soberano-mago or the sacred sovereign; the second function would be the Warrior or violent, responsible for the order and enemy of the disorder, which would have as referents sacred to Mars, Indra or Tyr; and the third function would be the productive or nourishing, based on agricultural and livestock, artisanal and commercial tasks whose concerning sacred would be Quirino, Nasatya, Njörðr, etc.

Dumézil, this triad had reflected in the social domain (division into orders, classes or castes), political organization and, above all, the various pantheons of Indo-European peoples. He conditioned a sort of hierarchy within the cosmos (aire-sol - sky, water and Earth), it made it possible to better understand certain confusing mythologies, and had a predominantly synchronic dimension, although it could also be seen from the diachronic point of view.

Dumézil works devoted to the study of the tripartite ideology, include Flamen-Brahman (1935), Mitra-Varuna: Essai sur deux représentations indo-européenes the souveraineté (Mitra-Varuna: essay on two Indo-European representations of sovereignty) (1940), Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus: Essai sur the conception indo-Européenne de la société et sur origines les de Rome (Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus: essay on the Indo-European conception of society and the origins of Rome) (1941)Mythes romains (Roman myths) (1942-1947), Naissance d'archanges (the birth of the archangels) (1945), explanation of textes indiens et Latinas (explanation of Indian and Latin texts) (1948), L' Héritage indo-Européen à Rome (the Indo-European heritage in Rome) (1949), the saga of Hadingus: Du mythe au roman (Hadingo saga: from myth to the novel (1953), L' idéologie tripartite des Indo-Européens (the tripartite ideology of the Indo-Europeans) (1958))La religion romaine archaique (archaic Roman religion) (1966), the three monumental volumes of Mythe et épopée (myth and epic) (1968-1973), and Apollon sonore et autres essais: esquisses de mythologie (1982). As he himself explained in the preface of Les dieux sourverains indo-Européens (the Indo-European sovereign gods) (1977), wanted to build "a sort of course of trifunctional theology, illustrated with myths and rituals, in order to show how the comparison makes it possible to trace back to a prehistoric common prototype".


Riviere, j.-C., dir., Georges Dumézil. A la découverte des Indoeuropeens (Paris, 1979).