Georges (Edmond Raoul) Dumezil

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Date: Nov. 5, 2003
Document Type: Biography
Length: 1,897 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1230L

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About this Person
Born: March 04, 1898 in Paris, France
Died: October 11, 1986 in Paris, France
Nationality: French
Occupation: Scholar
Other Names: Dumezil, Georges Edmond Raoul
Updated:Nov. 5, 2003
 
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Family: Born March 4, 1898, in Paris, France; died October 11, 1986, in Paris, France; son of Jean Anatole (a general in the French army) and Marguerite (Dutier) Dumezil; married Madeleine Legrand, 1925; children: Anne Perrine, Claude. Education: Attended College de Neufchateau, Paris, Lycee de Troyes, Paris, Lycee Louis-le-Grand, Paris, and Lycee de Tarbes; Ecole Normale Superieure, Agrege des Lettres, Docteur es lettres, 1920.

 
CAREER:

Lycee de Beauvais, teacher, 1920; University of Warsaw, lecturer, 1920-21; University of Istanbul, professor of the history of religions, 1925-31; University of Uspalla, lecturer in French, 1931-33; Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, department of comparative religion, director of studies, 1935-68; College de France, chair of Indo-European civilization, 1949-68. Military service: World War I, artillery officer; awarded Croix de guerre, Officer of the Legion of Honor.

 
AWARDS:

Honorary professor, College de France, 1969; member, L'Institut, Academie des inscriptions de belles-lettres, 1970; Prix Paul Valery, for Mythe et epopee, 1974; member, Academie Francaise, 1975; associate member, l'Academie Royale de Belgique; corresponding member, Academie Autrichienne des Sciences; honorary member, Royal Irish Academy; honorary fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland; honorary doctorate, universities of Uppsala, Istanbul, Berne, and Liege.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:

  • Le crime des Lemniennes: rites et legendes du monde egeen, Geuthner (Paris), 1924.
  • Le festin d'immortalite: Etude de mythologie comparee indo-europenne, Volume 34, Annales du MuseeGuimet, Bibliotheque d'etudes, Geuthner (Paris), 1924.
  • Le probleme des Centaures: Etude de mythologie comparee indo-europenne, Volume 41, Annales du MuseeGuimet, Bibliotheque d'etudes, Geuthner (Paris), 1929.
  • Legendes sur les Nartes, Champion (Paris), 1930.
  • La langue des Oubykhs, Champion (Paris), 1931.
  • Etudes comparatives sur les langues caucasiennes du nord-ouest, Adrien-Maisonneuve (Paris), 1932.
  • Introduction a la grammaire comparee des langues caucasiennes du nord, Champion (Paris), 1933.
  • Recherches comparatives sur le verbe caucasien, 1933.
  • Ouranos-Varuna: Etude de mythologie comparee indo-europenne, Adrien-Maisonneuve (Paris), 1934.
  • Flamen-Brahman, Volume 51, Annales du Musee Guimet, Bibliotheque de vulgarisation, Geuthner (Paris), 1935.
  • Contes lazes, Institut d'ethnologie (Paris), 1937.
  • Mythes et dieux des Germains: Esai d'interpretation comparative, Leroux (Paris), 1939.
  • Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus: Essai sur la conception indo-europennes de la societe et sur les origines de Rome, Gallimard (Paris), 1941.
  • Horace et les Curiaces, Gallimard (Paris), 1942.
  • Servius et la fortune, Gallimard (Paris), 1943.
  • Naissance de Rome: Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus II, Gallimard (Paris), 1944.
  • Naissance d'archanges, Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus III: Essai sur la formation de la theologie zoroastrienne, Gallimard (Paris), 1945.
  • Tarpeia, Gallimard (Paris), 1947.
  • Loki, G. P. Maisonneuve (Paris), 1948.
  • Mitra-Varuna: Essai sur deux representations indo-europennes de la souverainete, Gallimard (Paris), 1948, translation by Derek Coltman published as Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty, Zone Books (New York, NY), 1988.
  • L'heritage indo-europenne a Rome, Gallimard (Paris), 1949.
  • Le troiseme souverain: Essai sur le dieu indo-iranien Aryaman et sur la formation de l'histoire mythique d'Irlande, G. P. Maisonneuve, 1949.
  • Les dieux des Indo-Europennes, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris), 1952.
  • Rituels indo-europennes a Rome, Klincksieck (Paris), 1954.
  • Aspects de la fonction guerriere chez les Indo-Europennes, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris), 1956.
  • Deesses latines et mythes vediques, Collection Latomus (Brussels), 1956.
  • (Editor and translator) Contes et legendes des Oubykhs, Institut d'ethnologie (Paris), 1957.
  • L'ideologie tripartie des Indo-Europennes, Collection Latomus, 1958.
  • Etudes oubykhs, A. Maisonneuve, 1959.
  • Notes sur le parler d'un Armenien musulman de Hemsin, Palais des Academies (Brussels), 1964.
  • (Editor and translator) Le livre des heros, Gallimard (Paris), 1965.
  • Les dieux des Germains: Essai sur la formation de la religion scandinave, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris), 1959, translation published in Mythe et epopee, three volumes, Gallimard (Paris), 1968-73.
  • Documents anatoliens sur les langues et les traditions du Caucase, A. Maisonneuve, 1960.
  • La religion romaine archaique, Payot (Paris), 1966, translation by Philip Krapp published as Archaic Roman Religion, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1970.
  • The Destiny of the Warrior, translation by Alf Hiltebeitel, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1970.
  • Du myth au roman: La saga de Hadingus, Press universitaires de France (Paris), 1970, translation by Derek Coltman published as From Myth to Fiction: The Saga of Hadingus, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1973.
  • Heur et malheur de guerrier, second edition, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris), 1970.
  • Gods of the Ancient Northmen, University of California Press (Berkeley), 1973.
  • The Destiny of a King, translation by Alf Hiltebeitel, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1974.
  • Fetes romaines d'ete et d'automne suivi de Dix questions romaines, Gallimard (Paris), 1975.
  • Les dieux souverains des indo-europennes, Gallimard (Paris), 1977.
  • Romans de Scythie et d'alentour, Payot (Paris), 1978.
  • Discours, Institut de France (Paris), 1979.
  • Mariages indo-europennes, suivi de Quinze questions romaines, Payot (Paris), 1979.
  • Camillus: A Study of Indo-European Religion as Roman History, translation by Annette Aronowicz and Josette Bryson, University of California Press (Berkeley), 1980.
  • Pour un Temps, Pandora Editions (Paris), 1981.
  • La courtisane et les seigneurs colores, et autres essais, Gallimard (Paris), 1983.
  • The Stakes of the Warrior, University of California Press (Berkeley), 1983.
  • L'Oubli de l'homme et l'honneur des dieux, Gallimard (Paris), 1986.
  • The Plight of a Sorceror, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1986.
  • Apollon sonore et autres essais: vingt-cinq esquisses de mythologie, Gallimard (Paris), 1987.
  • Entretiens avec Didier Eribon, Gallimard (Paris), 1987.
  • Le Roman des jumeaux et autres essais: vingt-cinq esquisses de mythologie, Gallimard (Paris), 1994.
  • Archaic Roman Religion: With an Appendix on the Religion of the Etruscans, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1996.
  • The Riddle of Nostradamus: A Critical Dialogue, translated by Betsy Wing, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1999.

 

Sidelights

In creating what has become known as "the new comparative mythology," Georges Dumezil revived interest in two areas of intellectual discourse. Bruce Lincoln explained in the Times Literary Supplement, "More than any other individual, he has helped to rescue two important fields of study from the discredit into which they had fallen: comparative mythology, which had become a laughing stock towards the end of the nineteenth century, and Indo-European studies, which were deeply tainted by Nazi racism." His contribution to comparative mythology was his "tripartite ideology," a structure on which he suggested all Indo-European societies were based. Dumezil wrote extensively on this thesis, as well as on myth, religion, philosophy, and languages. Fluent in some forty languages, Dumezil specialized in those of the Caucasus and knew several languages that were virtually extinct. Despite being generally acknowledged as a versatile scholar and the foremost authority in his field, Dumezil's achievements have been the subject of some controversy. His own affiliation with French Fascists and his possibly arbitrary use of data have been questioned.

Born in 1898 in Paris, Dumezil came from a well-educated family. His father was an intellectual and a general in the French army. Dumezil himself began studying at the Ecole Normale Superieure in 1916 but left to serve as an artillery officer in World War I. Having been awarded the Croix de Guerre, he returned to his studies in 1919. Dumezil graduated the next year and took a job as lecturer at the University of Warsaw. His thesis on comparative religion was published in 1924, when he received his doctorate from the University of Paris. In 1925 Dumezil was awarded the newly created chair of the history of religions department at the University of Istanbul, where he studied Caucasian languages and spent some of the happiest years of his life. In 1931, however, Dumezil left Istanbul to lecture in French at Sweden's University of Uppsalla, and two years later he became the head of the department of comparative religion at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris; in 1949 he also became the chair of the Indo-European civilization department at the College de France.

Dumezil's work on "the new comparative mythology" was begun in the 1930s, solidified in the 1940s, and further refined at the end of his career. Pertaining to the ancient Indo-Europeans, it encompassed the religious beliefs and mythical tales of Indo-Iranians, Scandinavians, Celts, and Romans. Dumezil theorized that activity within these societies was organized into three areas or functions, in order of importance: religious sovereignty, military strength, and fertility. He found that the myths of these various peoples illustrated these three functions and their hierarchy, and that Roman religion and history did as well. And in his early works, Dumezil argued that Indo-European society was also organized into three corresponding classes: priests and rulers, warriors, and producers. He later modified this conclusion; as Richard Gombrich summarized in the Times Literary Supplement: "Since about 1950 [Dumezil] has maintained only that those peoples thought on these lines, that their myths have been cast in the mould of what he calls the `tripartite ideology'. His comparative method, he says, can reveal concepts, but cannot reconstitute facts."

In developing his theories, Dumezil's influences included Emile Durkheim--who linked belief systems to social fact--his teacher linguist Antoine Meillet, and Chinese specialist Michel Granet. Dumezil's ideas differ from those of structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in that he does not assert that they can be applied universally, but rather only to Indo-European cultures. Much of Dumezil's seminal work on "the new comparative mythology" was published from 1938 to 1948, but he continued to refine his ideas into the 1980s. In a 1978 Times Literary Supplement review of Les deux souverains des Indo-Europeens Richard Gombrich characterized the professor's work: "In finely organized and lucidly written books he draws our attention to innumerable points of interest and challenges us to think." Gombrich further praised Dumezil's work as having both substance and a self-critical approach, saying, "He is prepared to put forward theories and to see them refuted. His Note finale is admirably modest; typically, its last page lists the book's weak points, not its strengths, and ends with question marks." Among Dumezil's last publications were "mythological sketches" which were, according to Bruce Lincoln in the Times Literary Supplement, "best considered as virtuoso exercises: brief, dazzling displays of technical mastery and insight. Some . . . treat rich and complex narratives, laying bare their structure, ideology, and relation to other materials. Others . . . treat a seemingly minuscule or obscure bit of data in which is revealed a world of meaning."

Some scholars, however, have found great fault with Dumezil's style of comparative mythology, suggesting that he has created an artificial system by addressing only the mythological and historical evidence that supports his thesis. His functions have been criticized as vague, and because the activities are common to most societies, some believe they do not support the idea of a distinctly Indo-European functional mythology. Other critics still question Dumezil's philosophical and political leanings. Although he tried to disassociate himself from friends who were involved in extreme right-wing politics during the 1930s and 1940s, Dumezil never explicitly denounced fascist ideology but rather avoided comment. In 1986 Bruce Lincoln noted in the Times Literary Supplement "for one who values memory so highly, Dumezil is peculiarly amnesiac concerning these matters."

Despite such controversy, Dumezil was much recognized for his work abroad and in France, where he was elected to the Academie francaise, the prestigious French literary society whose members are dubbed "immortals." His popularity in the United States was great during the last twenty-five years of his life, having been sparked by the publication of C. Scott Littleton's The New Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of the Theories of G. Dumezil in 1966. Many of the English translations of Dumezil's writings were completed following this study. Working into his late eighties, Dumezil wrote some seventy books before he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age eighty-eight in 1986.

FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BOOKS

  • Annual Obituary, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1986.
  • Belier, Wouter W., Decayed Gods: Origin and Development of Georges Dumezil's "Ideologie Tripartie," E. J. Brill (New York, NY), 1991.
  • Coutau-Begarie, Herve, L'oeuvre de Georges Dumezil: Catalogue Raisonne, Economica (Paris), 1998.
  • International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Volume 18, Biographical Supplement, Free Press, 1979.
  • Littleton, C. Scott, The New Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of the Theories of Georges Dumezil, third edition, University of California Press (Berkeley), 1982.

PERIODICALS

  • International Herald Tribune, October 11, 1986.
  • Times (London), October 16, 1986.
  • Times Literary Supplement, February 3, 1978, p. 144; October 3, 1986, pp. 1107-1108.*

 

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000027349