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.

Georges Dumézil
George Dumezil.jpg
Georges Dumézil
Born(1898-03-04)4 March 1898
Died11 October 1986(1986-10-11) (aged 88)
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
InstitutionsÉcole pratique des hautes études, Collège de France
Main interests
Proto-Indo-European mythology Proto-Indo-European society
Notable ideas
trifunctional hypothesis


Book signed by Georges Dumézil and offered to Maurice Halbwachs.
Maurice Halbwachs Collection of Human and Social Sciences Library Paris Descartes-CNRS

Dumézil's father was a classicist and Georges became interested in ancient languages at a young age (it has been said that he could read the Aeneid in Latin at the age of nine) and, by the end of his life, he is said to have spoken many languages fluently. During his time in secondary school, he was also influenced by Michel Bréal, a leading French philologist who was the grandfather of one of his classmates. By the time that he entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1916, he was already on the road to studying linguistics and the classics.

Dumézil's studies were delayed by World War I, when he was drafted and served as an artillery officer. After the war, he resumed them and was particularly influenced by Antoine Meillet. He aggregated in 1919 in Classics and received his doctorate in 1924 after writing a thesis comparing the common origins of the Greek ambrosia and a similarly named Indian drink Amrita, which was said to make its imbiber immortal. The dissertation was controversial because some of the examiners, such as Henri Hubert, thought that Dumézil took liberty with the facts to generate a more beautiful interpretation (that was a common criticism of Dumézil's work).

Feeling that he had little place in the French academy, Dumézil moved to Turkey in 1925 to teach at the University of Istanbul, created as part of Kemal Atatürk's attempt to create a modern, secular nation. He learned Turkish and developed an interest in the Ubykh language and travelled widely in Russia, Turkey and the Caucasus. As a result, he became one of the premier experts of Caucasian languages to work in French. He compared the Etruscan language with the Caucasian languages. In 1931, he took another position, in Uppsala, Sweden, which allowed him to improve his skills in the Germanic stock of Indo-European.

In 1929, he published Flamen-Brahman, the first full statement of his trifunctional hypothesis; the idea was repeated in Mitra-Varuna, perhaps his most accessible work.

Dumézil's influence rose in the mid-1930s. In 1935 he left Uppsala to take up a chair of Comparative Religion of Indo-European Peoples at the prestigious École Pratique des Hautes Études. He was named a professor at the Collège de France in 1949, and was finally elected to the Académie française in 1978 thanks to the patronage of his colleague and fellow student of myth, Claude Lévi-Strauss. In 1984 he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.

Dumézil is also well known for mentoring many younger French scholars. Michel Foucault, for instance, benefitted from his patronage when Dumézil arranged for him to teach temporarily in Uppsala early on in his career. Georges Charachidzé, a historian and linguist of Georgian origin under Dumézil's tutelage, became a noted specialist of the Caucasian cultures and aided Dumézil in the reconstruction of the Ubykh language.[1]

Many themes of Dumézil's work have continued influence in ancient religious studies: his impulse to comparative study, and his basic insight that polytheistic gods must be studied not simply by themselves but in the pairs and the ensembles in which their worshippers grouped them.


Dumézil's politics are much more often criticised than his monolithic scholarly work. Bruce Lincoln has leveled accusations of fascism against Dumézil.[2] The scholars Arnaldo Momigliano,[3][4] Carlo Ginzburg,[5] and Lincoln[6] argue that Dumézil was in favor of a traditional hierarchical order in Europe (e.g. three estates), that his Indo-European dualism and tripartite ideology may be also related to Italian and French fascist ideas and that he was in favor of French fascism (e.g. integralism); none of them thought that he was a supporter of German Nazism.[7] Lincoln states:

"[T]hose on the New Right, like Alain de Benoist, Jean Haudry, or Roger Pearson, cite Dumézil's writings in support of their positions—their fondness for hierarchy and authority, for example, their antipathy toward egalitarianism and the ideals of the Enlightenment, or their triumphal view of ‘Indo-Europeans’ as superior to all other peoples—we may suspect them of appropriating nothing other than positions of the Old Right that have been brilliantly recoded and misrepresented first as ancient wisdom, and second as scholarly discourse."[8]

In the 1930s, Dumézil supported the far-right, royalist, anti-democratic and anti-German Action Française and held for a while Benito Mussolini in high regard,[9] while steadfastly opposing Nazism and voicing as a journalist his opposition to the growing danger posed by German nationalism.[10] However, Dumézil never joined Action Française, contending that "too many things separated [him] from them. The credo of the Action Française was a block: it forbade both appreciating Edmond Rostand and believing in the innocence of Captain Dreyfus."[11] Dumézil joined the Free Masonry in the early 1930s, as a member of the Portique lodge of the Grande Loge de France of the Scottish Rite and thus was summarily dismissed from his teaching positions and from the civil service by the Vichy State.[12]

Lincoln notes that Dumézil "maintained a cautiously ambiguous relation" with Nouvelle Droite figures like de Benoist and Haudry, "both of whom courted him avidly".[13] Among his "closest colleagues" were Otto Höfler (who was in the SS-Ahnenerbe), Jan de Vries (a Nazi collaborator) and Stig Wikander (who had an ambiguous relation to Nazism).[14] In response to a text written by Momigliano indicating that he might have been keen on Nazi ideology, Dumézil wrote "fascist and Nazi conceptions of a hierarchical society have never been part of my intuition nor of my conduct".[15]

Such criticism of Dumézil has been emphatically disputed by philosopher Didier Eribon in his 1992 book Faut-il brûler Dumézil ? Mythologie, science et politique [Should Dumézil Be Burned? Mythology, Science and Politics].[16] In a survey article on Dumézil's work, Dean A. Miller devoted two pages on the case and concluded that "at its worst, the effort tries to remove the importance of whole theoretical constructions on the basis of some adduced or invented political flaw found in the past, often the remote past, of their creator. This derogation is not simple-minded 'political correctness'. It is, [again] in my opinion, the blindest intellectual self-mutilation".[17]

In order to clarify the debate regarding his political opinion, Georges Dumézil has declared to Eribon in 1987: "the principle, not simply monarchical, but dynastic, which protects the highest office of the State from caprices and ambitions, seemed to me, and still seems to me, preferable to the generalized election in which we have been living since Danton and Bonaparte. The example of the [constitutional] monarchies of the North (of Europe) confirmed to me this feeling. Of course, the formula is not applicable in France."[11]

Works in EnglishEdit

  • Archaic Roman Religion. Trans. Philip Krapp. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
  • Camillus: A Study of Indo-European Religion as Roman History. Ed., Udo Strutynski, tr. Annette Aronowicz and Josette Bryson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980 [selections from Mythe et épopée III and Fêtes romaines d'été et d'automne]
  • The Destiny of a King. Trans. Alf Hiltebeitel. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1973 [Mythe et épopée II.3]
  • The Destiny of the Warrior. Trans. Alf Hiltebeitel. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1970
  • From Myth to Fiction: The Saga of Hadingus. Trans. Derek Coltman. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1973.
  • Gods of the Ancient Northmen. Ed. and Trans. Einar Haugen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. [English and French].
  • Mitra-Varuna (engl.). Transl. Derek Coltman. New York: Zone Books, 1988 ISBN 0-942299-12-4
  • The Stakes of the Warrior. Ed. Jaan Puhvel and David Weeks. Berkeley and Los Angeles, UC Press, 1983. [Mythe et épopée II.1]
  • The Plight of the Sorcerer. Trans. David Weeks. Berkeley and Los Angeles, UC Press, 1986. [Mythe et épopée II.2]
  • The Riddle of Nostradamus: A Critical Dialogue. The Johns Hopkins University Press (9 Mar. 1999)


  • Le Festin d'immortalité – Étude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne, 1924, published in Annales du Musée Guimet
  • Le Crime des Lemniennes – Rites et Légendes du monde égéen, 1924
  • Le Problème des Centaures – Étude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne , 1929, published in Annales du Musée Guimet
  • Ouranos-Varuna – Essai de mythologie comparée indo-européenne, 1932, éditions Maisonneuve
  • Légendes sur les Nartes, suivies de cinq notes mythologiques, 1930, Institut d'études slaves
  • Flamen-Brahman, 1935
  • Mythes et dieux des Germains – Essai d'interprétation comparative (1939), Presses Universitaires de France
  • Mitra-Varuna – Essai sur deux représentations indo-européennes de la Souveraineté, 1940, Presses universitaires de France
  • Jupiter Mars Quirinus, composed of :
    • Essai sur la conception indo-européenne de la société et sur les origines de Rome, 1941
    • Naissance de Rome, 1944
    • Naissance d'archanges-Essai sur la formation de la religion zoroastrienne, 1945
    • Explication de textes indiens et latins, 1948, Gallimard
  • Les Mythes romains, composé de quatre volumes :
    • Horace et les Curiaces, 1942
    • Servius Tullius|Servius et la Fortune – Essai sur la fonction sociale de louange et de blâme et sur les éléments indo-européens du cens romain, 1943
    • Tarpeia – Cinq essais de philologie comparée indo-européenne, 1947, éditions Gallimard
  • Loki, 1948, GP Maisonneuve
  • L'Héritage indo-européen à Rome, 1949, Gallimard
  • Le Troisième Souverain – Essai sur le dieu indo-iranien Aryaman et sur la formation de l'histoire mythique de l'Irlande , 1949, GP Maisonneuve
  • Les Dieux indo-européens, 1952, Presses Universitaires de France
  • Rituels indo-européens à Rome, 1954, Klincksieck
  • Déesses latines et mythes védiques , 1956, Latomus
  • Aspects de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-Européens, 1956
  • Contes et légendes des Oubykhs, 1957, Institut d'Ethnologie
  • Contes lazes, 1957, Institut d'Ethnologie
  • L'Idéologie tripartite des Indo-Européens, 1958, Latomus
  • Études oubykhs, 1959, publié aux éditions Maisonneuve
  • Les Dieux des Germains, essai sur la formation de la religion scandinave, 1959, Presses Universitaires de France
  • Documents anatoliens sur les langues et les traditions du Caucase , 1960–1967, Maisonneuve
  • Le Livre des héros, légendes ossètes sur les Nartes, 1965, Gallimard
  • La Religion romaine archaïque, avec un appendice sur la religion des Étrusques , 1966,Payot
  • Mythe et Épopée
    • L'Idéologie des trois fonctions dans les épopées des peuples indo-européens 1968
    • Types épiques indo-européens : un héros, un sorcier, un roi 1971
    • Histoires romaines, 1973, Gallimard
  • Idées romaines, 1969, Gallimard
  • Heur et Malheur du guerrier, aspects de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-Européens, 1969, Presses Universitaires de France
  • Du mythe au roman, la Saga de Hadingus et autres essais, 1970, Presses Universitaires de France
  • Fêtes romaines d'été et d'automne, suivi de Dix Questions romaines , 1975, Gallimard
  • Le Verbe oubykh, études descriptives et comparatives, 1975, Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres
  • Les Dieux souverains des Indo-Européens , 1977, Gallimard
  • Romans de Scythie et d'alentour , 1978, Payot
  • Mariages indo-européens, suivi de Quinze Questions romaines, 1979, Payot
  • Apollon sonore et autres essais, 1982, Gallimard
  • La Courtisane et les Seigneurs colorés, et autres essais – 25 esquisses de mythologie, 1983, Gallimard.
  • Le Moyne noir en gris dedans Varenne – Sotie Nostradamus|nostradamique, 1984, Gallimard
  • L'Oubli de l'homme et l'honneur des dieux, 1985, Gallimard
  • Entretiens avec Didier Eribon, Gallimard, coll. Folio, 1987
  • Le Roman des jumeaux – Esquisses de mythologie, Joël Grisward, 1995, Gallimard.


  1. ^ (in French) Georges Charachidzé (1930–2010). Encyclopædia Universalis. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  2. ^ Bruce Lincoln, "Shaping the Past and Future" [Review of Georges Dumézil, L'Oubli de l'homme et l'honneur des dieux], Times Literary Supplement (Oct. 3, 1986): 1107–8; reprint in Bruce Lincoln, Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology and Practice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 231–43.
  3. ^ Arnaldo Momigliano, "Premesse per una discussione su Georges Dumézil", Opus 2 (1983): 329-42; Engl. trans. "Introduction to a Discussion of Georges Dumezil", in Studies on Modern Scholarship, by Arnaldo Momigliano, eds. G. W. Bowersock & T. J. Cornell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 286-301.
  4. ^ Arnaldo Momigliano, "Georges Dumézil and the Trifunctional Approach to Roman Civilization", History and Theory 23, no. 3 (1984): 312–20.
  5. ^ Carlo Ginzburg, "Mitologia germanica e nazismo: Su un vecchio libro di Georges Dumézil", Quaderni storici 19 (1984): 857–82; Engl. trans. by John & Anne C. Tedeschi as "Germanic Mythology and Nazism", in Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, by Carlo Ginzburg (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 126–45.
  6. ^ Lincoln 1999, pp. 121–137.
  7. ^ Arvidsson 2006, pp. 2, 241–3, 306.
  8. ^ Lincoln 1999, p. 137.
  9. ^ Arvidsson 2006, p. 3.
  10. ^ Eribon 1992, p. 124.
  11. ^ a b Dumézil & Eribon 1987.
  12. ^ Eribon 1992, p. 249.
  13. ^ Lincoln 1999, p. 123: "Dumézil 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."
  14. ^ Lincoln 1999, pp. 125–126.
  15. ^ Georges Dumézil, "Une idylle de vingt ans (A. Momigliano, OPVS, II, 2 pp. 329-341", in L'Oubli de l'homme et l'honneur des dieux et autre essais: Vingt-cinq esquisses de mythologie (Paris: Gallimard, 1985), 821–7.
  16. ^ Eribon 1992.
  17. ^ Miller D., Georges Dumézil: Theories, Critiques and Theoretical Extensions, Religion (2000) 30, 27–40, doi:10.1006/reli.1999.0239


Further readingEdit

  • Haugen, Einar.* "The Mythical Structure of the Ancient Scandinavians: Some Thoughts on Reading Dumézil", in Introduction to Structuralism. Edited by Michael Lane. New York: Basic Books, 1970. ISBN 0-465-09508-9.
  • Gerald James Larson, C. Scott Littleton, & Jaan Puhvel, eds. Myth in Indo-European Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.
  • Robert A. Segal, ed. Structuralism in Myth: Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Dumézil, and Propp. Introductions by Robert A. Segal. New York: Garland, 1996.
  • Littleton, C. Scott (2005). "Dumézil, Georges". Encyclopedia of Religion. Gale. Retrieved 1 April 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit