View Full Version : A Fourth Indo-European Function?

Friday, June 2nd, 2006, 09:18 PM
The Indo-European scholar Georges Dumezil explored the tripartite ideology among our ancestors, with the three functions of Sovereignty, War/Force, and Fertility/Life. It might be the case that there was a fourth function as well, a function of disorder, an F4. It is discussed in this text:

The Life and Theories of Dumézil

In one of the last interviews he ever did with the French academic press, Georges Dumézil told journalist Didier Eribon that he would never publish his own memoirs. When asked for a reason, Dumézil simply said that he preferred his body of work to stand as his legacy and nothing else. Based on this, it is natural for one to wonder why it is important to consider Dumézil “the man” along with the theories he established throughout his career as a scholar. To this question, the author offers the following answer: the theories of Georges Dumézil “the scholar” are, for the most part, the sum of the life experiences of Georges Dumézil “the man”. Dumézil himself has recollected on a number of occasions, in various scholarly works and in private conversations with students and followers such as C. Scott Littleton, that the formation of his initial tripartite theory was caused by a number of factors that occurred at many different points in his life suddenly coming together one evening as he was preparing to give a lecture. Considering this, it is conceivable that if Georges Dumézil had not experienced the places and cultures he had experienced and studied under the great minds that he studied under, the theories he gave form to might, to this day, still not exist. Therefore, the author invites the reader to not only explore the theories of Georges Dumézil, but also the unique life experiences that established the foundations of those theories.
Georges Dumézil was born in Paris in 1898 to a military family. His father, Anatole Dumézil, was a career military officer who eventually worked his way to the rank of Inspector-General in the French artillery corps. Dumézil studied at a variety of schools during his early academic career before joining the military himself, including Neufchateau, Toryes, Tarbes, and the prestigious Louis-le-Grand in Paris. After serving with distinction as an artillery officer between the years of 1917 and 1918, Dumézil taught briefly at the University of Warsaw following, but he soon returned to Paris, and the University of Paris, to study under Antoine Meillet and earn his doctorate at age twenty-six (Littleton 1999, pg. 558)
Following his the completion of his education, Dumézil set out on a long academic road that would lead him not only through the end of an era in comparative mythology, but through the dawn of a new era, one which he would help found, in the discipline. Dumézil’s early influences included the theories of thematic and etymological parallels of Max Müller, Adalbert Kuhn, Sir Georges Cox, his own mentor, Antoine Meillet, and especially the work of Sir James G. Fraiser, whose work on the “soma sacrfice” figured heavily in his doctoral thesis. However, in the years following the completion of Dumézil’s doctorate his interest in the works of first generation of comparative mythologists began to wane, as he found their theories to be inadequate and too broad in scope and he began considering alternative models.
It was then that Dumézil took a position as a Professor of French Literature at the University of Istanbul. While this position was not directly related to his studies, it was steady employment and also afforded another important opportunity that, perhaps, Dumézil did not realize until he arrived in Turkey. It was here that Dumézil found his first major field research project, the Ossetians. These immigrants from the Caucus Mountains were the decedents of the ancient Scyths, mentioned in Book Four of Heroditus’ History. According to Heroditus, the Scythians practiced a caste social structure that was very similar to that of India at the time he was writing. Furthermore, this system was based on the Scythian’s creation myth, in which three golden objects, a cup, a battle axe, and a yoked plough, fall from the sky and the three sons of the primordial Scyth, Targitaos, are sent to retrieve them. The youngest son succeeds in the task and is made the heir to his father’s people, thus becoming primordial ancestor of Royal Scyths. The second oldest brother, an aggressive warrior, becomes the ancestor of Warrior Scyths, and the oldest, and most peaceful, brother becomes the primordial father of the peaceful Katiaroi, Scyths skilled in crafting and agrarian arts (Littleton 1999, pg. 558-560)
After leaving Turkey for Sweden, and a position as a Lecturer in French at the University of Uppsala, and then later coming back to France and a position at the École des Hautes Études, Dumézil encountered a second key concept that would catapult him to the forefront of the new era in comparative mythology. At the École, he encountered Sinologist Marcel Granet. While auditing a seminar taught by Granet, Dumézil developed an interest in Chinese myth and culture that would last him his entire life. However, and more importantly to some, Dumézil also became interested in the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim while attending Granet’s seminar. Though Dumézil did not realize it at the time, his interest in Durkheim’s concept “social facts” being represented in myth and religion would be an important cornerstone in his coming theory.
Like a bolt of lightning, the realization that the early Indo-European peoples shared a pantheon based on a tripartite social organization hit Dumézil one evening while he was giving a guest lecture on Germanic mythology at the University of Uppsala. By dawn, so Dumézil told C. Scott Littleton, he had outlined the basic elements of the model, and so the “new comparative mythology” was born. Following his trip to Uppsala, Dumézil published a host of books and articles in developing his theory of Indo-European mythology. The first work to mention it was largely complete by the time Dumézil returned from his trip to Uppsala, however, he managed to add an extra chapter that became to classic example of the model. The comparison was between three pantheons at what were literally the three corners of the Indo-European domain. Dumézil stated that the functions of the divine figures Odin, Thorburn, and Freyr where structurally and thematically equivalent to the Roman Gods Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus and to the Indic deities Varuna, Indra, and the twin deities, the Asvins.
Dumézil explained that Odin, Jupiter, and Varuna held positions in their pantheons and had thematic components that placed them in a “priest” function (F1), while Thorburn, Mars, and Indra had similar thematic elements that placed them in a “warrior” function (F2), and Freyr, Quirinus, and the Asvins all had qualities that placed them in a “herder/cultivator” function (F3). Other concepts that were used as evidence to support the theory included three items from Celtic Mythology, all belonging to important characters from Celtic Mythology, the “Cauldron of Dagda”, which provided eternal nourishment, the “Spear of Lug” a powerful weapon, and the “Stone of Fal”, which served as the seat of royal power. Each of these objects represented the three functions, the Cauldron being a symbol of cultivation, the Spear having a number of warrior themes, and the Stone being a function of royalty (Littleton 1999, pg. 560-561)
Shortly after formulating his central theory, Dumézil added a host of secondary theories to it, a few of them suggested by his students. One specific add-on to the theory suggested that there was more than one station within each function and more than one role to fill. Dumézil sighted the example of Tyr, the Norse oath-god and judge-figure, as a kind of administrative first function element, while Odin was a priestly first function element, holding the universe together through spells and runes. The Roman dyad of Duis Fidius and Jupiter is another example of this dual-function element, the former giving birth to law and order by assisting Numa, and the latter maintaining the unity of the cosmos. Another idea, brought to the attention of Dumézil by his student Stig Wikander, was the concept of “The Sins of the Warrior”. Wikander pointed out that warrior figures such as Indra and Hercules often “sinned” and violated the duties and themes of their functions, causing them have to repent, the example of this being Hercules’ Great Labors.
Another major addition made to Dumézil’s theory came in 1941, three years after the original model was conceived and put into writing. This concept was called “The War Between the Functions”, and Dumézil stated that it was an important principal in a number of major Indo-European mythologies. This concept outlined a conflict between the cultivator function (F3) and the warrior and royal functions (F2/F1). Ultimately, according to Dumézil, the classic battle for supremacy ended with F2 and F1 winning out over F3, but an important note is that the cultivator function, in many of the examples, is not destroyed, it is always conquered and assimilated into the pantheon, thus completing the functions and reflect all the major social roles in Indo-European societies. Important examples Dumézil used as evidence for the “War Between the Functions” include Freyr versus Odin, Tyr, and Thorburn and Romulus and his Roman brethren versus the Sabines, in both cases the F3 elements, Freyr and the Sabines, are conquered and then subsumed into the their conquering elements in order to complete them (Littleton 1999, pg. 563-564). Of these two examples, the best is, by far, the Sabines, an agrarian group supposedly dwelling near the Romans. In this case, all the men are captured or slain and the women are taken as wives by the Romans, who were an army without women, in order to insure offspring and prosperity.
Ultimately, when looking at Georges Dumézil as one of the founders of the “new comparative mythology” it is important to consider not only his model, but also its scope and purpose. An important distinction between Dumézil and the mythologists of the previous era, Fraser, Müller, etc., is that those who came before Dumézil always sought a paradigm that would encompass all of the humanity. Thus they sought out deep psychological elements within the mythology and religion of all language and ethnic groups. Dumézil saw the flaw in this approach early on, when he noted that different parts of the world created different physical elements upon which to base mythology. By narrowing the scope of his study, he produced a model for Indo-European mythology that has lasted for over half a century, far longer than any of his predecessor’s ideas held out.
Of course, it is important to note the Dumézil is not without his critics. Paul Thieme, Jan Gonda, and E. A. Philippson all express objections both to some of Dumézil’s specific interpretations of mythological elements and a few of his overall themes. On the other hand, John Brough and Colin Renfrew do not agree with the idea that there is a general Indo-European social order paradigm that has made its way into mythology and want to look at Indo-European societies on an individual basis when exploring mythology. However, none to these individuals can wholeheartedly reject the importance of Dumézil to the new era of comparative mythology. Many of Dumézil’s critics have even praised him for his body of work, complementing him for his devotion to the discipline while choosing to disagree with him.
Georges Dumézil died in 1986, not long after his eight-ninth birthday, from the effects of stroke. In the nearly fifty years since he first formulated the three function model he created a massive body of work including essays, books, and a multi volume set that that was published after he died by one of his devoted followers. Two of Dumézil’ s most noted accomplishments in the years leading up to his death include his acceptance into the Académie Fançais, sponsored by his long-time friend, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and his efforts in helping start the academic career of Miciel Foucaut, who later, on a number of occasions, thanked Dumézil for his assistance. C. Scott Littleton recalls Dumézil telling him once that he and Foucaut were very close friends for a long time following the start of his career and he was heartbroken to hear of his death. The “family” of academics that survive him include Emile Benveniste, Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin, Jaan Puhvel, Alywn and Brinley Rees, Dean Miller, James Mallory, Udo Strutynski, N. J. Allen, Emily B. Lyle, and C. Scott Littleton (Littleton 1999, pg. 565). Additions to Dumezil’s body of work are continually produced by Dumezil’s students and followers despite his death, included in this new body of work and additions to the Indo-European model are the work of the late Lucien Gershel, incorporating folkloric elements into the model, and The New Comparative Mythology by C Scott Littleton, now in the development stage of its fourth edition.
Though there are a host of footnotes one might attach to the life of Georges Dumézil, the one that stands out the most with regard to his tripartite theory is the concept of an additional function. Dumézil himself toyed with the idea of a Fourth Function on many occasions following the publication of his initial theory, but he never published any of his thoughts on the idea because he felt there was simply not enough evidence to support it. However, this did not stop one his disciples, N. J. Allen from musing on the idea as well. Less than a year after Dumézil’s death he published Dumézil and the Idea of the Fourth Function in the Journal of Moral and Social Studies, which offered two breakthrough ideas that were quickly absorbed into what is, currently, considered the Dumézilian canon. The first of Allen’s ideas was the now fashionable system of referring to Dumézil’s three functions and Allen’s extra function as F1, F2, F3, and F4 respectively. The second of these ideas was Allen’s take on the idea of a Fourth Function. Rather than trying to limit the scope of F4 to something similar to concepts of F1, F2, and F3, Allen stated that F4 encompassed everything in Indo-European mythology that did not fit the order of the tripartite structure. He defined anything that was paradoxical, outside the normal order of the first three functions, or distinctly alien as part of the Fourth Function. In Allen’s mind, the Fourth Function could only involve itself with the other functions by disrupting them, throwing them out of balance, and then reordering of the tripartite system would be the only thing capable of eliminating its influence.
While at first one might think that Allen’s use of such a large scope in his definition of F4 might lead to generalizations, cumbersome interpretations of narratives, and the passing off of indefinable material onto F4, it had the exact opposite effect. Suddenly, characters such as Loki and Thesius, recently the central figure in the paper Thesius and the Fourth Function presented by Dean A. Miller at the annual UCLA Indo-European Studies Conference of 2001, have been defined in ways that fit all their given attributes and activities with little or no confusion. A vast gallery of Indo-European trickster characters now have a firm place in the tripartite model as being outsiders that disrupt its very foundations. At the same time, F4 also leads to better understanding of the “otherworlds” of Indo-European mythology such as those found in the Red Branch Cycle and other myths. It is because of this level of completion it brings to Dumézil’s original model that Allen’s Fourth Function is so widely accepted by Dumézil’s followers and their students and it is taught by many as thought its simply one more part of the original model and an excellent addition to the scholar’s own academic legacy.

Source, with analyses of Scottish Traveller folktales from a Dumezilian perspective: