You are here: Home / Names / Georges Dumézil (1898–1986)

This project is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research grant and is supported by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) and Kingston University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

AHRC logo

CRMEP logo

Georges Dumézil (1898–1986)

A foundational figure in the field of comparative philology and the study of Indo-European myth and religion, Georges Dumézil was a major influence on the advent of structuralism in French thought. Michel Foucault cited his structural analyses of myth as a formative example for his own approach to the study of epistemes. Dumézil entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1916 to study linguistics and classics, but his education was delayed when he was recruited to serve as an artillery officer in the First World War. After passing the agrégation in classics in 1919, Dumèzil completed his doctorate in 1924 and took up a teaching post in Turkey shortly thereafter (an experience that would result in his unique expertise in Caucasian languages and cultures). Despite some dalliances with far-right movements in the interwar years, Dumézil’s academic career was marked by growing success and renown. An appointment to the École Pratique des Hautes Études in 1935 was followed by his election to the Collège de France in 1949. In 1978, he was elected to the Académie Française as a result of the efforts of Claude Lévi-Strauss, who was heavily influenced by Dumézil’s ideas.

Among Dumézil’s most important theses was the ‘trifunctional hypothesis’, which posited that one could read the myths and religions of Indo-European societies as reflections of the tripartite distinction of three domains: the sacral, the martial, and the economic. This functional distinction on the level of ideology correlated to the division of society into castes or classes of sovereignty, military, and productivity. Dumézil then ventured that sovereignty itself was a bifurcated category, divided into a formal, juridical sphere present in this world (the king) and that of a powerful, extra-worldly force of deities represented in this world by priests. The trifunctional hypothesis is evident in the excerpts of Dumézil’s work which open volume seven of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, whose title ‘Du mythe au roman’ (‘From Myth to the Novel’) is taken from one of Dumézil’s works. In their introduction to this volume, Jacques-Alain Miller and François Regnault present Dumézil as an important thinker of myth, the ‘cause without reason’ anterior to the rationalisation of myth one finds in the novel, the aesthetic form correlated to a modern age driven by ‘psychological and juridical calculuses of interest, motivation and judgement’.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Jacques-Alain Miller and François Regnault, ‘Avertissement, L’orientation du roman’, CpA 7.Introduction [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Georges Dumézil, ‘Horace, une lecture de Tite-Live’, suivi de ‘Les Transformations du troisième du triple’, CpA 7.1 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus: Essai sur la conception indo-européennes de la souveraineté. Paris : Gallimard, 1941.
  • Servius et la Fortune: Essai sur la fonction sociale de louange et de blâme et sur les éléments indo-européens du cens romain. Les mythes romains, vol. 2. Paris : Gallimard, 1943.
  • ‘Les d level="m"ébuts de la religion romaine’. In Mémorial des études latines. Paris: PUF, 1943.
  • Naissance de Rome (Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus, II). Paris : Gallimard, 1945.
  • Naissance d’archanges: Essai sur la formation de la théologie zoroastrienne (Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus, III). Paris : Gallimard, 1945.
  • ‘Tripertita: fonctionnels chez divers peuples indo-européens’. Revue de l’histoire des religions, 131 (1946), 53-72.
  • Mitra-Varuna: Essai sur deux représentations indo-européens de la souveraineté. Paris : Gallimard, 1947. Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty, trans. Derek Coltman. New York: Zone, 1988.
  • La Tripartition indo-européenne’, Psyché, 2 (1947), 1348-1356.
  • Tarpeia: Cinq essais de philologie comparative indo-européenne. Les mythes romains, vol. 3. Paris : Gallimard, 1947.
  • Explication de textes indiens et latins (Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus, IV). Paris: PUF, 1948.
  • Du mythe au roman. Paris: PUF: 1953.
  • Heur et malheur du guerrier: aspects mythiques de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-européens. Paris: PUF, 1969. The Destiny of the Warrior, trans. Alf Hiltebeitel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
  • Mythe et épopée, vol. 2: Types épiques indo-européens: un héros, un sorcier, un roi. Paris : Gallimard, 1971. The Destiny of a King, trans. Alf Hiltebeitel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.