[INDOLOGY] Georges Dumezil's Tripartite Ideology text

Nick Allen nick.allen at anthro.ox.ac.uk
Sun Dec 4 18:50:37 UTC 2016

As one of the relatively small number of would-be continuators of Dumézil’s work, I am always delighted when an eminent Indologist such as Jan Houben expresses interest in the great comparativist. But, in my view, things have moved on since the days when Dumézil was arguing with Brough (and others). While he established, I think, that our sources contain a great deal of seldom-recognised Indo-European cultural heritage (complementing the well-recognised linguistic heritage), his theory of IE ideology, as expressed in trifunctionalism, is increasingly recognised as too narrow. He himself explicitly denied that the three functions exhausted the ideology, but he did not succeed in systematising what lies outside them.

Dumézil saw his mature work as starting in 1938 with a paper comparing the hierarchy of the three twice-born varṇas with that of three Roman priests, the flamines maiores.  But the comparison could have been more inclusive. The triad of flamens stands in the middle of the five-member ordo sacerdotum, which opens with the rex sacrorum and ends with the pontifex maximus. The myth of origin of Hindu society in RV 10.90 opens with the undivided body of Puruṣa and, after dealing with the twice-born categories, ends with the Śūdras. Comparison of the two pentads suggests an alternative view of IE ideology: if one omits sovereignty from the definition of the first function, one glimpses the possibility of developing a systematic approach to IE ideology that subsumes Dumézil’s and circumvents some of the objections to it.

This is what I have been attempting over the last 25 or 30 years.


Dr N.J. Allen
ISCA, 51 Banbury Road,
Oxford OX2 6PE, UK

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