Georges Dumézil et al. and the Indo-European Myth


 The picture of an ideal governing of a society where three branches of government balance, or even fight, each other, but, at the same time, manage to work in a consort, benefiting whole society, which Montesquieu paints in The Spirit of the Laws, is strikingly similar to the vision of the world-renowned French comparative mythologist and philologist Georges Dumézil on the foundations of Indo-European mythological views on the heavenly and earthly order.

When the theory of the common origin of the Indo-European languages was introduced, as well the search for common origins of the Indo-European mythology and overall views on the world had begun. The first large attempt to tackle richness and diversity, as well as obvious parallels of the Indo-European mythologies, was undertaken by the German philologist and orientalist of nineteenth century Max Müller,  who proposed a so called “meteorological” model that saw all mythological personages and narratives as representations of the celestial bodies, mainly Sun and Moon, and their influence on the seasonal cycles. Despite the obvious affinity of the Indo-European folklore to Solunar theme and Solstice and Equinox festivals, which were assimilated later by the Christianity with different degree of success and could be easily seen by a lay observer; taking these relationships too seriously as cardinal qualities was building the theory from the “wrong” end. These Solunar associations were rather hyperbolas for mythological characters who might have represented different and quite repugnant archetypes, but were attributed to the same celestial body. As a result the “meteorological” theory accumulated too much of contradictions and collapsed under its own weight.

Georges Dumézil offered another view on the Indo-European mythological ideology that is accepted by the majority of the Indo-Europeist community today. On top of the universal for the Human race obsession with the binary opposition (light-dark, good-bad, right-wrong), Indo-European cultures developed unique tri-partite system of social functions.

The first function is the Sovereignty, Wisdom, Sorcery and Justice.  This function belongs to the class of priests: Hindu Brahmins, Roman Flamines, Celtic Druids, Persian Dervishes or Slavic Volhvs.  In the sacral dimension it is represented by Hindu gods Mitra and Varuna, Persian Mithra and Ahura, Greek Zeus and Uranus, Roman Jupiter and Dius Fidius or god-like mythical-historical figures of Romulus and Numa Pompilius, Tyr or Tiwas and Odin or Wodnaz of German tribes (in honor of whom we have names for the days of week Tuesday and Wednesday), and Slavic Svarog and Veles.

Mitra is the god-overseer of contracts and his colleague Varuna is the punisher of contract violators. Zeus is the guarantor of the world order, and Dius Fidius literally means the God of Trust. Numa, the second king of Rome, is the one who formalized laws established by Romulus and created first legal and religious institutions of the city.

Tyr sacrificed his hand to save the world from the destruction from wolf Fafnir by offering the wolf his hand as a bail and guaranty that the magic collar gods offered him is harmless. The magic collar was forged by Black Elves on the request of Odin. When Fafnir realized he was tricked, Tyr lost his hand, but the world order was saved by his noble lie. Odin sacrificed his eye to obtain the wisdom of the magical spring called Mimir, which feeds the World Tree. The same motif of one-handed and one-eyed saviors, now not of the whole world, but the Fatherland, we find in Roman historical legends about Gaius Mucius Scaecola and Horatius Cocles. Scaevola, after been caught during unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Etruscan king Porsena who besieged the Rome, voluntary burned his hand on the cooking fire to demonstrate dedication and spiritedness of Roman citizens, who allegedly volunteered hundred of assassins and, sooner or later, one of them will get the king. Like Tyr’s, Scaevola’s bluff worked, Porsena retreated and Rome was saved. Cocles, who lost his eye in previous battle, singlehandedly managed to defend the bridge over Tybre leading to the Rome, blocking a whole Etruscan army in another siege episode.

There are scarce etymological hints on the Slavic gods roles, however the name Veles or Lithuanian Velinas mean “the seer”  and the very name Mitra comes from the Slavic verb менять (to exchange).

Druids represented an ultimate judiciary branch of power in Celtic society – no punishment, even imposed by tribal leaders, could not have been carried without their presence and approval. The very name Druid literally means “tree-seer”. However, in Indo-European mythology and etymology a tree is the synonym of truth, which transforms the meaning of the name into “truth-seer”.

The Roman College of Flamines was preserving fas – the moral and the sacred law, catching what the formal law – ius – has overlooked. Montesquieu highly valued the role of Roman moral censors in the success of the Republic:

I must mention a magistracy that greatly contributed to upholding Rome’s government —that of the censors. They took the census of the people, and, what is more, since the strength of the republic consisted in discipline, austerity of morals, and the constant observance of certain customs, they corrected the abuses that the law had not foreseen, or that the ordinary magistrate could not punish. There are bad examples which are worse than crimes, and more states have perished by the violation of their moral customs than by the violation of their laws. In Rome, everything that could introduce dangerous novelties, change of heart or mind of the citizen, and deprive the state… of perpetuity, all disorders, domestic or public, were reformed by censors.

Echo of the influence of Slavic Volhvs comes to us in a form of the legend about the first khagan of Kiev Rus’ Oleg. Volhvs told him that his horse would be the cause of his death. After Oleg reluctantly parted with his beloved stallion, and, many years after the prophecy, making a grim fun on the Seers, when he stepped on the scull of his former horse, the snake living in the scull bit Oleg.

 Another fascinating characteristic of the first Indo-European function, which was literally brought up to the light of a day by Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade, was the association of deities of the first function with heavens and daily light. Since the time of the Church struggling to convert pagan nations and up to the early anthropology studies, it was a common agreement that the human religious ideas were evolving from the primitive animalism of the Paleolithic period, though the polytheism of Neolithic, and up to the relatively recent “discovery“ of the monotheism by the Judaism and Christianity. Based on the comparative mythology and linguistic evidence, Mircea Eliade demonstrated that the mentioned above evolution does not apply to the Indo-European mythological thinking. The most ancient and most senior members of the Indo-European pantheon had no association with the animalism, and on the opposite they were “incarnations” of the sky. The very names of the Greek Zeus, Latin Dius, Jupiter (Zeus Pater), Scandinavian/German Tyr/Tiwas, Iranian and Hindu Devas or Divas, Hittite Sius, Irish Dia, Lithuanian Dievas come from ancient Indo-European root “*dyeu-”, meaning day and sky (Mallory & Adams 2006 408). Hindu Mitra and Varuna and Iranian Mithra and Ahura are also associated with the day and night skies, respectively.

The second function of the Indo-European myth is the Force, Honor and Bravery. It is the function of Kings, Rajas, Nobility, Heroes and the Warrior gods: Hindu Indra and Vishnu and incarnations of the latter Krishna and Rama, Greek Heracles and Achilles and their patrons Athena and Apollo, Scandinavian-German Thor or Thunaraz (now we, largely unaware of that, praise him every Thursday), Slavic and Baltic Perun or Perkunas. Majority of the gods of this function, how easily we may expect, are the “Striker” gods, the possessors of either spear, or hammer, or club, or axe, originating from the specific Indo-European weapon called “vadjara”.

This function, obviously, makes up the executive branch of power of Indo-European society. Therefore it has a special interest in understanding how ancient Indo-Europeans envisioned an ideal executive leader, and we dedicate the whole chapter discussing these views later in the book.

And the third one is the function of Wellbeing, Productivity and Fertility – the function of Artisans, Travelers, Healers, Craftsmen, Herdsmen and Farmers. In a Heavenly domain it is represented by ancient Indo-European Divine Twins, the Riders of Solar Chariot and their sister Dawn, the Daughter of the Sky, who gave rise to Hindu Ashvin twins and their sister Ushas, Greeko-Roman Dioscuri and Helen, German Freyr and Freya (the lazy or ‘free’ day of Friday is their day), Slavic Jarilo and Marzanna. Representatives of this function are often associated with horses (the very name Ashvin derives from the Sanskrit word for horse), or even are seen as a half-human, half-beast creatures such as Greco-Roman Centauri, Pans, Fawns, or the phonetically and semantically cognate Sanskrit term Ganharva – the upside-down Hindu Centauri with the head of a horse and body of a man.

According to the widely accepted hypothesis of the Urhaimat (the Indo-European fatherland) by Lithuanian archeologist Marija Gimbutas,  the Indo-Europeans originated from the steppes to the northeast of the Black Sea. After domesticating the horse, they invaded and conquered “Old Europe”, a peaceful matriarchate culture, as it is depicted by Marija Gimbutas. The appearance of the wild riders, members of the patriarchate culture, may looked, to the meek agriculturalists of the “Old Europe”, like strange man-horse hybrids of the other world.

Gandharva and their female counterparts, the beautiful Hindu Nymphs – Apsara – are not only keepers of the fertility secrets, but also patrons of musicians and artisans. A very important occupation of musicians and poets of pre-literacy era was maintaining verbal versions of history, law and customs. The rime, beat, melody were a control check-sum mechanism, canvas or external skeleton of the being carried message. Celtic Bards, Scandinavian Scalds or Slavic Guslars (Harpists) were the legislative branch of these times, keeping the history and its lessons alive in the people’s memory.

 One of such Slavic stories, reconstructed by the Croatian ethnologist Vitomir Belaj, tells us about Jarilo and Marzanna – heroes of the usual Indo-European narrative of the dyeing and resurrecting gods. The narrative we may find in the story of Dionysus, Orpheus, Odin, Attis and Cybele, Demeter and Persephone, as well as Sumerian Inanna and Dumuzi, and Egyptian Osiris and Isis. Belaj’s reconstruction is not just another stone into foundation of the “dying god” theory of the Scottish anthropologist James Frazer; the Jarilo’s story demonstrates innate interconnectedness and mutual dependencies of the Indo-European functions.

Jarilo, the youngest son of the Slavic Storm god Perun, who is the second function figure, was born on the Great Night, the New Year night, and the same night he was abducted by wolves of Veles, the first function personage, but the shady variation of it, akin to Scandinavian Odin or Hindu Varuna. Veles, as well the “wolves herdsmen”, or the “cattle god”, was the ruler of the Underworld. In Slavic views that place was not grim, but rather a green pasture and was the source of the life force of unborn life.

Veles, the master of snakes, according to the prominent Indo-European myth about struggle of the Striker god with the Serpent (we can see this plot on many European coats of Arms, depicting St. George), was in odds with Perun, and this abduction lined up with their enmity, however, for some reason, either because he had a soft spot toward Jarilo, or had strategic plans, Veles adopted Jarilo as his own son. As the ruler of the Underworld, he taught Jarilo secrets of controlling live creatures, and forces of procreation.

After being mentored by Veles for some time, Jarilo decides to return to his family. On the way back to the world of Perun, Jarilo domesticates the horse and comes back home around the spring equinox or Ester. Belaj mentions strange, Centauri-like motifs of the folklore – Jarilo rides the horse, but the same time his lags are worn and tired like he was the horse. He brings the life and rebirth to the Nature with his newly learned skills of the Veles’s magic. When Jarilo comes back, the first person who notices him is his female twin – Marzanna, who give him a gift of wild flower wreath, which becomes a major attribute of the folk festivals related to Jarilo.

They fall in love and by the summer solstice, or the St. John day, they have a wedding.  The St. John Day attributes, bonfire and water, symbolize Jarilo and Marzanna (whose another name variation is Marina). There is one problem, though. Jarilo and Marzanna are twins, and incest is prohibited even on divine level. For this particular marriage the taboo is lifted for one night, and sexual taboos are lifted not just for the divine couple, but also for all unmarried participants of the festivities, Vyacheslav V. Ivanov and Vladimir N. Toporov tell us.

 However, the happy marriage lasts no for too long. Jarilo’s abduction to Underworld lives a mark on him. Jarilo is bound to the natural vegetation cycle. When the autumn harvest is collected, and the cattle moved indoor, and the wall between our world and the Underworld is growing thin, which is celebrated on the Halloween-Samhain festivals, the time comes for Jarilo to leave this world. Slavic and related Baltic folklore is incomplete and contradictory, it says that Jarilo is killed either by Marzanna, or by her older brothers, or by on the Perun, and probably because Jarilo was not true to Marzanna.

However there are interesting parallels between this story and Hittite story about the Storm god and the Serpent, which can shed some light on the lost details of the Jarilo narrative. As usual the Storm god fights the Serpent, but during the first battle he loses, and the Serpent tear off his eyes and hart. Defaced and tormented, deprived from his powers, the Storm god lives a pitiful life of a bagger in a slam. Eventually he marries a humble woman who bears a son for him. In time, the son of the Storm god grows into handsome young man and marries daughter of a rich and powerful person. By Hittite laws, if groom is poor, he moves in the household of the bride. Here, in the opulent palace of the new extended family, he discovers a grim trophy of the head of household: eyes and heart of his father, and realizes that he married daughter of the Serpent.

Torn by loyalties to his father and the opposing one to wife and the new family, the son of Storm god resolves this conflict staying true to both allegiances. He returns eyes and heart to his father, who is instantly restored to his might and is ready for the fight, but goes back to his new family, and asks his father not to give him any mercy and to treat him the same way as he will do any other member of Serpent’s family.

The same way, it is probable that Jarilo did not cheat on Marzanna, but decided to go back to Veles’s kingdom (may be taking Marzanna with him), considering that his family duties are paid by bringing secrets of fertility to Perun’s world.

Left alone, without the life force of Jarilo, Marzanna becomes a Winter Witch. At the end of winter (end of February) she dies, and on Maslenica festival her straw figure gets burned and thrown into water. Both personages are getting reborn, and the cycle of the story continues each year.

The tri-fold mythological model of social organization does not disappear and evaporate from the cultural discourse of Indo-European societies when millennia passed, and it finds its way into rationalistic Classical philosophy.  Plato, in his “Republic”, the apology of Socrates who was executed by the people of Athens for alleged corruption and perversion of the morals of the youth, uses the same tri-partite model of the social organization of an ideal city-state.

In the first theoretical model of a model city, which, in Plato’s narrative, Socrates draws before his students, there exists only a lower class, a class of artisans (in the widest meaning of the word) of various crafts who have only basic material desires and live simple, almost Rousseauist lives, in which there is place neither for greed nor courage. The economical life is self-regulated by the laissez-faire“invisible hand of market”, and, as a result, there is almost no need for any explicit governing in such a city. This picture of primitive life and basic desires neither satisfies his students, nor takes into account other possibly hostile cities.

For military occupation, to deal with citi’s neighbors, a completely different class is needed, a class interested not in self-preservation, but in achievements of “spiritedness”, even at the cost of life—the class of warriors; the class of guard dogs. But these dogs have to be trained to preserve and defend that which is theirs, and to viciously tear apart that which is the enemy. And another, the third class of philosophers, has to give the warriors law to obey.

However, these dogs know no reason why these laws were created, they recognize no exceptions, and, if left alone or allowed to acquire too much power, may mistake the free thinkers for enemy agents and turn on their masters. Therefore, a very strict moral policing with heavy penalties has to be enforced, with the shadow power of the literally “nocturnal council” which will oversee all aspects of private life, or even eliminate any possibility of citizens having any. While, the higher class has to be excluded from these practices, because the very act of lawgiving needs a noble law-breaking ability.

The methods of the mind control depicted by Plato rival the Soviet practices and Orwellian fantasies. Of course some, like Leo Strauss, the political philosopher of German-Jewish descent, tried to explain away such extremes of the Plato’s governing recipes by interpreting them as a tong-in-cheek play, a ridicto ad absurdum reasoning. However, following this logic, we have to accept that other Plato’s ideas packaged in the same line of thought, namely the equality of men and women and joint education of boys and girls are absurd, too.

It is fascinating that the Communist practices and theories originate form the same ancient roots as the Democracy does, while those who tried to depict the Communism as a completely alien doctrine to the Democracy during the Red Scare campaign of 1950’s, manifesting that by abolishing the Founding Fathers’ national motto “E Pluribus Unum” and replacing it with the “In God We Trust” one, appealed to the completely different tradition, which produced sayings of Jonathan Winthrop, one of the founders of the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony: “…old Roman and Grecian governments, which sure is an error… is against the practice of Israel”.

What Plato’s political thinking did lose comparing to the ancient Indo-European mythologies is the understanding of the mutual influence and dependencies of functions. Plato’s tri-fold model is purely linear and hierarchical, unlike the model depicted by Georges Dumézil on the example of the first three Hindu castes:

The Indians’ social hierarchy, like the system of ideas that sustains it, is linear in appearance only. In reality it is a sequence, rather Hegelian in character, in which a thesis summons an antithesis then combines with it in a synthesis that becomes in turn a further thesis, thus providing fresh material enabling the process to continue. For example, brahmana, kshatria and vaisya (priest, warrior and herdsman-cultivator) are not to be numbered “one, two, three.” The brahmana is defined at the outset in opposition to the kshatria; then the two are reconciled and collaborate in a new notion, that of “power” (ubhe virye, “the two forces”, is the eloquent dual expression in some texts), which is then immediately defined in opposition to vaisya…

This dual opposition of the first and the second functions, the Brahmin and Kshatriya castes, affects the very caste of Vaisyas, the third function, they oppose. The Indo-European Divine Twins are not exact copies of each other; each one has its specialization and even a destiny, influenced by his own opposing wing of the Brahmin-Kshatriya “Hehelian thesis”. Of the Greeko-Roman twins Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, the first is mortal, and the second is Divine, who asks Zeus permission to share his immortality with his brother and they are transformed into constellation Gemini.

Hindu brothers Yama and Manu have the same inequality in the immortality share. Again, immortal brother receives permission of the senior deities to help his less fortunate brother, and builds underground enclosure with help of Varuna to shelter and comfort souls of his brother king Manu and all his descendants, – the whole humanity – after their death.

Even if representative of the third function is alone, such as Jarilo, he also exhibits a dual nature dictated by the dual opposition. He is the son of two fathers, Perun and Veles, his depictions show the dual association to the Warrior and Sorcerer wings of his opposition; in one hand he has a decapitated head and in another a bunch of wheat; he is also one in two appearances – a very young, almost feminine-looking man, or a very old bearded person.

Similarly, heroes of the second, Warrior function differentiate into the “chivalrous”, Mitraian wing vs. the “brute”, Rudraic wing, such as Arjuna vs. Bhima, Achiles vs. Heracles, and Odysseus vs. Ajax. Deities of this function are also not just pure combatants, but being Storm gods, such as Thor or Indra, the gods associated with precipitation, are also have some value for cultivars-herdsmen.

Of course, dualism of the first function gods, associates the “dark”, shady wing of Varuna, Veles and Odin with the third, Fertility caste, and the “light”, formal jurists Mitra, Tyr and Zeus with their preoccupations of law and order (though in the sacred domain) attaches them to the second, Kingly caste.

 Not only Plato utilized tri-partite social and governing model in his teachings. Aristotle also recognizes tri-fold structure of the governing functions: deliberative, magisterial and judicial. However he did not stress any importance of institutionalizing these functions as well as the faction fight. In his views governing institutions could have combined two or all three functions, and the place for the faction struggle was not between institutions, but inside them.

It was the Greek historian Polybius who came closest of all Classical thinkers to the model of the power separation of modern liberalism. He praised the Roman political constitution for institutionalizing the faction struggle, when plebeians, patricians, and institute of consuls had their own political institutions, especially highlighting importance of the model in times of corruption.  Apparently, this model was not sufficient to save western Roman provinces from the collapse under the pressure of Goth’s invasions.

Classical authors saw the faction fight as an unavoidable evil, which imprudence has to be mitigated by the structure of the government, or by wisdom or virtue of the rulers.

It was Montesquieu who recognized creative force of that Hegelian opposition of the Indo-European social model, Dumézil talks about. Unlike his predecessors and contemporary opponents who saw the faction fight as the cause of the Roman decline, Montesquieu argued that the very fight was the locomotive of Roman rise to greatness, originating from the historical and cultural background of Romans:

 We hear in the authors only of the dissensions that ruined Rome, without seeing that these dissensions were necessary to it, that they had always been there and always had to be. It was the greatness of the republic that caused all the trouble and changed popular tumults into civil wars. There had to be dissensions in Rome, for warriors who were so proud, so audacious, so terrible abroad could not be very moderate at home. To ask for men in a free state who are bold in war and timid in peace is to wish the impossible. And, as a general rule, whenever we see everyone tranquil in a state that calls itself republic, we can be sure that liberty does not exist there.

What is called union in a body politic is a very equivocal thing. The true kind is a union of harmony, whereby all the parts, however opposed they may appear, cooperate for the general good of society – as dissonances in music cooperate in producing overall concord. In a state where we seem to see nothing but commotion there can be union – that is, a harmony resulting in happiness, which alone is true peace. It is as with the parts of the universe, eternally linked together by the action of some and the reaction of others.

The real destruction, Montesquieu continues, was brought to Rome by other cultures, conquered and integrated into the Empire, but sharing no love for liberty or hate for tyranny of Romans:

But, in the concord of Asiatic despotism – that is, of all government which is not moderate – there is always real dissention. The worker, the soldier, the lawyer, the magistrate, the noble are joined only inasmuch as some oppress the others without resistance. And, if we see any union there, it is not citizens who are united but dead bodies buried one next to the other…

Rome had subjugated the whole world with the help of the peoples of Italy, to whom it had at different times given various privileges… [Rome] accorded to coveted right of citizenship to the allies… and gradually to all.

After this, Rome was no longer a city whose people had a single spirit a single love of liberty, a single hatred of tyranny… each city brought to Rome its genius, its particular interests… The distracted city no longer formed a complete whole. And since citizens were such only by a kind of fiction, since they no longer had the same magistrates, the same walls, the same gods, the same temples, and the same graves, they no longer saw Rome with the same eyes, no longer had the same love of country, and Roman sentiments were no more.

The ambitious brought entire cities and nations to Rome to disturb the voting or get themselves elected. The assembles were veritable conspiracies; a band of seditious men was called comitia. The people’s authority, their laws and even the people themselves became chimerical things, and the anarchy was such that it was no longer possible to know whether the people had or had not adopted an ordinance.

These ideas did not come out of the blue; Montesquieu nurtured and let them developed in the course of his professional careers. Initial traces of the theories presented in detail in The Spirit of the Laws could be found even in very early works of the thinker. To better understand the origins of these ideas, in the next chapter we shell take a closer look at the professional occupations of Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu.

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3 Responses to Georges Dumézil et al. and the Indo-European Myth

  1. Pingback: new myth, old god (and the origin of heaven and hell on earth) « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  2.  El tema en absoluto ees de hoy enn dia y por
    consiguiente no es llamativo. Creo que un tema debería ser más moderno e amena.
    Saludos

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