GEORGES DUMEZIL AND THE INDOMITABLE MYTH.
The Indo-European explanation of the origin of the world is not more than one of the dreams of the humankind and it is not either, in terms of content, a privileged dream. However, it is in terms of the conditions of the observations. [...] In no other case we have the opportunity to follow, sometimes for millennium, the adventures of the same ideology in eight or ten human groups that have conserved it after its whole separation. The framework these relations constitute when they are compared is above all a testimony of the fertility of the human spirit.... Georges Dumezil
Why Dumezil? It could be that he provides a simple academic afterthought or a prime exercise that digs through the western thinking experiences with the purpose of imagining an answer, a different color that irradiates clarity to contrast the darkness of the world we live in.
Probably Dumezil also promises, without intention, an alternate view to the recurrences of the humanist thinking of our time. Despite being substantial to our understanding, it seems that some of them, such as psychoanalysis, linguistics and ethnology, as Foucault proposed at the very end of The words and the things, are both unsatisfactory as analytical-discursive and as mere world conceptions. Now when we live immersed in the predominance of the great myth of globalization, it is attractive to turn to authors that quite probably contribute to understand what we are and what we could be. Moreover, if we are speaking of myths, there is no one better than Dumezil.
This writing links Dumezil's name and work with the usual referents the Twentieth Century has given to us. Our purpose is not to eradicate, substitute or add in an autistic or meaningless way another name to the bibliographic quotations the university bureaucracy needs. Instead, we have the fundamental intention to recognize that the world in which we live is a myth, an imaginary creation we can distort. This means, to generate otherness through the vital impulse that recognizes existence as a constant tension; all this takes place in a universe that reveals itself as chaos and cosmos simultaneously, that invites us, lures us, to an intimate and collective creation.
Myth and destiny are inseparable terms; the former is indomitable, irreducible to logical reasoning. The second is not a misfortune but a challenge to the desire of each person. Yes, a myth but not just as a subjugating, unmovable and galling force that stiffens our lives until it coagulates its flux into an indifferent petrified image. Myth as a history, epic poem, theophany or indescribable novel transfigures every day's life into a heroic tragedy giving an epic sense to our existence.
A Mythograph's Life
I would like to say to the Lord "Nunc Dimittis servum tuum because you have let me see my little truth". And at the same time I know, because it is a wholehearted law, that this work in fifty years, maybe twenty or ten, will not be more than a historic interest, it will be, if the worst comes to the worst, ruined, and at the very best, what is my hope, pruned, cut, transformed. Has it been transformed according to which model? If I would happen to know it, I would undertake the operation myself. Georges Dumezil
Labelled as a historian and anthropologist, who could also be read as a philologist and much to his own regret, as a precursor of structuralism, George Dumezil was born in 1898 in Paris, France and died on October 11, 1986. He was born in a modest family that lived on barrel fabrication, a trade developed by his grandfather who worked in Bayonne, la Gironde (Bordeaux). As a young man, Jean Dumezil was interested in poetry and foreign languages such as German and mainly Latin. At the age of twenty, he was drafted in the army during the Great War and later on, he became a General, even though it was not his main ambition.
He became acquainted with more than forty languages (Sanskrit, Germanic, Greek, Armenian, Iranian, Kurdish, Ossetian, Persian, Italic, Latin, Oscan, Umbrian, Welsh, Celtic, Cornish, Dutch, Flemish, Breton, Norwegian, Gothic, Swedish, Danish, Lithuanian, Slavic, Quechua and many others), attained speciality in religion, anthropology and mythology, and was author of more than sixty books and history research works.
Dumezil studied in different secondary schools, following the will of his father. With his interest placed on languages, he met Michael Breal who traduced the work of the German Franz Bopp, founder of the comparative grammar and author of different works in the field of Indo-European languages. Breal recommended Dumezil with Antoine Meillet (Durkheim's friend) who was his tutor during the writing of his last two scholar thesis concluded on 1924. The first one titled The immortality feast. Study about Indo-European compared mythology contains an analogy between the ambrosia and the amrita, a mythological Indian drink. Dumezil's work not only compares but also integrates elements form multiple Indo-European mythologies. His second work was entitled: The crime of the Lemnians. Rites and legends from the Aegean world.
The political ideology of Dumezil was for a while influenced by the promonarchic, conservative influx from Maurras, but it is less likely that his comparative mythology studies depended on that political stance. On the contrary, his main influences can be tracked on the ideas of A. Meillet and in the followers of Durkheim such as H. Hubert, M. Mauss, M. Granet and J. Marx. However, Hubert as a follower of French sociology did not accept Dumezil's works. Meillet himself advised Dumezil to leave France, as he could not foresee a proper place for him there. Due to this, he decides to keep himself out of both trends of thinking.
His stay in the University of Istanbul allowed him to learn Turkish and to travel through the Russian Caucasus, where he studied mythology and the Ossetian language. His work, given the information harvested, represents one of the most important archives about Caucasian cultures, something that makes Dumezil the only Caucasologist who knew the different languages spoken in that region, not leaving aside his important discovery of the Ubyhk language. The Caucasus was the place where he had the fortune and misfortune to meet the last Ubyhk native speakers. Moreover, it is remarkable the link he found between the first six name numbers of the indigenous Quechua language and the same six Turkish figures.
He knew in depth the Scandinavian culture because he was a French lecturer at the Uppsala University (Sweden) and had the chance to learn a new language in 1931. Two years later, he was acquainted with Sylvain Levi, an expert in culture and Indian mythology who expedited Dumezil's employment at L'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes where the latter taught Indo-European-compared mythology. At the age of thirty-seven, in 1935, Dumezil was named director of this department at the same university. At that time, he frequented Marcel Mauss and met Marcel Granet who followed in his sinology courses. During this period, in 1938 to be accurate, he wrote his theory of the three functions and published Le prehistorie des flamines majeurs. In 1949 with the support of Emile Benveniste and Levi-Strauss, he was admitted to the College de France where he occupied the chair of Indo-European civilization until 1969. Dumezil went into retirement in 1964 without becoming any less productive; from 1968 to 1972, he travels to Los Angeles and Chicago for an invitation of Jaan Puhvel and Mircea Elialde and during these years published his three volumes of Mythe et epopee.
In this biographical note is important to highlight the partnership between those two great French mythologists who always felt mutual respect and admiration. Dumezil first had the chance to support Levi-Strauss in L'Ecole Pratique des Hautes and later on Levi-Strauss welcomed Dumezil into the College de France.
Perhaps an important fact allowing one to understand the future and destiny of Dumezil's work could be found in his self-learning formation. His relation with non-French authors such as Frazer and the recovery of mythologies with plentiful historical literary style overflowed with philological and linguistic erudition, a fact that made his writing suspicious because for many others he did not fulfil the range of linguistic disciplinary exigencies or it was so brilliant it exceeded literary sensibility. In brief, his work was as extraordinary as that written by his contemporaries--maybe even more. Without a doubt, he does not seem to fit easily with the academic and intellectual environments of yesterday and today.
The motives for an author to become well known beyond the small world of the specialists can be unusual. Dumezil is certainly an intellectual whose work grandeur is inversely proportional to its awareness and dissemination. Conversely, there are authors, whose work is an obligatory reference, almost universal, mainly in academic circles. We will not try to figure out the reasons Dumezil seems like a forgotten character unlike some other thinkers of our time. Let us leave the biographers and the experts that task.
Myth and Method
Today it is known that before a mythological corpus you must be humbler, you must serve it instead of using it, you must question it instead of putting it in some dossiers eager of documentation; and overall respecting the richness, the variety and even the contradictions. Georges Dumezil
There are so many ways of interpreting an author; maybe one of them is to delimit his or her work from the object he or she uses as a vessel for their study. Other possibilities remain: one can refer to the method by which they address and construct their research, or, perhaps, to the theoretical perspective chosen to clear the field where they work. Though, as usually happens, the facts are the ones which keep the attention of the people who work on them and not vice versa.
There is no doubt Dumezil's research was focused on the languages and Indo-European cultures, which span from India and Iran to the Scandinavian countries and Eastern and Central Europe. Even today it is not strange that languages and societies apparently so different have places in common.
For Dumezil, beyond words (and even thanks to them), culture, ideology and religion formed subjects of interest. So what is the purpose of demonstrating or explaining that there is a common root between World languages, and thus in culture? What unites nowadays an American Indian with an Asiatic one beyond their eternal conditions of poverty and exploitation? Why would it be important to study Dumezil's work to understand our own time?
As Durkheim once said, the Experimental Method was for Natural Sciences what the Comparative Method was for Sociology. Dumezil does not just make the idea his own but also highlights it with all his power unearthing the achievements Indo-European Linguistics offered him, since they let him locate in a clearer fashion the cycles and tales around a shared collective past. In fact, his own notion of what Indo-European is refers to a native shared mythical language that for sure could only be comprehended from Babel Tower's writings.
With the tools Linguistics gave him, Dumezil set himself the task of recovering the myths, and overcoming the naturalistic limitations imposed on him by his time to formulate the Trifunctional Indo-European Ideology Thesis. This conception consists of connecting Indo-European God Triads and the Iranian Caste system, which linked Priests, Warriors and Peasants.
Dumezil, as Garcia Quintela says, sometimes privileges the sociological interpretation more than the Linguistics' interpretation, as it acknowledges, for example, how the equivalent Vedic name for 'king' (raj), in Latin (reg) and in Celt (rig) could be related with the priest Vedic name brahman which, in turn, could embrace the Latin name for priest, flamen:
Dumezil states in 1938
We just underline how the sociological study has modified the conditions of the linguistic problem here. We can no longer accept that linguists see separately the equation raj-reg in first term, and then the equation brahaman-flamen: they are as supportive as the beings who designate those words. The latter, when considered in an isolated fashion, also attracted objections, but it became more feasible by the fact it makes a pair with the former. Definitely it seems difficult to admit that only chance has created consonant names so close to "the sacred twin of the king" in two languages that precisely preserved the word for king. (1)
It would be relatively easy to catalog Dumezil as a philologist or a linguist, although he would say: let's turn to the social aspect. Then as he asserted 'a linguistic doubt is nevertheless, a social certainty, the words are tricky, social facts are not.' (2)
For Dumezil, social facts must be considered as a web of relations; that is the reason the magico-religious sovereignty of Rome and India cannot be studied by putting aside military activity and agricultural production. It is not a matter of determinism or an etymological essence even if there are similarities between words. Let us more cogently say that Dumezil prefers the experience, the particular tale that is opposed to the universal logics. The only thing that he deems appropriate to Indo-European culture system is the Trifunctionality referred to Priests, Warriors and Peasants. The previous lines show the sociological method of his own time--not only as a useful or simple revelation for its inclusion in the intellectual community but as an outcome of his own studies.
If Dumezil considers the symbolic order established by religions as a representational social system, at the same time he asks himself: if it only echoes the social commitment or its converse, does this symbolic order not have a social reference? Soon his new orientation led him to consider the interdependence between the ideological field (symbolic) and social conditions. With this, he definitely disdained the conception that symbolic order is the result of social circumstances. In other words, he does not deny the sociological explanation; he just rejects any causal reductionism. The social does not cause, does not produce, and does not provoke the symbolic. In the same fashion, Dumezil does not accept the linguistic method by which words are understood by their own etymology, but, as he suggests, words are explained by the specific place they take in a specific language.
In this sense, the trifunctional method not only recognizes the correspondence between the social and the symbolic, but also paradoxically insists on the use of an approach, which without resorting to determinisms does not get rid of the sociological and linguistic analysis. Moreover, his researches are inclined to the evolution of Indo-European settlements in a historical sense, which along with the symbolical and social interests adds a search that directs his studies to the future. In this sense, and as it is usually acknowledged, the traditions linger on not for being the explanation of a remote past but by what could be foreseen in the future due to them. As Garcia Quintela points out, we can observe in the following chart the relations sustained by the Roman, Indian and Scandinavian gods that, among other things, show that the names have no similarity between them, though the relations between functions do not lose pertinence. (3)
Rome Vedic India Epic Scandinavia I (DIUS) MITRA TYR JUPITER VARUNA ODIN II MARS INDRA THOR III QUIRINUS NASATYA NJORDR, FREYR OPS, FLORA, etc. Auxiliary gods and goddess FREYJA, group of VORTUMNO, LARES, from the third function Vane gods etc.
The parallel between the place occupied by each god from the Archaic Roman, Vedic India or Epic Scandinavian, is discernible from the evaluation of the traits of gods and the relations between them that create the pantheon. But the differences between names, the detailed differences that articulate the functional principles and the ideological orientation (tournure d'sprit) proper of every historic culture--Roman Juridicism, Indian Metaphysics, German Militarism--dilute any statement on the necessary existence of this structure between the primitive Indo-European. We cannot think of something different from a simple confirmation: there was a hierarchical pantheon ruled under three principles of sovereignty, strength and social reproduction under the patronage of different gods, nothing else. However, although useful to answer a general knowledge exam, it would hardly serve as a theological basis for any human group. Nevertheless, once we stated the existence of this principle, the analysis of other gods, new comparison elements and changes in the pantheons due to the influence of known historical facts (Roman Conquest, Christianization, etc.) are extended endlessly in order to correct, to clarify, to redefine.... (4)
As indicated earlier, Dumezil maintains an interest in the very same society to which he relates his own system definition, (5) and it is true that he considered the word system as a synonym of structure.
There are some who imagine Dumezil not just as a structuralist but also as a pioneer of this school of thinking, renowned as an European civilization historian and founder of the compared mythology. Field studied by thinkers like the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, the linguist Andre Martinet and the historians George Duby, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Jacques le Goff.
Maybe Dumezil's most daring work would be the deliverance of a fossil language, the Ubyhk, (6) whose grammar and phonetics were studies and even a dictionary was written by himself at the time there was almost only one native speaker.
A prevalent tension in Dumezil's work can be found in the relation between universalism and Unitarianism, as pointed out by D. Dubuisson, Dumezil was a structuralist, though subsequently he didn't accept this label and preferred the notion of system. Without doubt, his opposition to being catalogued as a structuralist was due to the fact the term was considered a French intellectual fashion, label he did not want to have. (7)
Structuralist or Unitarian? On the one hand, we must consider the symbolic order alien from the social, with an own inward logical life where the collective reference indeed disappears, and on the other hand the Unitarianism, where the particular cultural situation is considered as relevant, the detail. It is impossible not to link Dumezil's trifunctional thesis, every society fulfills three functions which are priest-peasant-warriors, with an analysis and interpretation method that puts on tension the principal assumptions of his compared mythology. Every society fulfills three functions which are priests-peasant-warriors. It is not just a simple chain of mythological facts that evolved until disappearing inside a culture and by some reason appeared later on in different times and places. On the contrary the compared mythology Dumezil presents, tensions the relationship of a universe conceived as cosmos or chaos, between harmony and disorder, with the juridical and magical sovereign function of the different people groups. The other tension is produced in the political-ethical order between customs, good and bad actions from men and gods that effectively led us to the warlike and fertility capacity of the cultures. The construction Dumezil establishes makes possible to understand the way in which Indo-European cultures from Scandinavia to India were capable of creating, beyond a language and a philosophy, certain myths that enabled them to create laws and institutions with a direct effect on customs and experiences interpreted by Dumezil.
Most obviously, Dumezil's comparative method consists of studying the social order of different cultures in which their hierarchies are established, for example the functional relations between the Priests, Warriors and Peasants and the community where they belong, recognizing by analogy the similar characteristics they have in common with other societies. Secondly, it simultaneously establishes the link with the symbolic world, that is, with life and the mythical beliefs of people based on the functions of the gods: 'It is ascertained that comparative practice is not limited to detect the existence of trifunctional facts. The same method is useful to establish which gods or mythical characters, aside the trifunctional framework, present structural characteristics in common whose explanation were based in its Indo-European common origin,' as mentioned by Quintela. (8)
To conclude this part, it would be useful to elaborate a simple comparative chart with the method and study fields posed by Dumezil and Levi-Strauss:
Myth and Structuralism Authors Georges Dumezil Texts of ancient societies (before Christ) belonging to the same linguistic family Field of study (Indo-European) with the aim of reconstructing a common thinking for this family. Structuralism or System as a Unitarian interest. Paradoxically the philologist makes anthropology related to the thinking and the value Results systems of human groups in a mythical context named itself Indo-European. Myth and Structuralism Authors Claude Levi-Strauss Myth's oral literature collected during the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries in contemporary Field of study American groups, belonging to dozens of linguistic families with the aim of understanding how the human thinking works. Structuralism as doctrine. Universalist interest. Paradoxically the anthropologist creates Results philosophy, which suggests unconscious psychic rules for all humankind.
Beyond Dumezil's and Levi-Strauss' use of concepts of structure and procedural and philosophical resonances, structuralism could have relevance as a working method or doctrine. The important issue here is to acknowledge that for both authors the intellectual creation, the breaking of strict knowledge standards, their innovation, erudition and their careful documentation of details, makes them obligatory references to understand today's societies.
Contrary to what could be thought, as it usually occurs, the research and ideas from both authors are opposed, even though it is true that their studies refer to myths, they also differentiate, as each one is its own subject of study, its own working method and therefore, appropriate to its own conclusions. Maybe the most interesting fact is that despite being contemporaries, each one tackled the same subject in a very different manner. It would be useful to insist on the direct influence Dumezil's works had on Humanities and Social Sciences, whilst acknowledging that relationship within the contextual influence of Levistraussian thinking.
The Indomitable Myth
Assuming I was very wrong, my Indo-European people would be as the geometries of Riemann and Lobatchevsky: constructions out of this world. Which was quite a great deal. It would be enough to change myself from one bookcase to another in the libraries to stay in the "novel section". Georges Dumezil
Inside the different way we can build the myth, we might refer to two versions that apparently are in opposition; on the one hand is the one that, after a convenient observation of reality, discovers, according to itself through ethnographic methods, the alleged consistencies that are nothing else but replicas of symbolic structures in an infinite chain of binary analogies. On the other hand, there are the scholars of the myth in the same comfortable environment which, without resorting to ethnographic data, is configured by a magical recount of the abstraction. Now it is reflected in the reality in some kind of materialistic analogy, the divine will or its own ideas on Earth, something akin to the consummation of the Spirit in History.
The Etymological studies are apparently anthetical because they actually reject the contradictory tensions revealed by a humble observation of the texts. Both undoubtedly substitute the myth with the milestone in its definition as post, boundary stone or marker, that expect to replace the field they define as if the boundaries we arbitrarily set up were by themselves the land where they were placed. In other words, the myth is not a border between the empiric fact and the observable one.
For example: some philosophers that still depend on the great Hegel, and among them many structuralists, are reluctant to tolerate the system interference of three homogeneous terms exposed in its Weltanschauung and strive to avoid so, even with violence both in the U.S.S.R. and the West. They would strive to reduce two of those terms to a unity with the aim of recovering what is commonplace: the comfortable binary antithesis. As I am not a Philosopher but an observer, the only answer I have for those critics is that the facts have to be respected. (9)
It may be a conventional belief that, by myth, we mean a narration referring to a world order preceding the current one, and whose main purpose is to establish a universal organizing law of all things, and by no way to the singularity of the events concerning people and nature. At first we could comprehend the 'usefulness' offered by the study of myths, most of all if we emphasise the difference between theological explanations, fables, legends, tales and even History itself, even though probably we would also find the great mythical tales interwoven with those expressions. However, this approaching lacks a reference of the mythical that always constructs looking to the future, which is not the mechanical result of the past. This future not only gives sense to the myth but also modifies it. Then the myth is not a docile expression that adapts itself to any fact or event, nor is it an ethereal substance or independent energy that feeds and reveals by itself and for itself, perennially crossing the human mind and practices.
The question then arises: how can we understand the myth? As a set of ideas that come from Heaven to Earth, from the will of the gods and their experiences revived by men? Is human vision directed to the divine Pantheon? Are gods made in the image and likeness of men or are men crafted for the leisure and amusement of gods? Alternatively, is the myth a symbolic expression of a never-ending source of human expression or on the contrary, an expression of the prompt reflect of the mythical order? On the matter, Grimal says, while referencing Dumezil:
Recent researches have shown that the most ancient Roman mythology layers come from the prehistoric Latin "race". Many historical tales, accepted and presented as such by the classical writers and until today by the moderns, actually seem to be nothing else but the utilization, the "historicized" adaption of very ancient mythical themes common to Indo-European-related linguistic groups (specifically the Celts and Indo-Iranian). (10)
Regarding the Ancient Rome, men are the ones who build their own history from myths transposing the place of the gods, such as the case of Jupiter and Dius Fiduius or Mars and Quirinus, where all of them are linked to characters shown as historical ones. Dumezil's thesis of a Roman history, which is really about myths, invites us to think on the opposite, that is, how many myths are nothing but a mere projection of human facts. Something even more interesting is that the myth, the fable, the tale, even the historical fact, are shown as syncretic in the real life, sometimes as a lie and some others as a truth.
As pointed out by Garcia Quintela '[...] the succession of the pre-Etruscan kings of Rome: Romulus, Numa, Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Marcius and the episodes that portray each one of them are the mythical compliment of the aforementioned gods from which we just know by the rituals they are part of in the Roman religion.' (11)
It is important to note that the pairing between History and myth forces us to admit that just as History makes the myth, so myth makes History. We are not arguing for a causal explanation where one is the effect of the other: on the contrary, the autonomy and not the independence between myth and historical reality is accepted, the own life of the myth, from this its indomitable condition; but the friction with the reality is not ignored. Below, we will show the way Dumezil analyses myth with the following example taken from the precapitolian Triad, Indo-European Gods:
The parallelism of the tripartite theological structure shown by the Ancient Rome (and that Romans recognize as such) regarding other non-Roman Indo-European structures surprises us. The coincidence is spread out even to an important trait we underlined in Scandinavia and India. In the legend of the origins of Rome, Jupiter and Mars are taken for granted; they are constitutive gods of the idea of Rome itself and the ones who existed before the City: They created it with Romulus taking part with auspices. On the contrary, a war will be necessary, followed by reconciliation, for the foreign god Quirinus, taken as an alien, to be admitted, as the Sabines1q in the City and in the Lovis-Mars-Quirinus triad. They needed a war and a reconciliation so that the Great Vanes, Njordr, Freyr and Freyja could reach status as Aesirs and could be accepted in Odin's company; and according to other variant of Indo-European characters, Quirinus is Romulus deified: a man rising from Earth to Heaven. Like that, in one or another variant while Jupiter and Mars are eternally Roman gods and not only Adsciti, gods within its right and not men transformed into gods, the last element, the one that completes the hierarchic triad, the prosperity god of the mass of the pax Quirites, is conceived as a foreign god introduced when the city is completed (and thanks to the acquisition of women, he acquires an everlasting condition), as a divinized man, once his providential performing is finished: the heterogeneity, initial, at least, forms the third function in relation with the other two that are strongly emphasized in all cases. (12)
It is important to say that, despite the numerous versions of the Roman about their own origin, none of them strides from the relevant character of the explanatory model linked to the Indo-European tradition. As Garcia Quintela states, 'In this sense regarding Romulus, Dumezil and others have discovered a great deal of episodes that comparison shows as inherited from Indo-European tradition and whose presence around this character is given due to his importance as the first king.' (13)
Regarding myth's importance in Iran's theology, Dumezil found that Ameza Spenta 'Immortal benefactors' which were included by Zoroaster as essential in his doctrine and as qualities of Ashura Mazda, are understood as the theological transposition of the ancient Indo-Iranian mythology. Likewise, regarding India and its transition from myth to epic, Dumezil clearly recognizes that Indo-European mythology is present in the Mahabharata great epic poem. (14)
To illustrate in another way the treatment of Dumezil of myth, the comparison established in The Saga of Hadingus, set out in his book From myth to novel, is useful. At this stage of his work performed among Scandinavians he found something different. On the one hand, 'the Skaldic and Eddic poems have saved a great deal of mythologies with their own original forms; on the other hand a well-trained and skillful Icelandic Christian completed our pre-Christian documentation with two systematic treatises.' (15) As we can see, Dumezil's research covers four different approaches related to myth that mention the richness of the transpositions between myth and history, myth and epic, myth and theology, and myth and novel. His investigations were of a theological, mythological, ritualistic and sociological character.
The aim is to establish an analogy between The Saga of Hadingus and the god Njordr, a Scandinavian king and deity, to which he had to resort to, among others, to the poems that show the similarity between the bodies of both compositions. Though Dumezil was not the first to point that issue out, there is no doubt that the recovery he made of those writings is especially relevant in his own work. One of the analogies is related to the way the couples are pleased to inhabit, on the other comparison, Hadingus and Regnilda get married, matter that immediately refers to the circumstance in which the deities Njordr and Skadi got married. Nevertheless, let us read both episodes:
First episode I. the duets of Hadingus and Regnilda (Saxo, I, VIII, XVIII, XIX) and, Njordr and Skadi (Gylfaginning, 12, pp. 30-31). Hadingus has married with Regnilda, and after killing his irreducible enemy Uffo, king of Uppsala, he is back again in Denmark. 18. Once he eliminated his rival, Hadingus spend several years inactive, unaccustomed to weapons in all sense. Finally that perpetual rest at the countryside grow heavy on his heart, and finding more rejoice in war than in peace, he started to condemn his apathy writing the following poem: Why am I still here in these dark rooms, surrounded by Rocky Mountains, why don't I entrust myself to the sea as before? The slumber that recovers, from my eyes is torn out by the high-pitched howl of the wolves packs and the complaint, raised to the sky, from the evil savage vermins, and the lion's roar... and ghastly yet to bold hearts: do harm those abrupt rocks, those rough landscapes to the souls used to the love of waves. Then wound the sea with the rows, bring triumph to provisions and remains, enclose in the redoubt the treasures snatched away from others, lay down in the wake of the sea benefits, how happier makes me to habit the infertile mountain, the rough soil and the folds of the jungles! 19. However, her woman Regnilda, who was in love with the countryside life, was tired of the concerts the seabirds gave her every morning; she expressed in this terms all the joy she would feel in the middle of the woods: The noisy bird tortures me when I live on the shore, and, forcing me out of my dream, it awakens me with screeches. Even the thunder from the rough sea torns the sweet tranquility out of my eyes wishing to sleep, and the locquacious seagull, at night, does not let me rest, sticking its repulsive voice in my tender ears, does not let me rest even when I want to go to bed: it troubles me--how unpleasant is--with its atrocious voice. Safer and sweet, my Heart beats, with the enjoyment of the woods. Where to find less calm at night than at the presence, in this dwelling beaten by the movement of the waves? Njordr, god friend of the sea, sailers' protector, inhabitant of Noatun, "haven of the Ships," has married Skadi, the daughter of the Scandinavian giants, fascinated with the cliffs and the woods of inner Norway. Their preferences are incompatible, as Snorri says: Skadi wanted as her dwelling the one his father had, in other words the rocks in the region called Prymheimr; but Njordr wanted to be by the sea. Then they agreed to stay for nine nights in Prymheimr and the next nine in Noatun. However, when Njordr returned to Noatun from the mountains he sang these verses: The mountains harm me. I have not been there for long, At least nine nights. The howl from the wolves horrified me compared with the swans' song. Then Skadi said in these other verses: I couldn't sleep by the sea because the rumor of the birds. Awakens me, the arrival of the woods, the seagull every morning. Then Skadi returned to the mountains and lived in Prymheimr... The analogies in these situations are evident as the connection between certain details. Second episode II. The marriages of Hadingus and Regnilda (saxo, I, VII, 13), and Njordr and Skadi (Bragaroedur, 2, or Skaldskaparmal, 3 end pp. 80-81). Some paragraphs before, Saxo narrated the way the Hadingus and Regnilda got married: When he realized that one among the Giants proposed to Regnilda, sister of Hakuinus, Neitheri's king, by agreement, he did not put up with that unworthy agreement, and prey of a supreme horror before the union, with noble boldness ran opposing to the marriage. He went to Norway to take his weapons and vanquished the horrible pretender of the royal virgin. As such, he put his courage above everything else when he could have enjoyed the pleasures of royalty. He preferred to reject not only the abuses he suffered but also the ones committed to others. Paying this service, he was covered in wounds, and the young woman not having met him yet, took care of him. And to be able to recognize him, after a while she branded his leg with a ring on a wound. Later on when her father allowed her to choose a husband, she gathered all the young men in a banquet, watching their bodies, looking for the mark she left. At the moment, thanks to the hidden ring Hadingus had in her hands, she spurned them all, held him tightly in his arms and chose as husband the one who did not let her being subdued by the marital yoke of a giant. This is, according to Snorri, the story about Njordr getting married with Skadi. She was the daughter of the fearsome giant Pjazi, who had just been slayed by Odin and the other gods with the help of their guile: Skadi, the daughter of the giant Pjazi took his helmet, his coat of mail and all his war armor and went against the Dwelling of the Aesirs to avenge his father. The Aesirs offered her an agreement and compensation. After all, she would have the chance to choose a husband between the Aesirs, but the choice should be made only by looking the feet of the participants that were about to be chosen. She saw an extremely beautiful pair of feet and said--He is the one I choose. Only Baldr is flawless! But it was Njordr from Noatun... In this paragraph, the analogy is also sensitive, despite some important differences. (16)
As Dumezil points out, at the very beginning of the Twentieth century the studies conducted of the mythical, historical, epic and literary characters were not particularly deep. At that time Hadingus was mistaken as Njordr, and there was a relation that stated that not every hero from the epics was a converted god, or a humanized one: Achilles, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Siegfried, all of them rejected not only the solar and naturalistic explanations but above all the references to gods. Today it would not be easy to assimilate a hero from an epic, a mythical god, for example Romulus, is not precisely protected by Jupiter, nor the five Pandava heroes from the Mahabharata, that in fact are part of the group of functional Indo-Iranian gods, are protected. Without doubt the correspondence between humans and gods is a fact. However, to think that with this reaction in the study of myths and their transpositions most of them could be dissolved and suppressed, there is a huge distance. The preceding ideas encouraged the study of what is known as 'tale motif' in strictly literary sense. For example, Eugen Mogk attributed as a unique sense for the myths the motivation of the tales, excluding any connection with the reality. In other words, the myth was placed on a field of absolute fantasy. (17)
For Dumezil there are three different conceptions in The Saga of Hadingus and the Njordr myth: the first is about the assimilation of both characters and where they lead to, so the choice of being married and other events are typical tale motifs and the couple relation is a classical literary matter. It is evident that this approach impoverishes the Scandinavian literature. In second place, the myth of Njordr depends on a previous saga different from The Saga of Hadingus itself, of which the latter should have taken the motifs and the myth has become a matter of less importance. Finally, the third stance would state that the myth of Njordr was generated at first in an eventful way, the same as too many other Scandinavian pseudo myths with the support of such tale motifs; the creator of The Saga of Hadingus took advantage of this mythical jumble to construct his work. This position is the one Dumezil shares, and is the one he tries to develop and sustain along his work From myth to novel that without doubt gives meaning to the collection of his works.
Dumezil superimposes as a comparison the fragments from the myth woven by Snorri and the novel used by Saxo with the aim to establish if there is a common connection in the structure, for instance, 'the novel must be interpreted as a literary structure derived from the religious structure of the myth.' (18)
Something that portrayed the archaic societies was the fact their compositions were based on a mythological order, even their texts were of that kind and as Dumezil points out 'the myths cannot be understood if they are estranged from the lives of those that narrate them.' Despite its leading to a literary career, the dramatic or lyric inventions are not meaningless as they are linked to the social and political organization, the rite, the law, the customs as in occurred in Greece, precisely to justify a social order that supports the group. (19) Therefore, myths point to three facts that cannot be considered as merely hallucinations, fantasies or daydream fields, even though these imaginary forms are necessary for their creation. It is worth pointing out that in ancient times there were only two forms of literature: the lyric and the narrative, which apart from tales, could have been named 'epic.' In this point is where Dumezil found the ideology of the three functions, handed down through the centuries in the narrative mainly by three groups: 'the Indians with their Mahabharata; the Romans with the "History" of their origins; and finally the Ossets, last descendants of the Scythians [...] with their legend of Narth heroes' that shows familiarity at displaying the three constitutive functions of the system hierarchy in the relations between Priests-Wisemen, Warrior and Peasant-Producer. (20)
If we could place someone at the level of the work and figure of Dumezil, it would be a character often mentioned by him and to whom he acknowledged the effort of recovering the Gesta Danorum, writings where the History of Denmark was narrated from its origins. It would be the Christian Saxo the Grammar, who was born in that land in the middle of the Thirteenth century and devoted himself to study The Saga of Hadingus, a writing of one of the most ancient kings of Denmark. The comparison such character made between reality and myth, is just as splendid, vigorous and deep as the sight fading into distance on a point that becomes invisible in the horizon, an imaginary line dividing sky and sea.
Excusing himself, there is no doubt; Dumezil justifies himself as a time traveler and pleads for Saxo:
[...] it should not be concluded that Saxo is a false witness. If he were, he would still be a necessary witness, as many of his sources were only his to access or disappeared. However, it is not the case, and the aim of the present work is strongly to demonstrate which reinforcement contributes, on the contrary, to our mythological documentation. If here and there he is prey of contradictory terms or things, he enjoys the fundamental quality: he likes those old tales, those old religious mistakes, even that paganism, and is not at risk to fall prey of a greater contradiction, which not many of our contemporary philologists can escape. They would not hesitate before any of the words of a tale, but that cannot grasp its spirit or perceive its implicit philosophy and structure. (21)
It is clear that Dumezil recognizes Saxo's work not only in the sense of recovering those narratives; but he brings to the table the literary character of his texts, which instead of putting him further away, cause him a pleasant surprise, as he points out, despite the contradictions and nonsense, Saxo advocates for the spirit of his time. Then, using the novel as a literary exercise, he does not reduce, slander or dissolve the mythical character of the characters set out, but simply represents a way of writing which arranges and offers the myth in a different manner.
On the other hand, it would be worthy to mention the work performed by Dumezil for almost seventy years of outstanding research ageing in a critical manner, as he himself recognized his own mistakes in his earlier works, as much as to be ashamed. One example of such is where he poses the sacred character of beer linking it with the Ambrosia or the Amrita as a sacred food or beverage of the gods.
There is no doubt that his main contribution was the trifunctional character of the gods, with which we knew that the theological Roman axis was at a time a world conception shared with the Indians, Iranians, Scandinavians, Scythians and other groups that without knowing it, shared the same ideas. Since then, a common origin is feasible to be found in a field known today in Compared Mythology as Indo-European Languages. Even though Dumezil is not the sole member, or the founder of that method, his scientific rigor and effort make him one of the most emblematic researchers in Compared Mythology.
His purpose was at the very beginning to elaborate a trifunctional theology course illustrated with myths and rituals with the aim of establishing analogies that could lead to a common prehistoric prototype, to try to find later on, the necessary changes and evolutions. With this prototype we could explain the theologies directly witnessed that would make possible a reconstruction. In this first stage, he wanted to establish a collective point of view, from Jupiter Mars Quirinus, of the three functions taken to a Varuna Mitra later on, with the aim to redefine the relation between the formers finally to display the warrior function aspects. It is clear that the young Dumezil was interested in developing his trifunctional theory.
In second place his concern would be transformed, from a theological interest to a literary research, works he thought could be labeled as Myth and epic. Finally, his intention was to spend his time making thesis of the principal Indo-European groups. Indians and Iranians, from Asia and Latins and Germans from Europe will show that there was not only crossbreeding and thinking spreading but also a loss of the Indo-European heritage.
Those were the initial aims Dumezil was trying to claim, though his works were not fulfilled or published in the order he would have expected. To sum up, the following paragraphs show where Dumezil's great effort could lead us:
1. It is important to notice that the comparison not only is part of a method in a mechanical sense, that is to say, we should consider the method as a kind of artifact that helps the automatic reproduction of certain objects, as a machine made with the purpose of perpetuating itself. As a consequence it is necessary to ignore the fact that the comparison needs in advance a difference and therefore the objects produced are never the same, but always different. The comparative method is not a recipe or a matrix that combines the elements to fulfill a previously imagined structure, whether it be divine, materialistic or relative to the world of signifiers. Quite the opposite, compare is to reform, compare is to remove from the indifference and the insignificance of the world we talk of, compare means, in first place, to establish a critic judgment. If this is Dumezil's legacy and this does not let us think about humankind today, what else would do so?
2. Myth according to Dumezil is always linked with the human origins, a question that projects us beyond with the aim of giving sense to the fleeting present. It is not about some petrified origins, condensed in a logic that attempts to use its explanatory powers over the world to control the knowledge or that on the other hand shows a laidback attitude which states that there is only one origin, a single essential plan from which we all come from, being either Adam and Eve or the well-known argument of the Big-Bang. In Dumezil's work, it is shown how the mankind origins are actually infinite rhizomathic genealogies that once were associated to a theological character to an epic poem, and then were comprehended as if they were part of a history or a novel.
3. If life is a dream as the dramatist Calderon de la Barca said, the myth is an autonomous collective task of the reality with which it frictions and is presented as a film projected on the vault of heaven with its different chiaroscuros, colors, languages, subtitles, details and perspectives enveloping all the world, and today more than ever led us to think this function has no voluntary permanence.
4. The myth is, so to speak, like a dream where we can destroy ourselves, contemplate us as death, spent and simultaneously we recognize ourselves and we acknowledge ourselves alive, a curious and recurrent situation that in logical terms implies a contradiction, but that at the experiential level is an everyday situation. That is why is pointless to separate the myth in its epic, theological, historical an literary manifestations from the reality, myths are not fictions or fantasies, that is how the rituals are not simple compulsive repetitions or unique habits. The myth as the rite creates or destroys a community, in parallel the myth is an infinite self-change and not only transforms and destroys itself but constantly creates itself.
I am grateful for the support the scholar Ernesto Rivera Flores, appointed to the Education Department of the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City, gave me.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(1.) Garcia Quintela, M., Dumezil (1898-1986), Madrid, Ediciones del Orto, 1999, p. 22.
(2.) Ibid., p. 22.
(3.) Ibid., p. 29.
(4.) Ibid., pp. 29-30.
(5.) As pointed by Dumezil: 'The Word "cycle" [used in le festin d'inmortalite]", less fortunate has disappeared of my vocabulary. I replaced it by "system" and sometimes I regret not having kept the former. I caved before an objection of Victor Goldschmidt [...]: "system," he told me, implies consciousness, will, and calculation; while a society's mythical capital is, for each member of it, a data independent from its will; it is worthy to use the word "structure." However, Goldsmith was not right: "structure" simply means in Latin what "system" is in Greek. In addition, when we spoke about the Solar System or the Nervous System, and the molecular structures both substantives are synonyms. Nevertheless, I accepted and decided to use "system" in aid of "structure."' Ibid., pp. 67-68.
(6.) The Ubyhk belongs to a family of Caucasian languages and has a peculiar phonetic system: eighty-two consonants and two vowels.
(7.) Ibid., p. 31.
(8.) Ibid., p. 32.
(9.) Georges Dumezil, Mito y epopeya: tipos epicos indoeuropeos: un heroe, un brujo, un rey, Mexico, FCE, 1996, p. 348.
(10.) Pierre Grimal, Diccionario de mitologia griega y romana, Barcelona, Paidos, 1981, p. xiv.
(11.) Garcia Quintela, op. cit, p. 51.
(12.) Ibid., p. 81.
(13.) Ibid., p. 52.
(14.) Ibid., pp. 52-55.
(15.) Gorges Dumezil, Del mito de la novela, Mexico, FCE, 1997, p. 9.
(16.) Ibid., 31-35.
(17.) Ibid., pp. 38-39.
(18.) Ibid., p. 134.
(19.) Georges Dumezil, Mito y epopeya I, Barcelona, Seix Barral, 1977.
(20.) Ibid., p. 17.
(21.) Gorges Dumezil, Del mito a la novela, p. 6.
MARCO A. JIMENEZ
firstname.lastname@example.org The National Autonomous University of Mexico
Marco A. Jimenez is a professor at the Facultad de Estudios Superiores Acatlan-UNAM, in the Programs of research and investigation. He is in charge of the Culture's Philosophy subject, the Seminar of Culture Sociology, the Seminar of Selected Themes in Philosophy, (Structuralism) and the Seminar of Social Imaginaries, Identity and Education. In addition, teaches the extracurricular Seminar of Philosophy and Society, where Nietzsche and Sloterdijk are studied.
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|Author:||Jimenez, Marco A.|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2018|
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