Decayed Gods

Author: Wouter W. Belier

Publisher: E.J. Brill

Published: 1991

ISBN: 9004094873

Synopsis: In 1930 Dumezil wrote an article in which he defended the Indo-European character of the Indian “varnas,” In 1986 he was completing his final 25 “Esquisses,” research proposals the aim of which was to allow his model of the ‘ideologie tripartie’ of Indo-European traditions to be applied to his ‘disciples’. According to this model Indo-European traditions were typified by a threefold division into functions of society, the world of the gods, and the heroic traditions. These were the functions of sovereignty, power and ‘fertility’. This theoretical model was elaborated by Dumezil in a large number of books and articles. Between 1930 and 1986 he broadened enormously the amount of data on which his model was based. To do so he had regularly to adapt and reformulate his model. This was not without consequences for the material which he had interpreted earlier on. In this study a detailed description is given of this process of reformulation and reinterpretation and the conclusion is that the totality of the various models does not, despite its aesthetic attraction, satisfy the criteria which should be set for scientific models.

Table of Contents with my comments:

Chapter One – Introduction: A brief discussion of what is meant by Indo-Europeans, the tripartite theory and the history of how this theory was reviewed.

I enjoyed this chapter because the theory wasn’t just explained but I was given examples of it and how it was applied by Dumézil himself. I also found myself agreeing with the criticisms AND the acclimations of the theory which is all kinds of weird.

Chapter Two – Methodology, Chapter Three – The Tripartite System, Chapter Four – The Mitra-Varuna Concept, Chapter Five – Bipartita Minora, and Chapter Six – Tripartita Minora: These chapters are a description of how Dumézil developed his theory. The chapters deal with his methodology and its implications and they also deal with the way he interpreted the materials he used to develop his theory.

I found chapter two informative and finally I get a sense of how and why Dumézil applied his theory the way he did. I also found it boring.I found it funny, in chapter three, that the Celts and the Greeks only warranted one page of discussion each.  They are the exact two cultures that I have the most trouble applying the Tripartite theory too. The issue of bipatition, discussed in chapters four and five, was really interesting to me.  This was because it showed that tripartition was not the only theory that can be applied to IE cultures. The most interesting part of chapter six to me was how the Goddesses of the IE cultures were thought to represent the third function by Dumézil only for him later to realise that they could represent all three functions. 

Chapter Seven – Evaluation: This chapter evaluates the theory.

I thought the evaluation was very thorough and even handed.

Review: The book is a translation of the author’s PhD thesis. The main aim of this book is to reconstruct the tripartite theory developed and expanded on by Georges Dumézil. The other aim of this book is to assess and evaluate the theory. The book delivered very well on both.

The book was very methodical in its explanation of everything to do with the Tripartite theory.  Every step and chapter built on the one before it and the chapters were not too long as to lose you but not to short so as you are short changed on the information. The chapter always begins with a summary of what is going to be discussed and conclusions at the end of the chapters.  If the ideas are many in one chapter then the conclusions are put at the end of each section. Very easy for when one wants to go back to re-read, review, or reference something.

Here is what I didn’t like about it. Dumézil’s words were kept in French and no translation was provided so if you didn’t understand French you lost a tiny bit of the information on what HE (Dumézil) said about his work.  In some cases it was important in most cases you were able to understand from the text around it. Fortunately for me I had an aunt who was happy to read those bits and help me understand them. Not everyone is so lucky.  

Apart from the above mentioned problem I HIGHLY recommend the book for people who want to understand the Tripartite theory and what all the fuss is about.