Indo-European Studies 1: #2

George Dumezil’s theory of tripartition has been central to many modern approaches to Indo-European studies. Outline Dumezil’s three social functions in general, and as they appear in one particular Indo-European society. Offer your opinion as to whether you believe Dumezil’s claim that tripartition is central to IE cultures. (minimum 300 words)

Littleton outlines Dumezil’s tripartition of social castes as three fundamental classificatory principles: sovereignty (priestly caste), force (warrior caste), and nourishment (provider caste) (Littleton, 5).  These functions are not meant to be the social or behavioral strata, but the principles by which they are defined, also according to Littleton.  The order of these principles, starting with sovereignty and ending with nourishment is the actual hierarchy of these classes and the privileges and obligations that each held.  The first class, to me, would obviously have more privilege, but also more obligation, and each class afterwards having less and less.

To compare these classification in the Norse culture, Dumezil gives a complicated timeline of social classification examples with Heimdall as told in the Rigspula.  During his incognito travels as “Rig” and the various visits to homes of varying social structures, there is a clear distinction in the names of the children begat from these encounters and how they affiliate with the social position of those houses.  The poorest house names their son Thrall) (slave, the next names their son Karl (freeholder), and the third names their son Jarl (noble or earl) (Dumezil, 119).  The son from the highest classed family is not abandoned like the previous children, thus showing example of the privilege given to the highest social caste and those born into it.

The God structures in Northern Mythology had similar “castes” if you look at Odin as a Chieftan, Thor as a Warrior, and Freyr as a Producer deity.

While Dumezil’s theory has some merit and core examples in IE culture, it is by no means exhaustive.  Looking at the God structure as a very simple example, there is no fit in the three castes for Loki.  In societal function there is no role in this theory for thieves and merchants in particular that lend me to believe that there either needs to be broader classification or a reorganization if you are going to try to set society culture standards into specific groups.

(Word Count: 332)

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