[‘Horace: A Reading of Livy’, followed by ‘Aspects of the Warrior Function among the Indo-Europeans’ and ‘The Transformations of the Third of the Triple’]
This set of three texts by Georges Dumézil is placed at the beginning of the seventh volume of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, given over to the theme ‘Du myth au roman’ [‘From Myth to the Novel’]. The first text, ‘Horace: Lecture de Tite-Live’ [‘Horace: A Reading of Livy’], reprints the entirety of chapter four of Dumézil’s Horace et les Curiaces [Horace and the Curiatii] (1942), the first part of Dumézil’s sequence Les Mythes des romains [The Myths of the Romans].1 The second text is an extract from ‘Aspects de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-Européens’ [‘Aspects of the Warrior Function amongst the Indo-Europeans’] (1956). The final text, ‘Les Transformations du Troisième du triple’ [‘Transformations of the Third of the Triple’], dated March 1967, was written specifically for the Cahiers, and is presented ‘in the guise of a postface’ (CpA 7.1:39). The extracts present examples of Dumézil’s structuralist approach to myth and history.
Dumézil’s guiding contention in his Myths of the Romans is that the relatively minor role played by myth and religion amongst the Romans is due to their historicisation of mythology. Dumézil claims that the main literary sources for early Roman history, Livy’s History of Rome and Dionysius of Halicarnassus’s Roman Antiquities, have no basis in fact, but instead reflect the founding myths of the Roman republic. For the Romans, ‘mythology […] prospered under the form of history’.2 In the chapter of Horace et les curiaces reprinted in the Cahiers, Dumézil examines the structure and function of the legend of the Horatii and Curiatii as told by Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. He examines the function of the legend within Roman society, proceeding to relate this narrative, along with others from early Roman history, to the structure of the mythology and ideology of Indo-European societies.
The second text presented in the Cahiers, ‘Aspects de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-Européens’ illustrates Dumézil’s structuralist approach to mythology, identifying formal correspondences between Roman and Indian mythology. The same ‘function’, a battle of a warrior with a ‘triple’ enemy, can be identified in both mythologies. In his general theory Dumézil contends that Indo-European society was originally split into three separate social functions. The first function involved a ‘dual sovereignty’ of king and priest; the second was the warrior function and the third that of agriculture. The three different social functions were expressed in corresponding ideologies and ritual complexes.3 In these pieces, he focuses on the structures proper to the warrior [guerrière] function.
Dumézil’s importance to the development of structuralism was noted by Michel Foucault and Claude Lévi-Strauss. In an interview shortly after the publication of History of Madnessin 1961, Foucault said that he had been influenced by Dumézil ‘through his idea of structure. Just as Dumézil does with myths, I attempted to discover the structured forms of experience whose pattern can be found, again and again, with modifications, at different levels’.4 In 1978, Lévi-Strauss recognised that Dumézil was ‘the pioneer of the structural method’.5 Dumézil’s early contribution to structuralist methodology goes some way towards explaining the presence of Dumézil in this volume of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse.
In their introduction to the extracts, Jacques-Alain Miller and François Regnault note the persistence of the structures and scenarios of mythology in literature. What appears as a ‘cause without reason’ in mythology is subjected to a ‘rationalisation’ in the novel, where it is displaced into ‘psychological and juridical calculuses of interest, motivation and judgement’. To attempt to put this psychology at a distance, they say, is ‘to return to myth’ (CpA 7.Introduction:4).
1. ‘Horace, Lecture de Tite-Live’ [‘Horace: A Reading of Livy’]
An unsigned ‘Note liminaire’ (CpA 7.1:7-8) gives an outline of the first three chapters of the Horace et les curiaces, so as to provide some relevant background information for the chapter published here. Although the whole book is entitled Horace et les curiaces, the legend of Horace is itself only recounted in the final chapter. The first chapter concerns the theme of furor. According to Dumézil, Indo-European warfare is marked by a controlled use of ‘transfiguring fury’ [fureur transfigurante], or ‘frenzy’ [frénésie] ((8) Roman military success was based on the incorporation of this ‘virtue’, with a ritual liquidation of furor for all returning warriors. The second chapter is on the Irish myth of Cuchùlainn’s battle with the three sons of Nechta, which Dumézil suggests contains structural correspondences with the Roman legend of Horace, both of which he relates back to Indo-European mythology. In the third chapter, Dumézil turns to the early history of Rome and contends that Livy’s account of the third king, Tullus Hostilius, should be put into structural relation with his narratives of the reigns of the first two kings, Romulus and Numa. Dumézil suggests that the reign of Tullus represents the dominance of the warrior function, following the kingships of Romulus (‘the magician’) and Numa (‘the jurist’).6
The story of Horace takes place during the reign of Tullus. It is first recounted in Livy’s History of Rome (I, 1.23-27) and Dionysius of Halicarnassus gives a lengthier account in Roman Antiquities (III, 13-22). In the legend, two sets of triplets, the Horatii and the Curiatii, help to resolve antagonisms between Rome and its neighbour, Alba. The Alban ruler had suggested that rather than continue a war of attrition, three representatives of the two sides should fight. The Roman king Tullus chooses the three Horatii and the Albans choose the three Curiatii. According to various statements in Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the two trios are brothers or brothers-in-law. In the battle, two of the Horatii are killed. The lone survivor, the third of the Horatii, then manages to summon up a state of furor and kill the Curiatii triplets, thus earning Tullus the empire. Horace emerges as the heroic victor, but in his victory procession through Rome, still in a state of furor, he encounters his sister, who is betrothed to one of the Curiatii. She cries and yells out her dead lover’s name. Then angered that ‘his sister should dare to grieve at the very moment of his own triumph’, he kills her with a sword. Horace is then arrested and brought before the king. He is tried and then acquitted on account of a statement from the father, who says his daughter deserved her death in the circumstances. But in order nevertheless to ‘mitigate the stain’ of Horace’s deed, Horace’s father is required to perform ‘certain ceremonies which would expiate the crime’ and purify Horace (Livy 1.27). The latter is made to pass beneath a piece of timber placed across a roadway, as if under the ‘yoke’ of submission. Livy remarks that this timber, which is renewed periodically at the state’s expense, is known as ‘The Sister’s Beam’ (Tigillum Sororium).
(TO BE COTINUED)
1. The full Myths of the Romans sequence includes: Horace et les Curiaces (vol. I: 1942); Servius et la Fortune: Essai sur la fonction sociale de louange et de blâme et sur les éléments indo-européens du cens romain(vol. II: 1943); Tarpeia: Cinq essais de philologie comparative indo-européenne (vol. III: 1947).
2. ‘Aspects of the Warrior Function amongst the Indo-Europeans’, in The Destiny of the Warrior, 4.
3. For a synoptical account of Dumézil’s conception of the ‘tripartition’ of Indo-European societies, see C. Scott Littleton, The New Comparative Mythology, 7-9.
4. Foucault, ‘Madness only exists in society’ (1961), 8.
5. Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘Dumézil et les sciences humaines’, cited in François Dosse, The History of Structuralism, I, 33.
6. For Dumézil’s account of dual sovereignty in Rome and Indo-European societies, see Mitra-Varuna, chapter 3, ‘Romulus and Numa’.
7. For an account of Dumézil’s notion of ‘furor’, see Mircea Eliade, Rites of Initiation, 81-89.