Georges Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty, trans. Derek Coltman, ed. Stuart Elden – HAU books, June 2023.
Pre-order details at the University of Chicago Press site, who distribute HAU books.
A classic text that develops one prong of Dumézil’s tripartite hypothesis of Indo-European tribes: the sacred sovereign.
Georges Dumézil’s fascination with the myths and histories of India, Rome, Scandinavia, and the Celts yielded an idea that became his most influential scholarly legacy: the tripartite hypothesis, which divides Indo-European societal functions into three classes: the sacred sovereign, the warrior, and the producer. Mitra-Varuna, originally published in 1940, concentrates on the first function, that of sovereignty. Dumézil identifies two types of rulers, the first judicial and worldly, the second divine and supernatural. These figures, both priestly, are oppositional but complementary. The title nods to these roles, referring to the gods Mitra, a rational mediator, and Varuna, an awesome religious figure.
Stuart Elden’s critical edition, based on the 1988 English translation by Derek Coltman, identifies variations between the first and second French editions and completes—and in places corrects—Dumézil’s references. The editor’s detailed introduction situates Mitra-Varuna within Dumézil’s career, outlines how his treatment of its themes developed over time, and relates the book to the political controversy around his ideas. Two new appendices contain passages that did not appear in the second French edition.
I’ve discussed something of the editing work here, and this is the first output of my new research project on Indo-European thought in twentieth-century France. This project is funded by a Leverhulme major research fellowship, to run for three years from 1 October 2022. I also have a chapter on Foucault’s use of Dumézil’s ideas on sovereignty forthcoming in the Handbook on Governmentality.