Georges Dumézil’s Mythe et épopée series and its partial English translations

Towards the end of his career, Georges Dumézil began to produce some works summarising the results of his decades of research. The most important was the Mythe et épopée series published by Gallimard in three volumes in 1968, 1971 and 1973. 

  1. L’Idéologie des trois fonctions dans les épopées des peuples indo-européens
  2. Types épiques indo-européens : un héros, un sorcier, un roi 
  3. Histoires romaines

Each volume was revised in new editions in Dumézil’s lifetime, and they are still in print as separate volumes. There were plans for a fourth volume, but this was abandoned. In 1995 the three volumes were reprinted as a single volume in the Quarto series, a mammoth book of 1463 pages in total. That Quarto edition has both the original pagination of each volume and a running pagination for the volume as a whole. 

For reasons that in retrospect don’t make a lot of sense, Mythe et épopée became, in Jaan Puhvel’s words, “a kind of quarry, subject to piecemeal extractions into the English language” (“Editor’s Preface, The Stakes of the Warrior, vii). This means the series has been incompletely translated.

None of the first volume has been translated – although there was a plan for at least the first part of it to be translated as Earth Unburdened: Mythic Infrastructure in the Mahabharata. (It’s a substantial work of 634 pages in the first edition, with ten additional pages of notes added for the reeditions in 1974, 1979 and 1986.)

Volume III was partly translated as Camillus: A Study of Indo-European Religion as Roman History (California, 1980). This includes Mythe et Épopée III, 91-199, 305-37 and some material from a different book, Fêtes romaines d’été et d’automne, 255-83. As these page numbers indicates, this leaves quite a bit of Mythe et Épopée III untranslated.

Volume II is the best represented in English, but still not entirely translated. Its title was Types épiques indo-européens: un héros, un sorcier, un roi [Indo-European epic figures: a hero, a sorcerer, a king], and these figures are represented in its three parts.


Première partie: L’enjeu du jeu des dieux: Un héros (Śiśupāla, Starkadr, Héracles)

Deuxième partie: Entre les dieux et les demons: Un sorcier (Kāvya Uśanas, Kavi Usan)

Troisième partie: Entre les dieux et les hommes: Un roi (Yayāti, Yima, Eochaid Feidlech)


Appendice I: Extraits de la «Mythologie des Indous» de la chanoinesse de polier

Appendice II: Starcatherus et ingellus: Les invectives (Saxo Grammaticus, VI, IX, 3-7, 8-16)

Notes de 1977

Note de 1982

Note de 1986

The first, second and third parts are translated as The Destiny of a King (Chicago, 1973), The Plight of a Sorcerer (California, 1986) and The Stakes of the Warrior (California, 1983). The original French part-titles are lost with these titles, which are closer to:

Part I: The Stake in the Gods’ Game: A Hero (Śiśupāla, Starkadr, Heracles)

Part II: Between Gods and Demons: A Sorcerer (Kāvya Uśanas, Kavi Usan)

Part III: Between Gods and Men: A King (Yayāti, Yima, Eochaid Feidlech)

The Stakes of the Warrior includes Appendix I, which provides some excerpts from Colonel Antoine Louis Polier, Mythologie des Indous (2 vols, 1809). One of Dumézil’s last books was Le Mahabarat et le Bhagavat de Colonel de Polier (Gallimard, 1986) in which he wrote a preface to introduce some chapters from Polier’s Mythologie. At the end of the 1986 edition of Mythe et Épopée II he recognises that the fragments of the appendix are there put back in their place.

In The Stakes of the Warrior, Jaan Puhvel says “appendix II (pp. 392-402, text and French translation of Saxo’s seventy Sapphic stanzas containing Starcatherus’s torrent of invective against Ingellus) is unnecessary in English, given the available renderings by both Elton and Fisher” (“Editor’s Preface”, viii). The translations mentioned are The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus, trans. Oliver Elton (1894), and Saxo Grammaticus, The History of the Danes Books I-IX, trans. Peter Fisher, ed. Hilda Ellis Davidson (1979).

Even so, the second volume is not complete in English. As well as Appendix II (392-402), the three translations also omit the book’s Preface (7-12), Conclusion (375-77), and the additional notes (403-8).

Those pages of volume II, substantial parts of volume III and the whole of volume I are not available in English. With the exception of The Destiny of a King, all the above-mentioned English translations of Dumézil are out of print. 

This page is part of the research for a new project on Indo-European Thought in Twentieth-Century France. For some preliminary textual comparison of Dumézil’s major work on the warrior function, Heur et malheur du Guerrier, part-translated as The Destiny of the Warrior, see here.