Introduction

'Indo-European' is primarily a term of historical linguistics. It refers to the great family of languages that now extends across every continent and already two thousand years ago extended across the whole breadth of Europe and large tracts of central and southern Asia; or it refers to the hypothetical ancestral language from which all the recorded Indo-European languages descend.

That affinities existed among various of these languages, including Persian and Sanskrit, was often observed from the sixteenth century on. In the seventeenth, the idea emerged of an extinct parent language, generally identified as 'Scythian' or 'Japhetic', as the source of the historical tongues.1 The scientific study of linguistic relationships began early in the nineteenth century, pioneered by scholars with monosyllabic names such as Rask, Bopp, Grimm, and Pott. It was at this time that the terms 'Indo-Germanic' and 'Indo-European' were coined; they are first recorded in 1810 and 1813 respectively.2 The two centuries since then have seen steady advances in knowledge and understanding, and the progress achieved is now cumulatively enormous. All serious students operate on the assumption of a single parent language as the historical source of all the known Indo-European languages.

This is still a hypothesis, not an observable fact, but it is an inescapable hypothesis. Of course, when this proto-Indo-European was spoken, it was itself only one of many languages that existed at that time, and it was no doubt related to some of the others. Some scholars argue for affinities with

1 For the early comparatists see the survey of Sergent (1995), 21-7, who cites an ample bibliography.

2 See K. Koerner, IF 86 (1981), 1-29. 'Indo-Germanic' was meant to define the family by reference to its eastern and western extremities; that Celtic belongs in it was not discovered till the 1830s. 'Indogermanisch' continues to be the prevalent term among German-speakers, for whom it has the merit of greater euphony as well as appealing to national feeling, but in the rest of the learned world the more inclusive 'Indo-European' is now standard.

Semitic, Caucasian, and Uralian, and gather all of these, together with Indo-European, into a super-family dubbed 'Nostratic'. This shimmering construct is of no consequence for the present study. But it is good to bear in mind that Indo-European was not a unique, original entity like the primal cosmic atom before the Big Bang. As a historical reality, it necessarily existed in a historical context.3

If there was an Indo-European language, it follows that there was a people who spoke it: not a people in the sense of a nation, for they may never have formed a political unity, and not a people in any racial sense, for they may have been as genetically mixed as any modern population defined by language. If our language is a descendant of theirs, that does not make them 'our ancestors', any more than the ancient Romans are the ancestors of the French, the Romanians, and the Brazilians. The Indo-Europeans were a people in the sense of a linguistic community. We should probably think of them as a loose network of clans and tribes, inhabiting a coherent territory of limited size. It has been estimated that in prehistoric conditions the largest area within which a single language could exist without dividing into mutually unintelligible tongues (as Indo-European, of course, eventually did) might be of up to a million square kilometres—roughly the size of Ontario — but was probably a good deal less.4

A language embodies certain concepts and values, and a common language implies some degree of common intellectual heritage. Within the original common territory,5 which we may call Eurostan, there no doubt existed local diversities: differences of material culture, of dialect, of cult and custom. But so long as the dialects remained mutually intelligible and there was easy communication across the whole area, we might suppose there also to have been a measure of shared tradition in such spheres as religion, storytelling, and general ideology. If the evidence assembled in the present work is not illusory, this theoretical expectation is fulfilled.

Indo-European studies have long spilled beyond the confines of purely linguistic analysis and reconstruction. By the middle of the nineteenth century some scholars—the pioneer was Adalbert Kuhn—had started to make inferences from the linguistic evidence about the people who spoke the proto-language: about their habitat, their conceptual world, their social

3 Typological similarities with other language families are reviewed by B. Comrie in Ramat (1998), 74-97.

5 It should be understood that 'original' here does not mean 'occupied from the beginning of time', but refers to the initial area from which the later diversification of Indo-European languages proceeded; in other words, the territory occupied by the Indo-Europeans in the last phase of development before they and their one language began to divide.

institutions, their mythology.6 From 1853 onwards Kuhn, Theodor Benfey, and others began to identify parallel poetic phrases in different branches of the Indo-European tradition, especially in Greek and Indic: phrases composed of words that corresponded etymologically in the different languages, and expressing concepts such as would not have had a place in ordinary everyday speech but only in an elevated formal type of discourse, in poetry or high rhetoric. The inference was that the Indo-Europeans had had poetry and a poetic language, some relics of which survived long enough in traditional usage to be still recognizable in texts available to us.7 In 1860 there appeared the first attempt to reconstruct Indo-European forms of versification by comparing Greek and Vedic metres.8

The comparative mythology that took flight at this period, associated especially with Kuhn and Müller, stalled within fifty years and made a forced landing. This was partly because some of its most striking conclusions were based on equations of names that turned out to be untenable as more exact linguistic rules were established by the so-called Neo-grammarians, and partly because of its practitioners' propensity for explaining almost every myth or mythical personage as an allegory of the sun, moon, storm, or some other natural phenomenon. There continued to be sober surveys of the evidence for Indo-European culture, and numerous attempts, based on ecological appraisals and data from prehistoric archaeology, to determine the whereabouts of the Urheimat, the original homeland. But it was in the linguistic field that the clearest progress was being made. The Neo-grammarians, whose leading figure was Karl Brugmann, achieved what seemed to be a fairly complete and definitive account of the Indo-European languages and their evolution from the parent tongue. Then in the first two decades of the twentieth century further horizons opened up through the discovery of two hitherto unknown branches of the Indo-European family, represented by Tocharian and Hittite.

6 Adalbert Kuhn, Zur ältesten Geschichte der indogermanischen Völker (Progr. Berlin 1845), expanded in Indische Studien 1 (1850), 321-63; id. (1859); Jacob Grimm, Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (Leipzig 1848; 4th edn. 1880); various works of Friedrich Max Müller, from his Essay on Comparative Mythology (1856) to his Science of Mythology (1897); Pictet (1859-63); Michel Breal, Hercule et Cacus (Paris 1860); Victor Hehn, Kulturpflanzen und Haustiere (Berlin 1870); August Fick, Die ehemalige Spracheinheit der Indogermanen Europas (Göttingen 1873); Otto Schrader, Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichte (Jena 1883), translated as Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples (London 1890). Already in 1788 Sir William Jones (Asiatic Researches, i. 422 f.) had found common elements in Greek, Roman, and Hindu religion and postulated a historical connection.

7 For an account of the progress of this line of inquiry from Kuhn onwards see Schmitt (1967), 6-60. The first to speak explicitly of 'traces of Indo-Germanic poetry' was Adolf Kaegi, Der Rigveda. Die älteste Literatur der Inder (2nd edn., Leipzig 1881), 128 n. 12, cf. 158 n. 82.

8 See the section on metre in Chapter 1.

The year 1924 saw the first of a long series of publications by Georges Dumézil that were to give comparative mythology a fresh direction and a fresh esteem. While pursuing philological equations of names as far as they went, he held that they were not necessary for establishing connections between myths in different traditions, as new names had often been substituted for old ones. More significant, in his view, were parallel structures. In the 1930s he developed his famous theory of the three fonctions, the sacral, the martial, and the economic. This gave him a structural formula that he was able to find in myths, pantheons, and rituals all over the place. At first he thought that it derived from a real threefold division of Indo-European society into holy men, warriors, and peasants. Later he retreated from this position and presented the system rather as a feature of Indo-European thought, a habit of organizing things in terms of those three categories.

Dumézil's work has been enormously influential. Some researchers continue to operate within the framework of his tripartite ideology, and to refer to the First, Second, or Third Function as if they had the same truth-status as the first, second, or third declension in Latin. Others have been strongly critical. As the system is essentially a theoretical taxonomy, it is hardly capable of proof or disproof. You may find it illuminating and useful, or you may not. Personally I do not. But one must acknowledge Dumézil's breadth of learning and combinatorial brilliance, and give due credit for his real discoveries.9

Meanwhile the more strictly philological approach to the quest for Indo-European poetry and culture made unspectacular but steady progress under the pens of such scholars as Paul Thieme, Bernfried Schlerath, Jaan Puhvel, Calvert Watkins, Marcello Durante, Enrico Campanile, and Wolfgang Meid. Something of a milestone was set in 1967 by Rüdiger Schmitt's Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit, a major synthesis of what had been achieved up to that date in the field of Indo-European poetics and poetic language. Schmitt did not concern himself with theology and myth, and his focus is somewhat restricted also in that Celtic and Anatolian evidence remains outside his purview.

In the last thirty or forty years Indo-European studies of every kind have gained energy and mass. A journal devoted to their less austerely linguistic aspects was founded in 1973 and has thrived, calving numerous monographs by the way. There have been ever more frequent conferences resulting in bulky

9 On Dumézil and his development see C. Scott Littleton, The New Comparative Mythology (Berkeley-Los Angeles 1966; 3rd edn. 1982); W. W. Belier, Decayed Gods. Origin and Development of Georges Dumézil's Idéologie Tripartite (Leiden 1991) (strongly critical); Sergent (1995), 328-33; B. Schlerath, Kratylos 40 (1995), 1-48; 41 (1996), 1-67 (critical); Polomé in E. C. Polomé (ed.), Indo-European Religion after Dumézil (JIESM 16, Washington, DC 1996), 5-12; W. W. Belier, ibid. 37-72.

volumes of proceedings, Festschriften and Gedenkschriften for distinguished Indo-Europeanists, and other substantial books. Since 1997 we have had an imposing and decidedly useful (if uneven) Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture.

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