Skip to content

In Search Of The Indo-Europeans * J.P. Mallory (isbn 0500276161)

The title of this book covers the content perfectly. No straight answers, simply because they cannot be given, but a lot of information in search of answers. As the term suggest “Indo-European” refers to a people, or peoples ranging from India to Western Europe. To be more precise, the Indo-Europeans are suppose to be the peoples live from India to Western Europe. In order to determine who these cultures people are and where they came from, scientists have two methods: linguistics (the investigation of languages) and archeology. J.P. Mallory uses both in his book.

The beginning is very interesting. It tells how the term “Indo-Europeans” came into being and what strange and actually a not too acurate term it is. In chapters two and three, Mallory speaks about several Indo-European peoples, where they most likely came from, where they went to, etc. Then chapter four sets the standard for the rest of the book. Mallory keeps talking of the “Proto-Indo-European-Culture”, so the culture before the culture that is supposed to be the starting point of the Western cultures of today. This may already be quite confusing, but the idea is as follows: from the current Indo-Euopean languages (which are in some way similar), linguistics tried to recreate the language that was spoken by our foreforefathers. Finding out what words were known, a recreation of the culture, economy, social organisation, etc. is made. When possible the ideas are underbuild with archeology, but since we are talking thousands and thousands years in the past, this is more often not possible than it is.

A chapter is dedicated to the Indo-European religion. This would have been the most interesting part for me, but it doesn’t go very deeply. The next chapter is called “the Indo-European homeland problem”. Scientists do not agree where the Proto-Indo-Europeans came from. Whether this was from India, or from central Asia (now Turkey, Iran), or elsewhere. Personally I find the question itself strange. It doens’t seem likely to me that there was one separate folk, living in a pinpointable place on the earth in a specific period of time who are the forefathers of the multitude of nations and cultures with their variety of languages that we call Indo-European today. As Mallory also shows, Indo-European cultures are Indo-European cultures because they speak an Indo-European language. The point is -though-, that some of the oldest of them, had a language that is already mixed with the tongue of their neighbouring cultures. Or what is also possible, a people originally didn’t have an Indo-European tongue, but in the course of time, they got it. This makes it hard, if not impossible, to say with certainty what are Indo-European cultures and which aren’t, or which are partly it. All problems the scholars meet, are dealt with in this book. Mallory proves a bit to be a popular-scientist, not shying to say where scientists are not sure or wrong in the writers opinion, showing the different ideas and schools. All in all the book is very scholarly though. It is a flood of information making it a very tiring read.

I bought this book in a second hand bookshop in Vancouver, Canada and one of the people who was with me, asked me: “Don’t you have better books about this subject in Europe?” My first reaction was that I wasn’t really looking for a book like this, I just happened to run into it, so I never really looked for in at home. I suppose that probably the title would have been chosen differently. “Indo-European” is a term that is used more often now to avoid the term “Aryan” that was mostly used before, but which word was so much abused by the Nazis. According to Hindu mythology, it where the Aryans who drove out the original population of Northern India and the Aryans were a more higher developed people. The Aryans build up a wonderfull civilisation and started to spread over the rest of the world. It is these blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans that Hitler and his followers thought were the “Übermenschen” they stemmed from. It is not surprising that the term is not discredited and replaced. People who still know the connection, also put a burdon on the term “Indo-European”, which is actually not a too great term either, but still. Like Hitler did, and some people do still, the term “Aryan” (and now “Indo-European”) is used to divide the primal culture where ‘we’ come from, from the rest, in particular Semitic.
But to come back to the question of my Canadian guide, this book was published by Thames & Hudson, a Brittish/American publisher, so in a way it is European too. I haven’t been able to find much about the writer, but according to his style, he is an American. This fairly cheap and highly informative book is definately not a bad buy if you want to have something about this subject. There are probably better ones, or maybe more original, but still, if you buy the books of George Dumezil for example, you won’t read about other theories than his own. The nice part of a book like this is, that the writer doesn’t feel like having to write something new, but make an overview of what ideas are present and put them alongside eachother. I haven’t looked further for a similar book, but according to the back of it, I don’t have to!

A point to close off. Of course I was aware of the connections the term “Indo European” has in Europe. Still many scholars use it and why shouldn’t they? If scientists agree that there are a few primal cultures that the cultures of today come from, why can’t we give them names? Reading this book of Mallory I was quite pleased by the fact that he didn’t seem to feel like having to devend himself for putting the things in the way he did. Upto the last chapter… This chapter is entirely dedicated to “the Aryan myth”, the misuse and abuse of the terms and history of the “Aryans” or “Indo Europeans”, where people who use(d) these term for certain purposes are/where wrong. He didn’t have to do that for me, but it does put things back in perspective for people who would feel reserved to study this kind of material because of the connections that were and are made to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *