Tag Archives: Jaan Puhvel

Myth And Law Among The Indo-Europeans * Jaan Puhvel (editor) (1970)

Myth and LawThis book is formed by the texts of lectures that were given at a 1967 congress about the study of comparative folklore and mythology at the University of California. The congress was led by Jaan Puhvel who was also editor of the book. Puhvel is a Dumézilian scholar and that fact and the title of the book led me to get myself a copy. The book is fairly easy to find second hand, but the price can get pretty high. Of course the book is filled with ‘Dumézilian’ essays. Apparently also that can become irritating! After the third text about ‘the threefold death’ and yet another text destilling the three functions out of some Greek text, I get the idea. I think I prefer the texts of Dumézil himself or perhaps just a more in depth analysis. In any case, the book opens in a very promising way with a nice text about linguistics of Calvert Watkins, the great In Defense Of Euhemerus by Kees Bolle and the only text about law Comparative Legal Reconstruction In Germanic by Stephen Schwartz. Towards the end things become a bit too typically Dumézilian with too little new information. It is nice to find some new scholars who follow this structure and there were some known names and of course references to other books, but I must admit that this work did not make me more enthousiastic about Dumézilian scholars. Maybe a more recent work of this kind, if there are any.

1970 University Of California Press, isbn 0520015878

Comparative Mythology * Jaan Puhvel (1987)

Comparative Mythology

If I am not mistaken, Jaan Puhvel was born in Estonia in 1932 and he was a student of Georges Dumézil (in Upsala) and follows his path in comparitive mythology. By now living and teaching in America for many years, Puhvel displays an amazing ability to play with the English language, making this book a fun read at times. Puhvel wanted to write a basic book about comparitive mythology (“mythology” in his usuage means “the study of myth”). Puhvel starts with describing the Indo-European “traditions” (Vedic India, Epic India, Ancient Iran, Epic Iran, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Celtic Myth, Germanic Myth and Baltic and Slavic myth). However Puhvel does not really say much new (but some new findings are enclosed) this book is nicely short, clear and the writer immediately starts with cross-referencing. He grantly displays his 30 years of experience with elaborate sentences which seem to smoothly flow from his pen with humour and wordplay. After this part follow five “themes” (God and warrior, king and virgin, horse and ruler, fire in water and twin and brother) which are not as thematically as I hoped, more again retelling of parts of different myths, but again with some nice theories. Inspite of being a student of Dumézil, Puhvel does not necessarily follow the firsts conclusions. On page 200 he writes: “Yet this is still mainly schematic and typological. The Indic god with whom Odin has most in common is not Varuna but Rudra-Siva.” which point is -of course- elucidated. A goal of this book is to put the Greek mythology back to the place where it belongs:

Greece is a special case for the comparative mythologist. Being somehow the central reference point for mythology at large, Greek myth tends to carry disproportionate weight in any comparison. […] For the purposes of this book, however, Greek myth must be stripped of its unfair advantage and placed squarely into the frame of our study.

It is very true that virtually all Westerners have been taught about Greek (and Roman) mythology at school, but not or hardly about other mythologies and that Greek mythology is the starting point of scholars in the field. Hopefully Puhvel’s voice will change the tide.
To close off I want to give another quote so that you get an idea of the tone of this book: read more