George Dumezil’s theory of tripartition is based on the idea that any of the Indo-European cultures’ mythological and sociological aspects could be divided into three functions. The first and most important function was centered on maintaining the magico-religious and judicial(Should this be “judicial”?) sovereignty, the order of things. The second function was concerned with the physical prowess of the society. The function, and in some ways seen as the least important, was those in charge of the providing of sustenance.
Wouter Belier cites several sources showing how the Hellenic culture had tripartition. The first source he cites is from Plato, saying, “Plato divides the ancient Athenians into the class of priests, the class of handworkers, herdsmen and farmers, and the class of warriors”
The other two sources that Belier cites actually reveal the Greek names of the
groups which serve the three functions of the tripartition. The second source
is “Strabo and Plutarch, refer to the Hoplitai, the representatives of the
second function; the Ergadeis, the artisans; the Geleontes, the farmers; and
the Aigikoreis, who are herdsmen in Plutarch and religious magistrates in
Strabo” (Belier 113).
And the third source states “The Dorian tripartition into Hylleis, Pamphyloi
and Dymanes is also given a functional interpretation” (Belier).
Belier goes on to explain how each class served their function. The Dymanes
make up the religious or priestly cast. The Hylleis represent the second
function of warrior class, they were related with Heracles. The Pamphyloi make
up the third class, those who cultivated the land and supported everyone.
When I first read about tripartition I was a bit skeptical that such a definition could be applied so broadly to so many cultures. But once I began studying the theory I was able to see how this could be applied. Though the more I looked the more I wondered how this could apply to the Hellenic culture. Reading Belier I saw several sources where it was possible. Then I read something in Scott Littleton’s book “The Comparative Mythology” that really hit home to make me a believer. Littleton talks about how Dumézil see a theme not often mentioned in the Sabine war: “… a struggle between representatives of the first two functions and those of the third, wherein the latter are defeated and thus brought into the social system”
(Littleton 12). As the founder of the ADF Demeter and
Eleusinian Order this really made me stop and think. When you break down the
story of Demeter and Kore you find a struggle between deities of the three
realms, more specifically the deities Upperworld and the Underworld struggling
against the deity of the Middleworld. This conflict is then resolved allowing a
peace to be created between the three worlds and order to be restored under the
rule of the main deity of the Upperworld.
Belier, Wouter W. Decayed gods: origin and development of Georges Dumézil's "idéologie tripartie". Boston: Brill Academic Publishing, 1977. paperback.
Littleton, C. Scott. The New Comparative Mythology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973. Paperback.