Sunday, August 10, 2014

Indo-European Studies 1

1. What is Indo-European?

Describe several factors that define a culture as Indo-European and how those defining factors are useful in understanding that culture (min. 300 words) 

Indo-European is defined as “a linguistic term denoting the comparativistically reconstructable proto language that underlies the Indic, Iranian, Tocharian, Anatolian, Armenian, Greek, Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and Slavic language groups” (Puhvel 33). This term is used to establish a group of people based not upon their cultural habits or belief system, but instead based upon the language that they spoke and the linguistic characteristics spoken and written words. For me, this question became quite difficult to answer because I do not view culture and language as the same thing. The two are important to each other and language plays a part in culture and vice versa, but the two terms are
not interchangeable in my thought patterns. In fact, the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia states that the term “describes language only and is not used scientifically in an ethnic or cultural sense” (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition). However, there are etymological details that do designate a culture as being Indo-European. A study of Indo-European linguistics can definitely show
a connection between the languages of many different cultures. For example, the word “brother” translated into different languages shows a connection between the modern English term and those more ancient languages. It is bhrater in Sanskrit, brathir in Old Irish, frater in Latin, and phrater in Greek (Balter). These similarities make it quite obvious that there is a root language that each of these words drew their language from. Similar language patterns can be seen in other words, such as horse, wheel, and wool. It is through these similarities that we are able to see the connection between different groups of Indo-European people. The unfortunate part about this type of study is the fact that there is very little written evidence of this unified language, which means much of the language and consequential correlations must be reconstructed. This lack of hard evidence makes it easy for researches to make their own assumptions, which can often accurate and incredibly helpful, but may also be incorrect. This is why we see an ongoing study of the Indo-European culture without having any set answers as to what is true and what is a guess. (358 words)

2. Dumezil’s Tripartation

Georges Dumezil’s theory of tripartation has been central to many modern approaches to Indo-European studies. Outline Dumezil’s three social functions in general, and as they appear in one particular Indo-European society. Offer your opinion as to whether you believe Dumezil’s claim that tripartation is central to IE cultures (min 300 words)

Tripartition is defined as “the act of dividing or the state of being divided into three parts” (Merriam-Webster). Georges Dumezil used this term to describe the roles of different groups of people within ancient Indo-European cultures. He used the term “trifunctional hypothesis” to explain the theory that these societies were divided into three separate functions: priests, warriors, and farmers (Momigliano 312). These social divisions describe the tasks each group is responsible for. The Vedic caste system is broken down into four main groups, the first three of which fit with the trifunctional hypothesis of Georges Dumezil: Brahmin, the priests; Kshatriya, the nobles and the warriors; Vaishya, the farmers and merchants; and Shudra, who are the servants (Flesher). Each of these large caste groups was subdivided into many smaller groups that are based on location, career, family, and other characteristics.

The highest tier of the Vedic caste system was the Brahmin. This group consists of the priests and holy members of the faith, similar to the priests and monks of other religions. They are the people that are responsible for all of the rituals, marriages, funerals, and other services that are performed within the Vedic culture. Brahmin were traditionally very well educated and were often advisers to the highest government officials. They were looked to as the “wisemen” of the community and often passed
down the mythology and culture to the people. The second layer of the caste system is

Kshatirya. This group is made up of the leaders and warriors of the culture, including both royalty and nobility (D'Souza). They were the group that was responsible for leading armies, conquering territories, and protecting their lands.

The third level in the caste system was Vaishya. The members of Vaishya caste were the farmers and traders of the culture. The Vaishya were land-owners and merchants as well (Indianchild.com). Because of this, they were a staple of the culture as they were responsible for much of the food and goods that were used by the other castes.

The lowest and largest tier of the caste system was the Sudra. They were the servants to the other tiers of the system. They held several different positions, such as maids and blacksmiths, but they were often viewed only as servants and frequently were completely illiterate with no education at all. People are not only born into this caste, but they can also be “demoted” to this title if they violate the laws of their own caste (D'Souza).

In societies that are structured like the Vedic culture, I can understand how Dumezil’s theory of tripartation could be a central interpretation of Indo-European culture. While there are slight variations of the tripartation, including the fourth tier of the Vedic caste system, the other categories of their society fits the tripartite theory very well. I think it would be a useful tool to approach an Indo-European culture from if you keep the understanding that there will be variations from the standard theory. (489 words)

3. IE Cultural Influences

Choose one Indo-European culture and describe briefly the influences that have shaped it and distinguish it from other Indo-European derived cultures. Examples include migration, contact with other cultures, changes in religion, language, and political factors. Is there any sense in which this culture can be said to have stopped being an Indo-European culture? (min. 300 words).

The Greek culture is one of the Indo-European groups that do not seem to fit into many of the standardized ideas of what classifies a culture as being Indo-European. It is also one of the cultures that we have the most information about because of the vast amount of artifacts that they left behind. Greece was a very active society during ancient times. They were easily accessible both by land and by sea, which allowed for frequent travel and colonization of the area. The Greeks had settlements from Asia Minor to Italy and from France to Northern Africa (Hemingway). Each of these expansions led them to interact with new groups of people who could influence their culture. The influence of these regions can be seen in the art styles of the early Greeks. They picked up skills in ivory carving and jewelry making, as well as other artistic styles from these people. They also learned to work with new materials, such as terra cotta and silver. Alexander the Great helped to expand the Hellenic culture into new territories, including Egypt (Carol Justus).

The influence between Egyptian and Greek societies can be seen in many aspects of both cultures. There are frequent crossovers in mythology that shows that the Greeks adopted many of the tales of
the Egyptians for their own use. There have been several sculptures of Egyptian figures that have Greek inscriptions found both in Egypt and Greece. The Temple of Aphrodite at Naukratis includes the imagery of a woman seated with a child “indicative of Greek Egyptianizing style” (Livingston). Each of the changes that happened within the world of the Ancient Greeks definitely played a part in forming the Greek society into the culture we now know. These influences helped to establish the rites, art, mythology, and customs of the Greek people. I can see how there may be parts of the Greek culture, especially those that are heavily connected to the Egyptians, which may have lost some of their identity as an Indo-European culture. However, because Indo-European is primarily a term that identifies a language type, I do not think that they would have ever completely lost their connection to the other Indo-European groups.

4. IE Compare and Contrast

Choose on other Indo-European culture and compare and contrast it to the culture discussed in question 3 above with respect to each culture’s Indo-European nature. (min 300 words)

Slavic culture is one that I have come to be very interested in throughout my studies for this course. The similarities between the Slavs and Greek culture were quite surprising to me, but I’ve been very interested to see the correlations between these two cultures. Cosmologically, the Greeks have the universe divided into three sections, the upper, middle, and lower realms. The Slavs also divided
their cosmology into three separate realms, but viewed them as separate sections of the tree of life with the upper realm as the branches, middle realm as the trunk, and
lower realm as the roots of the tree.

Fire was a vital part of both of these cultures. For the Greeks, fire was a gift and they honored it as such. They honored Hestia at their hearth and used fire to give offerings to the deities. The Slavic people viewed the hearth as a sacred entity and limited who was even allowed to light the hearth fire (Phillips 40). However, while the fire was very prevalent in their daily lives, specific practices regarding
“wells” seem to be missing from both cultures. They revered water and saw it as a gateway, but they did not put an emphasis on wells in particular.

There also appears to be a lot of crossover between the mythology of these two cultures. Slavic culture had Perun who was a god of thunder and lightning while the Greeks had Zeus with those same duties. The Slavs had Ziva, the goddess of love and fertility while the Greeks had Aphrodite. The Slavic myths also had a virgin goddess of the hunt named Dziewona, similar to Artemis in Greek mythology.

The deities were not the only crossover between the two cultures. While the Greeks had Cyclops and Nymphs, the Slavs had Likho and Rusalka. Slavic and Greek cultures both had traditions for passing information through the generations orally. However, over time the Greeks did adapt a writing
style that allowed us to have a much clearer idea of what their practices were. The Slavic culture does not appear to have had a writing system prior to the ninth century AD (Encyclopedia Britannica). This leaves us with a lot less information about their ancient culture and practices. Outside of this, the Greek and Slavic cultures appear to have had very similar ideas in many areas. That is not to say that their practices were identical or even close to it, but the consistencies between the two cultures definitely help to affirm the idea of a unified Indo-European category for cultures.

5. IE Reconstruction Relevance

From its beginnings, ADF has defined itself in relation to Indo-European pagan traditions. What relevance do you think historical and reconstructed IE traditions from the past have in constructing or reconstructing a Pagan spirituality for the present and future? (min 600 words)

The value of reconstructed traditions is one area that is often debated within the Pagan community. Some groups put a huge value on the efforts of Reconstructionists and practice their faith based completely on those ancient traditions. Other groups are happy to use the ancient traditions and knowledge as a guideline and instead create their own path and practices based on what works
best for them. It seems to me that both of these ideas have merit, and I seem to fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I value the ancient traditions and the knowledge of the cultures that I connect with. However, I also understand that I live in an era where the ancient religions cannot be completely recreated without facing challenges in modern society, so I have to be willing to adapt certain practices to fit into a modern context.

Reconstruction is defined as “to form a picture by piecing together evidence or acting out a version of what might have taken place” (dictionary.com). Traditionally historians, archeologists, and linguists have done this type of work in an effort to understand an ancient culture and “reconstruct” their lives so we can better understand them. Within a religious context, this reconstruction involves thestudy of ancient texts, folklore, archaeology, and languages that contain information about historic religious traditions (Strmiska 19). This information is then used to build a knowledge base upon which we can draw inspiration and guidance for modernizing the practices.

Historical and reconstructed traditions from the past are very import for modern Pagan practices. Paganism is a polytheistic religion that is based upon the practices of these ancient cultures, so without the knowledge and understanding of these cultures our religion may not exist at all. Reconstruction gives us knowledge about the beliefs, lifestyles, and mythology of ancient cultures and from those we
are able to rebuild a practice of our own and adapt their experiences to fit into a modern context. The study and reconstruction of ancient mythology is one area that I believe is crucially important to modern Paganism. It is the mythology of Indo-European cultures that initially drew me toward the Pagan path. When I was a young girl I began to read the mythology of ancient Greece. These myths connected to me in a way that was comfortable and familiar. It was the mythology that led me to study the Greek culture, practices, and religion. Mythology is also how we have learned about the deities and practices of the ancient people, as well as societal taboos, social obligations, and how people interacted with each other and the world around them.

The increasing popularity of modern Paganism has definitely made reconstruction of ancient cultures a necessity. The more people that are trying to replicate the ancient religious practices the more important it becomes that the knowledge about these cultures is accurate and complete. Reconstruction also allows for a better understanding of the deities of these cultures, which is very important to any religion. We want to be able to know and understand those beings that we are worshiping and reconstructionists help to make that more possible. Reconstructed myths and practices allow us to develop an understanding of the deities and how they were worshiped in the past, which gives us a guide for how
we could approach them now.

In my own personal practices, reconstruction acts as a tool upon which I can build my practice. I do not live in a tribal society, nor do I live in a place that it’s acceptable to make certain sacrifices for my practices. Because of the changing times I have to be willing and able to adapt these traditions into something that works in today’s world while not completely ignoring those traditions and ideas.

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