[Paleopsych] Nick Allen: From Mountains to Mythologies
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Nick Allen: From Mountains to Mythologies
Key Informants on the History of Anthropology
ethnos, vol. 68:2, june 2003 (pp. 271-284)
Oxford University, UK
How did I become an anthropologist? The remoter beginnings must lie in family
history. Several of my forebears served in India, most but not all of them in
the army. My father was a Celtic numismatist, who started his career in the
British Museum and, after many years as a civil servant, ended up administering
the British Academy, first as Secretary (succeeding Mortimer Wheeler) and then
as Treasurer (Turner 1976). He surely transmitted to me a love of research,
albeit more by example than by words.
In 1947 the family followed my father when he was sent to Hong Kong by the
Ministry of Shipping, but it is difficult to say whether those two childhood
years in the colony significantly influenced my eventual career choice. I
assimilated little about Chinese culture but recall being impressed by van
Loons Story of Mankind, a present for my ninth birthday.
Back in England, at prep school, I enjoyed climbing trees and being a Boy
Scout. I then went to Rugby, where Rugby football was invented. The stress on
physical fitness and outdoor activities continued--we were required to take
exercise at least three times a week; and in addition to the team games I often
played squash and rackets. Combined with the influence of my mother, who had
serious climbing experience in the Alps, this laid the basis for my own
climbing, which in turn was to lead me to the Himalayas.
Looking back, I note the extraordinarily narrow and intense focus on Latin and
Greek. A few O levels were rapidly disposed of in the first year at Rugby, and
thereafter eyes were firmly fixed on an Oxbridge classical scholarship. To that
end, year after year, we read the ancient texts and translated Macaulay or
Churchill into Ciceronian Latin, Shakespeare or Metaphysical poets into Greek
iambics or Ovidian elegiac couplets.1 We did not bother with A levels, and for
five terms in the top form (the Upper Bench), I was taught very much like
students beginning the Oxford course in Lit. Hum.: outside class we each spent
an hour a week solo with the senior classics master in his study. He also took
a group of us around Italy, and became a friend as well as a teacher. What a
strange education it was! Elitist to a degree, single-sex (and thus lived in an
atmosphere tinged with homosexuality), extraordinarily apolitical (I mean of
course overtly), and so traditional that my only formal exposure to science
might well have been one term on the amoeba and similar beings.
If boarding school domesticity was oppressive, the Upper Bench represented
spiritual liberation; and in our teachers study, ranging beyond the great
writers of prose and poetry, we listened to Beethoven string quartets and
looked at art books.2 I was encouraged, and flourished.
However, I came to feel that I wanted a wider perspective on life. I do not
know how it happened. Relevant factors probably included my mothers brother
(father of the anthropologist Alfred Gell) who, when studying at Cambridge, had
changed from Moral Sciences to Medicine and ended up as Professor of Immunology
and Fellow of the Royal Society (Silverstein n.d.); the embellished
reminiscences in The Story of San Michele by the Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe;
and rebellion against a prediction I heard that I was surely destined to become
a lawyer or diplomat. Certainly, like many teenagers, I wondered how I could
make the world a better place, and although I was not sure that doctors could
do so, I saw that medicine would allow me to enlarge my intellectual range,
and that, whether or not it was really to be my vocation, tactically it would
be easy enough to make a case for the transfer. So after taking a scholarship
to New College,3 I spent my last two terms at school studying elementary
science with the thirteen-year-olds. Medicine in Britain did not at that time
demand particularly high entrance qualifications, and after my first term at
Oxford (1957), I was regarded as having caught up.
I was thinking vaguely of some sort of medical research, and after an
undistinguished performance in Finals I was lucky to be taken on for a years
research for a BSc in neurophysiology. This was both instructive and
chastening. I loved thinking and reading about the brain and nervous system,
but I did not enjoy doing experiments, surely because I was not good at it.
Everyone assumed that I would proceed to the clinical course, and although I
was less and less sure where I was heading, I duly transferred to St. Marys
Hospital in Paddington. After Oxford, the London environment was sordid and
depressing, but I cannot simply say that I detested medical school; it was
rather that I felt out of place. It was interesting talking to
patients--sometimes heart-warming, and I liked gaining elementary acquaintance
with vast new fields of knowledge and experience such as obstetrics and
gynaecology (at last women were entering my interests - I had lacked both
sisters and girl friends), meeting death at close quarters, and so on. But what
was I doing? Ideas came and went. Perhaps I could become a dermatologist so
that, having no medical emergencies, I could devote evenings and weekends to
something more congenial (but what?); or an expedition doctor, so that I could
travel (but to what end?); or, recalling my teenage idealist angst, a family
planning expert, so that I could help save the world from over-population (but
would I really want to look back on a life spent distributing pills and
condoms?). I really had no idea what to aim for. I went for a long climbing
season in the Alps, and did my first six-month job as junior hospital doctor.
It was on the shelves of the uncle mentioned above that I happened across the
History of Anthropology by Haddon (of the Torres Straits Expedition). Though I
had once heard some anatomy lectures by the biological anthropologist Le Gros
Clark, I knew nothing of anthropology as a discipline. But here I found a
subject that somehow straddled the arts-science divide, that gave opportunities
to indulge a love of languages and travel, that could lead to an academic
career, above all perhaps (though I hardly realised this straightaway) allowed
one the freedom to range widely across the intellectual world, across space,
time and topic. At the least, one could hope in fieldwork to record what no one
else had recorded or would record (this salvage aspect of ethnography remains
important to me); and at best one could hope to make discoveries about
humanity, or human nature, or the human mind - anyway something grand and
I wrote to my former moral tutor at New College, Geoffrey de Ste Croix, the
Marxist classical historian, and he advised me to apply to the newly founded
Linacre College. I am enormously grateful for that advice, if only because--to
jump forward to 1967--it was there that I met my wife. But first I went to talk
with Godfrey Lienhardt, who must have been in charge of admissions. I remember
him reassuring me that most Institute students who wanted jobs in the subject
seemed to get them. In my naivety, I was just slightly jolted: in that period
of full employment, with the fairly easy life I had led, it had simply not
occurred to me that I might fail to get the sort of job I wanted. I also lacked
the social awareness to feel guilty at leaving behind studies that must have
been well subsidised by others, and since I liked learning new things and could
now if necessary fund myself by locum medical jobs, I was little worried by
the charge of being a perpetual student. Around that time I found
myself--still a hitch-hiker--sitting at a New College Gaudy next to a
contemporary who was a bank manager with a Jaguar car and two children. I was
no hippie, but I did feel that the life I was aiming for would be more
interesting than his.4
So in 1965-66 I studied for the Diploma, the ancestor of the present-day MSc,
being supervised throughout by Rodney Needham. The subject lived up to my
hopes, and it was an exciting year, both intellectually and socially. Even now,
35 years on, I find it hard to present a balanced account of it, evaluating
the personalities and ideas I encountered or failed to encounter. Needham
himself, a curious and difficult person, was in some ways inspiring. He had a
genuine respect for erudition and boldness of thought, whether expressed in
English, French, German or Dutch, whether shown by anthropologists or
orientalists or philosophers, and many of the enthusiasms he transmitted have
remained with me. Equally important perhaps, many of the topics he disparaged
or ignored remain among my limitations and weaknesses. One must also remember
the period: no Marxism, unless one turned to Gluckman, no Said, no Gender
Studies or Medical Anthropology as such, pretty little Applied Anthropology,
nil on China or Japan, and one could go on. The transition from medicine was
not easy. Perhaps one day I shall dare to look back on my old essays as
historical documents. They were always short, often unfinished, surely pretty
awful, and my exam results were again disappointing.
What of my other teachers? When Needham asked early on where I might like to do
fieldwork, the first place that came to mind was the Himalayas, on which I had
recently read a mountaineering book by Fosco Maraini. Having himself served in
the Gurkhas, Needham welcomed the idea, and sent me to David Pocock for the
optional paper on Indian Sociology. Pocock (from whom I first heard mention of
the Beatles) seemed to me a somewhat peppery figure, one who did not suffer
fools gladly. For Evans-Pritchard too I had slightly mixed feelings, though of
a different kind. His lectures, published posthumously in his History of
Anthropological Thought, were somewhat dry to listen to, and I knew too little
intellectual history to appreciate their significance;5 moreover, I was never
at ease when invited to join the drinking circle at the pub. On the other hand
E-P, as he was called, could be extremely kind and encouraging. He teased me
over the copper bangle he wore, which he claimed would do more for his
arthritis than any medicines we quacks could prescribe, and he called me his
Benjamin, affectionately, I supposed. John Beattie was sound and sensible,
though I was left in little doubt by Needham that I should
regard him as a boring old functionalist. Francis Huxley was stimulating and
intriguing, with his psychoanalytic curiosity, but no doubt at the time I found
Edwin Ardener too difficult - it was only later that I came to penetrate the
flowery language and appreciate the insights beneath it. Peter Riviere, Wendy
James and Bob Barnes had yet to join the Institute teaching staff, and the
Lienhardts left little impression on me until they became colleagues.
After the Diploma and another Alpine season, I returned to hospitals for a year
to complete the requirements for medical registration and to make some money. A
job in surgery and casualty at Banbury was a six-month ordeal, and confirmed,
if confirmation was needed, that medicine was not my calling. On the other
hand, six months in psychiatry at Edinburgh were truly enriching, even if I
always felt that psychiatrists were working in the dark. I wrote to Needham
proposing that I write a BLitt on the anthropology of the body, a topic that
had scarcely yet become recognised, but he advised me, no doubt wisely, to
concentrate on Himalayan ethnography in preparation for fieldwork. Soon after,
E-P exerted himself to obtain for me a grant from the Nuffield Foundation, and
although I was by now determined to proceed in one way or another, this was a
The pre-fieldwork thesis took me most of eighteen months. Apart from immersing
myself in the ethnography and history of Nepal and neighbouring areas, I
studied Nepali at soas, together with Alan Macfarlane and Pat Caplan. We were
all to have money from a project organised by Fürer-Haimendorf, that urbane
Austrian aristocrat with his roots in Vienna diffusionism, who in spite of a
chair at soas energetically continued his fieldwork trips up to and beyond
retirement. As for the writing, I had been interested in semantic change at
least since reading Ullmanns Semantics in 1964, and the high point of my
library research came when I found a Dravidian-type kinship terminology (Lall
1911) reported from near the north-west tip of Nepal but ignored in subsequent
literature. This set me thinking about the history of kinship terminologies
within the framework of the Tibeto-Burman language group, but it took me some
years to realise that the hypothesis proposed in my BLitt thesis was wrong,
being too cautious and too respectful of previous authority. Before leaving for
fieldwork in 1969 I visited Paris and met among others Dumont, Pococks
predecessor at Oxford, and Sandy Macdonald, the philologically sophisticated
anthropologist/Himalayanist from whom I was to learn a lot. I also dropped in,
as one still can, to the Collège de France, where I heard Dumézil lecturing to
an audience of three (I did not meet him personally until the 1980s). I was
still climbing a good deal, and before starting the fieldwork was able to join
some Outward Bound instructors on a climbing expedition in the Western
Himalayas. Like many in that hippie period, we travelled overland to India, and
we then managed the first ascent of an unclimbed 20,000 foot summit--of course
by Himalayan standards a mere pimple. We were a joint Indo-British expedition,
so my first experience of India was of a successful collaborative undertaking.
After the climbing I moved on to Nepal by myself. I have written elsewhere
(2000a) about the twenty months of fieldwork that followed, so I shall be
brief. I chose a Tibeto-Burman group from the Middle Hills, who were
essentially unstudied, and settled in a peasant household. I was supposed to
be focusing on social change, which I interpreted as meaning that I must learn
all I could about the old traditions that were disappearing--the salvage
orientation again. This meant using my Nepali to study the unwritten tribal
language, and using that in turn to study the tribal mythology and ritual that
were being absorbed into the Nepalese style of Hinduism (Allen 1997).
Having already digested the regional literature, and being fairly hardened to
feeling myself an outsider, I experienced little culture shock. The details
that come to mind are trivial: the first time I ate with my fingers, the
difficulty of sitting cross-legged for long periods, the lack of distinction
between the morning and evening meals - if breakfast was rice and dal, so was
dinner. More deep-lying was the embarrassment I felt when invited for tea to
the house of a Blacksmith untouchable. I could not compromise the purity of my
kindly higher-caste landlord, but hated having to refuse. My medical training
had included no experience of general practice and, in the absence of nurses
and pathology laboratories, turned out to be of little help. I was haunted for
many months, as many other students must have been, by the sense that nothing I
was learning was of sufficient academic interest to add up to a DPhil, and
indeed progress during the first year was unsatisfactory. It was only then that
a trip to Kathmandu gave me access to work by the Summer Institute of
Linguistics on the phonology of other unwritten languages in Nepal, and showed
me how I ought to have been tackling Thulung. Apart from pointing me towards
mythology and fourfold social structures, the Thulung reinforced my awareness
of fieldwork as a dip in the river of social, cultural and environmental
history. Thus I was never tempted to essay a synchronic account of their life,
much of which I inwardly dismissed as boring Hills Hinduism.
Returning to Oxford was academically harder than leaving it had been, and
writing up was at first desperately, almost paralytically slow. My first paper,
on vertical classification (responding to Needhams teaching as expressed at
Canterbury on anthropology and medicine, together with others on ritual, but
although it would have been an obvious path to follow, I could not enthuse
about medical anthropology. In those days we were mercifully free from the
contemporary pressure to finish doctorates in four years, and I took my full
seven. Meanwhile I got married, and was interviewed for an anthropology
teaching job at Newcastle. Fortunately, I was not offered it, and soon after a
better one came up at Durham (following an initiative by Lucy Mair). It was at
Durham that I wrote an account of the Thulung language and my doctoral thesis
on Thulung mythology, as well as a few papers, including a couple on kinship
terminologies which derived from my BLitt. I was already seeing myself less as
a descriptive ethnographer than as a Tibeto-Burman cultural comparativist, and
as a teacher I enjoyed initiating a course on Anthropology and Language.
Quarter Century at the Oxford Institute
I could happily have stayed on in Durham, but in 1975 my father died, just
around the time when Ravindra Jain resigned to return to India. Ravi was
Pococks successor as India specialist at the Oxford Institute, and the post
was advertised. I was quite doubtful about applying, and had a long
heart-to-heart talk with David Brooks, another Institute student who was
teaching anthropology at Durham. On the one hand I loved Oxford, with its easy
bicycling and old masonry, and it would be good to be near my widowed
mother--as it has been and still is. Nor did I underrate the privilege of
interacting with Oxford students or of being in such an international centre of
research. On the other hand, I foresaw difficulties in crossing the gap from
student to colleague. In particular, I had puzzled a good deal over my
supervisors Belief, Language and Experience and concluded that it was open to
severe criticism; but Needham did not like criticism from anyone--let alone a
Eventually I applied, but my hesitation at first seemed justified. During my
first term Needham was appointed Professor, and the next academic year was
tense. I shall not analyse the conflicts that divided us, but as junior member
of staff I had to write the minutes of one particularly strained staff meeting.
The minutes were sent to the relevant authorities, the Proctors, who wrote back
noting that the University Statutes did not oblige the Professor of Social
Anthropology to be Head of Department. The Professor packed his books, moved
off to All Souls, and minimised dealings with colleagues. Edwin Ardener became
Chairman of the Department, and the position devolved on the rest of us
according to seniority, reaching me in the last year or two before the arrival
of John Davis in 1990. After the initial difficulties Oxford has proved a good
environment in which to develop in ones own way.
In my research I continued for a while as a Himalayanist, studying Tibetan with
Michael Aris, reviewing books, publishing bits and pieces, mostly on myth.
Perhaps the most interesting paper (1981) explored the connection between
landscape and bodies: again and again in this region we find tracts of
territory across which particular shrines or areas are linked one-for-one with
the body parts of supernatural beings. Meanwhile, when sabbatical leave at last
allowed it, I planned a new spell of fieldwork, which I hoped would take me to
Tibeto-Burman speakers in the eastern Himalayas, but ended up being in the
west, some eight hours from Simla. This too I wrote about in 2000a.
By the mid 1980s I was becoming over-extended, spreading myself too thinly. My
general reading in anthropology lagged far behind what I felt to be incumbent
on a teacher. Apart from Institute administration, I was Vicegerent at Wolfson
College for two years, and my research interests were moving in several
directions at once. Ethnographically, I now had behind me two spells of
fieldwork, neither adequately published, which interlinked much less than I had
Theoretically, I had retained my interest in the formal study of kinship, but I
now wanted to transcend the Tibeto-Burmans or Sino-Tibetans and work at the
level of world history, returning to questions that Morgan posed but answered
wrongly. Moreover, ever since Needham had recommended me to read Mausss
Anthropologie et Sociologie, I had been fascinated by the workings of that
outstanding anthropological mind. I had bought his Oeuvres in the 1970s and
felt obscurely that far more could be made of them than had been made so far:
this eventually led to Carrithers et al. (1985), and later, under the stimulus
of Bill Pickering and David Parkin, to James & Allen (1998) and Allen (2000b).
My post at Oxford was tied to India, not the Himalayas, and following the
example of Dumont, and of Mauss before him, I wanted to learn Sanskrit.
Acquiring Coulsons Teach Yourself volume, I worked through the exercises
twice, in different summer vacations, much helped by knowing some Nepali and
Hindi. But this opened up not only Indology--itself vast enough--but the even
vaster field of Indo-European studies. Here too Needham had sowed seeds by
encouraging me to read Dumézil, and although during the Diploma year I found
the subject matter far too difficult, I sensed the grandeur of Dumézils vision
and the quality of his erudition, and started buying his books (I now have
more than twenty). I tried to carry on all these interests simultaneously, but
something had to give, and it was the Himalayan work (though I still intend to
publish my doctoral thesis). The three other types of research interlink at
least to some extent, but the West Himalayan experience stands apart and fell
by the wayside. Regrettably too, though I reviewed a fair number of current
publications on South Asia, my general anthropology remained patchy--some might
say lamentably so, and I relied heavily on what I heard in seminars or came
across in other contexts.
Without any conscious planning, my interests developed roughly as had those of
Lévi-Strauss--kinship, then modes of thought (classification etc.), then
mythology, which seem to range in that order along the science-arts continuum.
First, then, some remarks on kinship. When Lévi-Strauss saw cross-cousin
marriage as expressing a relationship between entities that exchange women, he
was focusing on the intragenerational dimension; but the intergenerational
dimension can be treated similarly: thorough assimilation of alternate
generations expresses a relationship between entities that exchange children.
Indeed, to generate what are truly elementary structures of kinship, one must
combine these two exchange relationships in their simplest (binary) form. The
result is a model kinship system of maximal logical simplicity, one from which
any attested structure can be generated by transformations such as are arguably
both historically and semantically plausible (Allen 1998a).6 It was only well
after I first proposed the theory that I saw its possible bearing on ritual: if
weddings dramatise intragenerational exchange, did not initiation originally
dramatise intergenerational exchange? In any case, tetradic theory, as I
called it, is hopefully a contribution to understanding human origins. Although
I do not think it has been refuted, rather few colleagues have referred to it
(exceptions include Per Hage, Wendy James and Irina Kozhanovskaya), but this
may be because the sort of question it asks is (still?) deeply unfashionable
within Anglophone social anthropology, and my attempts to publicise it
elsewhere have been inadequate. No doubt the theory ought to be presented in
the light of the substantial literature on kinship and social origins, but
perhaps that task is best left to others, less committed to my particular point
of view and less impatient with what seem to me the cross-purposes and
confusions of the past.7
Guided by Dumézil and Biardeau, I saw fairly early on that an Indo-European 8
approach to the Hindu world would need to take off from the Mahâbhârata, not
the Vedas, but it was only in the later 1980s that my own take-off began. The
starting point was a comparison which Dumézil in his mature work had regarded
as unpromising, namely that with ancient Greece. One part of the career of
Arjuna, the central hero of the Sanskrit epic, turned out to parallel one part
of the career of Homers Odysseus, in such a detailed and well structured way
that the two narratives must have a common origin. Some years later a family
bicycling holiday in Ireland prompted me to explore early Irish narratives, and
I recall my joy at finding the same narrative pattern in the career of
Cúchulainn (Allen 2000c). This might seem merely a matter of literary history
but, quite apart from the extra pleasure and understanding it can give to a
reading of the texts, it has many culture-historical and sociological
ramifications. For instance, it can help one try to rethink the significance
of the Vedas, the interplay of Aryan and non-Aryan, the history of yoga.
Moreover, Dumézil had already seen in effect that the proto-Indo-European
speakers had a form of primitive classification, in the sense of Durkheim and
Mauss, but the form he proposed was too compressed.9 Once the compression is
corrected, many topics take on new aspects, including Indian theories of
kingship, space, substance and society. Dumonts binary structuralist
interpretation of caste turns out to be a partial view of a structure that is
larger and more complex (Allen 1999). More generally, one sees that, again and
again, independent invention has been given the credit that in fact belongs to
I shall just mention three other areas that I have touched on within the field
of Indo-European cultural comparativism (1998b, 2000d, 2002). Firstly, if the
Zuñi and the Chinese included colours within their forms of the primitive
classification, what of the early Indo-European speakers? The question led me
not only to the variously coloured four horsemen of the Apocalypse, but also to
what I see as a survival of the old pattern in an Arthurian narrative told in
twelfth-century French by Chrétien de Troyes. This was all great fun.10
Secondly, the subfield of Indo-Iranian comparativism has usually focused on the
literate religions--Zoroastrianism in Iran, Vedic Hinduism in India, but the
mountain peoples of north-east Afghanistan, not Islamised until the 1890s, have
interesting data to contribute, bearing for instance on the articulation of
cosmic time. Soon afterwards I found, virtually by accident, and entirely to my
surprise, that the Buddhas life-story partly follows the same pattern as the
epic heroes with whom I was familiar.
It will probably be obvious by now why in 2001 I retired early--though not very
early, since I was 62. I miss the active day-to-day involvement with the young
minds both of students and new colleagues, but the break is not total; valued
attachments continue with both Wolfson College and the Institute.
Fundamentally, I have to look at my life as a whole. Although I have published
around sixty papers (and eighty reviews) and, with various degrees of
justification, find my name on the covers of a number of academic works, the
gap between what I have published and what I would like to publish has not been
declining, but rather growing alarmingly, and I was impatient to tackle the gap
while I still had the health and energy (my father was 65 when he died). Also,
though I may be flattering myself here, perhaps writing now offers my best
chance of repaying the debts I have contracted to society (that into which I
was socialised), and to that subsociety which is the University.
Immediately on retirement, my wife and I left for a peaceful and refreshing
year in India. Half was spent in the semirural university founded by
Rabindranath Tagore in West Bengal, half in the crowded and polluted city of
Pune, probably the leading Indian centre for Sanskrit studies. I returned with
yet more drafts, a somewhat better knowledge of Sanskrit, new friends, and a
broader knowledge of the country than when I taught about it. So, recalling my
1972 paper, I see retirement less in terms of stepping down than of stepping
up--into an indefinite sabbatical.
Here then is a list of topics that I hope to explore. It is not complete: for
instance, it omits certain topics related to Scandinavia and mediaeval France,
on which I have only the germs of ideas; and one can still hope for a few new
ideas, as yet unforeseen.
The Mahâbhârata battle compared with the Trojan War.
Biography of the Buddha.
Early Irish literature in the light of Indo-European comparison.
Plato (whose thinking is far more Indo-European than Aristotles).
Given the record so far, my chances of covering all six topics at book length
are slim; still, in all cases I can build on either published articles or
unpublished drafts, so the aspirations may not be totally unrealistic. We
shall see. Obviously I am no Dumézil, either as regards command of the primary
and secondary literature, or as regards fluency as a writer, but it is
encouraging to reflect that, after retiring aged seventy, that astonishing
scholar published more than a dozen books.
I hope that this work on myth and epic, despite its philological aspect, will
be regarded as anthropology; but it may eventually find its place within some
other discipline, perhaps even one as yet unrecognised. In any case, even if in
a way I have returned to the Latin and Greek from which I started, it is
certainly to anthropology that I owe the theoretical insights, the comparative
range and, above all, the freedom of thought that the narrower philologies
themselves would hardly have afforded.
The emphasis of the last few pages has deliberately been on ideas,
abstracted--awkwardly perhaps, to anthropologists--from the professional and
socialcontext in which they were elaborated. What of the students, colleagues,
friends and family, both in the uk and elsewhere, who contributed either to the
elaboration or to the reasonably tranquil state of mind that made it possible?
Lists of acknowledgements, however heartfelt, can be dry as well as invidious,
so I close by expressing a hope directed at the students, of whatever
discipline, who will carry on the long tradition of scholarly curiosity about
humanity: may you not be too much trammelled by short-term pressures. My
Sanskrit primer is inscribed summer 1977, but it took me sixteen years to
publish a paper that made use of the language, and I have still to publish
drafts that use it to greater effect.
1. In preparation for exams where one handed in only twelve lines of verse in
a classical language.
2. A post-retirement book (Saunders 1967) gives a good idea of our teachers
taste but not of the freshness with which he conveyed it to a
seventeen-year-old. Sociology is absent, and so is the Orient, save via
Fitzgeralds translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.
3. I was runner-up to Edward Hussey, now at All Souls College, Oxford, an
expert in the Presocratics.
4. The prolonged period as a student accustomed me to a relatively thrifty
lifestyle, but it scarcely politicised me. The single day I committed to an
Aldermaston (for uk nuclear disarmament) March indicates the direction of my
sympathies, then and now, but also my reluctance to spend much time on such
murky issues. In general, any efforts I made to synthesise a coherent personal
ideology were scrappy, spasmodic and provisional; it was easier to luxuriate in
5. Paine describes the lectures as disconcertingly "flat" (1998:136), and
Beidelman is no more enthusiastic (1998:282). I was not conscious then, as I am
now, of disagreeing with E-Ps views on Durkheim and the anthropology of
6. I was at first disconcerted that this model has no place for the familiar
genealogical levels or generations, but those egocentric categories, whose
membership ages and dies off, are here subsumed by the sociocentric generation
moieties, which are constantly replenished.
7. The most enjoyable spin-offs from the kinship work were the opportunities to
meet academics in Russia for the first time (1992) and to serve on the jury for
the magnificent doctorat détat by François Héran (1993).
8. The Mahâbhârata contains a short version of the other Sanskrit epic, the
9. The need to expand Dumézils schema was recognised by the Rees brothers
(1961, a book which my father passed on to me later in that decade), but their
argument was neglected.
10. Serious fun, of course, even adventure - as research can be, perhaps should
be. Like a rock climber, a comparativist must take some risks.
11. Dumézil showed how much Roman history, from Romulus down to at least
Camillus in the fourth century b.c., is historicised Indo-European myth, but he
did not exhaust the topic (Allen n.d.).
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