MOLÉ, MARIJAN (b. Ljubljana, 28 July 1924; d. Paris, 6 May 1963; Plate I), distinguished scholar of Middle and Modern Iranian studies. Molé, who died rather prematurely at the age of 39, was one of the most gifted Iranists of his generation. His father, Vojeslav Molé (1886-1973), was a Slovenian writer and historian of art, teaching at the University of Ljubljana. From there, he moved in 1925 to Krakow as a visiting professor, remaining in Poland, the native land of Marijan’s mother. Ever since his childhood, Molé showed an interest in two scientific disciplines: linguistics and mathematics. When World War II broke out, his family escaped to Leopoli in Ukraine. During German air raids, Marijan remained oblivious to the danger, not entering bomb shelters; instead, his parents would find him studying Latin or in the midst of solving mathematical problems, thus already attesting to his incredible capacity for hard work (Scarcia, p. 320). Gianroberto Scarcia, who knew Marijan in Tehran, humorously recalls that Molé read all the newspapers and was more aware than him of the political situation in Italy!

From Leopoli, Molé returned to Krakow, but due to the deportation of university faculty, his father preferred to seek refuge in Ljubljana, where he became professor of Byzantine studies (Scarcia, p. 320). Between 1942 and the fall of 1943, Molé studied Slavic and Indo-European linguistics at the Faculty of Philosophy before the closure of the university by German authorities. Nonetheless, Molé secretly served as teaching fellow for a seminar on Indo-European studies. Once back in Krakow, Molé was able to continue his studies at the University of Jagellonica; however, in 1947 he once and for all abandoned linguistics to dedicate himself mainly to Iranian philology and the history of religions (Scarcia, p. 321). It was in these two areas, as well as in Sufism that in slightly more than a decade Molé produced a considerable body of work, which has, alas too quickly, been forgotten. 

Under the direction of Tadeusz Jan Kowalski (1889-1948), Polish scholar of Oriental Studies, he obtained his doctorate in Iranian philology with a thesis entitled “Gäršāsp-nāmä ‘Asadī’ego z Tūs a legenda o Kṛsāspie: Przyczynek do badań nad formacją i rozwojem epopei irańskiej” (Asadi Tusi’s Garšāsp-nāme and the legend of Kṛsāspi), which remained unpublished under the pretext that it was “... not from a mature person” (Scarcia, p. 321). At the time, Molé was a teaching fellow in Oriental philology and a reader in Slovenian. From 1949 to 1950, he received a scholarship from the French government to pursue his studies in Paris. There he attended courses taught by Émile Benveniste, Jean de Menasce, Henry Corbin and Henri Laoust (1905-1983); eventually settling permanently in France. For his qualifying degree at the École des Hautes Études, he presented “La troisième fonction dans le zoroastrisme” (Scarcia, p. 322). Since he was an ardent follower of Georges Dumézil, he often, and even excessively, applied his theory on the tripartite structure of social functions to ancient Iran. Supported by a study grant, he subsequently spent three years in Tehran at the Institut Français d’Iranologie, where he worked passionately at the library without allowing himself any distractions whatsoever (Scarcia, p. 322). He completed his doctoral thesis, “Le problème zoroastrien et la tradition mazdéenne,” which he defended at the Sorbonne on 3rd July 1958 and eventually published in 1963 as Culte, Mythe et Cosmologie dans l’Iran ancien

While in Iran, Molé became fascinated by Islam, and with his excellent knowledge of Persian, he was able to undertake several projects on Sufism. Scarcia later characterized Molé’s works as invaluable primarily because of his ability to focus sharply on key issues, rejecting inconsistent methods, and reframing questions in such a manner as to serve as a guide for future research which, due to lack of time, he himself could not continue. Exceptionally serious, Molé was a reserved, shy person who apparently had difficulty in social relations; yet, he was so adept that he performed a pilgrimage to Mashhad in complete disguise. In early 1963, he was due to travel to Syria and Lebanon (Scarcia, p. 322). 

The present author vividly recalls the day in Neuilly, where he was studying at the time, being informed by a deeply shocked Jean de Menasce, that Molé had just committed suicide. Surely excessive work was not a contributing factor to this tragic ending, as Molé was accustomed to working day and night. As his posthumous works bear witness, in his notebooks he had transcribed and translated substantial portions of the Pahlavi texts. Most notably, the little illustrated book L’Iran ancien (1965) and La légende de Zoroastre (1967), completed and edited by de Menasce, demonstrate Molé’s ability, at the end of his all too short career, to focus on the essential points in Iranian history. The comprehensive bibliography prepared by Scarcia (1963), however, ought to be completed by the inclusion of Molé’s posthumous publications. The diverse as well as numerous fields in which Molé distinguished himself bear witness to his incredible capacity for hard work and synthesis; his discoveries and innovations deserve to be highlighted because they inspired subsequent scholars in Iranology to embark upon original and new directions. 

Works. The body of work left behind by Molé consists of seven books and some fifty articles. It truly seems that for their author, more than any other, these articles were written in preparation for grander works to follow, notably his great work by which he was able to establish the structures of Zoroastrianism in its ritual and mythical components. This explains why Molé began the analysis of these components as a proof of the interests which he manifested in the myth and the different religious currents of the Sasanian period. 

His interest in Sufism may be considered a pastime – a field of study that he no doubt pursued under the influence of Henry Corbin who was the director of the Institut Français d’Iranologie in Tehran until 1954 (Shayegan, p. 269).

In his article, “L’épopée iranienne après Firdōsī” (1953), Molé analyzed what he called the “secondary epic”, i.e., epic poems subsequent to the Sistanian tradition of the Šāh-Nāma exemplified by Ferdowsi and influenced by the Alexander Romance. In “Un poème persan du comte de Gobineau” (1952), he examined a relatively unknown work by Count de Gobineau showing how the latter adapted it from a Persian epic poem to suit his theory of the inequality of the races. The Kuš-nāma which Molé studied had been a source for Gobineau who had already begun translating a part of this massive work. In the conclusion of the same article Molé had promised a “comprehensive study on secondary epics” which apparently was never realized. Yet he revisited this theme in “La guerre des Géants d’après le Sūtkar nask” (1959), where Molé provided a commentary on a long passage from Dēnkard IX which deals with a foundation myth of Iran and its three prototypical kings: Jamšid, Dahāg (see Aždahā) and Ferēdūn. As a disciple of Dumézil, whose reconstruction of Indo-European social structure he largely accepted, Molé demonstrates that a parallel to this royal triad is found in Vedic India and Greece. In this study, Molé defines and develops the real character of the Iranian Yama (i.e., Yima). Rather originally, he provides an explanation for the vara, ‘enclosure’ constructed by Yima as compared to the cattle-men who housed their livestock in winter shelters to protect them from the severe cold (p. 291). Such is the practical reality of this term that had not been considered previously. Molé does not, however, deny the eschatological aspect of such a reality that projects an earthly phenomenon onto the hereafter. So, unlike most other interpretations, he refuses to associate this myth with the Babylonian version regarding the Flood. At the end of time, a more severe winter than ever will inaugurate the Renovation. Thus the myth of the vara “belongs both to cosmogony and eschatology, or rather, it transcends both” (p. 293). This truly original exegesis by Molé deserved to be mentioned here.

As part of his research on triadic structures, Molé published several articles in the Journal Asiatique. Analyzing the “structure of the first chapter of the Vidēvdād” (1951), he attempted to demonstrate that the principle at work in the establishment of the list of countries is threefold: sovereign, warrior and farmer, but he acknowledges that the order is above all geographical; the successive social functions being related to geographical distribution. This article provoked numerous debates, including the latest reaction by Gherardo Gnoli (1980, p. 4), who correctly rejected this Dumézilian interpretation along with previous readings by Nyberg, Wikander, Christensen, and Herzfeld. According to Gnoli, only the historical and geographical reality can account for this list of Iranian countries. 

In another better-received article, “Le partage du monde dans la tradition iranienne” (1953), Molé set forth the tri-functional division of Ferēdūn’s three sons as a parallel to the Scythian legend reported by Herodotus.

Another one of Molé’s concerns was the “Zurvanite problem” – the title of one of his articles (1959) – among others that he devoted to the issue. This was his response to R. C. Zaehner who in two significant monographs, i.e., Zurvan A Zoroastrian Dilemma (1955) and The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism (1961) attempted to defend the existence of a Zurvanite religion. Molé rejects this in large measure. He refuses to accept the idea that two religions originated from Zoroastrianism, for according to him, Zurvanism is only one form of the Iranian religion (1960-61, p. 28), and as Shaul Shaked has shown, it is a form of popular religiosity (1992; 1994). With highly developed and convincing arguments, Molé rejected the idea of three forms of Zurvanism put forth by Zaehner, namely, materialistic, fatalistic, and classical on the basis that “the differences between Zurvanism and Mazdean orthodoxy are minor” (1962a, p. 190) and in any case, “Zurvanism is not an established fact, but a hypothesis still to be proven” (1962a, p. 205). 

In “Un ascétisme moral dans les livres pehlevis?,” an article written in Tehran in 1956, but published in 1959, Molé considered the phenomenon of moral asceticism in Pahlavi books (p.189). Supported by a wealth of textual references, he later rejected the notion of two distinct moral systems, i.e., one pessimistic and ascetic and the other optimistic and hedonist. Zoroastrian morality is optimistic even if the human condition remains harsh in its battle against forces of evil. Contemporaneously with Helmut Humbach, and to his credit, Molé properly identified the Gathas as a work of liturgy or ritual. This proved critical for his definition of ancient Zoroastrianism as presented in his monumental work, i.e., Culte, Mythe et Cosmogonie dans l’Iran ancien, the result of his doctoral thesis. To his thesis, one may append his La légende de Zoroastre which is essentially a collection of translated texts in support of his argument. Published posthumously by Jean de Menasce, this collection includes a transcription and translation with extensive commentary (pp. 139-254) as well as a glossary (pp. 255-320) of Dēnkard VII; the beginning of Book V of the same; Chapter 47 of the Pahlavi Rivāyat; and chapters from Vizīrkard ī dēnīg referring to the legendary life of the prophet. 

Acknowledging its originality, Gnoli remarks that Culte, Mythe et Cosmogonie dans l’Iran ancien constitutes the “most extensive anthology of religious Pahlavi texts” (1965, p. 335). In this pioneering effort, Molé argues that Zoroaster’s accomplishment was not an anti-ritualistic ethical reform; it was rather the result of a gradual evolution of elements essential to Indo-Iranian religiosity in which the ritual of sacrifice plays a major role. Though criticized by Gnoli for its lack of historical perspective, Molé’s introduction to the structure of Iranian religion presents original perspectives on the relationship between the Achaemenid and Gathic religions. Next, Book I deals with ritual, the doctrine of sacrifice and the Gathic service. Not denying the prophet’s historicity, Book II focuses on the character of Zoroaster which is based on myth (hence one cannot situate him in time). The prophetic legend – (Zoroaster is not a prophet of the Semitic type) –, his dialogues with Ahura Mazdā, and the conversion of Vištāspa (see Kayāniān ix.) are examined in this section; Molé continues to maintain that a “life of Zoroaster” is purely mythical. Book III deals with Mazdean cosmology as depicted in the Yašts and Vidēvdād. Here Molé emphasizes the pre-eminence of Man in the Cosmos and provides a definition of “The Perfect Man”, best exemplified by Zoroaster. Finally, Molé demonstrates that Mazdaism is not strictly dualistic since Ahura Mazdā’s creations are more lasting than those of Ahriman who will be perished at the end of time. 

In L’Iran ancien, a small volume published posthumously, the author provides a well-illustrated panoramic survey with special emphasis on religions. And as Molé took interest in the theme of the Perfect Man (Ensān-ē Kāmel), one is hardly surprised that he published Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel (The Book of the Perfect Man, 1962) by ʿAziz al-Din Nasafi (7th/13th cent.) in a critical edition based on three different collections. This forms part of his research on Sufism which includes several articles on the Naqšbandi and Kobrawi Orders (see Kobrawiya i. The Eponym) as well as a small volume, Les mystiques musulmans (1965), in which he examines the controversial origins of Islamic mysticism and Sufism. In a fresh style, he describes the most emblematic personalities of this noteworthy spiritual movement. 

Finally, Molé collaborated on three collective works for the series “Sources Orientales”: “The Birth of the World” (no. 1, 1959); “The Judgment of the Dead” (no. 4, 1961) and “Sacred Dances” (no. 6, 1963). In the last work, Molé published a lengthy article of 120 pages long on ecstatic dances in Islam. Armed with a wealth of texts from Islamic literature, he analyzed the polemical debate between the proponents and opponents of the samā’ and ḏekr.  Molé examines the Shi‘i denunciation of what is usually accompanied in these séances, i.e., music, clapping, cries of ecstasy, and the loss of consciousness. In sum, the knowledge that Molé had acquired of Pahlavi and Islamic literature rendered him an incomparable historian of religions with new and original ideas which posterity must acknowledge.


Selected chronological studies by Molé (for a full bibliography of his publications see G. Scarcia, “Ricordo di Marijan Molé,” Annali dell’Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli XIII, 1963, pp. 319-25; for archival materials see S. Azarnouch and A. Khismatulin, “The Destiny of a Genius Scholar: Marijan Molé and his Archives in Paris,” Manuscripta Orientalia 20/2, 2014, pp. 45-56; and A. Khismatulin, “Description of Fonds Molé,” ).

“Na prograniczu czterech światów,” (On the border of four worlds), Młodej Rzeczypospolitej 27, 1946.

“Gäršāsp-nāmä ‘Asadī’ego z Tūs a legenda o Kṛsāspie: Przyczynek do badań nad formacją i rozwojem epopei irańskiej,” (Asadi Tusi’s Garšāsp-nāme and the legend of Kṛsāspi: A contribution to the study of the formation and development of Iranian epos), Ph.D. diss., Archiwum UJ, sygn. WHum., 1947.

“Kilka uwag o rozwoju prasłowiańskiego systemu wokalicznego w porównaniu z niektórymi innymi jȩzykami indoeuropejiskimi,” (Some remarks about the development of the proto-Slavic vocal system in comparison with some other Indo-European languages), Sprawozdania Polskiej Akademii Umiejȩtnóci XLIX/1, Kraków, 1948, pp. 18-21.

“Z historii prasłowiańskiego ě w słoweńskim,” (From the history of the proto-Slavic ě in Slovenian), Rocznik Slawistyczny XVI, 1948, pp. 24-27.

“Rustam a Kṛsāspa. Przyczynek do badań nad formacją eposu irańskiego,” (Rostam and Kṛsāspa: A contribution to the study of the formation of Iranian epos), Sprawozdania Polskiej Akademii Umiejętności XLIX, 1948/6, pp. 269-72.

“Legenda o Yamie w 2 fargardzie Vendidād i początki dualizmu irańskiego,” (The legend of Yama in fargard 2 of Vendidād and the beginnings of Iranian dualism), Sprawozdania Polskiej Akademii Umiejętności XLIX/7, 1948, pp. 355-59.

“Contribution à l’étude du genre grammatical en Hittite,” Rocznik Orientalistyczny XV, 1949, pp. 25-62.

“Iranian notes,” Lingua Poznaniensis I, 1949, pp. 244-51.

“Wyrazy irańskie w Piśmie św.,” (Iranian words in scripture), Ruch Biblijny i Liturgiczny, Kraków, 1950.

“Problem lokalizacji jȩzyka awestyjskiego,” (Problem of localization of the Estonian language), Biuletyn Polskiego Towarzystwa Jȩzykoznawczego X, Kraków, 1950, pp. 156-57.

“Garshâsp et les Sagsâr,” La Nouvelle Clio III/1-2, 1951, pp. 128-38.

“Les implications historiques du prologue du livre d’Ardā Vīrāz,” RHR 139, 1951, pp. 35-44.

“La structure du premier chapitre du Vidēvdāt,” JA 239, 1951, pp. 283-98.

“Le partage du monde dans la tradition iranienne,” JA 240, 1952, pp. 455‑63.

“Un poème persan du comte de Gobineau,” La Nouvelle Clio IV/3-4, 1952, pp. 116-130

“Deux aspects de la formation de l’orthodoxie zoroastrienne,” Annuaire de l’Institut de Philologie et d’Histoire Orientales et Slaves XII, 1952, pp. 289-324.

“Some remarks on the nineteenth fargard of the Vīdēvdāt,Rocznik Orientalistyczny XVII, 1953, Memorial Book of Tadeusz Kowalski, pp. 281-89.

“L’épopée iranienne après Firdōsī,” La Nouvelle Clio V, 1953, pp. 377-93.

“Le partage du monde dans la tradition iranienne. Note complémentaire,” JA 241/2, 1953, PP. 271-73.

“Compte rendu de Sven S. Hartman, Gayōmart. Étude sur le syncrétisme dans l’ancien Iran,” RHR 146/2, 1954, PP. 228-31.

“La version persane du Traité des dix principes de Najm al-Dīn Kobrā par ʿAli b. Shihāb al-Dīn Hamadāni,” FIZ VI, 1958, pp. 38-66.

“Naqšbandiyāt I: Quelques traités naqshbandis,” FIZ VI, 1958, pp. 273-84.

“Naqšbandiyāt II,” FIZ VIII, 1960, pp. 72-132.

“Naqšbandiyāt III,” FIZ VIII, 1960, pp. 133-34.

“Un Traité de ʿAlā’ Al-Dawla Simnānī sur ʿAlī B. Abī Ṭālib,” Bulletin d’études orientales 16, 1958-1960, pp. 61-99.

“Un ascétisme moral dans les livres pehlevis,” RHR 155/1, 1959, PP. 145-90.

“La naissance du monde dans l’Iran préislamique,” Sources Orientales I: la naissance du monde, Paris, 1959, pp. 299-328.

“La guerre des Géants selon le Sūtkar nask,” Indo-Iranian Journal 3, 1959, pp. 282-305.

“Autour du Daré Mansour: L’apprentissage mystique de Bahā’ al-Dīn Naqshband,” Revue des Études Islamiques, 1959, pp. 35-66.

“Le problème zurvanite,” JA 247, 1959, PP. 431-69.

“Deux notes sur le Rāmāyaṇa,” Hommages à Georges Dumézil, Bruxelles, 1960, pp. 140-50.

“Daēnā, le pont Činvat et l’initiation dans le Mazdéisme,” RHR 157, 1960, PP. 155-85.

“Kubrawiyāt, II: ʿAli b. Ṣihābeddīn-i Hamadānī’nin: Risāla-i Futuwwatiya’si,Ṣarkiyet Mecmuasi 4, 1961, pp. 33-72.

“Le problème des sects zoroastriennes dans les livres pehlevis,” Oriens XIII-XIV, 1960-61, pp. 1-28.

“La lune en Iran ancien,” Sources Orientales V: La lune. Mythes et Rites, 1962, pp. 219-29.

“Temps et sacrifice dans la religion zoroastrienne,” Bulletin de la Société Ernest Renan, NS X, 1961, pp. 124-26.

“Les Kubrawiya entre sunnisme et shiisme aux huitième et neuvième siècles de l’hégire,” Revue des Études Islamiques XXIX, 1961, pp. 61-142.

“Professions de foi de deux Kubrawis: ʿAli-I Hamadānī et Muḥammad Nūrbaẖš,” Bulletin d’Études Orientales de l’Institut français de Damas 17, 1961-1962, pp.133-203.

Aziz al-Din Nasafī, Kitāb al-Ensān al-Kāmel, ed. M. Molé as Le Livre de l’Homme Parfait. Recueil de traités de soufisme en persan publiés avec une introduction, Bibliothèque Iranienne XI, Tehran and Paris, 1962.

“Une histoire du mazdéisme est-elle possible? –Notes et remarques en marge d’un ouvrage récent (second article),” RHR 162/2, 1962a, PP. 161-218.

“Yasna 45 et la cosmogonie mazdéenne,” ZDMG 112/2, 1962b, PP. 345-52

Culte, mythe et cosmologie dans l’Iran ancient: le problème zoroastrien et la tradition mazdénne, Paris, 1963 (reviewed by J. Duchesne-Guillemin, RHR 169/1, 1966, p. 69; Idem, Oriens 18, 1967, p. 472).

“Entre le mazdéisme et l’islam: la bonne et la mauvaise religion,” Mélanges d’orientalisme offerts à Henri Massé à l’occasion de son 75ème anniversaire, Tehran, 1963, pp. 303-16.

Le Problème zoroastrien et la tradition mazdéenne, Paris, 1963.

L’Iran ancien, Paris, 1965.

Les mystiques musulmans, Paris, 1965 (reviewed by G. Vajda, RHR 170/1, 1966, p. 99; Marie-Claire Lambrechts-Bates, Review Philosophique de Louvain, 73, 1975, p. 584).

La légende de Zoroastre selon les texts pehlevis, Paris, 1967.

“Deux notes sur le Rāmāyaṇa,” Hommages à Georges Dumézil, Bruxelles 1969, pp. 140‑150.

Other works cited.

Gh. Gnoli, Review “Marijan Molé, Culte, mythe et cosmologie dans l’Iran ancient,” Rivista degli studi orientali 40/4, 1965, pp. 334-43.

Idem, Zoroaster’s Time and Homeland: A Study on the Origins of Mazdeism and Related Problems, Naples, 1980.

S. Shaked, “The Myth of Zurvan: Cosmogony and Eschatology,” in  I. Gruenwald, S. Shaked, and G. G. Stroumsa, eds., Messiah and Christos: Studies in the Jewish Origins of Christianity, presented to David Flusser (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum 32), Tübingen 1992, pp. 219-40.

Idem, Dualism in Transformation. Varieties of Religion in Sasanian Iran, London, 1994.

D. Shayegan, “Henry Corbin,” EIr, VI, New York, 2002, pp. 268-72.

(Philippe Gignoux)

Originally Published: January 29, 2018

Last Updated: January 29, 2018

Cite this entry:

Philippe Gignoux, “MOLÉ, MARIJAN ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2018, available at (accessed on 29 January 2018).