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Michel Jules Alfred Bréal (March 26, 1832 - 1915), French philologist, was born at Landau in Rhenish Bavaria, of French parents. He is often identified as a founder of modern semantics.

After studying at Weissenburg, Metz and Paris, he entered the Ecole Normale in 1852. In 1857 he went to Berlin, where he studied Sanskrit under Franz Bopp and Weber. On his return to France he obtained an appointment in the department of oriental manuscripts at the Bibliothéque Impériale. In 1864 he became professor of comparative grammar at the College de France, in 1875 member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, in 1879 inspecteur général for higher education until the abolition of the office in 1888. In 1890 he was made commander of the Legion of Honour.

Among his works, which deal mainly with mythological and philological subjects, may be mentioned:

  • L' Etude des origines de la religion Zoroastrienne (1862), for which a prize was awarded him by the Académie des Inscriptions
  • Hercule et Cacus (1863), in which he disputes the principles of the symbolic school in the interpretation of myths
  • Le Mythe d'œdipe (1864)
  • Les Tables Eugubines (1875)
  • Mélanges de mythologie et de linguistique (2nd. ed., 1882)
  • Leçons de mots (1882, 1886)
  • Dictionnaire étymologique latin (1885)
  • Grammaire latine (1890).
  • Essai de Sémantique (1897), on the signification of words, which has been translated into English by Mrs H. Cust with preface by J. P. Postgate.
  • a translation of Bopp's Comparative Grammar (1866-1874), with introductions, which is highly valued.

He has also written pamphlets on education in France, the teaching of ancient languages, and the reform of French orthography. In 1906 he published Pour mieux connaitre Homme.

Michel Bréal can also be credited with the invention of the marathon race. He made the suggestion to put this event on the programme of the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 to his friend Pierre de Coubertin. The event was to commemorate the Greek soldier Phidippides who, according to several legends, ran from the Battle of Marathon to either Athens or Sparta.


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