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Reviewed by:
  • 2000 Years of Mayan Literature
  • John F. Schwaller
2000 Years of Mayan Literature. By Dennis Tedlock. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Pp. 480. Photographs. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $49.95 cloth.

Dennis Tedlock is well known in Mayanist circles for his translation of the Popul Vuh. In this collection he presents selections from some of the greatest works of the Maya civilization. Tedlock provides the reader with an in-depth introduction to Maya pictographic writing—as literature. This work is a significant departure from previous considerations of the Maya. While scholars have worked extensively to unravel the mystery of Maya writing, these inscriptions and texts have not been considered as literature. Nevertheless, this is the underlying assumption upon which Tedlock has collected and presented these materials.

The work is roughly organized by chronologically, beginning with the earliest Maya inscriptions, working through the colonial period when Maya was committed to European script, and continuing up to the modern era—the last piece is a play that dates from the colonial period, but which was copied down in the early twentieth century. The collection is well illustrated and helps the reader through the process of understanding Maya writing. The selections from inscriptions include an in-depth introduction and analysis of the text, followed by corresponding illustrations and line-by-line translations. Even later texts that were written in European script are reproduced in illustrations with line-by-line transcriptions and translations.

In short, Tedlock has done a masterful job of presenting what could be confusing material in a very engaging manner. This is an excellent work and a welcome addition to any library of the literatures of Latin America.

John F. Schwaller
State University of New York, Pottsdam
Pottsdam, New York


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