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THREE MAYAN CLASSICS T. B. IRVING THE Mayas of Yucatan and Guatemala form the native American group which has left the most extensive records of its literature and history. For almost two thousand years, their area of influence extended over most of Yucatan, Chiapas, and Guatemala, and parts of Honduras and Salvador. Thus these documents have a real value in reconstructing the life of an important cultural region of the world. This literature conveys to us the story of creation and of subsequent history, known and honoured by the Mayas and carried by them through centuries of glory and over miles of terrain. It is the most original collection of tales completed in America before the arrival of Columbus; indeed, it rises from the realm of folklore into that of philosophy and world literature, and rewards us with the latent eloquence of its mood of myth. Great ravines with distant mountains gird the ancient Quiche kingdom, so that the whole region lends itseH to poetry, and we might consider it the classical land of America. The most important Mayan stock in the Guatemalan Highlands was and still is the Quiche nation. Their ruling caste were Toltecs who arrived from Mexico in the eleventh century, and were connected with the similar invasion of Yucatan. From what we can gather, this Guatemalan branch went to Yucatan first on their way from Mexico, and then returned across the marshes by the Laguna de Terminos in the modem state of Tabasco. Nacshit, the king from whom the early Quiche kings received their investiture, was either the mythical Toltec leader Quetzalcoatl-Kukulcan, or more probably one of his descendants.' These Quiche rulers reigned in pairs, as in Sparta, and when the earliest leaders got tired of pioneering, they died and were transfigured like the patriarchs of the Old Testament or the Roman heroes. Their records offer us a good picture of how Guatemala was first settled: land was cleared and towns rose up as roads spread out, just as on our own frontiers in North America. The Quiches' first cities were built on hilltops for the purpose of defence against the original inhabitants of the country. Cakyug in the play RabinalAchl was one of these fortresses. Pedro de Alvarado, or Tonatiuh as the Mexicans called him, conquered the Quiche capital of Gumarcaah with its twenty-four lSee Recinos, Popol Vuh~ 72-3, 254. At the end of this article will be found a bibliography listing the Mayan works discussed. 61 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, vol. XX, no. 1, Oct., 1950 62 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY palaces "well built and marvellously strong" on April 4, 1524. The reigning kings were burnt at the stake, and the nobles who were left fled to Chuvil:i, or Chichicastenango as it is called in Mexican, about fifteen miles to the south. They took their lore with them, guarding it carefully for many decades. In other parts of the Mayan world, their glory likewise remained hidden, awaiting a more sympathetic era. I The most important document we possess is the Popol-Vuh or the "Book of the Council," so named after the pop or ceremonial mat on which the council sat.' The Papal-Yuh was preserved in Chichicastenango after the last Quiche princes fled from the burning of their capital and kings. Francisco Ximenez, a Dominican . priest who knew the native languages, served as curate of Chichicastenango in 1701 and 1702. He won his parishioners' esteem, and was presented with a manuscript of this work, which he published in the Quiche original and a Spanish translation in his History of Chiapas and Guatemala. Ximenez also spent ten years in Rabinal, from which our third masterpiece comes, although he does not seem to have learned of its existence. Carl Scherzer, an Austrian student of American history, visited Central America in 1853 and 1854, and published the first European version of the Papal-Yuh in 1857. Unfortunately, his copyist in Guatemala had been careless, and his typesetter in Vienna was little better. A French student of Quiche, Father Charles-Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, arrived in Guatemala the year Scherzer left. He was able to secure the original of the Papal-Yuh...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 61-68
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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