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311 The Use of Chiasmus by the Ancient K’iche’ Maya Allen J. Christenson 12 The presence of chiasmus and other poetic constructions may be useful in determining the relative antiquity of ancient writings composed by the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala in the early Colonial era. A chiasm is created when in a given text the first element or concept of a passage directly parallels the final element , the second element parallels the penultimate element, and so on. Such chiasms may be simple or very long and complex , even comprising entire chapters or books. While various poetic devices, particularly parallelism in couplets, have been recognized in early K’iche’ texts (Edmonson 1971: xi–xii), the presence of chiasmus has not been well documented. This chapter evaluates a number of early Colonial K’iche’ texts for the presence of chiasmus. The texts that contain chiasms are then compared with each other to determine how they differ from other K’iche’ writings that do not use the device. Chiasmus is an ancient rhetorical and poetic form that was well-known in antiquity in both the Old and New Worlds. 12 312 Allen J. Christenson Homer used it extensively in the Odyssey, particularly as a device to help arrange passages of dialogue. In most cases Homer used chiasmus where a two-or-more-part question is posed and the answer is given in reverse order: Odysseus asks: (a) Who was your master? (b) “For Zeus, Iween, and the other immortal gods know whether I have seen him, and could bring tidings ; for I have wandered far.” Eumaeus responds: (b) “No wanderers that came and brought tidings of him could persuade his wife and son.” (a) My master was Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 14: 115ff, cited in Murray 1919: 42–45 Achilles asks: (a) “But come, tell me tidings of my son, that lordly youth, whether or not he followed to the war to be a leader. (b) And tell me of noble Peleus, if thou hast heard aught.” Odysseus answers: (b) “Verily of noble Peleus have I heard naught, (a) but as touching thy dear son, Neoptolemus, I will tell thee all the truth, as thou biddest me.” Homer, Odyssey 11: 492ff, cited in Murray 1919: 420–423 Although most examples of chiasmus in the work of Homer consist of a few lines, longer examples are also evident, such as this exchange between Odysseus and the shade of his mother, Anticleia: Odysseus asks: (a) “But come, tell me this, and declare it truly. (b) What fate of grievous death overcame thee? (c) Was it long disease, (d) or did the archer, Artemis, assail thee with her gentle shafts, and slay thee? (e) And tell me of my father (f) and my son, whom I left behind me. (g) Does the honour that was mine still abide with them, or does some other man now possess it, and do they say that I shall no more return? (h) And tell me of my wedded wife, of her purpose and of her mind. Does she abide with her son, and keep all things safe?” Anticleia responds: (h) “Aye verily she abides with steadfast heart in thy halls, and ever sorrowfully for her do the nights and the days wane, as she weeps. (g) But the fair honour that was thine no man yet possesses, (f) but Telemachus holds thy demesne unharassed, and feasts at equal banquets, such as it is fitting that one who deals judgment should share, for all men invite him. 313 The Use of Chiasmus by the Ancient K’iche’ Maya (e) But thy father abides there in the tilled land, and comes not to the city, nor has he, for bedding, bed and cloaks and bright coverlets , but through the winter he sleeps in the house . . . (d) Even so did I too perish and meet my fate. Neither did the keensighted archer goddess assail me in my halls with her gentle shafts, and slay me, (c) nor did any disease come upon me such as oftenest through grievous wasting take the spirit from the limbs; (b) nay, it was longing for thee, and for thy counsels, glorious Odysseus, and for thy tender-heartedness, that robbed me of honey-sweet life.” (a) “So she spoke, and I pondered in heart.” Homer, Odyssey XI: 170ff, cited in Murray 1919: 398–401 This arrangement in reverse order was recognized by the scholiast Aristarchus who, in his commentary on the Iliad, wrote, “Notice that the...


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