Post Conquest Maya Literature

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Figure Sheet of paper drying. After eight hours of drying, the sheet lifted easily from the board, and I trimmed the sheet to conform to the dimensions closest to those of the four extant codices. My paper came out a light yellow, as Coe predicts. Bending Now that the paper has been produced, the next step in preparing it for use in a codex is to bend the paper into screenfold sheets. In order to make each page the same size as its neighbors, I had little in the scholarship to guide me: Of course, the coated paper which was to make up a Maya screenfold book or hun had to be divided into pages which would neatly fold, and that is a part of the operation that is not yet fully understood.

But once this was done, the scribe--or, more likely, consortium of scribes--would lay out the network of light red gridlines to which all of the text and all the pictures were to conform. Coe However, the extant codices show remarkable consistency in the width of their pages, suggesting that the Maya had some kind of measuring device, like a ruler, that would allow them to mark off the precise widths of the pages.

However, no marks are seen on the codices near or on the fold lines. This suggests a second possibility, one which I adopted in creating uniform pages: a template.

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Post Conquest Maya Literatura Translation

I fashioned a block of inch-thick wood that was five inches wide and fourteen inches long, making certain that the sides were square. Using this as my template, I began folding the paper by placing the block atop the paper and folding upwards. This produced a clean, crisp fold without tearing the paper. Figure 11 depicts this process: Figure Creasing the screenfold with a template.

Once the screenfold had been created, the next step was to prepare the surface of the codex for painting. Backing The Maya did not write directly on the surface of their codices; I have already pointed out the extremely porous and rough nature of the paper resulting from the methods employed by the Otomi Indians. In order to create a suitable surface on which to draw and write, the Maya coated their screenfolds with a sort of gesso underlayment composed of chalk and a thickening medium such as sap or animal fat.

The chemical composition of the coating on at least one extant codex has been determined: On the surface of all four Maya codices, on both sides, is a fine white coating of what is either plaster or gesso, or a mixture of both. On examining the Dresden, Schwede concluded that it was a form of calcium carbonate, which would make it similar to the plaster surfaces upon which Maya artists painted their murals. Each page was separated by a thick, red frame and then horizontal and vertical lines were painted to further separate texts. The result was a suitably sticky thick material which I applied to four of my screenfold pages using a large brush of decidedly non-Maya origin.

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I applied two thin layers of gesso, allowing the first layer to dry overnight before applying the second layer. The resulting pages were a dull dun color, and showed the groove-marks of my brush strokes quite clearly. Applying the gesso. Coe makes an interesting point about the suitability of plain bark paper to support the writing tools of the time: What this comes down to is that the scribes actually never wrote directly on paper at all, but on miniature mural surfaces laid over that paper: uncoated bark paper would simply have been too rough and porous for their delicate calligraphy, and for the instruments they were using.

Coe Now that the pages are coated with gesso, the next step is either to polish the gesso or to move directly to assembling the codex and its covers. I will discuss the process of assembly momentarily, after I have examined the possibility that the Maya polished their pages before writing on them. Burnishing Michael Coe puts forward an interesting hypothesis about the necessity of the scribe to polish the surface of the gesso in order to obtain as smooth and impermeable a surface as possible before writing on it.

In another court scene, the principal figure--perhaps the Young Maize God--opens a codex, while before him sit two Monkey-man Gods, one bearing two small, round objects, and the other holding up an offering of paper tied with a band. If these really are paper-polishers, then they are quite common in scribal situations on Classic pottery.

For example, on one polychrome vase a round object with a dot in its center appears atop a cut conchshell inkpot being held by a supernatural who appears to be Hunahpu; and on another Hunahpu and a Monkey-man God hold inkpots with the same objects on them. A search of the ceramic corpus would probably turn up many similar scenes. While I acknowledge that depictions of alleged paper-polishers actually in use are absent in the record, I feel that that the association with known scribal paraphernalia, including paper, is sufficient to establish at least a circumstantial case for their function.

It is also a possibility that the instruments with curved ends that appear in scribal headdresses were really paper-polishers rather than tools for carving clay; but at present there is no way to determine their true function. The polishing resulted in two significant advantages that could be seen and felt after only a few minutes of polishing.


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First, the surface of the gesso became noticeably smoother and more consistent in thickness. Further, as I continued polishing the gesso, through the stone I could feel the grains of the gesso penetrating the fibers of the paper, and on examining the reverse of the sheet, I found that some gesso had penetrated through the sheet of paper entirely.

I can imagine that in applying gesso to both sides of the paper, polishing would integrate the gesso with the paper to synthesize a hard, stable page on which to write. Polishing the gesso. I also noted that with regard to the gesso-treated pages which I did not polish, after a few days the gesso tended to flake off if the page was handled roughly, whereas the pages which have been polished stood up to much more vigorous handling. Assembling the Codex With the paper prepared for painting, the final step in creating the codex is to attach covers to it, primarily to protect the screenfold pages from becoming soiled, as Maya scribes are usually depicted as sitting cross-legged on the floor or ground when they write in codices.

As an aside, I may point out that since my demonstration codex has very few screenfold pages in it, there was no necessity of gluing together many sheets to produce a long screenfold. Michael Coe suggests that long screenfolds were produced by gluing together two layers of paper: The various steps in the manufacture of a Maya screenfold book have been touched upon in the previous chapter. The process began with the making of bark paper.

Once each dried sheet had been peeled from the board on which it had been beaten out, it was necessary to attach it to others like it. Each sheet had to be fixed on top of another sheet to produce book leaves of the necessary thickness, either by felting or gluing or both together. And each sheet had also to be attached horizontally to its neighbor until there were enough sheets to make a continuous length suitable for creasing into the leaves that were going to make up the accordion-like screenfold.

It is not clear which of these processes came first, but the fact that Spanish paper has been incorporated into two leaves of the Madrid Codex suggests that horizontal attachment preceded the thickening operation. Next, the leaves of the screenfold were formed by creasing, perhaps with a wooden straight-edge or something like a weaving batten. This had to be carried out before the plaster or gesso sizing or coating was applied, otherwise that surface would crack or flake off when subjected to folding.

How the coating was applied, and its exact composition, will remain a mystery until modern laboratory analyses of the extant codices can be carried out. Coe The final phase of the process of creating the codex is to attach the covers. This presents unique problems for this experiment because we do not know how the covers were constructed, and how they were attached to the screenfold sheets, if at all.


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  5. Binding The next step in creating a codex is to bind the screenfold paper between covers. One of the subjects on which the collective record is silent is the form of the covers of Maya codices. Since no codices seem to have survived with their covers intact, it is a matter of conjecture as to how--or if--the covers were attached to the screenfold paper in order to create a codex. However, as a start, we can rule out a number of methods. This working definition of the cover is a bit problematic, for, depending on the number of folds made, it is possible to create a codex with covers on either the same or opposing sides of the paper.

    Figure 14 shows the two possible configurations, between which contemporary Maya depictions of codices do not conclusively differentiate. Two possible codex configurations. A further lacuna in our knowledge of Maya codex binding deals with the methods used to attach the covers to the screenfold paper. Michael Coe implies that the same sorts of glues used to attach the screenfold sheets together were used to attach the sheets to the covers, but he never follows up on how this might have been accomplished, preferring rightly, I admit to base his findings on the extant record: The thickness of the paper of the Dresden Codex makes it certain that there are two layers which have been felted or glued on top of each other, and the same holds for the Grolier.

    Moreover, there must have been some kind of glue to fasten together numbers of sheets horizontally to form these codices: the Dresden alone is some 3. In central Mexico, analysis has shown that the native Mapa de Quinatzin of consists of two sheets of bark paper glued together. Coe Jack Rau, on the other hand, in his short monograph on The Codex as a Book Form , puts forward a theory about the composition of Maya codex covers, but never mentions the source of his information: The Maya were a unit of culture, custom and religious concepts apart from the rest of [what is now] Mexico.

    Their records were set down by the priests in hieroglyphic writing in the codices.


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    These were made of strips of leather, bark paper, and later cotton cloth, folded like a screen, each fold forming a page with writing on both sides. Often wood covers protected the volume, and, practical note, one codex still to be seen has an inset of jade to indicate at which end to begin reading. Rau n. Neither Rau nor Coe surmise from the evidence the methods used by the Maya to attach the covers to the codex, so it is time to revisit the pictographic evidence to see if we can pick up any clues. Remember the rabbit-scribe writing in the jaguar-hide bound codex?

    On closer inspection of the rabbit scribe image Figure 15 , we find a few hints as to the possible configuration of the codex and its covers: Figure First, the covers themselves are represented as considerably thicker than the screenfold pages, suggesting that they may indeed be made of wood that is covered with precious or durable materials, in this case jaguar hide. The cover represented here as the top cover has rounded edges which terminate in hook- or flap-like structures, and there are two similar hooks or flaps along the edge of the cover which makes contact with the sheet-fold.

    In most depictions of codices, the artist draws the codex sideways: in the example above, the rabbit scribe is seated at the right-hand side of the page, not at the bottom. Why is this pictorial convention followed among Maya artists? This is, of course, a Maya artistic convention, emphasizing the folding-screen aspect of the book, and thus--along with the jaguar-skin covers--enhancing its identification in the eye of the beholder. Thus, by turning the depiction of the codex ninety degrees, the Maya artist shows us that this object is indeed an open codex, and not simply a bundle of unbound blank paper sheets, which are shown in Figure 17 as being given in tribute, represented by a drawing very similar to that in Figure Figure 17 K This evidence suggests that the pages of the codex were held to the covers by at least one method, and probably two.

    Each hook or flap can be seen as the side edge of a cord that, untied, would dangle from the sides of the covers, and which would, when tied, help to keep the screenfold paper in place against the wooden cover. This is especially to be seen along the bottom cover, where the bottom page of the screenfold is plainly thrust underneath the hooks or flaps. Coe and Rau may be correct in assuming that the covers were glued to the screenfolds, but an argument against the gluing of the covers to the paper--and a possible explanation about why to date no codices with covers have been unearthed--is that the covers were not meant to be permanent at all, but acted more like dust jackets do for modern books.

    The Spanish burned literally thousands of codices; did all of them have jaguar-skin covers, or even precious stones? Although it is likely that not all codices had valuable covers see the carved wooden covers between the Monkey-Men Gods in Figures 2 and 3 above , the overriding characteristic of the codex covers is that they seem detachable. Consider the problem of storage, which, given contemporary accounts of huge Maya libraries, necessitates an efficient use of space.

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    Sheet-folds are depicted on Maya architecture and pottery as often without covers as with them, and it is tempting to infer that Maya codices were stored sans covers; covers would be attached temporarily when the codices were in use. A second difficulty in knowing how to cover a codex is the variety of ways in which codices and their covers are depicted. Figures 18 through 23 show depictions of codices in many different possible forms, from the most common the to the most unique.

    Most depictions of codices in Maya pottery and architectural carving show the codex as a bundle of screenfold leaves bound top and bottom with animal-skin covers, as in Figure 18, which depicts two scribes, likely the Hero Twins, writing in such codices: Figure 18 K A variation on this manner of codex construction is seen in another Maya vase.

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    In Figure 19, we see three scribes and three codices. Two other vessels K and K not depicted here show codices with a jaguar-skin top cover only Kerr. Figure 20 K Different from the above methods of binding a codex is that seen in Figure 21, where the screenfolds of paper are used without any covers by the Young Maize God. A similar depiction can be found in vase K Kerr.

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    Figure 21 K Figure 22 K The most intriguing depiction of codices, however, shows three codices, each one different.