Sunday, March 28, 2010

Notes on Lost King of the Maya

From Nova: Lost King of the Maya:

Edgar Allan Poe called it "perhaps the most interesting book of travel ever published." The historian David McCullough deemed it "a classic, thrilling piece of work [that] can be seen as the beginning of American archeology." It is Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, by John Lloyd Stephens. A lawyer ostensibly on a mission for the U.S. State Department, Stephens, in 1839, went in search of Mayan ruins, which were then all but unknown. He was accompanied by architect Frederick Catherwood, whose meticulous drawings grace both Stephens' book and the passages excerpted below. Here, in introspective and highly impassioned prose, Stephens describes coming upon the ruined city of Copan, which he found so captivating that he promptly purchased the site—today owned by the Honduran government—from its then owner, an Indian named Don Jose Maria.



From Stephens:

We followed our guide, who, with a constant and vigorous use of his machete, conducted us through the thick forest, among half-buried fragments, to 14 monuments of the same character and appearance, some with more elegant designs, and some in workmanship equal to the finest monuments of the Egyptians; one displaced from its pedestal by enormous roots; another locked in the close embrace of branches of trees, and almost lifted out of the earth; another hurled to the ground, and bound down by huge vines and creepers; and one standing, with its altar before it, in a grove of trees which grew around it, seemingly to shade and shroud it as a sacred thing; in the solemn stillness of the woods, it seemed a divinity mourning over a fallen people. The only sounds that disturbed the quiet of this buried city were the noise of monkeys moving among the tops of the trees.

Architecture, sculpture, and painting, all the arts which embellish life, had flourished in this overgrown forest; orators, warriors, and statesmen, beauty, ambition, and glory, had lived and passed away, and none knew that such things had been, or could tell of their past existence. Books, the records of knowledge, are silent on this theme. The city was desolate.

Catherwood's Map
Like all his work, Catherwood's map of Copán is exquisitely drawn (though, strangely, north lies in the direction south should be and vice versa). 

No remnant of this race hangs round the ruins, with traditions handed down from father to son, and from generation to generation. It lay before us like a shattered bark in the midst of the ocean, her masts gone, her name effaced, her crew perished, and none to tell whence she came, to whom she belonged, how long on her voyage, or what caused her destruction; her lost people to be traced only by some fancied resemblance in the construction of the vessel, and, perhaps never to be known at all. The place where we sat, was it a citadel from which an unknown people had sounded the trumpet of war? or a temple for the worship of the God of peace? or did the inhabitants worship the idols made with their own hands, and offer sacrifices on the stones before them? All was mystery, dark, impenetrable mystery, and every circumstance increased it.


  • K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo'
  • Founder of Copan
  • 400 year dynasty
  • 200 to 900 C.E.
  • Copan = Athens of C. America
  • The Acropolis at Copan
  • Altar Q


  • David Stuart
  • History written in the Stone
  • Hieroglyphic Stairway
  • Eye Goggle - Rain God - Tlaloc

    • Find K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo's Bones
    • Sacred Geography
    • Legitimize power by linking to dynastic founder
    • Invoke his bones
    • Rosalila Temple

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