Yucatan Before and after the Conquest

Yucatan Before and after the Conquest

by Friar Diego Landa, William Gates


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In 1562, de Landa conducted an 'Auto de fé' in Maní where in addition to 5000 'idols,' he burned 27 books in Maya writing. This one act deprived future generations of a huge body of Mayan literature. He culturally impoverished the descendents of the Mayas, and left only four codices for scholars to puzzle over.

The document translated here is de Landa's apology, and one of the few remaining contemporary texts which describe pre-conquest Mayan society, science, and art in detail. As such it must be read in context. The translator and editor, the distinguished Americanist William Gates, provides plenty of background on de Landa, the decline of the Maya, and what is today known about their ancient culture.

Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán also created a valuable record of the Mayan writing system, which despite its inaccuracies was later to prove instrumental in the later decipherment of the writing system. Landa asked his informants (his primary sources were two Maya individuals descended from a ruling Maya dynasty, literate in the script) to write down the glyphic symbols corresponding to each of the letters of the (Spanish) alphabet, in the belief that there ought to be a one-to-one correspondence between them. The results were faithfully reproduced by Landa in his later account, although he recognised that the set contained apparent inconsistencies and duplicates, which he was unable to explain. Later researchers reviewing this material also formed the view that the "de Landa alphabet" was inaccurate or fanciful, and many subsequent attempts to use this transcription remained unconvincing. It was not until much later, in the mid-twentieth century, when it was realised and then confirmed that it was not a transcription of an alphabet, as Landa and others had originally supposed, but was rather a syllabary. Confirmation of this was only to be established by the work of Russian linguist Yuri Knorozov in the 1950s, and the succeeding generation of Mayanists.

Relación de las cosas de Yucatán was written by Diego de Landa Calderón circa 1566 shortly after his return to Spain after serving as Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yucatán in the sixteenth century. In it, de Landa catalogues a partial explanation of written and spoken language that proved vital to modern attempts to decipher the language[1] as well as Maya religion and the Mayan peoples' culture in general. It was written with the help of local Maya princes, and contains the famous translation of "I do not want to". The original manuscript has been lost, although many copies still survive.

Currently available English translations include William E. Gates's 1937 translation, has been published by multiple publishing houses under the title Yucatan Before and After the Conquest

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781463652500
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 06/25/2011
Pages: 174
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.37(d)

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Yucatan Before and after the Conquest 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Larxol on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting first-hand study of Maya culture written by Diego de Landa, a Franciscan monk, in 1566. Four years earlier, he collected all the written records of that culture and burned them as "heretical writings."
antiquary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Actually a 1937 English translation, with rather leftist comments about the Spanish Civil War (pro-Republican) and the Cardenas administration in Mexico (pro). Very interesting source, including not only Landa's very famous explanation of the Maya writing system (which eventually was the starting point for Knosorov's decipherment) and--what i did not know till I read it --a very detailed account of the Mayan "sacred year" with what festivals were celebrated each month, as well as general observations --often favorable --on Mayan life in general. As the translator comments, there is only one paragraph on Landa's notorious (and arguably illegal) autos de fe which brutally persecuted many Maya for alleged relapses into paganism and also destroyed many potentially valuable Maya texts. However, this edition supplements Landa's account with other documents (some from the Maya themselves) giving more context on Landa's activities. Very interesting read in tandem with Clendinnen's Ambivalent Conquest which provides a modern interpretation of the same events (and more Maya documents). I give this 5 stars as an important source, though probably it would rate 4 or less subtracting for Landa's bias.