Long before the English language began, Mayans were writing history and literature in their own script. Most ancient Mayan books were burned in the 16th century, but Mayan authors continued to write, in their own pictorial and phonetic script and later using the Roman alphabet, reclaiming the knowledge lost in book-burnings and preserving songs, plays, and speeches, and prayers.
Dennis Tedlock’s translations of surviving Mayan texts, inscriptions on vases and drinking vessels, and writings on the walls of Mayan ruins reveal poetry in which stories of the sky and the earth intertwine, riddles used to test the worthiness of politicians, incantations used to treat illness, creation stories, accounts of the Spanish invasion from the Mayans’ own perspective, and far more; a glimpse into a vibrant ancient civilization.
In this podcast, Tedlock, the author of 2000 Years of Mayan Literature, talks to Chris Gondek of Heron and Crane Productions about translating the Mayan script, what ancient graffiti reveals about literacy in the Mayan world, whether Mayan rulers really thought of themselves as gods, and the growing number of Mayan-language authors today.
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