Dennis Tedlock, An Eternal Living Monument to The Mayans
(June 19, 1939 — June 3, 2016)
DENNIS TEDLOCK — 2000 YEARS OF MAYAN LITERATURE — UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS — 2010
A review by Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
Olliergues, May 11, 2020
THE MAYANS WERE NEVER BROUGHT DOWN TO THEIR KNEES
The ambition of the book is enormous, and it is vastly satisfied. It follows the timeline of all the resources we have that qualify as literature, which means that is written in a way or another on some media that have been durable enough to survive for some of the artifacts one thousand or more years. It is thus normal to start with the most durable medium, stone and thus all the inscriptions and representations of history, private lives, and mythology on stone monuments, either carving, or painting. Then we can move to artifacts recuperated from tombs, like ceramic vases, mugs, plates, etc. that are decorated with representations and inscriptions of some “events” or private data of the buried person or the donator of some favor. It is only then we can move to books because very few have survived since the Spaniards destroyed most of them, most of the oldest ones that had been painted and written before the arrival of the Spaniards. Only four out of thousands of these codices have survived. Then we move to the arrival of alphabetic writing brought by the Spaniards and we consider books produced from the 16th to the 18th centuries. We finally move to works that are more recent, including works of what we should call the Maya revival starting at the end of the 19th century and still going on and getting stronger in Mexico, Guatemala and a couple other countries. For example, the Maya train project has just been financed in Mexico. “CONSTRUCTION of the first 951km phase of Mexico’s Mayan Train project is set to begin in April after the government revealed the tendering process for the controversial scheme.” (Jan 29, 2020, Written by Kevin Smith, International Railway Journal, New York, NY) This means increased tourism, hence increased excavation and archaeological exploration, and it will require a lot more protection too against vandalism, looting, and first of all over-treading. This revival has been going on for a few decades and the final opening of research on the writing system finally recognized as syllabic and phonetic along with the use of semiological glyphs in the early 1970s after the departure of the autocratic and anti-phonetic Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson from the scene. And that brings us to an essential preliminary remark that has to be done from the very start.
Maya language and Maya culture have suffered a lot up to the early 1970s, with the exception of the Soviet Union, since the Russian researcher, Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov, who put down the syllabic phonetic reading of the old Mayan glyphs was living and working in Leningrad. Thus it justified some researchers refusing his obvious suggestion as part on their side of the Cold War and the anti-Soviet jingoism of that time. This strange element that Tedlock ignores would lead us to a double question: How did British Thompson manage not to make a career in the Great Britain but to make one in the USA? How come he was knighted at the end of his life though his position was plainly political and not at all scientific? We do have to believe Tedlock did not want to be mixed up with this polemical ideological cold war. But in the wake of this decision he does not identify the glyphs in the T-numbers (Thompson numbers) that were devised by Thompson to list the various glyphs and other elements in the glyphs as an easy way to provide the architecture of composite glyphs. These numbers are accepted and referred to by most Mayan scholars like John Montgomery and Michael D. Coe, and not using them is a handicap for the readers of Tedlock’s books. Tedlock uses the architectural structures of glyphs but without the T-numbers. That does not help us in our attempt to go beyond the surface. In Maya studies we need to have five elements:
1- the visual glyphs (drawings) decomposed in the various composite elements.
2- the phonetic values of the glyphic elements superimposed or given in the standard hierarchical transcription, a dot between two glyphs implying the disposition is horizontal and a semi colon implying the relation is vertical.
3- The T-numbers of these glyphic elements so that we can check the value of them in John Montgomery’s Dictionary available in open access at FAMSI (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc). This is all the more important because the book uses several dialects or Maya languages and they are not always compatible: variations in spelling, in glyphic representation, in meaning, and often in roots.
4- the transliteration of the glyphs in alphabetical writing.
5- the translation into English or Spanish.
That makes the book difficult to use because it does not systematically give these five elements and at best only gives elements 1, 2, 5, and occasionally 4, and rarely more than three of these. In the most recent documents written in alphabetical spelling we only have the facsimile of the documents and a translation, and in the presentation some very partial elements are explained or put forward.
But this being said reading the book requires a lot of personal work to really reach the roots of this language and culture, and at times with only limited success, this book is essential for the reasons I am going to explain now, and first of all its extreme learned knowledge on the language and culture of these people.
[… FULL REVIEW, 24,000 WORDS AND SOME PICTURES ON ACADEMIA.EDU AT https://www.academia.edu/43057997/An_Eternal_Living_Monument_to_The_Mayans
AND ON RESEARCHGATE.NET AT https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341399256_Dennis_Tedlock_An_Eternal_Living_Monument_to_The_Mayans]
When I came to the end of this book (2000 Years of Mayan Literature), in fact, the end of many books, some by Dennis Tedlock, some by many other authors, Mayan culture, history, mythology and language were more alive on my desk than any or many other cultures, histories, mythologies and languages. Yes, the Mayans are probably one of the oldest and richest post-Ice-Age culture that has managed to survive for at least three millennia if not more, and probably more. Only artifacts and inscriptions left behind on durable media can survive that long and many more will be discovered one day by us. The great chance of the Mayas was that they wrote and carved so many things about their culture, history, religion and everyday life into stone, so that we still have a lot of them and we can know a lot about these Mayas. And they are still here with us and they must have kept their world alive through memory, recollections being transmitted from one “memory-person” to another through the centuries, just like in Africa with the griots and in Northern America with the Indian sacred initiated individuals who keep and broadcast centuries of memories and knowledge.
The Mayas are the proof that resilience is possible even against the worst imaginable human, physical, cultural, and demographic genocides. Dennis Tedlock is thus a witness of our possible hope in front of any catastrophe.
INTEGRATED IN THIS LONG DOCUMENT
ANCIENT MAYAN MESSAGE: DRESDEN CODEX FACSIMILE 3RD EDITION by Olga Judith Najarro (Author)
Reviewed by Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU in the United States on September 12, 2018
DENNIS TEDLOCK, TR. — POPOL VUH, THE DEFINITIVE EDITION OF THE MAYAN BOOK OF THE DAWN OF LIFE AND THE GLORIES OF THE GODS AND KINGS — A TOUCHSTONE BOOK — 1985–1996
AN ESSENTIAL HEROIC VISION OF THE UNIVERSE
Review by Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU on Sep 02, 2018
DENNIS TEDLOCK — RABINAL ACHI, A MAYAN DRAMA OF WAR AND SACRIFICE — OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS — 2003
THE FIRST TRIBES HAVE SO MUCH TO TELL US
Review by Jacques COULARDEAU on Amazon.ca on 15 August 2019
Also Available on Medium.com, https://medium.com/@JacquesCoulardeau/mayas-war-sacrifice-renascence-drama-8248591faadf