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Archeological Legacy of Kan Bahlam II

Kan Bahlam II carved image

K’inich Kan Bahlam II
Temple XVII Tablet

Kan Bahlam II was a Renaissance Man centuries before that term was invented.

He left an archeological legacy that is unsurpassed among Maya kings. His brilliant mind conceived a new calendar, the 819-day count and invented a secret code language called Zuyua. His command of mathematics and numerology led to a web of interconnections between his family history and cosmological cycles. He was an accomplished astronomer and created complex connections between mythological, historical, and family events. He also may be the earliest “cosmopolitan” Mayan, a sophisticate who traveled widely to the edges of the Maya world. K’inich Kan Bahlam II, eldest son of famous ruler K’inich Janaab Pakal of Palenque, left a vast archeological legacy of this accomplishments. He did all this in the mid-late 7th Century.

Kan Bahlam II had to wait an agonizingly long time to bring his genius to full expression. His father Pakal was one of the longest-lived Maya rulers, who died at age 80. Kan Bahlam assumed the throne of Palenque in 684 CE when he was 48 years old. He quickly went to work on several projects to make his own mark on the already great city. First he completed his father’s funerary structure, Temple of the Inscriptions, including the stunning burial chamber and sarcophagus of Pakal, and the three magnificent panels covered by carved hieroglyphs giving this temple its name. In the midst of this project, he contended with hostilities from nearby Tonina, defeating it soundly in 687 CE and capturing its ruler. He extended his influence eastward to dominate two other enemy cities around 690 CE.

Kan Bahlam’s archeological apex was constructing the three temples of The Cross Group, called the “three jewels of Maya architecture.”

This triad complex still stands as perhaps the most powerful expression of ancient Mayan religion. Each temple of The Cross Group features one of the Triad Gods, widely honored by Mayas but special protectors of the Palenque dynasty. Every facet of these temples expresses symbolism of Maya cosmology and belief systems, from the stairways and platforms to the temple doorways and chambers on top the pyramid structures. Inside the chambers, each temple held a large panel, intricately carved with images and hieroglyphs. These panels contain the only lengthy written narrative of Classic Maya mythology, the legend told in the famous Popol Vuh epic written centuries later by K’iche Mayas. In his telling of this Maya creation myth, Kan Bahlam inserted himself as

Panel in Temple of the Foliated Cross, Palenque

the embodiment of each Triad God, portraying his youthful and mature images. In each temple, his image assumed characteristics of its God and he enacted the powers they brought to rulers.

But Kan Bahlam went beyond conflating himself with the Triad Gods. He inserted the fruits of his many years of intellectual endeavor, using cosmology and numerology to make links with his family and personal history. Layer upon layer of meaning was embedded in these images and glyphs. As an example, he took a “mythical” date many thousands of years in the past (related to Creation Mythology), linked it mathematically to the date when he assumed the throne, linked it using various calendars (including the 819-day count) to a cosmological event such as Venus rising as Morningstar, and linked it historically to an important event in the life of an ancestor. Ceremonies were performed at dedication and over many years, following a ritual cycle according to calendar dates, such as the great Katun ending in 692 CE (9.13.0.0.0). The temples symbolized the basic spaces of creation: sky (Upperworld), surface of water (Middleworld), and caves (Underworld).

Using his knowledge of astronomy, Kan Bahlam constructed angles and spacial orientation of the triad temples to display solar and lunar phenomena, such as solstice and equinox sunset or sunrise, and lunar elongations. See blogpost Solstice, Equinox, and the Mayan Calendar.

The Cross Group, Palenque
Triad Temples of Kan Bahlam II

K’inich Kan Bahlam II, 12th Dynastic ruler of Palenque (B’aakal) is a major character in my historical fiction The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque. He had no surviving heir; the son of his younger brother assumed the throne. This next ruler, K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nab III, was the son of K’inuuw Mat–and possibly of Kan Bahlam in my story. A short excerpt:

Book Cover The Prophetic Mayan Queen

 

K’innuw Mat’s heart burst with joy as she watched her husband (Kan Bahlam) conduct the elaborate rituals, starting at daybreak and continuing until sunset. Tall incense burners with two-tiered deity heads wearing elaborate headdresses…lined either side of the Temple stairway…Nearly fifty incense burners released curls of pungent smoke into the still forming air as the ruler, elite nobles, and priesthood climbed the stairway to perform “creation and activation” rites for the effigy of the God of the temple. The group dedicated the pib nah to the God and placed precious offerings inside the shrine. Musicians and dancers enacted themes related to the Triad Gods in front of crowds filling the plaza. After completing the dedication, Kan Bahlam stood at the top platform and retold that portion of the B’aakal Creation Story to the people.

Kan Bahlam effectively constructed an “astronumerology canoe” that, akin to the Celestial Canoe in which the Paddler Gods convey deceased to the Underworld, would carry forth into rebirth the religious charter of B’aakal.

 

 

 

Buy Book

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque

Mists of Palenque Series, Book 4

 

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Virtual Author Book Tour – Your Time, My Space

Join me in cyberspace for a book tour!

February 5 – 28, 2019.  Come whenever you have time, you don’t need to dress up.

Visit each blog stop, even those already scheduled, read interviews, guest blogs, reviews, and excerpts.

Comment to enter book giveaway.

 

Doing book tours the easy way.

With the launch of the fourth and final book of my series about ancient Mayan Queens, I decided to take the easier route. For each of the previous three books, I scheduled brick-and-mortar bookstore tours. Doing these took a huge amount of time, energy, coordination, and publicity. Physical tours are also quite expensive, with travel costs and presentation materials. For the most part, my bookstore tours were decidedly not cost-effective. Of course, I really enjoyed my interactions with bookstore event coordinators and staff, and the usually small number of interested readers who attended. Traveling to Seattle allowed me to visit family and friends, and my Oregon stops were equally congenial. This time around, however, I just wanted less hassle. Virtual book tours were the answer!  Now I can stay at home, doing my book event via my computer, and even while enjoying a glass of wine.

Organizing a virtual book tour is no small task. I did seek out a few book bloggers for the earlier books, but didn’t have the bandwidth to create a real tour. So, I decided to use Virtual Book Tour (VBT) organizers for my new book. Having a professional VBT organizer certainly makes everything flow better. It’s a real pleasure to work with Teddy Rose of Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.

What you can expect when you join in my VBT.

Ten different book bloggers are hosting during this tour. They were selected because they have interests in my book’s genres, which span historical fiction, historical romance, fantasy, and paranormal novels. When bloggers and books are matched, the results are optimal. The bloggers are scheduled during a set time period, and can elect to send the author interview questions, request a guest blog post on a subject they choose, post an excerpt from the book, or write a book review. Some bloggers do more than one of these. The author receives everything in advance and sends responses to the tour organizer by a set date. Then the tour host forwards it to the blogger, who posts it on the set date.

Tour organizers advise authors to offer a book giveaway or gift certificate to readers who visit the blogs and write a comment. It’s an enticement for participation and increases visibility on the web. In my present VBT, I’m using a book giveaway, either ebook or paperback. You can enter at each blog stop for a chance to win.

Virtual book tours are a great tool for authors to get their books read, reviewed, and noticed. They help create buzz around a book release.

Ix Chel

Schedule of VBT for The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque.

Visit each blog stop, enjoy reviews, interviews, guest posts, and excerpts. You can make comments at any time, even after the scheduled dates, and enter for a chance to win the book giveaway.

Feb. 11    Infinite House of Books    https://shannon-muir.com/
Feb. 12    Indie Review Behind the Scenes    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_C6Z-GkNlU&feature=youtu.be
Feb. 15    StoreyBook Reviews     https://storeybookreviews.com/
Feb. 17    International Book Promotion     https://internationalbookpromotion.com/category/book-reviews/
Feb. 20    Rockin’ Book Reviews    https://www.rockinbookreviews.com/adult
Feb. 21    Celticlady’s Reviews    https://celticladysreviews.blogspot.com/
Feb. 28    (Susan) review on Amazon        https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1641463651/ref
                Link to Prophetic Mayan Queen

 

Blog Tour – The Prophetic Mayan Queen

Join the Blog Tour for The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque

Mists of Palenque Series Book 4.

Blog Tour Dates January 7 – 11, 2019.

 

Drawing of K'inuuw Mat Name Glyph

K’inuuw Mat Name Glyph

Journey back 1300 years to the splendor and intrigue of Mayan civilization, the most advanced in the Western World. K’inuuw Mat, a royal girl who wants to dedicate her life to serving Mother Goddess Ix Chel, instead finds her destiny is marriage into the Palenque royal family, overlords of her region. With her skills in scrying and prophecy, she seeks a vision of her future husband. But, upon arriving at his city, she realizes the face she saw is his older brother, Kan Bahlam. They are immediately attracted, though she resists and follows through with marriage to the younger brother. As family conflicts, regional politics, and high court dramas play out, K’inuuw Mat shares astronomical interests with Kan Bahlam while keeping her distance. He schemes to fulfill his passion for her, assisted by fateful events that bring them together in most unexpected ways. The Goddess gives K’inuuw Mat a mandate to preserve Mayan culture for future generations, as their civilization begins the decline her prophecy foresees. She rises to meet the challenge, aided by mystical connections with ancestor women rulers who give guidance through visions. Her children help carry out the mandate through surprising links with Kan Bahlam.

K’inuuw Mat was a real Mayan women who lived during the late 7th and early 8th Centuries CE. Her portrait appears on a panel in Palenque (Tablet of the Slaves),

Drawing of Tablet of the Slaves

K’inuuw Mat on right, her husband Tiwol Chan Mat on left, offering rulership symbols to their son.
Tablet of the Slaves

seated on the right, where she offers a symbol of royal status to her son. Her husband, Tiwol Chan Mat, is seated on the left. Not much is recorded about her life, but there is a lot of information about the men surrounding her–the ruling family of Palenque and their magnificent architectural and artistic creations. Many characters are from this family, their courtiers and warriors. Fictional characters help fill out the complex relationships and intrigues.

To the Mayas, spirituality merged with everyday life. They moved between dimensions to meet with star ancestors, sky Gods, Underworld demons, shamans, tricksters, and deities who influenced every aspect of life. Rulers and priests were trained as shamans, did vision quests, and used hallucinogens to alter consciousness. They interacted with deities, cast spells, and had visionary powers. During trance rituals where they offered their own blood, the most precious substance to the Gods, they saw incense smoke turn into the Vision Serpent. From its huge jaws they saw an ancestor or God’s head emerge, giving predictions or answering questions.

I hope you’ll want to read this book, and plunge into the Maya’s exotic, advanced, and astonishing culture full of passion, pageantry, and mysticism.

 

 

 

BUY BOOK

Pre-order now!  Ebook available Jan. 13, print book Jan. 22, 2019

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque.  Mists of Palenque Series, Book 4.

Each book in the series stands alone and tells the story of a real ancient Mayan Queen.

Mists of Palenque Series

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE   January 7 – 11, 2019

Learn some little-known trivia about the Mayas, and find out some things you never knew about me.  On the blog tour I’m answering a variety of interview questions, and writing some guest blog posts. The interviews were lots of fun, asking such questions as “What made you want to be an author,” “What is your favorite part of this book.” ‘Which character would you go drinking with,” “What should readers expect from this book,” “Tell about the cover and the inspiration for it,” “What part of the book’s world would you want to visit for a day,” “If a dwarf challenged you to a duel what would you do,” and details about my writing habits and quirks. My answer to the last question might surprise you, and it gives insight into the Maya world.

Drawing of Vision Serpent

Vision Serpent
Head of Ancestor Emerging from Jaws

Visit each blog on the date listed below.  Be sure to enter Rafflecopter for a chance to win an Amazon or Barnes&Noble gift certificate!

Tour by Goddess Fish Promotions.

January 7: Mythical Books – review only
January 7: Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews
January 7: Candrel’s Crafts, Cooks, and Characters
January 8: Bookaholic
January 8: T’s stuff
January 9: Fabulous and Brunette
January 9: Edgar’s Books
January 10: Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews
January 10: Kit ‘N Kabookle
January 11: All the Ups and Downs
January 11: Let me tell you a story – review

 

 

 

The Devil is in the Detail

MayaShamanXC

Mayan Shaman or Brujo

“The Devil is in the Detail” implies that although something might look simple at first, there is a catch hidden in the details.

Often an idea seems wonderful, but turns out impossible to implement. We may be able to agree on generalities, but come to blows on specifics. A project may appear straightforward and easy, but takes more time and effort to carry out than we expected. “The Devil”—our difficulties and challenges—hides in the details.

This is the contemporary understanding of the idiom. But, it was not always interpreted this way. Use of the phrase goes back at least to the early 1800s when French writer Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) said “Le bon Dieu est dans le détail.” By saying “The good God is in the detail” Flaubert was emphasizing that details were sacred and significant.

Photo of Gustave Flaubert, French Novelist

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) French Novelist

Whatever one was doing, it should be done thoroughly and with full attention. Details are important.

The actual source of the idiom is unknown. It’s generally accepted that German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) used it, but almost certainly did not invent the phrase. It was a favorite of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) although his biographer could not be certain it originated with him. Some have attributed it to Michelangelo (1475-1564). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations lists it as an anonymous saying.

Whether “The Devil” or “The Good God” is in the detail, we are led to conclude that details are very important, even possibly sacred. Writers of historical fiction know this all too well. Get the details or facts wrong, and you’ll never stop hearing about it from readers and critics. Put in too many details, in hopes of giving readers a rich and full experience of a culture and time period, and you’re criticized for unnecessary information that slows down the plot. Put in too few details, and readers complain they cannot get a good sense of the setting, culture, character, time period, geography, and so forth. The historical fiction author has then failed in the all-important task of “world-building.”

Books about well-known societies and cultures have fewer challenges in world-building. Most readers already know the Regency or Victorian era, the Tudor or Plantagenet dynasty, Renaissance Italy, medieval times, and popular ancient cultures such as Rome, Greece, or Egypt. Historical fiction authors writing about less known cultures have more need for thorough world-building. In particular, I have in mind ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. Even indigenous groups in North America lived in worlds generally less understood by most readers. In these cases, putting in sufficient details is important.

Photo of three Egyptian pyramids

Great Pyramid Complex in Egypt

Photo of Mayan Three Temple Complex, Palenque, Mexico

Mayan Three Temple Complex in Palenque, Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My HF novels are set in ancient Mayan civilization. There is a dearth of literature focused on this culture; even the Aztecs and Incas get more press. Because of this, my books include details of everyday life, technology, arts, and cosmology to provide a fuller picture of this advanced culture. I weave this information into the story with several writers’ caveats in mind: whenever possible “show rather than tell,” make expositional dialogue seem natural, make the details serve the plot or character development. Most importantly, keep it interesting.

Ah, there’s the rub. How much is enough and not too much? Reviewers have called my books “well-detailed,” “no light read,” full of detailed descriptions,” “complex world-building.” They also say the books “provide a realistic feel,” give “depth and meaning to overall events,” and make “the Mayan world and its underlying influences come alive.” But one review from a pricey and well-respected source felt there were just too many details. While the information was captivating, there was far too much for an enjoyable novel. Besides, they complained that readers really didn’t need to know about the “trapezoidal linear truss using high strength timber crossbeams” that made Lakam Ha’s architecture innovative.

Who would want to know? Anyone interested in ancient Mayan civilization.

One often pondered question is how the Mayas built their soaring pyramids of huge stones in a jungle environment

Photo of Maya Corbel Arch

Maya Corbel Arch

without metal tools. Ancient Lakam Ha (Palenque) is widely known as the most graceful and architecturally unique Mayan city. A good deal of literature examines how they built and what innovative technologies allowed Lakam Ha to create its harmonious structures. Mayas traditionally used a corbel arch technique to form ceilings of chambers and passageways. Not a true arch, this technique lacked support strength. At Lakam Ha, ceilings were higher and rooms wider than at other Mayan cities. The trapezoidal linear truss was the technology that made this possible.

Photo of Maya trapezoidal truss

Maya Trapezoidal Linear Truss

In any case, this is mentioned only once in a short passage of three paragraphs. The description is set in dialogue between ruler Pakal and his chief architect. To my thinking, it is such tidbits of detail that give readers a good sense of this remarkable culture’s immense creativity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But perhaps I get carried away . . . in my most recent book about Mayan queens, publishing in October 2018, one major character is a brilliant astronomer and numerologist. Kan Bahlam II, who becomes ruler of Lakam Ha when Pakal dies, invented the 819-day calendar and a secret code language based on astronumerology called “Zuyua.” He conceived and had built The Cross Group, a three pyramid complex considered the ultimate statement of Palenque creation mythology. Panels in these pyramids are carved with hieroglyphs and figures that embed the secret codes and calendar, and weave them with Kan Bahlam’s personal history. It is pure creative genius.

Photo of stone carving of Kan Bahlam II, Temple XVII Tablet

Kan Bahlam II – Temple XVII Tablet

Drawing of Cross Group as reconstruction

Cross Group Panorama View
Artists Reconstruction

 

 

Therefore, I wanted to share this knowledge with readers. After sending the manuscript to my beta readers, however, their feedback made me realize that although captivating, this really was too much information. Several pages of explanations and examples of astronumerology were cut from the book. After all, it had taken me several years of study to understand it and I couldn’t expect readers to grasp it on first exposure.

Because the Devil is in the Detail.      

Photo of decorated skull

Dia de los Muertos Skull

 

 

BUY:  The Mayan Queens Series

The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque

Book Cover The Prophetic Mayan Queen

Coming soon! Publication date October 2018 (paperback and ebook). Watch for pre-order page on Amazon or ask your local bookstore.

Speak the Speech

Hamlet-3

Hamlet, in Shakespeare’s play about the Prince of Denmark says:

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue, but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.” (Act 3, Scene 2)

Language is a powerful expression of culture.

Writing systems, words, and phonetics convey meanings that reveal beliefs and cosmologic views of the people using them. The ancient Mayan language, with roots preceding Old English, is present as both oral and visible literature written on ceramic vessels, painted on murals and wall friezes, carved on stone monuments and wooden

Mayan hieroglyph carved on monument.

Mayan hieroglyph carved on monument.

lintels, and in the few books (codices) that survived burning by Spaniards. Over 2000 years of Mayan literature tells stories with two overlapping strands—one following events on the surface of the earth, the other following events in the sky or underworld. This reveals the inter-dimensional cosmology of the ancient Mayas, where worlds of people, Gods, ancestors, and demons intersect regularly.

Shakespeare’s language is far from modern English, but few would suggest paraphrasing his great works. The cadence, style, and choice of words create a period feel and bring readers into those places and times. Mayan language can also invoke their culture and environment, but is difficult to express in English. There could hardly be a more “foreign” type of writing and language to English-speakers.

Classic Mayan hieroglyphic writing.

In use for 2000 years beginning around 300 BC, Classic Mayan was a single “prestige” language, highly formalized throughout the Maya regions. Phonetic decipherments in the

Page from Dresden Codex with figures and hieroglyphs.

Page from Dresden Codex. Wikipedia.

late 1980s and 1990s showed it related to the Cholan subgroup of Mayan languages, with Ch’orti and its ancestral language Cholti the closest relatives. Maya hieroglyphs represent word signs (logograms) or syllables (syllabograms), combined into glyph blocks. Every part of the glyph block contains meaning, some markings signaling qualities of speech such as

glottalization, aspiration, or vowel length. Single blocks often contain multiple words, with considerable artistic license in visual design and format. There were multiple ways to express words, and repeated images for emphasis. Over 100 years were necessary for Western epigraphers to decipher Mayan writing, due to its complexity. About 80% of hieroglyphs can now be read, giving us direct entry into ancient Mayan literature.

The basic word order for Mayan clauses was verb-object-subject (VSO). English follows the subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. Many Mesoamerican languages follow VSO, along with Celtic, Afroasiatic, Austronesian, and Salishan languages.

Examples of these differences:

SVO     “She loves him.”          “Tutuum Yohl K’inich plants the stone.”

VSO     “Loves she him.”         “Plants the stone Tutuum Yohl K’inich.”

Language was infused with sacred itz, life essence, to the Mayas.

They valued poetic and courtly uses of language, believing the Gods were both honored and pleased when words were well spoken. This was especially important in the high culture of Maya courts, a central institution in their hierarchical society. Mayan poems typically used the device of couplets, the repeating of key words and phrases in consecutive lines, also called parallel verse. While many consider it heresy to paraphrase a finished English poem, the Mayas used paraphrase to construct poems in the first place. For them, this was a process taking place inside a language, viewing poetry itself as translation. It gives a lilting quality to Mayan language.

“Kajuljutik, kachupchutik, pa ri q’ekum, pa ri aq’ab’.”                                                           

“It shines, it shimmers, in the blackness, in the night.” – 2000 Years of Mayan Literature

 

Mah Kinah Ahau – Underworld Sun, Waterlily Jaguar

“So then they began their songs, their dances.

So then all of Xibalba arrived,

the spectators crowded the floor.

And they danced everything:

they danced the Weasel,

they danced the Poorwill,

they danced the Armadillo.” – Popol Vuh

Speak the Speech in Mayan

Speech scroll leaving mouth of ancient Mayan figure.

Speech scroll leaving mouth.

Writing historical fiction about Classic Period Mayas, I grappled with making the language reflect their unique, lyrical speech patterns. I wanted readers to immediately experience a different, courtly culture so I avoided use of contractions and created some flowery speeches for characters. From time to time, I constructed sentences following the VSO order but this didn’t always sit well with readers. An example from the first book in the series about Yohl Ik’nal drew criticism:  “Just because characters talk like Yoda doesn’t make them wise.”

“Concerned I am about your daughter,” the priestess said.

Actually, the ancient Mayas spoke this way centuries before Yoda came onto the Star Wars scene. To make Yoda wise and exotic, Lucas borrowed Mesoamerican sentence structure. But I relented and switched to SVO—“I am concerned about your daughter”—because it was the first sentence of dialogue in the book. Whenever it worked, however, I continued to have characters “Speak the speech” in their native pattern. The VSO speech pattern has persisted into contemporary times, at least among traditional Mayas. Hunbatz Men, Itzá Maya elder and daykeeper was my main teacher while I lived in Yucatan, Mexico. When he wanted to make a point and get our attention, he often used this passive voice phrase:

VSO:    “Now comes something important.”

SVO:    “Something important now comes.”

Mayan scribe writing in codex with reed brush. He has a conch shell in left hand, cut in half to hold paints.

Mayan scribe writing in codex with reed brush. He has a conch shell in left hand, cut in half to hold paints.

Ancient Mayas often used passive tense, which adds to the poetic quality of their narratives. The Popol Vuh, a 16th century book based on ancient sources, was written in alphabetic script using phonetic interpretation of K’iche’ Mayan. The beginning relates how the Gods first created the world:

“It takes a long performance and account

to complete the lighting of all the sky-earth

the fourfold siding, fourfold cornering,   

measuring, fourfold staking,   

halving the cord, stretching the cord,    

in the sky, on the earth,   

the four sides, the four corners, as it is said  

by the Maker, Modeler,     

Mother, Father  

of life, of humankind.”                                                      – Popol Vuh,  Sam Colop version

 

Animals speaking on roll-out vase.

Animals speaking on roll-out vase.

Read culturally authentic Mayan stories in my novels about ancient Mayan queens.

BUY NOW

All-3 book covers_FMpng_

Mists of Palenque Series Four Great Mayan Queens

Resources

Dennis Tedlock.  2000 Years of Mayan Literature.  University of California Press, Berkeley, 2010.

Sam Colop & Luis Enrique. Popol Wuj: Versión poética k’iche’. Cholsamaj, Guatemala City, 1999.

John Curl.  Inca, Maya & Aztec Poetry: Translations and Biographies of the Poets.  Bilingual Press, Arizona State University.

Wikipedia.  “Classic Maya language and Verb-subject-object.” Accessed 3/31/18.

Danny Law & David Stuart.  “Classic Mayan: An overview of language in ancient hieroglyphic script.”  In Judith Aissen, Nora England & Roberto Zavola Maldonado (eds). The Mayan Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. New York, 2017.

 

What’s In A Name?

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

In Shakespeare’s play about the eternal love story Romeo and Juliet she asks:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet was referring to their last names, for she was a Capulet and Romeo was a Montague, two feuding families of medieval Verona. As we know, things did not end well for the star-crossed lovers. It appears there is more to a name than Juliet imagined.

Names are important when writing historical fiction. They conjure personalities, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, traits and inclinations. Can you imagine King Melvin of the Round Table instead of King Arthur? Mildred instead of Joan of Arc? Consider how much mystery would be lost if we mourned over the travails of Sam and Sally rather than Heloise and Abelard.

In historical fiction, names convey a sense of time and place. Names are part of creating the “imagined world” in which the story takes place. When the characters’ names are discordant with the period and culture, it creates a jarring dissonance for readers. How characters are named adds to mood and theme, as well as signaling qualities that shape their personalities.

That said, what if you’re writing about a culture and time that is far removed from the experience of most Western-educated people? How do names then figure into the construction of world and characters? Herein lies a difficulty for writers of ancient worlds fiction, set in cultures that are vastly different than those of historic Europe. Consider the complexity of names from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, Polynesia, and my area:  the ancient Mayas of Mesoamerica.

Picture of hanging gardens of Babylon

Babylon in Mesopotamia

 

 

Picture of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque in Mesoamerica
National Geographic

Names in ancient languages vs names translated into English.

My approach to naming characters has been to use actual ancient Mayan names as phonetically spelled by researchers and epigraphers. Since conventions for these spellings have changed over the years, I had to choose which to use and selected those that seemed friendliest to English-speakers. Not all writers of ancient Mayan historical fiction do this; several use English translations of Mayan names, or a combination of translated and phonetically spelled names. I feel it’s important to use historic characters’ actual names phonetically spelled in Arabic letters. This preserves the cadence and qualities of ancient Mayan speech and helps create the feeling tone of their “imagined world.” To me, saying their names creates a vibration that resonates with their personality and attitudes. If I used English translations of their names, an essential quality would be lost, a sense of different place and culture that puts the reader into the aura of ancient Mayan civilization.

For example, these are the actual Mayan names of the four queens in my “Mists of Palenque” series, with the English translations. The Mayan names are pronounced using romance language vowel sounds: a = ah, e = eh, i = ee, o = oh, u = ooh.

Mayan name                           English translation

Yohl Ik’nal                               Her Heart/Center of North Wind

Sak K’uk                                   White Resplendent Quetzal

Tz’aakb’u Ahau                       Accumulator/Producer of Lords

K’inuuw Mat                           Sun-Possessed Cormorant

To me, a great deal is lost when these Mayan names are not used. I’ve read other books where the Maya characters have names such as Jeweled Skirt, Red Flint, Snake Jaguar, Tree Orchid, Iguana Wind, and Big Deer. These are easier for English-speakers to remember and pronounce, but lack cultural ambiance that sets mood and tone.

What’s In a Name is a Great Deal.

To disagree with Juliet, I believe names matter a lot in stories. My choice to use Mayan names for characters and places has led to bad reviews by some readers, who give low ratings with complaints that they couldn’t get past the difficult names. I wonder if they feel the same way about fiction set in ancient Egypt or Biblical times, with long and complex names but more familiar to

Picture of Toltec king on throne

Toltec City in Mesoamerica
Iztaccaltzin on Throne

European-based cultures. Moving beyond one’s comfort zone is essential to appreciate cultures that are very different from your own. Indigenous Mesoamerican cultures have some of the most complex names I’ve found, yet are rich in history and accomplishments. Recently I read a book about the pre-Aztec cultures around Lake Meztliapan, the Toltecs and Chichimecs. Many actual names were used—Ihuitimal, Eloxochitl, Topiltzin, Citlallotoc, Tlazolteotl—and I preferred these to translated names that were also used, such as Black Otter, Spear Fish, and Jade Flower.

 

One Concession to Difficult Names.

Of the four queens in my series, the third has the most difficult name:  Tz’aakb’u Ahau. This name does not roll easily off the tongue. To make reading (and writing) go more smoothly, I gave this queen the childhood name Lalak. There was no information about what her actual childhood name might have been, for she only appears in hieroglyphs after being granted her royal name. Since the love story between her and the ruler of Palenque is a dominant theme in the book, I found nice parallelism in the pairing of their names:  Lalak and Pakal—eternal Mayan lovers but with a happier ending than Romeo and Juliet.

 

Newly released print version–March 1, 2018!

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque

The Mayan Red Queen

 

Join me for book release events:

March 8, 7-8 pm         Another Read Through in Portland, OR

March 23, 7-8 pm       The Book Bin in Salem, OR

April 7, 4-6 pm           Silverton Grange in Silverton, OR

Photo of Leonide Martin at El Mirador, Guatemala

Leonide Martin at El Mirador, Guatemala

An Author’s Appreciation

Leonide MartinIn the writing process, an author comes to realize that readers are an invaluable part. We may write due to internal compulsions, and our books are fulfillment of the creative process, but without people to read those books, something very critical is missing. As we move into 2018, I’m reminded of how blessed I am to have your support and friendship as readers.

 

 

 

In appreciation, I’m giving you a gift. This is a nonfiction booklet I wrote bringing together material about Mayan Queens and women rulers in several cities in Mexico and Guatemala.

Magnificent Mayan Queens:

Native women of Power and Vision, Maya Preclassic to Late Classic Periods.

Magnificent Mayan Queens_V2Booklet on Mayan Queens

 

Why do we read?

Storytelling has been part of  human society as long as anyone can remember. Before writing, primitive people gathered around a campfire to listen in rapt attention to the local storyteller weave tales of adventure or mystery. Now we sit down with a good book, e-reader, tablet, smart phone, even the TV or DVD for the same experience. Why is reading or listening to stories so compelling for humans? Psychologists who study the “Theory of Mind” say we’re always trying to guess what other people are thinking and feeling, even though we do this unconsciously. Why is this

Group of young people reading.

something people universally do? Because this helps us learn which people we can trust and which we cannot. It also provides basic foundations for social interaction; without this we would be in a quandary about how to respond to others.

Not much has changed in this quintessentially human trait in thousands of years, except the way we engage with stories. Researchers at the University of Liverpool found that social topics make up two thirds of people’s conversation through public media, regardless of age or gender. We continue to be fascinated by other people’s stories, one reason why gossip columns and celebrity cults stay popular.  There’s no doubt a voyeur element here, but researchers believe the key value underlying this is empathy. A University of North Carolina psychologist reported that people with high empathy characteristics more easily engage in stories. However, this characteristic varies greatly among people. Some are easily touched emotionally while others seem unaffected by even the saddest or most miraculous stories.

 

Empathy is “the ability to identify oneself mentally with a person or thing and so understand the other’s feelings or meaning.”  Native Americans described this ability as being able to walk in another person’s moccasins; the proverbial “walk a mile in my shoes.”An interesting research finding is that people who read more have an 83% chance of forming excellent relationships, while those who seldom read have only a 14% chance.  It seems that when you can see the world through another’s eyes, you have more ability to form good relationships. Research suggests that this drive to seek understanding about the experiences and perspectives of other people is deeply ingrained, perhaps even instinctive.

Woman reading from tablet.

Man reading book.

 

 

 

 

So keep on reading! 

Reading fiction is good for you. It opens a world onto other people and places, where you learn and have vicarious experiences. It goes beyond providing entertainment and diversion, and helps you develop social skills that enhance your relationships. Of course, I’ve got a few good books I can recommend:

Mists of Palenque Series
Four Great Mayan Queens

The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque

The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque

The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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