February 13, 2010 Nick Hopkins, PhD: "One Thousand Years of Maya Literary Tradition: From Classic Inscriptions to Chol Folktales"

    The tremendous advances in the reading of Classic period Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions in the late 20th century have made it possible to treat Classic texts like other literatures and subject them to critical analysis. Although generally devoted to history, these texts are not simply lists of historical events; rather, they present the history in narrative form, and there is a literary style that is manifested on most monuments. Examining the narrative structures and rhetorical devices of these texts has led to the revelation that elements of the Classic literary canon persist in formal storytelling in modern Maya societies. In this talk a comparison was made between the two extremes of this literary tradition, taking examples from well-known hieroglyphic texts and pointing out parallels in contemporary Chol, and other Mayan, narratives. The evidence shows that the Classic Maya not only mastered astronomy, mathematics, and the visual arts, but that they also had a rich literature, a fact that is seldom appreciated.

    In addition to the afternoon talk, Dr. Hopkins also offerred a morning workshop on the Palace Tablet at Palenque.
    Among the lengthy hieroglyphic inscriptions of Palenque, the Palace Tablet has long confused epigraphers. In early interpretations, it was thought that towards the end of the text, a mysterious new ruler appeared, one who was otherwise unknown. Now we know better. Applying Kathryn Josserand's principles of text structure and her own rules for text and image relations, Karen Bassie concluded that the mystery protagonist was actually the Drum Major Headdress, an artifact featured on a number of Palenque's monuments. In this workshop the text of the Palace Tablet was parsed, showing its narrative structure and the devices that signal text divisions and mark principal events, and some quantitative methods were applied that aid in the interpretation of inscriptions. In the process the history of the headdress was sketched and speculation made on its meaning for the rulers of Palenque.
            Nick Hopkins holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and has done extensive field work in modern Maya societies in Mexico and Guatemala. Primarily a linguist, he has published on Mayan languages, and he has been involved in Maya epigraphy since the 1950s. With his late wife Kathryn Josserand he has studied the narrative discourse of Mayan languages, including Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions. Currently managing Jaguar Tours, specializing in guided visits to Maya sites, he has taught anthropology and linguistics at the University of Texas, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City, and Florida State University. He has published some three dozen articles in a number of academic journals, and is presently working on a dictionary of Chol Mayan and organizing research material for an electronic archive:  the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America.

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