The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Forgotten Books)

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9781605068589: The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Forgotten Books)

The Mayan Chilam Balam books are named after Yucatec towns such as Chumayel, Mani, and Tizimin, and are usually collections of disparate texts in which Mayan and Spanish traditions have coalesced. The Yucatec Mayas ascribed these to a legendary author called Chilam Balam, a chilam being a priest who gives oracles. Some of the texts actually consist of oracles about the coming of the Spaniards to Yucatan while mentioning a chilam Balam as its first author. This authorship was traditionally extended to include all the disparate texts found within a particular manuscript.

The Chilam Balam texts treat chiefly of history (both pre-Spanish and colonial), calendrics, astrology and herbal medicine. Written in the Yucatec Maya language (in European script), the manuscripts stem from the 18th and 19th centuries, although many of the texts that found their way into these books date back to the time of the Spanish conquest. It is assumed that in the earliest books, the element of prophecy came to the fore more strongly.

Whereas the medical texts are quite matter-of-factual, the historical and astrological texts belong to esoteric lore. At various places in these texts, important bits of information about early mythology crop up. Apart from their intrinsic value, the historical texts (or chronicles) are particularly important since they have been cast in the framework of the native Maya calendar (although with adaptations to the European calendrical system) and contain ancient tun and katun predictions. Reconstructing Postclassic Yucatec history from these data has proven to be an arduous task.

Due to their often allusive, metaphorical nature and the archaic Yucatec used, the Chilam Balam texts offer a formidable challenge to translators. The quality of existing translations varies greatly, those of Barrera Vasquez & Ren

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