Images de page

others, just as our polysyllabic words are formed of syllables found in many other vocables having very distinct meanings. However, through his acquaintance with the signification of the Maya words, and the works of the early writers and chroniclers, perhaps also guided by his scholarly intuition, he felt, more than he really made out, the general drift of the contents of the Maya text which he attempted to interpret. So he became convinced that in his writings the Maya author described volcanic eruptions and other geological phenomena. By publishing his convictions, he afforded his would-be critics an opportunity to condemn the results of his labors, although incapable themselves of deciphering a single sentence of the Maya books.

To the present day they are unable to correct his mistakes by offering a true translation of the passages which they accused Brasseur of having improperly rendered. And may I ask how they know that they are not well translated? It is the same old, old story so happily expressed in these few French words: La critique est facile, mais l'art est difficile.

This recalls to my mind a certain conversation which I once had on this same subject with a French antiquary, a member of the Société Ethnologique de Paris. He also was bitter in his denunciation of Brasseur's interpretation of the Troano.

"What do you know, personally, about translating Maya writings? Do you understand the Maya language? Can you interpret a single Maya sign?"

"No," he answered, "but Mr. de Rosny, and with him all authorized Americanists, have condemned Brasseur's interpretation."

"So, so, my man," I replied, "this is a case of give a dog a bad name and hang him, is it? Pray tell me who are the


authorized Americanists? Who are they that dare pass judg ment on the efforts of a fellow student and condemn him? Is it Mr. de Charencey, whose assertions and speculations are not worth refuting?" 1

“Oh!” replied my antiquary friend, "Mr. de Rosny has severely criticised all his attempts at decipherment of Central American inscriptions." 2

"Yes, I am aware of it; he has also bitterly condemned those of Brasseur. By what right, pray? Is it because he has published large volumes on Maya palæography? What do their contents amount to, so far as the reading of the Maya books and inscriptions is concerned? True, he says that since he has determined, after a certain fashion,' the value of the greatest part of the Maya characters, it will be easy to read them. But he himself cannot translate a single sentence of said books; and yet he seems quite proud because the meaning of a few words interpreted by him has been accepted by some authorized Americanists, whoever these may be; or, in his own words, J'ai donné, dans divers receuils la lecture de quelques mots, la quelle a été acceptée par les américanistes autorisés.' And do these quelques mots, which he thinks he has interpreted, give him a right to sit as judge, and enable him to pass such a severe verdict, on Abbé Brasseur?


[ocr errors]

"What I say of the French applies equally to the English German, and American Americanists. They have not advanced one step toward the interpretation of the Maya books and inscriptions, beyond Brasseur's attempts. He, at least, never

1 H. de Charencey, Essai de Déchiffrement, Actes de la Société Philologique de Paris, vol. i., No. 3, p. 50, Mars, 1870.

2 Leon de Rosny, Essai sur le Déchiffrement de l'Écriture de l'Amérique Centrale, p. 13, Paris, 1876.

[ocr errors]

Ibid., Le Déchiffrement de l'Écriture Hiératique, Introduction.

[ocr errors]

designated any of the personages who figure in the Maya books as does Dr. P. Schellhas, and after him many whose name is legion, who pretend to be authorities on Maya palæography, the god with the banded face,' the god with the long nose,' etc., instead of giving each his proper title, such as Ppa and Uacach, which are plainly written in the ornaments that adorn these anthropomorphic personifications of the forces and phenomena of nature.

"They assert that their god with the long nose' is the 'god of rain,' disdaining to take heed of the broad hint as to who he is, given by the author of the Dresden Codex on the lower division of plate lxv. of his work, where he represents Uacach paddling a canoe, under which a big fish is figured swimming in the ocean. May we be allowed to ask on what occasion the god of rain' had to paddle his own canoe, and when big fishes swam in the clouds?

[ocr errors]

"It may truthfully be said that a very great part of what has been published in modern times on the subject of Maya writings can only be ranked with comic literature, though not very amusing either. Even the beautifully printed papers of the Smithsonian Institution, on the subject, are as meaningless as they are pretentious; and I challenge any Americanist, authorized or not authorized, to disprove this assertion.

"I will add: more than any of those who have followed in his wake on the road opened by him, the learned Abbé was competent and well prepared to surmount the difficulties with which it is strewn. His knowledge of the Maya as well as of the Quiché, a cognate tongue; his acquaintance with the lore and traditions of the Indians of Rabinal, in the moun

1 Schellhas, P., Die Maya Handschrift der Köliglichen Bibliothek zu Dresden, p. 149.

tains of Guatemala; his sojourn among the Quichés and the Mams to whom he administered the rites of the Catholic Church, and preached in their own vernacular, besides his many other scholastic attainments-I repeat, qualified him preeminently for undertaking the interpretation of the Maya texts. He erred in letting his imagination and his preconceived opinions blind his judgment. But who on earth is perfect? To err is human. Did not his self-appointed judges err when they condemned him because he dared say that the Troano contained the narratives of geological events? Yet the learned Abbé was right in so saying; and they were wrong in presuming to pass an opinion on what they did not know, and do not even at present. Whilst disapproving his translation, it was their duty to point out where it was incorrect. Have they done this? No! Why not? Because they themselves are unable to interpret the Maya texts, and are ignorant of their meaning.

"Instead of accusing him of having impeded the study of Maya palæography, they should have thanked him for having made known the existence of Maya books in Europe in our day. These books had been preserved in libraries, private and public, since they were sent to Charles V., and presented to him in 1520 by Dn. Francisco de Montejo, the conqueror of Yucatan, and Porto Carrero, by order of Hernando Cortez, whose companions in arms they were. No one knew in what language they were written, nor to what kind of alphabet the characters belonged, until Brasseur recognized them as being similar to those preserved by Landa in his work 'Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan,' which had remained unpublished in the library of the Royal Academy of History' in Madrid. Brasseur again unearthed it from beneath the coating of dust

where it had lain for more than three centuries, and in 1860 had it printed. Is not that alone sufficient to cause his memory to be respected by all students of American archæology?" My interlocutor, who had been listening with manifest impatience to my just panegyric of the learned Abbé, interrupted me and exclaimed: "Do not speak so, or you will kill your own reputation and lose the fruits of your own labors; all authorized Americanists will condemn you as they have Brasseur."

"Indeed! Well, sir, they are welcome to do it; that is, when they can do it knowingly. Meanwhile, before they pronounce their sentence, let them remember the words of Themistocles to the over-hasty Eurybiades: 'STRIKE, BUT HEAR ME!'"

« PrécédentContinuer »