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means "mirror; " and Nen-ha, "the mirror of water,
anciently one of the names of the Mexican Gulf.
may be a coincidence.
No one has ever told us why the learned hierogrammatists of Egypt gave to the sign the value of ma. No one can; because nobody knows the origin of the Egyptians, of their civilization, nor the country where it grew from infancy to maturity. They themselves, although they invariably pointed toward the setting sun when questioned concerning the fatherland of their ancestors, were ignorant of who they were and whence they came. Nor did they know who was the inventor of their alphabet. "The Egyptians, who, no doubt, had forgotten, or had never known the name of the inventor of their phonetic signs, at the time of Plato honored with it one of their gods of the second order, Thoth, who likewise was held as the father of all sciences and arts.
It is evident that we can learn nothing from the Egyptians of the motives that prompted the inventor of their alphabetical characters to select that peculiar figure to represent the
letter M, initial of their word Ma. The Mayas, we are informed, made use of the identical sign, and ascribed to it the same signification. We may perhaps find out from them the reasons that induced their learned men to choose this strange geometrical figure as part of their symbol for Ma, radical of Mayach, name of the peninsula of Yucatan. Who knows but that the same cause which prompted them to adopt it suggested it also to the mind of the Egyptian hierogrammatist? Many will, no doubt, object that this may all be pure coincidence the two peoples lived so far apart. Very true. I do
'Champollion, Précis du Système Hieroglyphique, p. 355.
Landa, Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, chap. xli., p. 322.
not pretend it is not accidental.
I merely suggest a possi
bility, that, added to other facts, may later become a probability, if not a certainty. In the course of these pages we shall meet with so many concurrent facts, as having existed both in Mayach and Egypt, that it will become difficult to reconcile the mind to the belief that they are, altogether, the identical working of the human intelligence groping its way out of barbarism to civilization, as some have more than once hinted, as a last resort, in their inability to deny the striking concordance of these facts.
We are told that in the origin of language names were given to places, objects, tribes, individuals, or animals, in accordance with some peculiar inherent properties possessed by them, such as shape, voice, customs, etc., and to countries on account of their climate, geological formation, geographical configuration, or any other characteristic; that is, by onomatopoeia. This assertion seems to find confirmation in the symbol of the Mayas; and the name Mayach forms no exception to the rule.
In fact, if we draw round the Yucatan peninsula a geometrical figure enclosing it, and composed of straight lines, by following the direction of its eastern, northern, and western coasts, it is easy to see that the drawing so made
will unavoidably be the symbol.
That fact alone might not be deemed proof sufficient to affirm that the Mayas, in reality, did derive their sign for Ma from this cause, since to complete it, as transmitted by imix1 is wanting on each side.
Landa, the character
It does not require a
very great effort of the imagina
tion to understand what this sign is meant for. A single
Landa, Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, p. 204.
glance will suffice to satisfy us that the drawing is intended to represent a woman's breast, with its nipple and areola. one inclined to doubt that such is the case will soon be convinced by examining the female figures portrayed in the Troano MS.1
Yes, imix is the breast, the bosom, called to-day simply im, the word having suffered the apocope of its desinence ix, which is a copulative conjunction and the sign of the feminine gender.
But bosom is also an enclosed place. We say "the bosom of the deep," le sein de la terre, el seno de los mares.3 It was in that sense, indeed, that the Maya sages, who invented the characters and symbols with which to give their thoughts a material form, made use of it. This fact becomes apparent if
1 Troano MS., part 1, plate xxii. See Appendix, note iii.
The reader may perhaps desire to know the meaning of this picture. Alas! it teaches us that the powers that govern nature were as indifferent to the lot of man in remote ages as they are to-day; that no creatures, whatever they be, have for them any importance beyond their acting of the rôle which they are called upon to play momentarily in the great drama of creation.
The figures are anthropomorphous representations -the kneeling, supplicating female, of the "Land of Mu;" the male, of the "Lord of the Seven Fires" (volcanoes), Men kak uuc. Mu, in an imploring posture, comes to inform him that one of his volcanoes has caused the basin at the edge of her domains to rise, and has converted the country into marshy ground. She speaks thus: "Ak ha pe be be imik Kaan (that is, "The basin has risen rapidly, and the land has become marshy"). Men Kak uuc, for all consolation, replies: "Imix be Ak Mu?" ("So the basin in rising has caused the land to become marshy, Mu?") This is evidently the record of a geological event-the rising of the part of the bottom of the ocean near Mu.
Webster, English Dictionary.
'Diccionario Español por una sociedad literaria.
we examine the drawing still more closely, and notice the four lines drawn in the lower part, as if to shade it. If we consider each line as equivalent to one unit, their sum represents the numerical four-can-in the Maya language. We have already seen that can also means serpent,
the symbols for the sea, canah. Then the two are placed, one on each side of the geometrical figure image of the peninsula, to typify the two gulfs whose waters bathe its shores-on the left that of Mexico, on the right the Caribbean Sea. That this was the idea of the inventors of the symbol is evident; for as the Gulf of Mexico is smaller than the Caribbean Sea, and the western coast line of Yucatan shorter than the eastern, so in the drawing the imix on the left of the figure is smaller than the imix on the right, and the line on the left shorter than that on the right.
This explanation being correct, it clearly proves, as much as a proposition of that nature can be demonstrated, that the character owes its origin, among the Mayas, to the configuration of the Yucatan peninsula, and its position between two gulfs, and that the inventors were acquainted with their extent and contour.
Not a few, even among well-read people, often express a doubt as to the ancient Mayas having possessed accurate information respecting the existence of the various continents and islands that form the habitable portions of the earth; questioning likewise if they were acquainted even with the geography and configuration of the lands in which they lived; seeming to entertain the idea that the science of general geography belongs exclusively to modern times.
The name Maya, found among all civilized nations of
antiquity, in Asia, Africa, Europe, as well as in America, always with the same meaning, should be sufficient to prove that in very remote ages the Mayas had intimate relations with the inhabitants of the lands situated on those continents, were therefore great travellers, and must, perforce, have been acquainted with the general geography of the planet.
We must not lose sight of the fact that we know but very little indeed of the ancient American civilizations. The annals of the learned men of Mayach having been either hidden or destroyed, it is impossible for us to judge of the scope of their scientific attainments. That they were expert architects, the monuments built by them, that have resisted for ages the disintegrating action of the elements and that of vegetation, bear ample testimony. The analysis of the gnomon discovered by the writer in the ruins of the ancient city of Mayapan, in 1880, proves conclusively that they had made advance in the science of astronomy. They knew, as well as we do, how to calculate the latitudes and longitudes; the epochs of the solstices and of the equinoxes; the division of time into solar years of three hundred and sixty-five days and six hours; that of the year into twelve months of thirty days, to which they added five supplementary days that were left without name and regarded as inauspicious. During these, as on the third day of the Epact among the Egyptians, all business was suspended; they did not even go out of their houses, lest some misfortune should befall them. All those calculations required, of course, a thorough knowledge of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and the other branches of mathematics. That they were no mean draughtsmen and sculptors, the fresco paintings, the inscriptions and bas-reliefs carved on marble, that are still extant, bear unimpeachable testimony.