Virile Predicaments: Shaping Men in Ancient Maya Civilization
Stephen Houston | Brown University
Abstract: The human arc traverses from birth to death and, depending on view, to states well beyond. What is made of that journey—a travail, a delight—constitutes a welcome opportunity for visual culture, in themes taken up around the world. So too for the Classic Maya, who flourished from c. AD 250-850. A literate people, occupants of Mexico and Central America during the first-millennium AD, they left inscriptions now open to scrutiny. Recent decipherments reveal the makers, meanings, and motives behind Classic Maya images, buildings, and the dynastic personages who commissioned them. This talk develops the claim that a central concern in Maya imagery and texts was the virile task of “growing men.” Boys and teenagers, always elites in surviving evidence, were conceived as vegetal sprouts (ch’ok), a decipherment made some decades ago but left partly in fallow. For Classic rulers, the hope was that youths would grow to become kings and nobles, ready to govern, maraud, game, feast, and reproduce.
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