Journal of Undergraduate Research


poetic patterns, El Titulo de Totonicapan, Maya empire




Comparative Arts and Letters


When the Spanish launched a conquest on the Maya empire in the 16th century, the Maya suffered devastating blows to their livelihood and culture. Perhaps the most injurious effect of this conquest was the loss of the Maya languages as the Maya were forced to converse and write only in Spanish and their written works were destroyed. It has been said, “When a language dies, a possible world dies with it.”1 After the Spanish conquest, it was only a few generations until the once highly advanced Maya language was transformed to a mere oral tradition spoken only by the elderly. As a result, the few rare Maya scripts that survived the conquests were unreadable, and the history of the Maya people, their world so to speak, was lost behind a great language barrier. Fortunately, after centuries of research to recover the dying language, modern day scholars and Maya communities can now read most of the ancient glyphs.2 However, only in the past fifty years have scholars become interested in, not only what is written in ancient Maya texts, but also how those ideas are presented. As researchers have studied the ancient Maya languages in greater depth, they have found that through centuries of storytelling tradition, Maya culture has adopted an artistically poetic narrative style, and the poetic forms embedded within a text can add great insight to the culture of the ancient Maya. For this study, I chose to conduct some research on a Maya script titled El Título de Totonicapán in order to gain a deeper understanding of how poetic structures in the text can reveal greater insight on the culture and history of the Maya people.