Tuesday, February 28, 2012


"The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. 
Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?"

~ Edgar Allan Poe


Monday, February 27, 2012

ὑγρὸν πῦρ -- "Liquid Fire"

One ancient version of napalm, or liquid fire (also commonly called "Greek Fire"), was utilized extensively by the Byzantine empire from the 6th through 13th century. Its invention is often attributed to Kallinikos, but historical record casts some doubt on this claim. The weapon itself is some mixture of flammable material which could burn on/in water, and was only extinguished through oxygen depletion or chemical reaction. The actual composition of Greek Fire remains an historical mystery. Liquid fire could be hurled in containers, a la the Molotov Cocktail, or sprayed through pressure-pumped cylinders and ignited in-stream, like a modern flamethrower.

   At what period the ancient Greek fire was invented has never been certainly determined. There are many writers who place the invention in a far antiquity. Historical details have been adduced pointing to the period of the earlier wars between the Greeks and Romans as the true era of the discovery. But we do not find any certain evidence of the use of Greek fire until the sieges of Constantinople, in the seventh and eighth centuries, though a Father of the Christian Church, writing in the fifth century, gave receipts for making a combustible substance of similar qualities from the compounds resin, sulphur, pitch, pigeon's dung, turpentine, and the juice of the herb 'all-heal.'

It is related that the true Greek fire was invented by a certain Callinicus, an architect of Heliopolis, in Syria (Baalbec), in 678. The secret of the composition of this artificial flame, and the art of directing its action, were imparted by Callinicus---who had deserted from the Caliph---to the Emperor of Constantinople. From this period until the year 1291 the use of Greek fire was an important element in the military power of the Byzantine empire. The progress of the Saracens was, more than once, decisively checked by the destructive action of this powerful and terrible flame. The important art of compounding the fire 'was preserved at Constantinople,' says Gibbon, 'as the palladium of the state: the galleys and artillery might occasionally be lent to the allies of Rome; but the composition of the Greek fire was concealed with the most zealous scruple, and the terror of the enemy was increased and prolonged by their ignorance and surprise.'

The accounts which have reached us respecting the properties of the Greek fire are such as to justify the high value attached by the Byzantine emperors to the secret of its composition. It was a liquid, which was propelled by various methods against the ships or engines of the enemy. So long as it was kept from the air, or remained in large masses, the liquid appears to have been perfectly safe from combustion; but as soon as it was poured forth it burned with an intense flame which consumed everything around---not merely burning upwards, but with equal fury downwards and laterally. Water not only failed to quench it, but made it burn with new ardour. To subdue the flames it was necessary to employ, in large quantities, either sand or vinegar. Various methods were employed for propelling the liquid fire towards the enemy. Sometimes it was enclosed in vessels made of some brittle substance, and these were flung at the enemy by means of suitable projectile machines. 'It was either,' says Gibbon, 'poured from the rampart in large boilers, or launched in red-hot balls of stone and iron, or darted in arrows and javelins, twisted round with flax and tow, which had deeply imbibed the inflammable oil.' But the effectual use of the destructive compound seems to have been best secured by means of a species of fire-ships specially constructed for the purpose. Copper and iron machines were placed in the fore-part of these ships. Long tubes, fantastically shaped, so as to resemble the mouth and jaws of savage animals, formed the outlet for a stream of liquid fire, which the engine---literally a fire- engine---propelled to a great distance. Hand-engines were also constructed by which the destructive compound could be spurted by the soldiers, Beckman tells us.

The secret, as we have said, was carefully kept by the Byzantines. The emperor Constantine suggested the answers which in his opinion were best fitted to elude the pertinacious questioning of the barbarians. 'They should be told that the mystery of the Greek fire had been revealed by an angel to the first and greatest of the Constantines, with the sacred injunction that this gift of Heaven---this peculiar blessing of the Romans---should never be communicated to any foreign nation; that the prince and subject were alike bound to religious silence under the temporal and spiritual penalties of treason and sacrilege; and that the infamous attempt would provoke the sudden and supernatural vengeance of the God of the Christians.' Gibbon adds that the secret thus religiously guarded was 'confined for above 400 years to the Romans of the East; and at the end of the eleventh century the Pisans to whom every sea and every art were familiar suffered the effects without understanding the composition of Greek fire.' [1] 

 1. Proctor, Richard A. The Universe of Suns and Other Science Gleanings. R. Worthington: New York. 1884.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Decrepit Works

"Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand."

~ William Shakespeare, Sonnet LX


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Legere et Discere

Although I had previously acquired miscellaneous pieces of the language from my studies of law and medical terminology, my interest in Latin did not genuinely begin to wax until I discovered that most wonderful tome, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton's streaming prose, so incredibly steeped in learning, is saturated with borrowings of ancient Latin aphorisms and poetry. It colors his writing, bringing the words to life in a way that English alone would not. 

As I've rekindled my passion for ancient Greek and Roman culture, my desire to truly learn their languages has grown. Correspondingly, I made the plunge and have been rapidly adding Latin to my polyglot checklist. These are the sources I'm currently working from:

  • Learn Latin: A Lively Introduction to Reading the Language by Peter Jones
  • Wheelock's Latin (7th Edition) by Richard A. LaFleur
  • War with Hannibal: Authentic Latin Prose for the Beginning Student by Brian Beyer and Dale A. Grote
  • Caesar's Gallic Wars (Revised Edition) by Charles E. Bennett (1950)
  • Latin for Beginners by Benjamin L. D'ooge, PhD. (Available HERE)
  • Various works made available on the Textkit Blog.
  • Learn Latin Online


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Xenophon and the Balance Factor

It would be too strange an omission to say nothing about that which, before Alexander's tremendous march, is the most familiar of all Greek adventures among the Barbarians; I mean that suffered and described by Xenophon the Athenian. Again we witness the triumph of a personality, although that is not the important thing about the Retreat of the Ten Thousand. The important thing is the triumph of the Greek character in a body of rascal mercenaries. The personality of the young gentleman who gained so much authority with them found its opportunity in a crisis among ignorant men, but it never became a great one. To the last it was curiously immature. Perhaps it would be an apter metaphor to say of Xenophon what some one said of Pitt---"He did not grow he was cast." His natural tastes were very much those of a more generous and incomparably greater man, Sir Walter Scott. They were the tastes of a country gentleman with a love of literature and history, especially with a flavour of romance. The Cyropaedia is the false dawn of the Historic Novel. Both Xenophon and Sir Walter wanted, probably more than anything else, to be soldiers. But Xenophon wanted to be too many things. Before his mind floated constantly the image of the "Archical Man"---the ideal Ruler---who had long exercised the thoughts of Greek philosophers of none perhaps more than Socrates, whose pupil Xenophon professed himself to be. One day it seems to have struck him: Might not he, Xenophon, be the Archical Man? He may not have framed the thought so precisely, for it is of the kind that even youth does not always admit to itself; but the thought was there. It was his illusion. He was not born to command, he was born to write. He did not dominate, he was always more or less under the influence of some one else---Socrates, Cyrus, Agesilaos. He was an incredibly poor judge of men and the movement of affairs. But put a pen in his hands and you have, if not one of the great masters, yet a master in a certain vivid manner of his own.

1. Alexander, James; Thompson, Kerr. Greeks & barbarians. George Allen & Unwin Ltd.: London. 1921.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Euclid In Memoriam, Part II

The second set of photos from my recent Sunday tour of Euclid Avenue, Cleveland:
(Higher resolution versions are viewable on Flickr -- see links at right.)


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Euclid In Memoriam, Part I

Today was very much a typical February Sunday, grey and drab, with the sort of wind that seems to pass right through every layer of clothing and smack the bones with a powerful chill. I took my camera downtown to capture some shots of the more unique bits of Cleveland architecture. The first sample follows. (Click images to view them at a larger size.)


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Море, сокол пие

Море, сокол пие
вода на Вардаро.
Море сокол пие
вода на Вардаро.
Яне, Яне ле бело гърло,
Яне, Яне ле кротко ягне
Море, ой, соколе,
ти юнашко пиле,
море, не виде ли
юнак да помине
Море, не виде ли
юнак да помине,
юнак да помине
со девет лути рани.
А десета рана
со нож е прободена,
а десета рана
со нож е прободена.
От девет лути рани
много го боли,
от десета рана
ке да загине.

A falcon is drinking
water in the River of Vardar
Jane, Jane the white gullet
Jane, Jane the gentle lamb
Oh you falcon
you brave bird
Jane, Jane the white gullet
Jane, Jane the gentle lamb
Haven't you seen
a brave man pass by
a brave man pass by
with nine sharp wounds?
Jane, Jane the white gullet
Jane, Jane the gentle lamb
a brave man passed by
a brave man passed by
with nine sharp wounds
all from gunshots
Jane, Jane the white gullet
Jane, Jane the gentle lamb
And the tenth wound
stabbed with a knife
Jane, Jane the white gullet
Jane, Jane the gentle lamb


Friday, February 17, 2012

The Surreal in Ritual

There is a certain poignant aspect to surreal works which, in spite of improbable and often absurd elements, strikes a visceral chord. A well-crafted piece of surrealism evokes primal responses, effecting moods which lie just below conscious, explanatory existence. Films from the likes of David Lynch, Luis Buñuel, and Wojciech Has, stories by Franz Kafka or Lewis Carroll, all are rife for critical analysis, but their real power is based in their ability to manipulate emotional states through a portal of fantastic improbability. 

Magic ritual too relies upon this sort of critical bypass. One key to achieving a state of suspended disbelief is to culminate an atmosphere of fantasy, conducive to raw emotion and imagination. This is a feature found in nearly every culture's system of ritual, and is as prominent in monotheism as it is animism. While the surrealist facets of contemporary, monolithic religions are often more visually subtle (or appear primarily as a matter of doctrine), such elements are on striking display in most polytheistic or animistic systems. There is not necessarily any "right" way to incorporate surrealistic expressions into ritual; each culture employs its own distinct ritual trappings in a way that is meaningful and useful to its adherents. I myself find the aesthetics of the Navajo particularly appealing, for the emotive value discussed above. I could dissect the garb and posture, breaking them down into digestible pieces for analysis, but that wouldn't get us any closer to understanding why this aesthetic appeals to me. The value lies in something below the level of critical thought, to some primal whisper which speaks in a tongue I do not understand, but carries with it an implied power derived from some vague memory; a hazy reflection of what has passed and what is yet to be. 

1. All photos by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1903. 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Being One's Own, with Bombast

Alterius non sit qui suus esse potest.
"Let no man be another's who can be his own."

"Ye are of the serpent kind and hence I must expect only poison from you. With what scorn have you placarded me as the Luther of Physicians, with the explanation that I am an arch-heretic. I am Theophrastus and greater than those to whom you liken me. I am Theophrastus and am moreover Monarch of Physicians, and can prove that which you cannot prove. I will let Luther answer for his own affairs and I will take care of mine and will surpass everyone who attacks me,--the Arcana will help me to that. Who are enemies of Luther? The same crowd hates me also, and what you, for your part, wish for him so you wish for me, that is, to the fire.  
. . .
I may well rejoice that rascals are my enemies -- for the truth has no enemies but liars.
...I need lay on no armor against you--no corselet, for you are not so learned nor experienced that you can disprove my least letter. Could I protect my bald head from the flies as easily as I can my monarchy, and were Milan as safe from its enemies as I from you, neither Swiss nor foot-soldiers could gain entrance."[1]  


"All forms are subject to annihilation; they are only illusions, and as such they will cease to exist when the cause that produced them ceases to act. The body of a king or a sage is as useless as that of an animal after the life whose product it was has ceased to act. A form can only maintain its existence as long as the action of life upon the substance of the form continues." [3]

1. Stillman, John Maxson. Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim called Paracelsus: his personality and influence as physician, chemist and reformer. The Open court Publishing Company: Chicago. 1920.

2. Lévi, Éliphas; Waite, Arthur Edward. The mysteries of magic: a digest of the writings of Eliphas Lévi.
George Redway: London. 1886.

3. Hartmann, Franz. The life of Philippus Theophrastus Bombast of Hohenheim, known by the name of Paracelsus, and the substance of his teachings. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co.: London. 1896.


Monday, February 13, 2012


"The screech-owl, with ill-boding cry, 
Portends strange things, old women say,
Stops every fool that passes by,
And frights the schoolboy from his play." [1]

On this drab winter evening, after months of fruitless searching, we finally stumbled upon a grey-morph screech owl, sheltering in the craggy remains of a storm-split tree. [2]

1. Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley. The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley 
     Montagu. George Bell and Sons: London. 1887.

2. Photos taken with Canon Powershot SX40-HS, 80% sepia filter.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thar She Blows!


     The 19th and late 18th centuries are most fondly remembered in American history as the age of the West. While the iconic struggles between European and Native peoples played out, the eastern United States was also engaged in an expansionistic battle. Off the shores of Maine and Massachusetts, as far south as the ports of Newark and Wilmington, a great naval war raged. The enemy was that ocean behemoth, the whale; the hunters’ spoils: spermaceti.


     A male sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) can reach lengths up to 67 feet and weigh over 45 tons. It has the largest brain of any animal on the planet, and teeth which weigh up to two pounds apiece. Physeter macrocephalus can attain underwater swimming speeds approaching 19 miles-per-hour. Sperm whales employ an incredibly complex communication system of clicks, and recent studies have shown that pods are organized by “dialects,” rather than by geographic boundaries as had been previously assumed [5].


     Knowing little of these facts at the time, the imagination of sailors must have run amok as they pursued their prey over the vast depths of the unknown. Picture those tiny whaling boats, rowing out from the main vessel, closing in for the kill. How vulnerable these hunters must have felt, despite the obvious advantages of man’s technology, to be hovering over a creature of such immense size and power, in their insignificant wooden floats. As any fisherman knows, even the smallest bass will put up an incredible fight when its life is on the line. 
     How much more intense, then, must have been the struggle between harpooner and whale; Leviathan in his mighty death throes. Indeed, these giants did not submit with a whimper. When enraged and injured they were capable of wreaking incredible havoc. The infamous white whale, Mocha Dick (Melville’s marine muse) survived many ocean brawls and was notorious for his cunning aggressiveness. Another nameless, unusually large whale, attacked the whaling ship Essex, sinking her and killing all but eight of the crew members, in a tale worth recounting here:

     On the leeward side of the Essex Chase's boat harpooned a whale, but its fluke struck the boat and opened up a seam, resulting in their having to cut his line from the whale and put back to the ship for repairs. Two miles away off the windward side, Captain Pollard and the second mate's boats had each harpooned a whale and were being dragged towards the horizon in what was known as a Nantucket sleighride. Chase was repairing the damaged boat on board when the crew observed a whale, that was much larger than normal (alleged to be around 85 feet (26 m)), acting strangely. It lay motionless on the surface with its head facing the ship, then began to move towards the vessel, picking up speed by shallow diving. The whale rammed the ship and then went under, battering it and causing it to tip from side to side. Finally surfacing close on the starboard side of the Essexwith its head by the bow and tail by the stern, the whale appeared to be stunned and motionless. Chase prepared to harpoon it from the deck when he realized that its tail was only inches from the rudder, which the whale could easily destroy if provoked by an attempt to kill it. Fearing to leave the ship stranded thousands of miles from land with no way to steer it, he relented. The whale recovered and swam several hundred yards ahead of the ship and turned to face the bow.

"I turned around and saw him about one hundred rods (550 yards) directly ahead of us, coming down with twice his ordinary speed (around 24 knots or 44kph), and it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship." —Owen Chase.

The whale crushed the bow like an eggshell, driving the 238-ton vessel backwards. The whale finally disengaged its head from the shattered timbers and swam off, never to be seen again, leaving the Essex quickly going down by the bow. Chase and the remaining sailors frantically tried to add rigging to the only remaining whaleboat, while the steward ran below to gather up whatever navigational aids he could find.

"The captain's boat was the first that reached us. He stopped about a boat's length off, but had no power to utter a single syllable; he was so completely overpowered with the spectacle before him. He was in a short time, however, enabled to address the inquiry to me, "My God, Mr. Chase, what is the matter?" I answered, "We have been stove by a whale." —Owen Chase. [8]




1. Sperm whale skeleton in the Natural History Museum. From Museum Through a Lens. Photo: London. 1901.

2. Whaling Ports of the 1850s. From the Whalemen's Shipping List. National Maritime Digital Library. Via PBS, at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/map/whaling-ports/. 2012.

3. Sperm Whales, Physeter Macrocephalus. NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/spermwhale.htm. 2012

4. Sperm Whales, Physeter catodon. MarineBio Conservation Society. http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=190. 2012

5. Rendell, Luke, et al. Can Genetic Differences Explain Vocal Dialect Variation in Sperm Whales, Physeter macrocephalus? Behavioral Genetics 42:332-343 (2012).

6. Whale depictions by Captain Valentine Barnard. PR-145, #76; from the Collection of the New York Historical Society, 1810.

7. Whaling photo by Marion Smith, 1902.

8. Essex (whaleship). Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_(whaleship). 2012.

9. Beale, Thomas. Natural History of the Sperm Whale (frontispiece). 1839.

10. Carved sperm whale tooth. Attribution unknown.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Bird Jaguar IV and the Great Skull Legacy

[This is the republication of an epigraphical research project I conducted as part of my undergraduate studies in Spring 2011.]

Bird Jaguar IV and the Great Skull Legacy:
An analysis of Yaxchilan Lintels 13 & 14.

            The ancient Mayan city of Yaxchilan occupies the area in Mexico known presently as Chiapas. During the Late Classic period of Maya civilization, Yaxchilan was a thriving autonomous polity which carved a swath of political hegemony along the Usumacinta river region (Sharer, Traxler 2005:239). Yaxchilan cast a modest sphere of influence and possessed the resources and power to wage war with equally prestigious (or even more powerful) rivals like Hix Witz and Piedras Negras. The mid-to-late Eighth Century would see the city of Yaxchilan reach its apex of power, with successful military victories over longtime rivals, widened political consolidation, and an array of new constructions venerating the same. The two lintels analyzed here—lintels 13 and 14 of Structure 20—were created during this rising crescendo of Yaxchilan and epitomize precisely these aforementioned events that were of supreme importance for the ruler of the time, Yaxuun B’alam.
            Lintel 14 hangs over the northwest doorway on the south side of Structure 20 and was first “discovered” by Alfred Maudslay in 1882. Maudslay was enthralled by the number of ruins present and he compiled a list of stelae, lintels and structures, as well as the first map of the Yaxchilan area (Tate 1992:5). The Peabody Museum describes the physical condition of Lintel 14 as follows:
[The lintel is] in pristine state. [It is comprised of] fine yellowish limestone. The carved surface is flat; the edges are parallel. The border of the sculptured area is by no means rectangular, although the slanting upper and curved lower margins conform well to the masonry jambs upon which the lintel rests. (Peabody 2011:1)

Lintel 14 is of modest size, with a mean width [MW] of 0.91 meters, a carved area measuring 0.78 meters tall [HSc] by 0.80 meters wide [WSc] and a mean thickness [MTh] of 0.32 meters (Id.). It is incredibly well-preserved, and every detail of its iconography and the entirety of its glyphs remain discernible.
            Lintel 14 bears a date of 4 Imix, 4 Mol, and the long count date for this lintel is Using the GMT correlation constant, this date converts to Sunday, June 29th, 741 CE (Famsi 2011). At this point in Mayan Late Classic history, Itzamnaaj B’alam (Shield Jaguar III) still ruled as Ox K’atun Ajaw, but was old and only a year away from his impending death in 742. The subsequent ten-year period, from 742 to 752 CE, is well-documented by Proskouriakoff and other Mayanists as an interregnum period, where various entities were vying to fill the political vacuum (Martin, Grube 2008:127). The combination of this power vacuum, Bird Jaguar IV’s own obsessive insecurity and the ailing condition of Itzamnaaj B’alam III renders the date highly suspect as a useful reference for the lintel’s manufacture. This is clearly evidenced when an accurate interpretation of the lintel is scrutinized within the context of the period.
            When Yaxuun B’alam (Bird Jaguar IV) acceded to lordship in 752, his legitimacy was questionable. During his father’s reign he had been rather unremarkable, a minor underlord at best, with little claim to greatness. His mother, Ixik Ik’ Cham (Lady Eveningstar) was Itzamnaaj B’alam’s third wife, and was apparently so insignificant as to warrant no mention during his father’s entire reign (Martin, Grube 2008:126). In order to solidify his position, the recently acceded Yaxuun B’alam immediately went to work fabricating a fictitious history. He erected many series of stelae and lintels which served several purposes. Some, like Stela 35, were designed to embellish the prominence of his mother (Id.). Others, like Stela 11, had the purpose of cementing his own legitimacy as king. By portraying the necessary rituals between himself and his father, such as the flapstaff dance, Yaxuun B’alam was able to falsely render his claim to heir apparency in recorded historical fact (Id.). The three-panel series of lintels 12, 13, and 14 were likewise intended to bolster this fictitious history, by strengthening political solidarity and raising the prominence of Yaxuun B’alam’s bloodline, paving the way for his son (Itzamnaaj B’alam IV) to succeed him.
            A sign which now stands at Yaxchilan Structure 20, erected by the Mexican Institute of Anthropology and History, tells with brevity the events depicted in lintels 12, 13 and 14:
There are several sculptural monuments associated with [Structure 20]: Lintels 12 (today at the Museum of Anthropology), 13 and 14, plus Hieroglyphic Stairway 5. Lintel 12 shows a scene from one of Shield Jaguar I’s conquests. On 13, one sees Shield Jaguar II’s parents, Lady Large Skull and Bird Jaguar IV, commemorating the ruler’s birth with a “vision of the snake” ceremony. Lintel 14 also portrays Shield Jaguar II’s parents, but in a ceremony of self-sacrifice connected to the “vision of the snake” (see Appendix A).
As is further established by the subsequent transcription detailed in this paper, there are numerous mistakes with the INAH summary of events. Contemporary understandings of Mayan Late Classic history reveal that Bird Jaguar IV’s father was Shield Jaguar III, not Shield Jaguar I as the INAH summary indicates. Likewise, Bird Jaguar IV’s son was Shield Jaguar IV, rather than the second. Though perhaps only a minor semantic matter, current scholarly work also interprets Bird Jaguar IV’s wife as Lady Great Skull, rather than “Large Skull” as understood by INAH. A closer epigraphical look at lintel 14 reveals a significant misinterpretation of the events depicted thereon.
            At first glance, the iconography of lintel 14 looks nearly identical to that of lintel 13, and it is easy to see how the two might be interpreted as featuring the same individuals performing the same (or a similar) ritual. In both lintels, two prominent individuals face each other, the more dominant figure on the right, in typical Mayan fashion. The two wield bloodletting knives and bowls from which a nawal, or Maya vision serpent, is invoked. The major differences are between the identity of the individuals appearing in each lintel, respectively, and the overall context of what is being depicted. These differences are explicitly stated in the glyphs.
            Using Ian Graham’s drawing and corresponding labels (Appendix B), Lintel 14’s text begins with the series of 12 glyphs marked D1 through F4. The reading order is standard, dual-column. In Mayan, this series reads: “Kan Imix, Kan Mol, tzakaj k’awil, Kab Ajaw [alt. Muwan], Chanaal-ij, chakb’ay kan, u wayaj, Ch’ul Ixik, Ixik Chak Cham, Ixik Sajal, Yaxuun Ajaw” (Appendix C). The English gloss is “4 Imix, 4 Mol: is conjured the god of generations, He [or Bird] of the Earth, in/from the sacred space, the great image serpent, her nawal, Holy Woman Lady Great Skull, she who serves, mother of the lord” (Id.). The lintel then proceeds to glyphs A1, B1, and C1, In Mayan: “[ch’ul] U b’a, Ch’ul Ixik Kab Ajaw, Yax Ixik” (Id.). This phrase translates to “Her [divine] image, Holy Woman of the Earth, First Lady” (Id.). The final passage is the five-glyph series G1-G5, which in Mayan reads “U b’a Yax Chit Chan Aj Tuubayeet, Chak Cham Sajal U Ajaw” and glosses in English as “His image, First Father, Captor of He of Tuubayeet, Great Skull, elite subordinate to his Lord” (Id.).
            Taken in its entirety, Lintel 14 identifies Lady Great Skull and Great Skull Sajal, not Bird Jaguar IV as the INAH summary states. The two have bloodlet and summoned Lady Great Skull’s vision serpent, most likely an ancestor. The deeper purpose behind the ritual itself is not explicit, but the event’s depiction is important because it establishes the prominence of the Great Skull lineage. Bird Jaguar’s repeated emphasis on his wife, Lady Great Skull, seems to exemplify his determination to prevent her from falling into obscurity, as occurred with his own mother. By maintaining her high status in Yaxchilan’s history during his own reign, Yaxuun B’alam is ensuring that his heir, Shield Jaguar IV, will avoid the problems of legitimacy that plagued the former in his attempt to accede.  
            Lintel 14 also reveals the elite status of Great Skull himself. He is referred to as “First Father,” referencing him as the founder of the Great Skull bloodline (Schele 1990:288). Though their relationship is not known with certainty, Great Skull is likely the Uncle of Lady Great Skull. That he bears the title “Captor of” reinforces the known fact that he was the favored sajal (subordinate) of Yaxuun B’alam IV. It should be noted that the G3 glyph, glossed here as “He of Tuubayeet” is speculative. As is the case with obscure glyphs, its meaning is determined by the surrounding context and is subject to change as scholarly understanding of Mayan history and epigraphical analysis improve.
            The date of 741 CE on lintel 14 begs repeated emphasis. If the purpose of lintel 14 was to strengthen the appearance of political solidarity and promote the Great Skull lineage, it was not enough for Bird Jaguar IV to simply erect monuments depicting them. In order to create lasting legitimacy, Yaxuun B’alam needed to manipulate the historical record in truly Orwellian fashion. By bestowing lintel 14 with the date of 741 CE, Bird Jaguar’s heirship was given legacy and depth. Moreover, since that date precedes the death of Itzamnaaj B’alam III, the depicted events and Great Skull lineage are granted the appearance of de facto consent and legitimacy from the former ruler himself. This act alone reveals the brilliant political savvy of Yaxuun B’alam IV.

            Lintel 13 (Appendix D), though iconographically similar to lintel 14 as previously stated, depicts Lady Great Skull and Bird Jaguar IV. The Peabody Museum describes the scene as follows:
This lintel depicts Bird Jaguar IV and his wife or consort Lady Chak Chami wielding hafted bloodletters and other bloodletting paraphernalia. A large serpent disgorges the probable form of their child, the future Shield Jaguar IV (the figure's headdress touches a reference to Shield Jaguar IV's birth in the main text, at A3). The scene is probably a metaphorical one, though many key textual passages remain eroded and obscure. (Peabody 2011:2)
Overall, the Peabody description of lintel 13 is quite good. This is indeed a ritual venerating the birth of Itzamnaaj B’alam IV, and despite the greater degree of erosion and the number of obscure glyphs, the context remains clear.
            The reading for Lintel 13 (Appendix E) begins with the five-glyph passage A1-B1 and reads in Mayan as “Jun Chikchan, Oxlajun Pop: Sijya Chelte’ Chan K’inich,” which glosses in English as “[on] 1 Chikchan, 13 Pop, Chelte’ Chan K’inich is born.” The text then proceeds to the 12-glyph panel C1 through D6. In Mayan, this section reads “[Ch’u] U b’a, Ch’u Ch’ok K’oj, ?-Ixik Ixik Chak Cham, Ixik Sajal, Ox K’atun Ixwaate Aj ?-n, Aj Oxlajun Bak, ?-chan, Pachaan.” Accordingly, the English gloss is “She, her [divine] self, her divine youthful image, holy woman Lady Great Skull, She who serves, 3 K’atun Tree Lady, She of ?, She of 13 Captives, ?-sky, split-sky.” Several of the glyphs in this passage are obscure and as title glyphs, are difficult to transcribe with surety. Despite the above gloss generally agreeing with that provided by the Peabody Museum, portions remain specious.
            One major point of contention lies with the two titles which begin with “Aj.” This affix is extremely common throughout Mayan writings and is always understood to represent the male agentive. It seems rather unlikely that this glyph would be employed here as an exception for Lady Great Skull, despite Bird Jaguar’s inclination to build his wife’s prominence. Another possible interpretation that still works within the contextual framework of lintel 13 would gloss the D4 glyph as Ix yete’—“Lady in the company of.” This would entail that the following two title glyphs correspond to her unknown companion, who is presumably male. One possibility might be that this is a reference to Great Skull Sajal, though this remains purely speculative on the author’s part. Another similarly speculative possibility is that the titles refer to the ancestor which has been summoned in the form of a nawal. Glyphs C6 and D6 are eroded and open to interpretation (particularly the former), though D6 almost certainly represents the phonetic spelling of Pachaan (“split-sky”), seen frequently throughout Yaxchilan in the Late Classic and featured in one of the Polity’s emblem glyphs. These final two glyphs of this passage might also be referencing the name of the ancestral vision serpent. At this point in time, however, these interpretations must be relegated to the realm of conjecture.  
            Lintel 13 continues with the sequence E1-E4 and F1-F5, both of which pertain to Yaxuun B’alam. The first sequence reads in Mayan as “U b’a Jun Chan, Yaxuun B’alam, Aj K’al Bak” or “His image, 1 Sky, Bird Jaguar IV, He of 20 Captives.” This is followed by the customary title sequence “U Chan Aj Uk, Ox K’atun Ajaw, Ch’u Pa’chan Ajaw, B’akab’,” which is glossed in English as “Captor of He of Uk, 3-K’atun Lord, Divine Lord of Yaxchilan, the Standing One.” These last two lines are transparent and typical to monuments of this time, where Yaxuun B’alam consistently touts his preeminence.
            Taken as a whole, Lintel 13 continues to further the agenda of Yaxuun B’alam in establishing his legitimacy through his heir, Itzamnaaj B’alam IV, who is herein referenced by his youthful name, Chelte’ Chan K’inich. Again, this depiction reveals Bird Jaguar’s intent to preemptively annihilate any potential question of his son’s political authority, sparing him from facing the same challenges of obscurity the father had incurred. In contrast to lintel 14, there is no apparent reason to believe that the date of, or February 12th, 752 CE, is a falsification. This was the year that Yaxuun B’alam acceded and his legitimacy would have already been—fictitiously—established for nearly a decade before. In this case, it was important that Itzamnaaj B’alam be venerated, but there was no practical reason to manipulate the past as was necessary for Bird Jaguar IV to solidify his own legacy.
            Ultimately, although Lintels 13 and 14 appear facially similar, it is important to distinguish the differences of detail in their depictions. By understanding what each scene represents independent from one another, we can discern with greater clarity the over-arching goals of Yaxuun B’alam IV and the importance of the monuments in Structure 20 as a continuum of significant events. The keen political maneuvering of Bird Jaguar not only insured that his lineage would retain power in Yaxchilan after his death, but also inevitably began a chain of events which saw the polity’s resurgence and subsequent rise to a height of hegemony, culminating in the conquest of longtime rival Piedras Negras in the early 9th century (Sharer, Traxler (2006:431) and a “golden age” which would last until the larger decline of the Maya empire.       


FAMSI. “Date Conversion.”
   Retrieved on May 7th, 2011. http://research.famsi.org/date_mayaLC.php

Martin, Simon; Grube, Nikola
   2008  Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. London: Thames and Hudson Inc.

Montgomery, John
   2002  Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs. New York: Hippocrene Books Inc.

Montgomery, John
   2002  How to Read Maya Hieroglyphs. New York: Hippocrene Books Inc.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. “Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions.”
   Retrieved on May 7th, 2011.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. “Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions.”
   Retrieved on May 8rd, 2011.

Schele, Linda; Freidel, David
   1990  A Forest of Kings. New York: William Morrow and Company Inc.

Sharer, Robert; Traxler, Loa
   2006  The Ancient Maya 6th Edition. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Tate, Carolyn
   1992  Yaxchilan: the Design of a Maya Ceremonial City. Austin: The University of Texas 


APPENDIX A—INAH Sign at Yaxchilan
Retrieved on May 2nd, 2011. http://mayaruins.com/yaxchilan/a1_531.html

APPENDIX B—Drawing of Lintel 14 by Ian Graham, 1974.

APPENDIX C – Reading Order and 6-line transcription for Lintel 14
READ: D1-E4, F1-F4, A1,B1,C1,G1-G5
Kan Imix
Four Imix
“4 Imix”
Kan Mol
Four Mol
“4 Mol”
Ch’ul Ixik
Holy/divine woman
“Holy woman”

PASS – Conjure
“is conjured”
Deity name
“God of generations”
Ixik Chak Cham
Lady Chak Cham
“Lady Great Skull”
T526.747v (or 744v)
Kab Ajaw
Earth Lord  (Bird)
“He of the Earth”(?)
Chaanal-ij (?)
Heavenly location(?)
“Heavenly place”(sacred space

Ixik Sajal
Lady sajal
“She who serves”
Chakb’ay Kan
Great head/image serpent
“Great image serpent”
U wayaj
3A -- Spirit; portal; nawal
“Her nawal”
Yaxun Ajaw
POSS. – Mother; Lord
“Mother of the Lord”

T1.60:757:? (Ch’u?)
U.B’A:? (CH’U?)
U b’a (Ch’ul U b’a?)
3A – image
“Her (divine) image”

Ch’ul Ixik Kab Ajaw
Holy lady Earth lord
“Divine Lady of the Earth”
Yax Ixik
First lady
“First Lady” (?) (title?)

U b’a
3A – image
“His image”
Yax Chit Chan
First Father Captor/serpent
“First father, captor of?” (?)
T12: 91:501.710:103
Aj Tuubayeet
He Tuubayeet
“He/Lord of Tuubayeet”
Chak Cham Sajal
Great Skull Elite Subordinate
“Great Skull Elite Subordinate”
U Ajaw
His Lord
“[to] His Lord; of his Lord”

APPENDIX D—  Drawing of Lintel 13 by Ian Graham, 1974.

APPENDIX E– Reading Order and 6-line transcription for Lintel 13.
READ: A1-B1, C1-D6, E1-E4, F1-F5
Jun Chikchan
One Chikchan
“1 Chikchan”
Chan K’inich
Chan K’inich
“Sun-eyed Sky” (name)
Oxlajun Pop
Thirteen Pop
“13 Pop”

INT – Born
“is born”

“Tree?“  (name)

3A – Himself
“He himself/His image”
Ch’u ch’ok k’oj
Divine youthful image
“Divine Youthful image“ (title)

Divine/holy woman
“Holy Woman” (title)
Chak Cham
“Great Skull”
Ixik Sajal
Female subordinate elite
“Lady Sajal; She who serves”
Ox K’atun
Three K’atun
“3 K’atun”
Lady tree
“Tree Lady”  (title)

Aj ?-n
He/lord of ?-n
“She of –”

Aj Oxlajun B’ak
Lord thirteen captives
“She of 13 captives?”
?- Chan
?-sky; four, snake
“?- Sky” (name/title?)

“Split-sky” (title)

3A - Image/Doing
“His image”
3A – Captor
“Captor of”
Jun Chan
One sky/snake
“1 Sky” (title?)

Aj Uk
He/lord Uk
“He of Uk” (title)
Yaxuun B’alam
Yaxuun B’alam
“Bird Jaguar IV”
Ox k’atun Ajaw
Three k’atun lord
“3-K’atun Lord”
Aj K’al Bak
He twenty captives
“He of 20 Captives” (title)
Ch’u Pa’chan Ajaw
Divine split-sky lord
“Divine Lord of Yaxchilan”