Landa’s Relación de Las Cosas de Yucatán

“Our most important single source on Yucatecan Maya culture of the early colonial period” (George Stuart)

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514. ROSNY, [Louis] Léon [Prunol] de. Ensayo sobre la interpretación de la escritura hierática de la América Central por Mr. Leon de Rosny. Traduccion anotada y precedida de un prólogo por D. Juan de Dios de la Rada y Delgado. Madrid: Imprenta y Fundición de Manuel Tello, Impressor de Cámara de S.M. Isabel le Católica, 23, 1881 [editor’s forward dated July 28, 1884]. [1-8], [i] ii-xxi [1, blank], [3-5] 6-113, [1, Índice ó Guía], [2, Apéndice II], [2, Índice and Tabla de las Láminas] pp. (printed in double columns), copious text illustrations (mostly glyphs, some colored by hand), 20 plates (lithograph, heliograph, and photogravure), some in color or tinted (some colored by hand and others chromolithograph), Plate XIII double-page, Plate XX folded, plates signed: Rosny lith., De Rosny autog.; Imp. Lemercier & Co., Paris; Lithophot. Lemercier, Paris; Autochromie [or] Heliogr[avur]e [or] Nitrochromie, Imp. Lemercier, Paris; Lit. “Las Artes,” Madrid; or Imprenta fototipica de J. Laurent y C.a, Madrid-Paris; fotog. bajo la inmediata inspección del traductor, Rada y Delgado. Folio (45.6 x 30 cm), contemporary maroon calf over brown and maroon mottled boards, spine gilt lettered and stamped with gilt ornaments, raised bands, marbled endpapers, sprinkled edges. Binding a little worn at extremities, interior with light uniform browning due to the paper on which it was printed. Plate VIII bound a bit high resulting in minor chipping to very top of plate (not affecting text or image). Overall, a fine copy of a very rare book.

     First edition in Spanish, limited edition (#141 of 200 copies), best edition. The first edition came out under the title, Essai sur le déchiffrement de l’écriture hiératique de l’Amérique Centrale in Paris in 1876. One of the notable features of the present work is Rosny’s inclusion of some photographic illustrations (the final plate, a photographic illustration of the native-paper screenfold Códice de Santa Cruz Tlamapa no. 1, is considered the best extant image of that artifact).

     Glass, pp. 691: “[This edition] adds important data on the history of Codex Madrid. Plates include reproductions of two pages (in color) of Codex Paris, two of Codex Cortesianus (in color), two of Codex Troano, one of Codex Borbonicus, and one from Tonalamatl Aubin (in color). Added to this edition by the editor (pp. 69-114, pl. 19) is the first complete Spanish edition of Landa’s Relación de las cosas de Yucatán (with all of the drawings except the two maps) and a photoreproduction of Códice de Santa Cruz Tlamapa no. 1, with description and translation of its Nahuatl text (pp. 115-116, pl. 20).” Palau 278865. Sabin 73306. George Stuart, Glyph Drawings from Landa’s Relación: A Caveat to the Investigator (citing Landa’s Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, found on pp. 69-114 of the present work): “This second edition of Landa appeared as the first appendix to the Ensayo sobre la Interpretacion de la escritura hierática de la América Central.... Rosny’s work-the French and the Spanish-contain, among other illustrations, a heliograph, based on a photograph by Juan de Dios de la Rada y Delgado, of the Landa manuscript open to 44v-45.” Valle, Bibliografía Maya, pp. 120-123. Wilkinson Sale 209: “Very important and scarce.”

     Bishop Diego de Landa (1524-1579) was in charge of bringing the Roman Catholic faith to the Maya peoples after the conquest of Yucatán. With great zeal, Landa fanatically torched countless Maya pictorial codices, the primary written records of the Maya. In 1562 he conducted the infamous auto-da-fé, which attracted negative attention from many other authorities, both secular and ecclesiastical. Landa returned to Spain to defend himself against accusations of excessive violence in the conversion of the Maya and of overstepping his authority. Landa was strongly condemned before the Council of the Indies. Around 1566 Landa wrote the Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, in which he defended himself against his inquisitors, and in the process catalogued what he could remember of the Maya religion, language, culture, and writing system. His knowledge came directly from the Maya, particularly Gaspar Antonio (d. 1606) and Hachi Cocom.

     Landa’s original manuscript was lost long ago, and the account that remains is known only by an abstract derived from a longer original, the integrity of which was diminished by several iterations by various copyists. In 1863 Brasseur de Bourbourg (see herein) discovered the extant version (ca. 1660), and published portions of the editio princeps of the surviving document in 1864 (ending with folio 49). Brasseur de Bourbourg’s edition, and the present one, are described by George Stuart as “superlatively rare.” The present edition presents the first complete edition in Spanish of the corpus of what remains of the written record of Maya civilization. “Until the original work of Bishop Diego de Landa comes to light—and all searches for it have so far been in vain—the manuscript in Madrid is the primary copy of our most important single source on Yucatecan Maya culture of the early colonial period” (George Stuart). Paradoxically, Landa’s Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, in which he attempted to piece together what he had learned about Maya culture while vigorously annihilating it is the best record extant of Maya culture.

     Léon de Rosny (1837-1914), French linguist and ethnologist, was a notable Orientalist with special emphasis on Japan. He was the first Japanese language teacher in France (Imperial School of Modern Languages in Paris). His interests were wide, including Wonderism and Pre-Columbian studies, as evidenced by the present publication. Editor Juan de Dios de la Rada y Hidalgo, Spanish archaeologist, Orientalist, expert in numismatics, and Doctor of Jurisprudence, was the first director of the National Archaeological Museum in Spain.

     Regarding the other pictorial codex material in this publication, see Glass, Pictorial Manuscripts: Census:

     Codex Madrid 186 (pp. 153-155): “Rosny learned that the Spanish government had acquired Codex Cortesianus in 1879. In 1880 he examined both parts of Codex Madrid. Shortly thereafter he published photographs of one page of Codex Troano and three of Codex Cortesianus and demonstrated that they were parts of the same manuscript... Two pages of Codex Cortesianus and several from Codex Troano were published by him in the Spanish edition [the present work]... The content of Codex Madrid appears to be primarily concerned with divination; the divinatory almanacs which it contains cover various subjects including hunting, beekeeping, weaving, rain-making, crops, and diseases. It exhibits much attention to world directions and world colors, but lacks the astronomy.” As a result of Rosny’s discovery, Codex Cortesianus, said to descend from the heirs of Córtes, was officially incorporated as part of Codex Madrid. Codex Troana, the third Maya codex to be discovered, is now considered part of Codex Madrid.

     Codex Paris 247 (pp. 179-180): “Its discovery is widely credited to Léon de Rosny, who reported finding it in a basket in the BNP in 1859 together with other Mexican manuscripts... J.E.S. Thompson indicates that...little progress has been made in elucidating the hieroglyphic texts, and that ‘it is a fair assumption that ritual, prophecies, and perhaps historical events’ are given... ‘Remains of some divinatory almanacs, new year ceremonies...what is probably a kind of Maya zodiac with divisions of the 364-day years associated with it.’“ This was the second Maya codex to be discovered.

     Codex Borbonicus 32 (pp. 97-98): “The date of this major and early calendrical source is controversial... A single page was first reproduced by Léon de Rosny.”

     Tonalamatl Aubin 15 (p. 91): “Possibly preconquest tonalamatl (divinatory almanac) in early unacculturated style... It had limited circulation until it was issued with a study by Orozco y Berra (1897).”


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