Mesoamerican Codices - Precolumbian Literature

Precolumbian Literature

When defining literature in its broadest possible sense including all products of "literacy", what becomes primarily interesting about a literate community is the manner in which literacy and literature is used. Which topics are chosen to be written and spoken about? And why did they do it? Which genres of literature are found in Mesoamerica? The answer to this question is complex and is the topic of the rest of this article that will try to describe and resume what is known about the genres and functions of indigenous Mesoamerican literatures.

Three major subjects of Mesoamerican literatures can be identified:

  • Religion, time and astronomy : Mesoamerican civilizations shared an interest in the recording and keeping track of time through observation of celestial bodies and religious rituals celebrating their different phases. Not surprisingly a large portion of the Mesoamerican literature that has been delivered down through time to us deals exactly with this kind of information. Particularly the true precolumbian literature such as the Mayan and Aztec codices deal with calendrical and astronomical information as well as describing the rituals connected to the passing of time.
  • History, power and legacy: Another large part of the Precolumbian literature is found carved into monumental structures such as stelae, altars and temples. This kind of literature typically document power and heritage, memorize victories, ascension to rulership, dedications of monuments, marriages between royal lineages.
  • Mythical and fictive genres. Mostly present in postconquest versions but often relying on oral or pictorial traditions the mythical and narrative literature of Mesoamerica is very rich, and we can only guess as to how much has been lost.
  • Every day literature. Some texts are sort of every day literature such as descriptions of objects and their owners, graffiti inscriptions, but these only constitutes a very small part of the known literature.

Read more about this topic:  Mesoamerican Codices

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    It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.
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