There is other evidence to show that the engraving in Cogolludo is a relic of the purest ancient Maya symbolism,—one of the most interesting which have been preserved to us; but to enter upon its explanation in this connection would be too far from my present topic. A favorite theme with the writers of the "Books of Chilan Balam" was the cure of diseases. Bishop Landa explains the "chilanes" as "sorcerers and doctors," and adds that one of their prominent duties was to diagnose diseases and point out their appropriate remedies.[11] As we might expect, therefore, considerable prominence is given to the description of symptoms and suggestions for their alleviation. Bleeding and the administration of preparations of native plants are the usual prescriptions; but there are others which have probably been borrowed from some domestic medicine-book of European origin.

The late Don Pio Perez gave a great deal of attention to collecting these native recipes, and his manuscripts were carefully examined by Dr. Berendt who combined all the necessary knowledge, botanical, linguistic and medical, and who has left a large manuscript, entitled "Recetarios de Indios," which presents the subject fully. He considers the scientific value of these remedies to be next to nothing, and the language in which they are recorded to be distinctly inferior to that of the remainder of the "Books of Chilan Balam." Hence, he believes that this portion of the ancient records was supplanted some time in the last century by medical notions introduced from European sources. Such, in fact, is the statement of the copyists of the books themselves, as these recipes, etc., are sometimes found in a separate volume, entitled "The Book of the Jew,"—"El Libro del Judio." Who this alleged Jewish physician was, who left so wide-spread and durable a renown among the Yucatecan natives, none of the archaeologists has been able to find out.[12]

The language and style of most of these books are aphoristic, elliptical and obscure. The Maya language has naturally undergone considerable alteration since they were written; therefore, even to competent readers of ordinary Maya, they are not readily understood. Fortunately, however, there are in existence excellent dictionaries of the Maya of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which, were they published, would be sufficient for this purpose.

A few persons in Yucatan have appreciated the desirability of collecting and preserving these works. Don Pio Perez was the first to do so, and of living Yucatecan scholars particular mention should be made of the Rev. Canon Don Crescendo Carrillo y Ancona, who has written a good, and I believe the only, description of them which has yet appeared in print.[13] They attracted the earnest attention of that eminent naturalist and ethnologist, the late Dr. C. Hermann Berendt, and at a great expenditure of time and labor he visited various parts of Yucatan, and with remarkable skill made fac-simile copies of the most important and complete specimens which he could anywhere find. This invaluable and unique collection has come into my hands since his death, and it is this which has prompted me to make known their character and contents to those interested in such subjects.

[11] "Declarar las necesidades y sus remedios."—"Relation de las Cosas de Yucatan," page 160. Like much of Landa's Spanish, this use of the word "necesidad" is colloquial, and not classical.

[12] A "Medicina Domestica," under the name of "Don Ricardo Ossado, (alias, el Judio,)" was published at Merida in 1834; but this appears to have been merely a bookseller's device to aid the sale of the book by attributing it to the great unknown."

[13] In his "Disertacion sobre la Historia la Lengua Maya ó Yucateca" (Merida, 1870).

Finished ...Return to Book Collection

Please email us if you are interested
in a PDF of any of the posted books.