This is the final talk of the six-part series Vital Signs: The Visual Cultures of Maya Writing, presented by Stephen D. Houston of Brown University for the 72nd A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts.
Most kingdoms and states are lacking in laughter. To poke fun at authority is to question its power and to undermine potential obedience. Yet the ancient Maya rejoiced in ridicule, if enigmatically: a belly laugh may be panhuman but not what prompted it. Hieroglyphs and images affirm that ancient Maya humor was filled with near-folkloric tales, showing what needed—and still needs—to be probed and deflated.