In the book I prepared at CASVA, I propose that a central concern in Maya imagery and texts was the task of “growing men.” Boys and teenagers, always elites in surviving evidence, were conceived as vegetal sprouts (
A rich vocabulary of Maya glyphs, often serving to caption images, moor several themes in my book. One is “liquid passage,” in which painters identified the finest ceramics as the possessions of young men. Made to hold chocolate drinks, a large percentage of such vases belonged to particular youths, their names recorded in rim-band texts; others, pertaining to generic youths, had more elastic, even impersonal, use. In either case, the pots likely celebrated rites of passage. Production of such ceramics was episodic but copious, with some princes receiving large numbers of pots for further distribution to other nobles. Through acts of spirit possession, gods, too, might own vessels or “drink” from them. Scenes painted or engraved on the ceramics probably served a didactic or hortatory purpose. They did not so much detail specific lives—that is, the biographies of owners—as extol gods and praise-worthy courts.
A second theme pairs the act of “setting apart,”
A third and final theme addresses the tale of a “good prince,” an interpretation, secured by infrared imaging, of the celebrated murals at Bonampak, Mexico. According to glyphic texts, these paintings offer an elaborate, chaptered narrative of an heir to a kingdom just before the Maya collapse in the ninth century CE. Probably one of three brothers, a prince known as Kooj (Puma) is highlighted throughout. In two of the three chambers, he performs as a ritual dancer, embodying dynastic tribute and solar sacrifice. Murals in the central room, in which Kooj fights with his father and grandfather, feature his prowess in battle and reinforces the youth’s qualifications for