Plate 1, Idol at Copán
(on stone, by H. Warren)
The overgrown jungle of Copán
is the backdrop for a formidable stone statue erected in the early
eighth century. Standing more than three meters high, the figure
on the stele wears a net skirt, beaded jewelry, and a large headdress;
masks hang from an ornate belt. He also holds a scepter with two
protruding serpent heads.
When Stephens and Catherwood excavated this sculpture, the dress
and the absence of a beard led them to believe this was a woman.
Yet Maya men did wear long tunics in religious ceremonies, and
scholars now accept that this is one of Copán’s most
famous rulers, King Waxaklajun Ub’aah K’awiil, in
the guise of a maize god.
Sacrifice was a significant part of Maya religious life because
the gods sacrificed themselves to create the world. The iconography
of the maize gods and serpents on this stele relates to this tradition.
Four maize gods hang from the sides of the figure, and a maize
cob and husks are depicted directly above the headdress. Serpents
often represent sacrifice. On one side of the sculpture, two serpents
intertwine and hold a grotesque figure and a blood-letter (an
instrument that allowed one to draw one’s own blood for
sacrifice to the gods). Performing sacrifice was sacred and vital
to the Maya for honoring the maize gods, as well as others. [Spanish