What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think historical fiction; historical romance, suspense or paranormal? A story in Europe somewhere? Most probably, because they have a long detailed history in writing to draw from?
For a moment let’s get a sense of where the European world was in terms of their view of the earth and stars before I go into the Mayan world.
Pythagoras (6th century BC) developed the paradigm of a spherical Earth. Pre-Socratics retained the flat Earth model. Aristotle accepted the spherical shape around 330 BC.
Even though we were taught in school that Columbus had to overcome the belief that the earth was flat in order to get his expedition going, almost all scholars in the early Middle Ages maintained the spherical earth viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. By the 14th century, belief in a flat earth among the educated was essentially dead even though the artists of the day continued to depict a flat earth.
So, even though the Greeks believed the earth was round or spherical, they held to the theory that the Earth was at the center of the universe and all objects in the heavens revolved around it.
Figure of the heavenly bodies — An illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric system by Portuguese cosmographer and cartographer Bartolomeu Velho, 1568 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)
Now, let’s sail on over to the new world and land on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico to visit the Maya and compare what they knew to the Europeans.
The archaeological record first shows evidence of the Maya people as early as 1100 BC. They hunted local game and developed agricultural subsistence techniques until about 900 BC. Around this time, farmers of the Maya people built permanent residences (Schele and Freidel 1990: 306-307).
Archaeologists have deciphered three major periods of Mayan Civilization; the Pre--classic, Classic and Post-classic periods. For perspective, the flowering of the Mayan civilization corresponds to the later years of the Roman Empire.
So, at the earliest, while the Greeks were concerned with planets going around the earth, the Mayans were concerned with the Milky Way and the universe. They noted on their stone calendar the start of their 5th Mayan era or world which began August 13, 3114 BC.
In AD 775, the Maya lord K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yoat (Fire Burning Sky Lightning God) set up an immense stone monument in the center of his city, Quiriguá, in Izabal, Guatemala. The unimaginative archaeologists who discovered the stone called it Stela C. This monument bears the longest single hieroglyphic description of the Maya Creation ‘Myth’, noting that it took place on the Maya calendar's day 188.8.131.52.0, 4 Ahaw, 8 Kumk’u, a date corresponding to August 13, 3114 BC on our calendar. This date appears over and over in other inscriptions throughout the Maya world.
August 13, 3114 BC is as precise and accurate as one can get for a beginning of history: the first Egyptian dynasty is dated to ca 3100 BC; the first 'city,' Uruk, in Mesopotamia, also ca 3100 BC; the Hindu Kali Yuga, 3102 BC; and most interestingly, the division of time into 24 hours of 60 minutes each and each minute into 60 seconds [and the division of the circle into 360 degrees], also around 3100 BC, in Sumeria.
So why this history lesson on the Maya when we were talking about historical fiction? I wondered how many people realize that the historical world (of novels) is bigger than just the European world? Knowledge of the Maya is mostly a mystery because the Spanish conquerors burned all their books (I always shudder at the thought of burning a whole culture’s books). I hardly want to mention Diego de Landa Calderón who after he destroyed the mayan books, then wrote down what was in them--and who knows what he left out or how accurate he interpreted what he saw.I'm just grateful the Maya also left record of their world in stone.
What was your first thought when I mentioned historical fiction at the beginning? My first novel is crossover fiction (historical, romantic, suspense, paranormal) set with a back story in that Mayan world (awaiting publication) so I was wondering what you thought of when hearing the phrase, historical fiction, (romance or suspense)?
I’d be very interested if you would share your comments and let me know.