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A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya

1 rating: 5.0
A book released January 24, 1992 by David Freidel by Linda Schele

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Author: David Freidel, Linda Schele
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date Published: January 24, 1992
1 review about A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the...

A Forest of Kings - Maya kings and their cities

  • Apr 8, 2001
  • by
Pros: Wonderful look at different Mayan kingdoms.

Cons: Shares the tendency of other works to not make definitive statements about the culture.

The Bottom Line: This is a really nice and readable text. It doesn't bog down too much in technical detail. One gets a real feeling for the culture.

A Forest of Kings presents us with information about the Mayan ruins of Palenque. This book was written a decade before much of the current opinion on this subject. This decade creates an interesting look at how scholarship of the interpretation of Maya artwork has changed and is changing. This work discusses the history of the Palenque kingdom, and how kingship influenced the artwork produced. The artwork found at this site is very important because it provides substantial records of text, which do much to aid the modern scholar in deciphering the writing system of the ancient Maya.

This book discusses the “king lists” that were created in the 7th century. These records seem to be an attempt to legitimize the royal descent of two of the later kings of the dynasty. K’inich Janaab’ Pakal I began his great architectural program with the construction of the Temple of Inscriptions where “he mounted the first of his king lists on three huge stone slabs.” It also discusses the tomb of Pakal, which is an amazing find not unlike Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen.

One of the most interesting things for this reader is the study of why these king lists were important. A Forest of Kings gives a very rich and detailed description of the necessity of establishing a divine right to rule for Palenque’s kings. “The essential problem, as we surmise it from their public efforts to explain it away, was to extricate dynastic succession from the same principle of lineage that originally fostered and legitimized it,”

A Forest of Kings is beautifully written and includes a historical fictive account of the accession. Although not necessarily supported by factual data, the “interlude” does much to give the reader a sense of the atmosphere and ceremony that surrounded the burial of one king and the emergence of another.

Compared with other works on this topic, A Forest of Kings gives a tremendous wealth of information—especially with regard to the rule and artistic programs of Kan B’alam. The extensive explanation of the inscriptions at the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Foliated Cross give the reader so much more a sense of the monumental nature of the inscriptions left to modern scholars to ponder. Although interpretation of these texts has assuredly changed and is likely to change even more, the scale of the work does much to impress even the casual viewer.

To emphasize an issue in Maya studies, A Forest of Kings does not venture much about the end of the dynasties of Palenque. It can be assumed that when a dynasty was defeated that there was no one left who was compelled to record the ending. It is possible that scholars may never be able to determine precisely what happened, but as with any good mystery story, this reader finds herself in the position where she wants to know more.


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