Stela C

Stela C, East Side

"To commemorate (December 5, 711), the first k'atun-ending after his accession, Waxaklahun-Ubah-K'awil commissioned a magnificent, larger-than-life-size statue of himself frozen in the midst of materializing beings from the Otherworld.

In fact, he depicted himself twice on opposite sides of this stela so that he could face both the rising and the setting sun.

On both sides he holds the most important royal scepter, a Double-headed Serpent Bar, against his chest, but the details of his costume and accouterments reflect the direction he faces and the patterns in the sky on the night the k'atun ended.

He copied this double-portrait format from his father, who had erected images of himself facing north and south to celebrate, the k'atun-ending sixty years earlier. Both of these k'atun-endings fell on the day Venus was first seen in the evening sky."

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs, p. 141

This photo shows the figure of 18-Rabbit portrayed on the east side of the stela facing the rising sun. He is youthful and beardless. Behind the stela we catch a glimpse of the accompanying tortoise altar which we will view in more detail later in this sequence of photos.

Stela C

Stela C, East Side

A crocodile head overlaps 18-Rabbit's loin cloth, and can be identified by its set of upward-curving teeth splayed out on both sides. The crocodile muzzle points downward, and its front feet hang down from the king's waist.

"The Maya saw this crocodile head as the dark cleft in the Milky Way, and the tree as the Milky Way itself, arching across the sky from the southwest to the northeast.

However, this stela was more than just a realization of the myth--it recorded the pattern of the sky after sunset on the night of December 5, 711.

On this night, Venus made its first appearance as Eveningstar, becoming visible at sunset in the constellation of Sagittarius at the base of the Milky Way crocodile tree. Thus the stela replicates symbolically what Waxaklahun-Ubah-K'awil and his people saw on that important night."

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs, p. 143

Stela C

Stela C, West Side

"The west side of Stela C continues to play on the themes of Creation and the sky on the night of the k'atun ending.

The key is the giant turtle altar set in front of Waxaklahun-Ubah-K'awil's feet [next photo].

To see the stela across the altar re-creates the image of the Maize God being reborn from a cleft in the Cosmic Turtle's back. At the end of the Third Creation in Maya mythology, the Hero Twins defeated the Lords of Death and then went to the Ballcourt of Xibalba to resurrect the Maize Gods, who were their fathers.

In the imagery of the times, these gods were reborn from a crack in the carapace of this Cosmic Turtle.

Like the crocodile tree, the Cosmic Turtle occurred in the sky. It corresponded to the belt of Orion, a constellation that happened to be directly overhead at midnight on this k'atun-ending."

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs, p. 144

Stela C

West Altar, Stela C

"Placed before the west side of the monument is an altar carved in the shape of a vast turtle carapace, with the design of a waterlily pad, symbolizing the surface of the water, incised on its shell.

Giant claws appear folded at the front and rear of the altar, and two heads protrude from its north and south sides."

Elizabeth A. Newsome, Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World: The Serial Stela Cycle of 18-Rabbit-God K, King of Copan, p. 111

Stela C

West Altar, North-Facing Head

"The turtle altar on the west side of Stela C balances an uncarved rectangular altar on the east.

The turtle altar has two heads that match the images of the Cosmic Turtle as it was represented on pottery.

Glyphic texts elsewhere make clear that this turtle was ak and the cleft in its carapace was an ol, or "portal." He is the Cosmic Turtle that floated in the Primordial Sea and sat in Orion."

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs, p. 145-6

Stela C

West Altar, South-Facing Head

The south head of the cosmic turtle is much more fragmented and eroded than the north head.

"For the Maya, the sky is a map of their religion and, as with Western civilization's Greek heritage, the constellations function as a mnemonic device for the religious ideology.

In his analysis of star lore in the Maya dictionaries, Weldon Lamb found a number of constellations that are identified as animals, including ak ek ["turtle star"] (in Gemini or Orion) and tzab ek ["snake rattle star"] (the Pleiades). These seemed to have the same zoological connections in pre-Columbian times."

Dorie Reents-Budet, Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period, p.252

Stela C

Stela C, West Side

"Waxaklahun-Ubah-K'awil's features appear to be relatively young, but he wears a long beard, a rare feature among Maya men. We suspect the beard was false, but its meaning is not entirely clear.

As he did on the east side, Waxaklahun-Ubah-K'awil wears a skirt with the Wakah-Kan apron. The belt head represents the cruller-eyed Jaguar God who is sometimes the sun and at other times Venus. As we shall see, this Jaguar God played a role in the myth of Copan's patron gods.

In his arms, Waxaklahun-Ubah-K'awil carries a Ceremonial Serpent Bar with turbaned old men emerging from the mouths of the snakes [one of the turbaned old men can be seen in profile on the left of the photo about level with the false beard].

These little figures, who may represent aged ancestors or gods wearing Copan attire, contrast with the young deities on the east side. They hold severed heads of zoomorphic Maize Gods in their hands."

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs, p. 145