SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Redford, Scott (2021) 'Inscribe and de-scribe/cipher and de-cipher : a pious phrase in medieval Byzantium and Islam.' In: Houston, Stephen and Bodel, John, (eds.), The Hidden Language of Graphic Signs: Cryptic Writing and Meaningful Marks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 80-99.

Full text not available from this repository.


Over a span of a millennium or more, Maya scribes and sculptors in the Maya lowlands used a writing system notable for its formal complexity and close links to imagery. At times, in so-called full-figure writing, glyphic elaboration erupts into a welter of massed bodies, imparting a misleading impression of narrative pictures. Wit and fun seem to abound, along with hints of an exuberant, scribal personality behind certain inscriptions. The stress on physicality ‒ things with interiors, exteriors, and defining edges in between ‒ is thoroughgoing. Efficiencies of graphic presentation lead logically to a design choice, whether to show a full thing-in-the-world, or to abbreviate that display by exhibiting a recognizable feature. As a deliberate category error ‒ is it picture, is it text? ‒ full-figure signs heighten the pleasure of being puzzled. They build in part on the cognitive frissons of the Stroop Effect, in which one set of information collides with another. The pictorial interaction of such signs ranges along one of two extremes: sociable contact that is decorous, restrained, respectful, and an indecorous, emotive striving that might lead to uncertain outcomes. In the most extreme cases, Maya writing oscillates between controllability and a bare containment of feral will in the glyphs.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Department of the History of Art & Archaeology
ISBN: 9781108840613
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 23 Jun 2018 15:44

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item