Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type




First Advisor

Inga Calvin


This paper was born from an evolving fascination with the ways in which an image can be manipulated to significantly affect one’s perception of reality. This visual idea is applied to the Maya site of Copan, Honduras during the Classic Maya Period. This paper focuses on the visual impact of the eight stelae located in the Great Plaza of Copan and erected by the thirteenth king, Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil , or “18-Rabbit,” who ruled Copan from 695-738 AD. I argue that an ancient king’s manipulative power in the deliberate orientation and construction of his monuments affects the manner in which the stelae’s images are initially viewed and received. Images function as tools for the advancement of the king’s power. In these images, 18-Rabbit’s knowledge of cosmological events, recording of his mythic interactions, and depictions of his kingly rituals are displayed. French philosopher Jacques Ranciere’s sentence-image theory is used explain how the illustrated manifestations on the stelae instigate a myriad of connections with the reality of Maya religious life. The physical imagery of public rituals performed by 18-Rabbit manipulates Copan’s image of its king as an elevated personage whose unique position allows him to engage in other-worldly activities that contribute to Copan daily life. By examining the construction and illustration of the stelae through a theatrical lens, it is possible to trace the orchestration of political and religious manipulations of 18-Rabbit’s grand performance.