Most literary frauds tend to have obvious goals: "Some forge for love, some for money, and some for the glory of having done it." The false Shakespeare plays of William Ireland were done for fame; Alan Sokal or the Spectralists wrote their literary fakes as parodies designed to show a lack of critical judgment in movements they disagreed with. The Necronomicon (as available in stores, not as cited in the works of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and the like) was put together to help publishing companies make a cheap buck off gullible high-schoolers. But what about those who lie in between — what about, for instance, Abbé Charles Etienne Brasseur? Brasseur was a Church official, a correspondent for Le Monde, and a novelist, but his fame today rests largely on his translations of the Madrid Codex, one of the three (possibly four) Mayan codices to survive the attentions of Bishop Diego de Landa in the 16th century. (Those travelling through the Yucután Peninsula can see a statue of de Landa in Izamal.)

The Madrid Codex (made up of the Troano and Cortesiano Codices) with its "a wealth of information on astrology and on divinatory practices", has "been of particular value to historians and anthropologists interested in identifying the various Mayan gods and reconstructing the rites that ushered in new years" Alas, Brasseur did not delve into the information on doctrine and practice of the Mayan priesthood. He didn’t come close. "His attempts at decipherment were failures, and his hieroglyphic key is of questionable value." But what glorious failures they were!

Brasseur devised his own method of transliterating the pictographs. Perhaps mesmerized by the mysterious figures on the Madrid Codex, he didn’t seem to notice that the story he was reading made no sense. As poet and novelist Evan Connell puts it in his marvelous book of essays, The White Lantern (which also contains an essay on another sort of literary fraud, the Kensington runestone, as referenced in this MetaFilter thread), puts it:

Nobody has been able to explain what went wrong. That is, we know what happened but we cannot account for it. Here was Abbé Brasseur, a man of high intelligence, a bona fide scholar — a man who had spent years in Mexico and Central America studying the Indians — who actually spoke several native languages. In other words, he was thorughly qualified. Yet he failed to perceive that the story unfolding from the Madrid codex was a very odd story indeed. Intuition ought to have told him that something somewhere was dreadfully wrong. Nevertheless he went right on translating.

[Some] have suggested that perhaps he was overwhelmed by the mass of information he had accumulated, or that the complex Indian mythology affected his judgment. Whatever happened, the abbé’s translation of the Tro-Cortesianos — inscribed with a turkey-quill pen and a bottle of homemade reddish brown ink — commences thus:

"The master of the upheaved earth, the master of the calabash, the earth upheaved of the tawny beast…"

Brasseur had invented Mu, a lost kingdom vanished beneath the waves. Mu is not as famous as Atlantis, of course; it may not even compete with Lemuria. Still, it’s got some name recognition; the abbé was helped by Augustus le Plongeon, an archaeologist, and his wife, Alice, author of Queen Moo’s Talisman: The Fall of the Maya Empire.

Le Plongeon’s work in the Yucutan was largely dismissed in his lifetime — perhaps because hidebound historians didn’t believe his claim that Jesus of Nazareth spoke Mayan — but he participated in a number of successful excavations in the Yucután. Not so Colonel James Churchward, an occultist who began cranking out books about Mu, the "mother civilization" in the ‘20s. Indeed, while one would be hard-pressed to find a book of Brasseur’s outside a research library, a number of Churchward’s scholarly books remain in print. And there you have it: money trumps love and glory (and earnest delusion) any day of the week.