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Reading Mesoamerican Pictorial Codices Cynthia L. Stone, 2008.

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1 Reading Mesoamerican Pictorial Codices Cynthia L. Stone, 2008

2 Primary sources Borgia Codex Housed in the Vatican Library, Vatican City Strip of amate paper folded into 39 sheets, 27 X 26.5 cm Pre-Hispanic, Late Post-classic period (13 th -14 th century) Mixtec-Puebla style Relación de Michoacán Housed in the Royal Library of the Escorial, outside Madrid Codex of European paper arranged in 277 folios, 20 X 15 cm Post-Spanish conquest (circa ) Compiler and translator from Purépecha into Castilian: Fray Jerónimo de Alcalá, OFM Indigenous collaborators: –A former high-priest (petámuti) provided an account of the arrival in Michoacán and rise to power of the ancestors of the ruler (cazonci) at the time of the Spanish conquest –The governor (angátacuri) of the city of Tzintzuntzan, Don Pedro Cuiníarángari, provided an account of the Spanish conquest of Michoacán –Several other elders (curáecha) provided additional oral testimonies –Several scribe-painters (caracha) provided forty-four colored pen and ink drawings

3 Words and Images Alphabetic versus pictographic writing Differ in the degree to which they privilege words (made up of phonemes) as opposed to images (made up of graphemes) Although the Latin alphabet consists of letters (graphemes), these are designed to reproduce verbatim units of language (phonemes) Mesoamerican scripts combine more or less abstract glyphs with pictographic scenes, some of which are designed to reproduce verbatim units of language, but which can also be “read” independently of their linguistic component While the Western European tradition tends to draw a sharp distinction between writing and painting and, by extension, literature and the visual arts, the Mesoamerican tradition does not. Thus, there is no separate word for “scribe” and “painter” in languages such as Nahuatl and Purépecha. Rather, the same individual, the scribe-painter (tlatoani, carari), is responsible for recording important information in pictographic books or codices

4 Cosmology as the link between words and images Equivalence between cosmography, spatiotemporal organization, and grammar One can begin to “read” the pictorial components of Mesoamerican codices once one understands the variable meanings assigned to spatial position in Mesoamerican cosmography (in much the same way that one can begin to read an alphabetic text once one understands the grammar of the language in which it is written) In a 1585 littera annua from the Jesuit missionary Francisco Ramírez to his superiors in Castile, he describes how the peoples of Michoacán believed that the creation of all things emanated from the womb of a goddess positioned face-down “with her head pointed west and her feet pointed east, one arm to the north and the other to the south. And the god of the sea held her by the head and the mother of the gods by the feet and another two goddesses, one by one arm and one by the other, so she would not fall” North (right hand) South (left hand) RM, fig. 33

5 Cosmology as the link between words and images Equivalence between mythology, iconography, and vocabulary One can progress to “reading” the iconographic elements of Mesoamerican pictorial codices once one understands the relationship between key icons and the gods and heroes of Mesoamerican mythology (in much the same way one can progress in the reading of an alphabetic text once one understands enough key vocabulary) Top left: The lunar goddess Xarátanga is sustained by the hearts of valiant women who are sacrificed in her temples Bottom left: The solar god Curícaueri is sustained by the hearts of valiant men who are sacrificed in his temples Top right: The god of the underworld is sustained by the sacrifice of a wrongdoer whose body is dragged to an empty field Bottom right: The earth goddess is sustained by the commoners who are bound to her service

6 What’s with all the blood and sacrifice? Answers to basic human questions –What is our place in the cosmos? –Why do suffering and death exist? –How can we contribute to the continuation of life on earth? Mesoamerican pictorial codices as guides to understanding the hidden relationships between things (correspondence between cycles of birth and death and cycles of light and darkness) Cycles of birth and death – 260-day count that charts the various permutations of vital energies associated with all possible combinations of 13 numbers and 20 daysigns Cycles of light and darkness –365-day solar cycle (consisting of 18 months of 20 days each, plus a 19 th month of 5 days) 52 solar cycles = 73 birth cycles –29.5-day lunar cycle (consisting of 9 periods of unequal length corresponding to the new moon, crescent moon, 1 st quarter moon, waxing gibbous moon, full moon, waning gibbous moon, 2 nd quarter moon, crescent moon, new moon) 235 lunar cycles = 19 solar cycles –584-day Venus cycle (consisting of 4 periods of unequal length corresponding to appearance of Venus as morning star, the disappearance of Venus as morning star, the appearance of Venus as evening star, the disappearance of Venus as evening star) 5 Venus cycles = 8 solar cycles

7 Human family Kinship relations (social functions) Analogies with plant and mineral kingdoms The “heart” or essence of matter Analogies with animal kingdom The external soul or animal double of matter Analogies with heavenly bodies The “head” of matter as source of vital energies whose rays are like arrows that “pierce” various parts of the body Analogies with cosmography The “houses” or stations of matter Ancestors (founders of the major ethnicities) NOBILITY: The condition of possibility for both life and light. Plant kingdom: teocintli or primitive corn. Mineral kingdom: turquoise, obsidian, granite, basalt Butterfly (spirit double of flames) Vulture (spirit double of those of advanced age) Deities: Lords of fire and the hearth, Ancient ones (associated icons: fire serpents) Body parts: navel, womb The “house” of the center, the tree of life, the place of seven caves Grandparents (first humans, diviners, healers, daykeepers) CREATIVITY: Originators of the principle of dynamic equilibrium. Together they form the divine duality that underlies the cycles of life and light. Plant kingdom: the elote or kernel of corn used as basis for new harvest as well as for divination. Mineral kingdom: flint as condition of possibility for fire Coyote and peccary (spirit doubles of matchmakers) Opossum and coati (spirit doubles of midwives) Caiman or fish-reptile (spirit double of the sky-earth) Deities: Lords of duality, Lords of sustenance (associated icons: bone piercing tool, calendar) Body parts: organs of knowledge and judgment (eye as organ of reasoning, nose as organ of truth and morality, ear as organ of counsel and understanding) The place of duality (home of the numeral two), the place of origin (home of the broken tree) Lovers (first couple, fertile ones, patrons of the arts) PRODUCTIVITY: Those who engender life and light. Plant kingdom: the flower, the seed, the jilote or unripe ear of corn, the maguey plant. Mineral kingdom: jade Lizard (spirit double of rain)Deities: Rain god, Goddess of flowing waters, Gods of springtime (associated icons: cloud serpents, rain stick or rattle) Body parts: sexual organs and their by-products, skin, hair, nails The bath “house” (sweatlodge) Parents: mother and mother’s sister, father and father’s brother (those who teach by example, those who rule over us) LEADERSHIP: Those who nurture life, who light the way for their children. Plant kingdom: the mazorca or mature ear of corn, pulque. Mineral kingdom: gold as “excrement” of the sun, silver as “excrement” of the moon Eagle (spirit double of the sun), hummingbird (spirit double of the valiant warrior), snake (spirit double of the earth), rabbit (spirit double of the moon) Deities: Solar gods, lunar gods, earth gods Parts of the body: head The cardinal directions (home of the year bearers): The “house” of the rising sun, the “house” of the midday sun, the “house” of the setting sun, the “house of the midnight sun) ChildrenACTIVITY: Those in whom life and light unfold in manifest ways. Plant kingdom: amaranth Deer (spirit double of Venus as morning star), dog (spirit double of Venus as evening star) Deities: Venus deities (associated icons: wind instruments, speech scroll) Parts of the body: breath The horizon or heart of the sea and sky (home of the plumed serpent) Analogies between cycles of human life and other cycles (key iconographic symbols in bold)

8 Parents of the day LEADERSHIP: Those who nurture life, who light the way for their children. Plant kingdom: the mazorca or mature ear of corn, pulque. Mineral kingdom: gold as “excrement” of the sun, silver as “excrement” of the moon Eagle (spirit double of the sun), hummingbird (spirit double of the valiant warrior), snake (spirit double of the earth), rabbit (spirit double of the moon) Deities: Solar gods, lunar gods, earth gods (associated icons: …) Body parts: Head The cardinal directions (home of the year bearers): The “house” of the rising sun, the “house” of the midday sun, the “house” of the setting sun, the “house of the midnight sun) Children of the sun ACTIVITY: Those in whom life and light unfold in manifest ways. Plant kingdom: amaranth Deer (spirit double of the morning star as hunter of the day), dog (spirit double of the evening star) Deities: Venus deities (associated icons: wind instruments, speech scroll) Body parts: Breath The horizon (home of the plumed serpent) SiblingsThe companions, those who form the entourage for the unfolding of life and light Monkey (spirit double of the elder brothers) Deities: Pleyades, Mars gods (associated icons: numeral 400) Body parts: Extremities, right-hand side, left-hand side Children of the night ACTIVITY: Those in whom life and light unfold in hidden and invisible ways. Plant kingdom: hallucinogenic plants Jaguar (spirit double of the nighttime hunter) Deities: gods associated with magic and sorcery (associated icons: mirror) Parents of the night LEADERSHIP: Those who nurture life after death, who light the way through the underworld Macaw (spirit double of the Big Dipper) Deities: Lords of the underworld (associated icons: skull, skeleton) Analogies between cycles of human life and other cycles, cont. (key iconographic symbols in bold)

9 Humans Kinship relations (social functions) Analogies with plant and mineral kingdoms The “heart” or essence of matter: teyolia Analogies with animal kingdom The external soul or animal double of matter: nahualli Analogies with heavenly bodies The “head” of matter as source of vital energies: tonalli, tonamitl Analogies with cosmography The “houses” or stations of matter: calli Ancestors (founders of the major ethnicities) The condition of possibility for both life and light: teocintli, teoxihuitl, itztli, tepetl papalotl cozcacuauhtli Deities: Xiuhtecuhtli, Huehueteotl Body parts: xictli, notepixcatl The “house” of the center: Xochicuahuitl, Chicomoztoc Grandparents (first humans, diviners, healers, daykeepers) CREATIVITY: Originators of the principle of dynamic equilibrium. Together they form the divine duality that underlies the cycles of life and light : elotl, tecpatl coyotl, coyametl tlacuache, pizotl cipactli Deities: Ometeotl, Tonacateotl, Ozomoco, Cipactonal (tonalpohualli) Body parts: ixtelotl, yacatl, nacaztli Omeyocan, Tamoanchan Lovers (first couple, fertile ones, patrons of the arts) PRODUCTIVITY: Those who engender life and light: xochitl, achtli, jilotl, metl, chalchihuitl cuetzpalinDeities: Tlaloc, Chalchihuitlicue, Xipe Totec, Xilonen, Mayahuel, Mixcoatl Body parts: tepolli, tepolayotl, nenetl, cuetlaxtli, tzontli, iztetl Temazcalli Parents: mother and mother’s sister, father and father’s brother (those who teach by example, those who rule over us) LEADERSHIP: Those who nurture life, who light the way for their children: centeotl, octli, teocuicatl cuauhtli, huitzilin, coatl, tochtliDeities: Tonatiuh, Huitzilopochtli, Nanahuatzin, Metztli, Coyolxauqui, Tecciztecatl, Coatlicue Body parts: cuaitl The cardinal directions (year bearers): The “house” of the rising sun, the “house” of the midday sun, the “house” of the setting sun, the “house of the midnight sun) ChildrenACTIVITY: Those in whom life and light unfold in manifest ways: huautli mazatl itzcuintli Deities: Quetzalcoatl, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Xolotl, Ehecatl Body parts: ihyotl The horizon (home of Quetzalcoatl) Analogies between cycles of life on earth and in the heavens (with key terms in Náhuatl)

10 Humans Kinship relations (social functions) Analogies with plant and mineral kingdoms The “heart” or essence of matter: mintzita Analogies with animal kingdom The external soul or animal double of matter Analogies with heavenly bodies The “head” of matter as source of vital energies: zuanda Analogies with cosmography The “houses” or stations of matter Ancestors (founders of the major ethnicities) The condition of possibility for both life and light Deities: Curícaueri, Querenda Angápeti?, Taras? Body parts: The “house” of the center Grandparents (first humans, diviners, healers, daykeepers) CREATIVITY: Originators of the principle of dynamic equilibrium. Together they form the divine duality that underlies the cycles of life and light Deities: Tucupachá? Body parts: Lovers (first couple, fertile ones, patrons of the arts) PRODUCTIVITY: Those who engender life and light: Deities: Body parts: Parents: mother and mother’s sister, father and father’s brother (those who teach by example, those who rule over us) LEADERSHIP: Those who nurture life, who light the way for their children: Deities: Xarátanga, Cuerauáperi, Tirípemencha Body parts: The four parts of the world: Tambengarani ChildrenACTIVITY: Those in whom life and light unfold in manifest ways: uitzumeDeities: Curita caheri, Manóuapa, Sirata táperi Body parts: The fifth heaven Siblings (the companions)ACCOMPANIMENT: those who form the entourage for the unfolding of life and light Deities: Firstborn gods, Uirámbanecha Body parts: the right-hand side, the left-hand side Analogies between cycles of life on earth and in the heavens (with key terms in Purépecha)

11 When are arrows just arrows and when are they something more? “[Taríacuri] untied the bundle and took one of the arrows in his hands and offered it to [the messengers from the town of Curínguaro], saying: ‘Behold this arrow, how green it is. These [green] ones are named Técoecha xunganda; these are the [precious] green feathers the Lords of Curíguaro have asked me for [as tribute]’. Then he showed them another arrow and said: ‘these [blue ones] are the [aforementioned] turquoise necklaces. And these [arrows] with white plumes are the silver they are requesting; and [the others] with golden feathers are the gold, while these red feathers are [valuable] headdresses” (RM pt. 2, ch. 19) RM, fig. 11

12 Principal gods of Michoacán Earth goddess Cueráuaperi: “She who unties in the womb” From the P’urhépecha root cuerá-, meaning “desatar,” “crear” (Gilberti); also, “librar,” absolver” (Lagunas), “desanudar” (DG) Verbs derived from this root suggest various processes, including: unbinding (which, in turn, calls to mind its opposite, unbinding), creating/destroying, discharging/contracting (as in an obligation, absolving/condemning, knoting/unknoting Solar god Curícaueri: “He who engenders fire from within” From the P’urhépecha root curhí-, meaning “atizar, engendrar,” “componer la lumbre” (Gilberti); also, “encender, quemar” (Lagunas), “chamuscar” (DG) Verbs derived from this root suggest various processes, including: stoking (which, in turn, calls to mind its opposite, snuffing out), generating/concluding, lighting/extinguishing, burning/freezing, scorching/chilling Lunar goddess Xarátanga: “She who reveals herself in various guises” From the P’urhépecha root xarhá-, meaning “[a]parecer” or “manifestar,” “revelar” or ” mostrar” or “asomar,” “publicar” “descubrir,” ”deleytar” (Gilberti) Verbs derived from this root suggest various processes, including: appearing (which, in turn, calls to mind its opposite, disappearing), revealing/hiding, publishing/keeping secret, covering/uncovering, delighting/disliking

13 The Earth Goddess (Cueráuaperi) “She who unties in the womb” -ua = womb, -pe = to be born, to untie, -ri = she who “they uprooted their storage houses and dwellings and tore off their loincloths and lip plugs, and they pushed and shoved them [from their villages]” (RM pt. 2, ch. 14) Present through such acts as unbinding clothes, untying braids, unthatching roofs, etc., as well as in all manner of creative and destructive acts RM, fig. 7

14 Cueráuaperi (cont.) Present through the binding and unbinding captives and prisoners "And they brought all the delinquents into the patio, some with their hands tied behind, others with their heads tied with reeds. And if once or twice they were found to have committed a particular crime, [the high priest] would pardon them and hand them over to their relatives. But if they had committed them four times, they were condemned to death (RM pt. 2, ch. 1) Fig. 2 Fig 33 "And they took all those peoples who had fled their villages and captured them. Also, they entered into the houses and took captive all the women and children and old folks... And they would [not sacrifice the young ones, but rather] keep them for their service, to till their fields" (RM pt. 2, ch. 5)

15 Present through the generating of light and heat… The Solar God (Curícaueri) “He who engenders fire from within curhí- = to engender, to light, etc.; -ca = nominal case; -eueri = possessive Fig. 41 …from the sun …from the burning of tobacco… …from bonfires …from ritual cremations …and incense Fig. 31 Fig. 2 Fig. 4 Fig. 36

16 Present in the form of a shaft of obsidian Curícaueri (cont.) "I have decided to give you this obsidian knife, which is a part of Curícaueri, which you are to keep it with you [at all times]“ (RM pt. 2, ch. 25) RM, fig. 17

17 The Lunar Goddess (Xarátanga) “She who reveals herself in various guises” xarhá- = to reveal; -ta = various; -nga = reflexive Present in the proliferation and cleansing of filth and moral transgressions, especially those of a sexual nature (by analogy with the Náhuatl goddess Tlazoltéotl) "The woman would sweep her house and a goodly portion of the road in front of the house... For this was a kind of prayer she would offer in hopes of being a good wife“ (RM pt. 3, ch. 13) Fig. 38 Fig. 9 "they began to fondle her.. And since they were all blackened with soot, her face and clothing became besmirched” (RM pt. 2, ch. 16)

18 All the gods Present through the giving and receiving of offerings “…firewood... for the temples of [our] mother Cueráuaperi and for the celestial creator gods; also, for the gods of the four parts of the world, the gods of the right-hand and left-hand sides, and all the other gods“ (RM pt. 3, ch. 18) Fig. 38 “…textiles and cotton from the tropical lowlands, copper axes and woven mats for carrying things, agricultural produce,... Bows [and arrows].. and each according to their circumstances” (RM pt. 3, ch. 18) Fig. 41

19 After the conquest… Fig. 42 "Those of you who are first-born gods and those of the left- hand side, [you must] shatter the vessels of food and drink;...[you are to] bring no more offerings. For so it is to be from this day forward” (RM pt. 4, ch. 1)


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