Place of Origin: Department of El Petén, Guatemala, Yaxhá-Holmul-Xultún area
Tripod plate with tall, cylindrical supports. Its interior surface is painted with the image of a Maya lord dancing in front of a bench throne which is decorated with sky signs. The lord peers into a divination mirror which is set atop the bench and leaning against a stack of cloth topped by long, quetzal bird feathers, both of which represent tribute or a gift received by the lord. The black background of the scene may indicate the event is taking place at night or a supernatural location.
The interior wall of the plate are divided into 4 sections by short, vertical, pseudo-glyph texts, each section embellished with a profile saurian head that likely provides locational information for the depicted event.
The exterior wall of the plate is painted with large blood or water scrolls on a black background, which may indicate an underworld or supernatural location for the event.
“Supported on tall rattle feet, the tondo boldly painted with a corpulent lord standing before a large bench throne, looking over his right shoulder with strong arms in a gesture, wearing loincloth, jade necklace and earrings, the headdress of a snouted monster head with thick feather panache at back, the bench laden with tribute including a stack of bound codices, a plumed perforator resting on top, and a mirror propped against them, the rim encircled by four bands each with a profile head of the long-lipped monster, the exterior rim decoratively painted with alternating scroll and mat motifs/ the whole with areas highlighted by pink pigment against the black and orange.” [from Sotheby’s catalogue text]
A ruler’s primary responsibility was to channel supernatural forces through vision quests (journeys to the spiritual realms) in order to affect human affairs. Here, a lord gazes into a divining mirror and dances before a throne embellished with celestial icons. The stack of valuable cloth, quetzal-bird feathers, and rare, spondylus shells on the throne indicate his political and economic success. Vision serpents, conduits to the supernatural realm and conveyors of visions, adorn the plate’s interior.
The majority of information on the pre-Columbian peoples comes from the reports of the Spanish conquest. These accounts must be taken with caution, given that the accusation of sodomy was used to justify the conquest, along with other accusations real or invented, such as human sacrifice, cannibalism, or idolatry.
The first peoples with whom the Spanish came in contact on the American continent were the Mayans, who were tolerant of homosexuality.
For the Mayan aristocracy, at least, pubescent homosexuality was preferable to premarital heterosexuality. Parents would provide their sons with male slaves to satisfy their sexual needs, while premarital heterosexual encounters were discouraged. Adult homosexuality was also condoned, and the Maya were known to hold large private sexual parties which included homosexuality.
The Aztecs on the other hand were not surprisingly puritanical and although they celebrated public rituals with remnants of erotic content, they were perhaps more ruthless than the Spanish even, in suppressing private vice.
Aztecs placed a high premium on “manly”, “assertive” behavior, and a corresponding stigma on “submissive” behavior. When conquered people were not sacrificed on temple altars, the males of conquered nations were often demoted to the status of women. The penalties for male homosexual intercourse were severe. Mexica law punished sodomy with the gallows, impalement for the active homosexual, extraction of the entrails through the anal orifice for the passive homosexual, and death by garrote for the lesbians. In Tenochtitlan, they hanged homosexuals. In nearby Texcoco, the active partner was “bound to a stake, completely covered with ashes and so left to die; the entrails of the passive agent were drawn out through his anus, he was then covered with ashes, and wood being added, the pile was ignited.
The existence of lesbianism is testified to by the Nahuatl word "patlacheh”, which designates a woman who carries out masculine activities, including the penetration of other women, as revealed in the General history of the matters of New Spain by Bernardino de Sahagún.
In spite of the puritanism of the Mexica, the sexual customs of the people conquered by the Aztec Empire varied to a great extent. For example, Bernal Díaz del Castillo speaks of homosexuality among the ruling classes, prostitution of young people, and cross-dressing in the area of Veracruz. The yauyos had prostitution houses full of men with painted faces and women’s clothing.
There was a general tolerance of homosexuality and transgenderism among Ancient Mesoamerica, but this harmony was disrupted by Christian conquerors, who forced their ways upon the indigenous peoples, turning homosexuality from a celebrated status to one of shame and death.
Excavations at the ancient Maya city of Holmul, Petén, have led to the discovery of a building decorated with an intricately
carved and painted plaster frieze. The iconography of the frieze portrays seated lords, mountain spirits, feathered serpents,
and gods of the underworld engaged in the apparent rebirth of rulers as sun gods. Large emblems carved on the side of the
building identify the structure as a shrine for ancestor veneration. A dedicatory text carved along the bottom of the frieze
contains a king list and references to the political and familial ties of the ruler who commissioned the temple. Together, the
iconography and text of this structure provide evidence of function and meaning. They also shed new light on a century
during Classic Maya history known asthe Tikal “Hiatus,” for which a limited number of texts are available. The information
derived from this monument also broadens our understanding of the nature of hegemonic relationships among Classic Maya
This was a very good read in this summer’s Latin American Antiquity. I hope you will take the time to read it over.
So I missed my 1,000th follower because I haven’t been very good about checking my notifications. Anyway, to all my lovely Lucaya (or perhaps even non-Lucaya) followers, I just want to say thank you all so much!
I love you all for being with me through the good times and the bad (especially now). And here’s a picture from me to you to remind you all what loving someone else really means…