maya codices

Codex Dresden p. 60

The Codex Dresden / Dresdensis is one of only three surviving Maya manuscripts which date to before the Spanish conquest, likely between the 12th and 15th centuries. The codex depicts the religious beliefs of the Maya people and is written in a complex logosyllabographic script. 

The top image of this page depicts Pawhatun, wearing a tortoise shell, with two warriors wielding atlatls and darts. They are located on top of a platform containing a deer and a “hok-snared” glyph collocation. 

The accompanying text reads:

?? / / waxak-?-waj / ol / / ?-ha / / pa-wah-mak / / u-kab’-hi-tz’a-tan / ta / / tu-b’a-chaak? / cha-ki

On ? 8 Kumk’u Pawah-mak ?? under the auspices of ?? Chaak.

b’olon-ok-te’ / / ?? / / yah?-winik / winal-ki / / xul?-k’in-? / / tok’-pakal / / pa-wah-och

B’olon Yokte’ ? Damage to the people; end of days. Pawah-opossum’s flint-shield (warfare). 

The bottom image depicts a figure with a black stripe kneeling and supporting a throne on his shoulders. A figure rides the throne holding a spear and shield, accompanied by a fire serpent. The spear and shield designates this figure as a warrior and is read phonetically as tok’ pakal. The deity Xiuhtecuhtli stands next to this warrior, holding a spear tired to a captive with a dark black ring around his eye. 

The accompanying text reads: 

buluk-ahaw-ahaw-wa / / lahun-yax-k’in-ni / ne / / tzutz-yi / k’atun

The k’atun was completed on 10 Yaxk’in 11 Ahaw.

ah?-kimil-la / / yu-tun / ku’la’kab’ / nal? / ch’en?

The dead person; the shaking of the earth cave.

u-yax-k’’in-yu / / b’olon-ok-te’ / / ahaw-su-wa / / ya-ahaw-su

The first sun/day of the lord of Bolon Yokte’

yah?-winik / winal-ki / / yah?-kab’-ch’en?

Damage to the people, damage to the earth cave. 

Wanna get pissed off?

Wikipedia’s List of destroyed libraries

Like Alexandria gets all the press but there are so many that are so much more devastating and more complete and more ruinous to human history and art and science.

For instance:

  • The Burning of Al-Hakam II’s library in 976
    • The library of an openly gay Caliph that housed the work of hundreds of women scientists who have basically all been written off as scribes and secretaries. Al-Hakam II was a huge patron of the sciences, and ultimately that patronage is what got his library destroyed by a petulant young Almanzor.
  • Nalanda, sacked in 1193
    • Nalanda was  a Buddhist university in Northern India. Most of what historians know about it comes from the writings of traveling monks, who unanimously describe it as a sprawling, brilliant place of learning. Thousands of students studied there, and its library held hundreds of thousands of books. It was not in its hey day when burned, but none the less untold volumes of rare and unique work were lost.
  • Imperial Library of Constantinople (1204-1453)
    • The Imperial Library had a bad break. From the Fourth Crusade on anyone and everyone who sacked Constantinople took a shot at burning the library. It was highly selective in the works in kept, and as a result excluded a lot of works known of only in name. In effect all ancient Greek scholarship not translated and kept in the Middle East, Northern Africa or Iberia was lost.
  • The House of Wisdom (1258)
    • Fuck the Mongols. Engineering, Architecture, Smelting, History, Greek and Roman literature, Arabic Literature, Astronomy, Chemistry, Biology, all texts were destroyed. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi saved 400,000 manuscripts, and even then there were enough manuscripts left to turn the Tigris black with ink. The destruction of the House of Wisdom, and other libraries like it, saw a major decline in scholarship in the Abbasid Empire.
  • Maya codices of the Yucatán (1562)
    • We don’t even know what they said. Historians figure they probably recorded matters of history and faith, but we really don’t know. The Conquistadors didn’t ask. Bishop Diego de Landa wrote of burning the codices “We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.”

So next time someone says “Well the destruction of the library of Alexandria suppressed human knowledge so much” first ask them “Which time, cause it burnt like a sonofabitch” and then tell them many, many, worse ones.

Pages on eclipse prediction, mathematics, and floods (right-hand page) from the Dresden Codex, dating to the 1200s CE. The Codex is widely considered to be the oldest book from the Americas. Only a few Maya codices remain in existence – most were burned by the Spanish in an attempt to destroy non-Christian religious ideas. The Dresden Codex – one of four in existence – itself was almost destroyed during the Second World War during the allied bombing of the city.

“A X O L O T L! MY TIME HAS COME TO BURN, I INVOKE THE ANCIENT POWERS THAT I MAY RETURN!”

A X O L O T L - “water-dog”, Nahuatl -  “An important figure within the rituals surrounding the god Quetzalcoatl is Xolotl (Nanahuatzin), his twin brother, a peculiar god in the form of a dog, identifiable by the many wrinkles on the sacred canine, and the two rectangular protuberances on its head, relating it with the heavenly fire.

In Aztec mythology, Xolotl was the god with associations to fire, lightning, and death. […] He was commonly depicted as a monstrous dog. He was also god of twins, monsters, misfortune, sickness, and deformities. Xolotl is the canine brother and twin of Quetzalcoatl, the pair being sons of the virgin Coatlicue. He is the dark personification of Venus, the evening star, and was associated heavenly fire.  

He is the sinister god of monstrosities…Xolotl is a master transformer. In art, Xolotl was typically depicted as a dog-headed man, a skeleton, or a deformed monster with reversed feet. He is pictured with a knife in his mouth, a symbol of death. He is sometimes depicted carrying a torch in the surviving Maya codices, which may reference the Maya tradition that the dog brought fire to mankind.

Mesoamericans viewed twins as unnatural monstrosities, and consequently, commonly killed one of the two twins shortly after birth. One historian speculates that Xolotl represents the murdered twin, who dwells in the darkness of Mictlan, while Quetzalcoatl (“The Precious Twin”) represents the surviving twin who dwells in the light of the sun.

Xolotl would guide the dead on their journey to Mictlan, the afterlife, in myths. His two spirit animal forms are the Xoloitzcuintli dog (Mexican Hairless Dog), and the water salamander species known as the Axolotl.

Xolotl was the patron of the Mesoamerican ballgame.

Dog Folklore (Mesoamerican)

Dogs importantly take part in Mesoamerican folklore and mythology since ancient times. A common belief across the Mesoamerican region is that a dog carries the newly deceased across a body of water in the afterlife.

Mayan

Maya burials from the Classic Period are frequently found with associated animal remains, often dogs. For example, in the ruins of the Classic Maya city of Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala, a dog was found interred with a sitting skeleton, along with grave goods offered to the deceased. The frequent finds of dog skeletons in Classic Maya burials confirms that the belief that dogs guided the souls of the departed on their journey into the underworld already existed at this time.

The dog is sometimes depicted carrying a torch in the surviving Maya codices, which may be a reference to the Maya tradition that the dog brought fire to mankind.

Aztec

Dogs were associated with Xolotl, the god of lightening and death.  Xoloitzcuintle is a canine breed endemic to Central America dating back to Pre-Colombian times. The name Xoloitzcuintle references Xolotl because, mythologically, one of this dog's missions was to accompany the dead in their journey into eternity. In spite of this prominent place in the mythology, the meat of the Xoloitzcuintle was very much part of the diet of some ancient peoples of the region.

In Aztec folklore, the Ahuizotl is a dog-like water monster with a hand on the end of its coiled tail. It was said to dwell underwater near river banks and would drag the unwary to a watery death. The victim’s soul would be carried off to Tlalocan, one of the three Aztec paradises. 

Modern Folklore

  • Across much of Mexico,evil sorcerers are believed to be able to transform themselves into a black dog in order to prey upon the livestock of their neighbours. In the states of central Mexico (such as Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz) such a sorcerer is known as a nahual, in the Yucutan Peninsula it is known as Huay Chivo. 
  • Another supernatural dog in the folklore of Yucatan is the huay pek (witch-dog in Yucatec Maya), an enormous black phantom dog that attacks anybody that it meets and is said to be an incarnation of the Kakasbal, an evil spirit.
  • A legend from Tlaxcala tells how some hunters saw an enormous black dog one night and decided to capture and keep it. It fled at their approach, so one hunter shot at it, wounding it in one leg. Following the blood trail they came to a richly furnished peasant hut, whose owner was tending a wound in his leg. They gave up the chase and headed for the nearest village, where the locals told them that the peasant had been a nahual who could transform into a dog to steal riches.

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Maya Codices - There are three maya codices that have been preserved and are unanimously believed to be legitimate, the Dresden Codices, the Paris Codices and the Madrid Codices (all named after the cities where they were held). There is a fourth codices called the Grolier Codices that some do not believe to be legitimate.

The Museum hosts six other pre-hispanic codices that are not attributed to the Maya. They mostly list conquests and family genealogy.