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Karl Taube - Aztec and Maya Myths (1993)

Karl Taube - Aztec and Maya Myths (1993)

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Published by: Norik on Jun 30, 2011
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Acknowledgements
I
am grateful to Dr Stephen Houston of VanderbiltUniversity, Dr Mary Ellen Miller of Yale University andNina Shandloff,Senior Editor of the British Museum Press,for their perceptive comments and suggestions during thepreparation of this book.Iam indebted to Justin Kerr forgenerously providing the cover photograph, and I also wantto give special thanks to the Akademische Druck-undVerlagsanstalt, Graz, for granting permission to publishphotographs from their fine facsimiles of Mesoamericancodices. Dr Iain Mackay of the British Museum providedmuch appreciated assistance with the photographic archiveof the Museum of Mankind.
I
wish particularly to thank andcredit Dr Emily Umberger of the University of Arizona,Tempe, for providing her line drawing of the Aztec CalendarStone, and my late grandmother, Alice Wesche, for herdrawing of the Maya death god ballplayer figurine.The direct quotes from particular colonial texts are drawnfrom the works of Miguel Le6n-Pomlla, Arthur
J.
0.
Anderson and Charles E. Dibble, Dennis Tedlock, Alfred M.Tozzer, Ralph L. Roys, and Munro S. Edmonson. At times,their original text has been altered slightly
in
order to beconsistent with the spelling and punctuation used in thepresent volume. Details of each of these sources are given inthe suggestions for further reading.
I
THE
LEGENDARY PAST
i
Aztec
and
Mava
kARL
TAUBE
Published for theTrustees of the British Museum
by
BRITISH MUSEUM PRESS
 
Introduction
,'
A
though 1492 marked the initial contact between New World peoplesand Renaissance Europe, itwas not until the early sixteenth century thatSpanish explorers first encountered major native civilisations insouthern Mexico and neighbouring Central America. The peoples of this regioninhabited great cities with complex forms of administration and government,employed intricate systems of writing and calendrics, and celebrated refinedpoetry, music, dance and art. Unfortunately, it was not sophisticated culturebut the promise of gold and riches which drew the first Europeans. In 1521 theAztec capital of Tenochtitlan was conquered and looted, and only a minutefraction of its treasures were preserved or recorded for posterity. While inBrussels in
1520,
the German artist Albrecht Diirer examined Aztec materialpreviously sent by Hernin CortCs to King Charles
v:
'All the days of my life
I
have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for
I
have seenamong them beautiful works of art, and
I
marvelled at the subtle intellects ofmen in foreign places.' Although little understood by DGrer, these same worksof art portrayed complex modes of thought no less refined than the objectsthemselves.It is easy to lament the massive destruction of screenfold books, sculptureand other native works at the time of the Spanish conquest, but a far moreprofound cultural loss was the destruction of indigenous customs and beliefs bydeath and disease, slavery and mass conversion. However, although a great dealof the mythology presented in this book derives from those few precious worksnow carefully preserved in major museums and libraries around the world, thisis by no means a description of dead gods of a vanished people; much of themythology survives o this day in the beliefs and speech of the living descendantsof the Aztecs, Maya and other native peoples of Mexico and Central America.The region occupied by the ancient Aztec and Maya, now commonlyreferred to as Mesoamerica, is an area encompassing southern and easternMexico, all of Guatemala, Belize and
El
Salvador, western and southern Hon-duras, and the Pacific side of Central America as far south as the NicoyaPeninsula of Costa Rica. Ancient Mesoamerican peoples shared a series ofcultural traits; among the most striking are two calendars of 260 and 365 daysthat permutate in a great cycle approximating fifty-two years, hieroglyphicwriting, screenfold books and masonry ballcourts with rings. Although thepeoples inhabiting this area were of many distinct cultures, often speakingmutually unintelligible languages, none the less there was widespread contact

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