General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Mar 2019/13 Lizard
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Were women stargazers?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Alicia: Were women responsible for watching the night sky? I ask this because there is a page in the Codex Mendoza where they are showing the training of female and male priests and priestesses and it shows a priestess star gazing but not a priest. Do you have any resources I could possibly use to find out more about this? Thank you!. (Answered/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Aztec (Mexica) priests/astronomers; Codex Mendoza folio 63r (detail)
Aztec (Mexica) priests/astronomers; Codex Mendoza folio 63r (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Sadly, we’ve found no record of women being responsible for stargazing in Aztec times - though this certainly doesn’t mean they weren’t! Mexica women could be priestesses, doctors, teachers, midwives, market managers, scribes, feather workers, matchmakers... But in this case - we think you’re referring to the image above from the Codex Mendoza - scholars all refer to the individuals depicted as priests, not priestesses. Frances Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, in their major study (highly recommended) The Codex Mendoza Vol. II, Description, Bibliography, Index (University of California Press, 1992) write, describing this folio: ‘The third priest is also seated beneath a night sky, which he is studying carefully. The accompanying gloss reads, “Head priest who is looking at the stars in the night sky to ascertain the time for services and duties.” Directly in front of the priest’s gaze - attached to his profile by a tiny dotted line - is an image intended to be either an eye or a star. This conelike shape may be a symbol for star, indicating that the priest was seeking out a constellation.’

Image scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark 1938 facsimile edition of the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford), London.

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