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‘The Origin of Sea Water’, Florentine Codex Book XI

The Sea - ‘water which reaches the heavens’

For the Aztecs ‘the surface of the earth (tlaltícpac) is a great disk situated in the centre of the universe and extending horizontally and vertically. Encircling the earth like a ring is an immense body of water (téo-atl), which makes the world cem-á-nahuac, “that-which-is-entirely-surrounded-by-water”... (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: ‘Teo-atl’ the Sea, Florentine Codex Book XI
Pic 1: ‘Teo-atl’ the Sea, Florentine Codex Book XI (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Neither the land nor the great ring of water is considered to be amorphous [shapeless]... for the universe is divided into four great quadrants [quarters] of space whose common point of departure is the navel of the earth. From this point the four quadrants extend all the way out to the meeting place, on the horizon, of the heavens and the surrounding celestial water (Ilhúica-atl).’ (1)

According to Book XI of the Florentine Codex ‘The people of old, the people here of New Spain, thought and took as truth that the heavens were just like a house; it stood resting in every direction, and it extended reaching to the water. It was as if the water walls were joined to it. And hence they called it “water which reaches the heavens”, because it stretched extending to the heavens...

Pic 2: Tenochtitlan and surrounding mountains; illustration by Alberto Beltrán
Pic 2: Tenochtitlan and surrounding mountains; illustration by Alberto Beltrán (Click on image to enlarge)

‘And they said that the mountains were only magic places, with earth, with rock on the surface; that they were only like ollas [large pots] or like houses; that they were filled with the water that was there. If sometime it were necessary, the mountains would dissolve; the whole world would flood. And hence the people called their settlements atlepetl. They said, “This mountain of water, this river, springs from there, the womb of the mountain...”’ (2)

Temple pyramids, apart from being sanctuaries in which key rituals took place and burial sites for important people, represented ‘the sacred mountains where the spirits of the ancestors of the Aztecs lived’. They ‘symbolized the concept of altepetl and as such were “the mountains filled with water”, the heart of society...’ (3)

Pic 3: The sacred valley of Mexico, painting by unknown artist
Pic 3: The sacred valley of Mexico, painting by unknown artist (Click on image to enlarge)

The Mexica (Aztecs) called their homeland Anahuac or more accurately Cemanahuac or ‘whole world’. Some scholars believe that these words derive from an older word Anahuatl, the name for a chest ornament worn in particular by Tezcatlipoca (‘Smoking Mirror’) which symbolically represents (the earth as) a mirror surface.

Quotes/info from:-
• (1) Aztec Thought and Culture by Miguel León-Portilla, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1963
• (2) Florentine Codex Book XI, trans. Charles E. Dibble & Arthur J.O. Anderseon, University of Utah, 1963
• (3) The Aztec Arrangement by Rudolph van Zantwijk, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1985

Images: main & pic 1 scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro facsimile edition of the Florentine Codex, Madrid, 1994
• Illustration by Alberto Beltrán scanned from The Sun Kingdom of the Aztecs by Victor W. von Hagen (1960)
• Photo of painting by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

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