Dover Book

Text Box with description of Book

This, and The Codex Nuttall are the two Ancient Mexican Manuscripts published in book form by Dover Publications. As of this writing, The Codex Nuttall is out of print (although that could change because Dover resumes printing of "out of print" books all the time), but The Codex Borgia is still in print as of this writing. They are both available elsewhere (like from Amazon), and are essential to anyone who is exploring the lives and art of Ancient Mexicans, Mayans, Aztecs, etc. (Pre-Columbian Americans).

I first became aware of both of these when I read Myths of Pre-Columbian America, but I had no idea they were available in book form. When I began working on Aztec Designs Coloring Book, and started doing intensive online research to find examples of the original artwork, I was thrilled to see on the cover of this volume one of the pictures I was coloring, (see below), and snatched it up. Even if you are not researching Ancient Mexican art, this codex is simply beautiful and fascinating to look at.

Unlike The Codex Nuttall, this one contains a very long introductory section (over 30 pages), which gives information on the art, and the arduous process of restoring the partially damaged original manuscript, down to finding a couple in Mexico who made traditional paper, (ámatl bark paper), which was used for this project. This, like the Codex Nuttall, was originally a screenfold manuscript, which opens like an accordion, and is read from right to left. In imitation, both of these codices are numbered from back to front. The Codex Borgia is actually two 40-foot ámatl bark sheets, plates 1-38 on one, and 39-76 on the other. They are stored in a hand-carved cedar box. The restoration project took seven years to complete. The Dover edition is the first reproduction available to the public, but it is not an exact copy of the restoration, so it would not be appropriate for serious scholars.

The original Codex Borgia, now at the Apostolic Library of the Vatican is a depiction of gods, religion, and rituals, unlike The Codex Nuttall, which is more genealogical-historical. It is believed to have originated somewhere in the central highlands of Mexico before the Spanish invasion. It somehow managed to end up in Italy, among the possessions of the late Cardinal Borgia when it was discovered. He left it in his will to the Vatican. Ironically, it was the Spanish Catholics invaders of Mexico who were responsible for destroying the wealth of manuscripts that must have existed, in an attempt to wipe out Pagan religious practice.

Just as in early Christianity, it was the Mesoamerican priests who were educated and literate. The Codex Borgia would have been one such book studied and interpreted by priests about religious matters. This required much education, since the religion and deities of these peoples were very complex. The Codex Borgia was probably originally housed in a temple or shrine.

One feature of the Codex Borgia is the tonalpohualli, "the book of the days," referring to the 260-day ritual calendar with twenty images that convey information about the quality of the days. Some of the images are dog, water, house, serpent, death, reed, and flint. Each day sign was also associated with a deity, for instance, Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent was associated with Wind, and Mictlantecuhtli, God of the Underworld, with Dog. For the night hour, he is associated with Serpent. In different calendars, the deities correspond with different signs. It gets very complicated indeed! To quote the introduction: "It was much more than just a list of days: it expressed the relationship between time and space and between both of them and the world of the gods."

The remainder of this excellent introduction categorizes each group of plates, then offers an explanation as to their meaning, or at least what the pictures represent.

Below you will see a picture of Mictlantecuhtli, God of Death (the Underworld) on the left, and Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent/Wind Deity on the right. This is actually a picture I colored from the Aztec Designs Coloring Book. It appears in The Codex Borgia, and on the front cover above. Next to it is Plate 72: The four directions with plumed serpents and deities, found on page 6 of The Codex Borgia. My apologies for the curve, but I didn't want to flatten the book when I photographed it to avoid damage.

My colored picture of Mictlantecuhtli and Quetzalcoatl

Plate 72: The four directions with plumed serpents and deities

The next picture is from Plate 59: Page 2 of the numerological marriage prognostications, found on page 19. The Codex Borgia also contains images that predict the future, in this case, the probability of success in the marriage. The last picture is from Plate 30: Page 2 of the ritual sequence, the second enclosure, found on page 48.

Plate 59: Page 2 of the numerological marriage prognostications

Plate 30: Page 2 of the ritual sequence, the second enclosure


All material on this site copyright © 2013 by Laughing Crow.
This site designed and written by Laughing Crow.