The Birth of a God on a Maya Vase Jaguar Baby

A four-sided vase of the Classic Period (Figure 12.16) is very like the Dresden codex in its format, size, combination of glyphic texts with illustrations, and even, in a generic way, content. It is very unlike depictions of codices on Classic Period ceramics, but so is the Dresden codex, and that surely had Classic Period predecessors. In a sense, this vase can be considered the earliest surviving Maya codex, short as it is. The iconography of this vase has been described in detail by

Figure 12.16. A four-sided vase [K5113] of the Classic Period: Sides a, b, c, and d, respectively. Prints copyright Justin Kerr. Reproduced here with permission.

Karl Taube in Kerr (1994), with a somewhat different emphasis than is given here.

DHK suggests that the reading order is as indicated in the caption: a, b, c, d. The most compelling argument for this order is the presence of a two-headed red snake with white diamond markings the body of which extends over sides a, b, and c. On side a, the body of the snake descends from the head, extends along part of the base of side b, turns up, and has been cut apart with blood flowing or spurting from it. On side c, the body is shown at the same height of the vase where it was cut on side b and ascends into a second head.

The principal event of this vase is the birth of a god, shown emerging from the 2nd serpent head. His tremendously projecting lower jaw strongly suggests identity with god M. The birth glyph appears in the text above. In the scene are five old women wearing spindle-whorls in their hair, having deeply lined faces, and pendulous breasts. Four have visible jaguar ears, and the remaining one, whose ears are obscured, has an arm ending in a jaguar paw, as does the one reaching for the "baby." One of the five wears a death headdress. DHK thinks that they represent the five Moon goddesses of the west, but very different from the depictions in Figure 12.13. Another woman is mature and full-breasted, standing on a Chac head, crossed by blood spurting from the cut body of the snake. Very curiously, the nose of the Chac head is a human face in profile. The woman may well be a Full-Moon goddess. The final figure in the main scene is a male with a jaguar ear.

The 4th side shows two additional scenes, which seem to deal with offerings and rituals, possibly associated with birth. To DHK, they seem more likely to be a postscript to the birth scene than a prelude. God M has previously been identified as a planetary deity (see Table 12.7). Two-headed snakes often display planetary bands. All of these associations suggest that the subject matter of this vase is astronomical.

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