Christian Prager, Mayan hieroglyphic manuscript Dresden Codex

Dresden Codex, page 56, Calculations of the Venus positions

Dresden Codex, page 56, Calculations of the Venus positions

I will focus on the so-called Dresden Maya codex. It is the most elaborate Maya hieroglyphic manuscript dating back to the 13th century and conserved in the Dresden State and University Library. In the course of the conquest, settlement and missionization of the Yucatan peninsula, Spanish clergy destroyed hundreds of Maya codices to extinguish the cultural memory. Only four manuscripts from the north of Yucatan, dating between the 11th and 16th centuries, were spared and are now in museums and libraries in Dresden (D), Madrid (M), Paris (P) and Mexico City (MS). According to today’s state of knowledge, the following topics can be found there: Ritual and divination calendars for the determination of favourable and unfavourable days (D,M,P), calculations for the circulation of planets (D,MS), lunar and solar eclipses (D), ceremonies at the turn of the year (D, M), climate and weather tables (D), prophecies (D,P), cosmogonies (D, P), zodiacs (P), Sections: the work and whereabouts of the gods (D, M, P), instructions for making, dressing and worshipping statues of the gods (M), Milpa economy (M), hunting rituals (M), making fire (D, M), apiculture (M) and instructions for preparing food and offerings (D, M, P).

The Dresden Codex is a leporello-folded books composed of 39 leaves, inscribed and painted with figurative scenes on both sides, with a length of 3.56 metres. It exact place of origin is unknown, most likely from Northern Yucatán and it was painted by six different scribes. The writing material is amate paper, made of the outer bark from the ficus trees. In order to be able to write and paint on it, the paper is coated with a thin layer of lime. The Dresden Codex contains ritual and divination calendars, instructions for new-year ceremonies, calculations of the Venus phases, sun and moon eclipses, and large chapters on the Rain God Chaak.