Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fasting Coyote

Sorry, Wile E. Coyote, I think you're in the wrong post. This is indeed about a certain "Fasting Coyote", but it's somebody else. In the meantime, go chase after the Roadrunner.

Anyway, I've been puzzled for quite some time by the name glyphs of Nezahualcoyotl and Nezahualpilli, successive kings of the city of Texcoco in 15th and 16th century Central Mexico. Their names literally mean "Fasting Coyote" and "Fasting Prince" in Nahuatl, respectively. Their name glyphs do contain logograms for coyotl "coyote" and pilli "prince". The common part of their name, nezahual is derived from the verb zahua, meaning "to fast". However, I couldn't say what is the glyph for zahua. It looks like a colorful vertical band, topped by two or more vertical colorful bars. In fact at one point I called it "inverted rainbow Π" (as in the Greek letter pi).

In the case of Nezahualpilli, the band is actually bent, like a road around a corner. This proves to be important.

My next step was visiting various Nahuatl dictionary. My usual suspects are AULEX Diccionario náhuatl - español and Nahuatl Dictionary at University of Oregon. I was able to confirm the meaning of zahua as "to fast" but not much else until I did the reverse search in English and discovered the word for "fast", moçaua. In the 16th century Spanish orthography was transitory. Sometimes they used ç instead of z, and also h was becoming silent, thus the inconsistent use of it. Therefore moçaua is really mozahua, which contains the zahua root again.

However, more important was that the entry for moçaua contains a small little picture for a fasting enclosure from Codex Borgia. It looks like this:

The rounded rectangle is presumably the enclosure. While not as colorful, it looks like the zahua glyphs. In fact the version in Nezahualpilli captures the rounded corner of the full structure. I am not really sure about the actual function of this fasting enclosure in context to Aztec rituals and ceremonies, as it's difficult to find more information online. However, at least I think I've figured what the "inverted rainbow Π" is. It is a part of the enclosure that represents the entire structure.