Teotihuacan Essay, Research Paper
The Mural of the Feathered Serpent and Flowering Trees
“Teotihuacan” named by the Aztecs five hundred years ago because of their strong respects for the ancient and mysterious ruins near their capital. Teotihuacan stands for “City of the Gods” and has a very unique religion. This became the most powerful state in Mesoamerica, for five hundred years. The piece of art that I have decided to write on is the mural of the feathered serpent and the flowering trees. The collection of this mural began following the death of Harold Wagner in 1976. Wagner was a rather eccentric San Francisco architect who bequeathed his collection of 70 mural fragments to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. This piece has many spiritual meanings and tells a lot about the time in which it was designed.
When the Aztecs first saw Teotihuacan, they were struck by awe at what they found; the monumental ruins of a civilization were long gone. Two huge pyramids: the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon towered over the valley. A broad avenue, fit for giants, linked them and extended toward the horizon called “The Street of the Dead”.
The Aztecs struggled to conceive who could have built on such a colossal scale. They decided it must have been the gods themselves. According to the myth as told by the Aztecs, the gods had built creation four times, only to have it destroyed by fire, flood and hurricane. Four times the sun itself had been formed and then destroyed. Thus it was in darkness that the gods assembled in Teotihuacan to decide which one of them would sacrifice himself in order to become the new sun. A rich and haughty god stepped forward to accept the honor. And when there were no volunteers, a homely little god called Pimples was appointed to become the moon. The gods built a great fire and traditional offerings were made. The wealthy god offered copal incense. Pimples burned the scabs from his sores.
The gods raised up a great hill for each of them. Today these are called the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. And when midnight came on the fourth day, the gods prepared for the sacrifice. The elegant one, the first who had volunteered, was urged to throw himself into the fire. Four times he approached the verge of the flames, which roared up in his face into blistering inferno. And four times his courage failed.
Next was pimples turn. Pimples stepped forward, shut his eyes and leaped into the blaze. Ashamed, the proud god followed suit. And so, because he had been the first to sacrifice himself, Pimples became the sun and brought the dawn. His rays were so bright that they hurt the eyes. And when the proud god rose up too, he was equally magnificent.
This could not be, proclaimed the gods. There couldn’t be two suns. So they sent someone to throw a rabbit in the proud god’s face, to dim his radiance. Which is why, in Aztec lore, the moon has a rabbit in its face.
This, according to the Aztecs, was the fifth and final time the gods created the world. Eventually the Fifth Sun will end in earthquakes and famine. But meanwhile it is carried daily across the sky, from its rising to its highest point overhead by warriors who have died in battle, and from its peak to the western horizon by women who have died in childbirth.
As you can believe the Aztecs were extremely spiritual and believed in following ritual. They believed that the gods were the creators of Teotihuacan, appropriately named for the “City of the Gods”.
One of the most beautiful rooms in Teotihuacan is believed to have been the room of the feathered serpents and flowering plants. Various murals from this room are found in museums all over America and are part of the Wagner collection. My piece of choice the mural of the feathered serpent and flowering trees in extremely well preserved in its condition and color. The majority of the mural is a reddish clay color while the serpent and trees are primarily blue, green and yellow. The roots of the trees are in different patterns as with the branches on the top. There are thirteen flowering trees, which all contain different glyphs or picture symbols within their base. The trunk of each tree contains a different design and is considered be extremely important in increasing our knowledge of the writing language of Teotihuacan. The feathered serpent is colorful and appears to have water flowing from its month down onto the trees. This piece is believed to be frequently associated with fertility.
The mural in it’s entirety was a huge piece of art but had been cut into pieces by looters. The reconstruction of the mural was done to analyze the meaning of the trees and serpent and to determine the meanings of the various glyphs displayed. According to the reconstruction, there were originally four serpents with tress below them. It is believed that the four different murals could have been on four walls of a room with possible two entrances. It is even believed that they could have been on four walls of a large covered porch. It was definitely found that the serpent was originally above the trees.
It is known that the feathered serpent theme is exclusive to Mesoamerican times and goes back Teotihuacan’s Temple of the Feathered Serpent. During later Aztec times, the feathered serpent was called Quetzalcoatl, which was associated with a creator god and with dead rules that lived after Teotihuacan had fell. In Teotihuacan, almost all feathered serpents are associated with water in some way like shells, streams of water and water drops.
The neat part of this mural is the trees below the serpent and their amazing detail. They all have roots in different designs and all the branches have flowering ends. I can tell that there must have been some very specific and spiritual meanings behind the glyphs on the flowering trees. The true meaning behind the designs on the trees have never been determined. The system of pictures definitely shows us that the culture of Teotihuacan was much more complex in it’s writing than had previously believed.
The mural of the Feathered Serpent and Flowering Trees, is obviously had a lot of spiritual meaning to the era in which it was formed. Although there is not a lot we really now about the exact meaning of the glyphs or coloring or design of the piece, it is very evident that it was created with a specific theme in mind. It has a very patterned look to it that was created with a series of colors and shapes to make it look a certain way. The serpent and the water flowing from his mouth could have been representative of his watering of the earth to create a lush and prosperous environment, who really knows. This was a fun project to do because of the trip to the museum and the chance to do some research on such an historic period in Mesoamerica.