Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ah Tzul Ahaw

Image of Venus created with a computer. NASA/JPL.

Ah Tzul Ahaw is a phrase used as a name for a god or a monster connected to Venus as well as several other things. It may also be a title. (You may see the name spelled without the "ah," or as tsul ahaw -- or tsul ahau.) Translated, it becomes Spine/Dog Lord. (Another name you might see is Ant Lord.) Let's take a look at the ideas people have. 

Name Glyph Use
The phrase "Ah Tzul Ahaw" could be a name for the Evening Star -- that is, Venus during the part of its orbit when it is visible at night. It's possible that the Evening Star was somehow Ah Tzul Ahaw too.

Other than Venus, the glyph for "Ah Tzul Ahaw" is connected to both a certain part of Venus's orbit and kings. You see, it looks like the glyph was used in writings that talked about a new ruler taking the place of the last ruler in a dynasty. But the glyph also was used in connection to when Venus was at its greatest elongation. (In astronomy, elongation is the angle between the sun and a planet, as seen from our sky. The wider the angle, the greater the elongation.)

Possible Connections: Death God and Eclipse Monster
On page 53a of the Dresden Codex, there's picture of a god that looks like skeleton, which Star Gods of the Ancient Maya calls "the Death God." The glyphs near this figure include "ah tzul ahaw," coming before the god's name. One of the Death God's purposes may have been to be an eclipse monster -- a creature that caused eclipses -- and "ah tzul ahaw" may be a title connected to that purpose. (On a related note, a 2007 thesis for a master's degree by William Beck describes Ah Tzul Ahaw as an eclipse monster that was a cannibal.)

A copy of the Dresden Codex's page 53a. From Cyrus Thomas's Aids to the Study of the Maya Codices.
Yet Another Possible Venus Connections
Later along, on page 58b of the Dresden Codex, there is an image of a diving figure with a Lamat glyph for its head. (The lamat glyph is a glyph you might recognize being part of the Tzolkin -- it's used as one of the days' names.) Above his left foot (from our perspective) there is an glyph thought to mean a solar eclipse. Above his right foot there is a glyph thought to mean a lunar eclipse. This might be a drawing of Ah Tzul Ahaw.

Part of a copy of page 58 of the Dresden Codex
showing the diving figure with Lamat for a head.
From Aids to the Study of the Maya Codices.

For comparison, here are two depictions of the glyph Lamat from An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley:

Both this page and the page shown in the Name section are part of a series of pages (51 through 58) in the codex that deals with eclipses. This is further possible evidence for the theory that the ancient Maya thought that Venus caused eclipses. (There are accounts called ethnographic accounts that may show there was a connection between Venus and eclipses as well). 


Astronomy Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Solar System Models Lab: Elongation

Image Credits:
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Photojournal: PIA00104: Venus - Computer Simulated Global View Centered at 180 Degrees East Longitude

Project Gutenberg: "Aids to the Study of the Maya Codices"; Cyrus Thomas; (First published in "Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1884-’85" by J.W. Powell in 1888)

Project Gutenberg: "An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs, by Sylvanus Griswold Morley"; Sylvanus Griswold Morley; 1915 


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    1. Thank you! Good to know it has been that helpful!

  2. Would you please cite your sources?