Guest post by John M. J. Gretchko
From the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer via Mexicolore
A One-footed or One-legged American God
Herman Melville explored the mythologies of many nations, from India to Egypt to classical Greece and Rome. Would he have ignored North American mythology? Chapter 36 “The Quarter-deck” of Moby-Dick suggests he may have significantly dabbled in it.
“Did you fixedly gaze, too, upon that ribbed and dented brow; there also, you would see still stranger foot-prints--the foot-prints of his one unsleeping ever-pacing thought”-- Moby-Dick Northwestern-Newberry Edition page 160.
The grandiose work, Antiquities of Mexico (1831-48) by Lord Kingsborough in nine monstrous volumes, each a labor to lift, holds drawings of this one-footed god from the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, shown with an amputated right foot or leg. The Literary World of 7 April 1849 discloses that the Astor Library had acquired all nine volumes. Unfortunately Tezcatlipoca is not so identified in the text of Antiquities, nor do these volumes tell his story.
The manuscript Codex is held by the World Museum Liverpool.https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Am1902-0111-1 is accessible
“Thunder is used for lightning, or for a thunder-bolt, either originally through ignorance, or by way of metaphor, or because the lightning and thunder are closely united.”
Back in chapter 36, with a storm approaching, Ahab warns, “Stand up amid the general hurricane, thy one tost sapling cannot, Starbuck” (N-N page 164). Is Ahab alluding also to himself, as a metaphoric hurricane? Could the image of one sapling metaphorically represent or suggest a leg?
"both one-legged and a causer of hurricanes."
Burland, C. A. and Werner Forman. Feathered Serpent and Smoking Mirror. New York: Putnam, 1975.
Humboldt, Alexander von. Researches Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America. Trans. Helen Maria Williams. 2 vols. London, 1814.
Kingsborough, Edward King, Viscount. Antiquities of Mexico: comprising fac-similes of ancient Mexican paintings and hieroglyphics. 9 vols. London, 1833-48.
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick; or, the Whale. Edited by Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Volume 6 of The Writings of Herman Melville. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 1988.
Olivier, Guilhem. Mockeries and Metamorphoses of an Aztec God:Tezcatlipoca, “Lord of the Smoking Mirror.” Trans. Michel Besson. Boulder: U P of Colorado, 2008.
Séjorné, Laurette. Burning Water: Thought and Religion in Mexico. Translated by Irene Nicholson. Berkeley: Shambala, 1976.
Spence, Lewis. The Gods of Mexico. London: Unwin, 1923.
Tedlock, Dennis, translator and commentator. Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. Revised edition. New York: Touchstone, 1996.