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Diego Rivera was clearly fascinated by the riches of the Aztec market at Tlaltelolco. His mural, painted in , visible today on the second floor of the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, glories in the vibrancy of an imperial economy. Vendors hawk while merchants bicker, counting with upright fingers. Nearby, slave-traders examine the teeth of human stock. Tortillas are there, too, close to belly-up frogs.
Dogs, deer, iguana, and fish lie in good order or, like a fat little xolo dog, they mewl and squirm—all soon to be purchased, cooked, and eaten. Figure 1. The most arresting figure, however, is a woman in white Figure 1. Central to the composition, she hikes her skirt and invites the attention of several leering men. One of them, to upper left, looks like a Rockefeller! Her bright red lipstick, elaborate costume, and long loose hair, described and illustrated in Aztec sources, heighten the wanton allure.
Figure 2. Prostitutes in the Florentine Codex, Book 10, f39v. A peculiarity, drawn to my attention by Karl Taube, is that depictions of young and older harlots in the Florentine Codex show them standing on water, grasping flowers in one hand and, curiously, the glyph for water in the other Figure 2.
Underfoot, gripped in the hand, the symbols hint at deeper and more complex meaning. For a Mayanist, this evidence raises an obvious question. Did such women exist in the Classic period? And, if so, what ambivalences, if any, surround such commercialization of the female body?
Most treatments of female identity among the ancient or Colonial Maya do not mention prostitutes e. Colonial Yukatek Bolles : associated with agouti or hares tzub , the latter a well-known attribute of the Moon Goddess and a symbol of procreation.