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I was leafing through an old French magazine, Historia, and read something that caught my attention. The author of a small article on Aztecs games mentionned a god, Xochipilli Macuilxochitl, who was crowned with five flowers. According to the article, the five flowers were symbols for the five continents of Earth.

It seemed absurd to me but I haven't the knowledge to prove it and be sure of the absurdity. If someone had any information about this crown, the geographical and traditional knowledge or beliefs that could make sense, I would be very happy to know about it.

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    Aztecs didn’t even know that the Earth is round... How would they know if the Americas or Eurasia count as one or two continents? – Greg Mar 2 at 18:26
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    The five flowers could be related to the myth of the five suns (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Suns) or just to the Aztec calendar (18 months of 20 days + 5 special days at the end). – Carlos Martin Mar 2 at 18:59
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    @CarlosMartin - That would make some sense. This looks a lot like a translation issue, and the "suns" in their five suns can also be translated as "five worlds". – T.E.D. Mar 2 at 19:22
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    @Greg do you have a source for your statement that the Aztecs didn't know the Earth is round? I'm asking because it's a myth that western European people thought the Earth was flat 1000 years ago, and I'm curious if it was the same for Aztecs. – Polygorial Mar 3 at 13:24
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    @RedSonja People were never burned for saying the Earth was round. That was the commonly accepted belief of the elites which included the catholic church. The "heresy" was in saying that the Earth was not the sphere at the center. – Gort the Robot Mar 3 at 16:54
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I was hoping that someone with better resources on Aztec mythology would speak up, but in absence of that, I'll tell you what I found looking into this online. Chief among it was that I could find nothing whatsoever backing up that interpretation of the five flowers, and lots saying it meant completely different things. Given that, my suspicion is that this is a misinterpretation of the source material on someone's part. If not yours, then the article authors' (or perhaps their source's).

Xochipilli is associated with both the Seven-flower (Chicomexōchitl) and Five-flower (Macuilxōchitl). The "Five" variant appears to be part of a series (of yes 5) of 5-named deities that are all associated with excess or pleasure. Sort of an Aztec analog to Christian culture's Seven Deadly Sins. The fives are Five-vulture, Five-lizard, Five-rabbit, Five-grass, and Five-flower. Five-flower in particular was associated with gambling and music.

The Aztecs did have a belief that there had been 5 Suns (taken literally, or "worlds" less literally), but they didn't think all existed simultaneously. Rather that the world had ended 4 times previously, and it was their sacred duty to prevent it happening a 5th time. There is no indication I can find that they believed there were currently other worlds out there.

Azetcs were also not a particularly maritime people. In fact their empire had noticeably little coastline, considering where it was, and their capital was about as far inland as you can get in Mesoamerica. Most of the archeologists specializing in their larger Nahua culture will tell you it likely originated in the Southwest American deserts to the north. Aztec Empire in 1519

Aztec Empire in 1519

So I'm not finding much support for the idea that they had any concept of whole other continents existing beyond their eastern and/or western sea, and given their cultural roots and outlook, it seems highly unlikely.

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    You were able to see the translation error from the beginning and your further explanation gave a better understanding of it, thank you! About the misinterpretation, I don't think that it could be mine because the passage is pretty concise and clear. The author or any of its sources, as you said, must have ran into some translation problems, some kind of Chinese whispering across time - and this magazine isn't considered to be very accurate here haha – atrefeu Mar 3 at 23:55
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Do you know how many continents there are on Earth? (I don't!) Is Europe a separate continent from Asia? Is Australia the biggest island or the smallest continent? Is Antarctica an ice-locked archipelago or a continent? Are the Americas one continent or two? (All of those questions can be answered reasonably either way.)

The separation of Europe from Asia into two continents happened because, from the point of view of the Greek Mediterranean world, all of Asia that mattered was across the sea from all of Europe that mattered. They knew that Europe and Asia were connected north of the Black Sea (though they didn't know how big a connection) but they didn't care, because for their purposes, they were separate continents.

The idea of a continent is more a cultural thing than anything else.

(From a proper scientific point of view continents are probably better defined by tectonic plates so now you're dealing with twenty or so. Maybe a continent is a tectonic plate with dry land attached? That still leaves quite a few. (And how much dry land is needed? And is Los Angeles on a separate continent from New York?)

If the Aztecs knew the geography of the whole Earth it would still be very surprising if they had counted continents the same way the Ancient Greeks have led us to do.

And there's no evidence they knew the geography of the whole Earth and considerable evidence that they didn't.

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    I don't think the question is about a specific number (as you say, continent boundaries are mostly arbitrary), but the idea that they knew the earth had multiple continents at all. – Barmar Mar 3 at 15:08
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    This answer is being pedantic. The actual intent of the question is to ask whether or not the Aztecs knew of the existence of Europe, Asia, and Africa, not about the definition of the word "continent." The only part of this answer that addresses the actual question is the last sentence, "And there's no evidence they knew the geography of the whole Earth and considerable evidence that they didn't." But that sentence provides no evidence, which is what we are after. This answer could therefore be consolidated down into this "Probably not, but idk." That's not a good response. – kloddant Mar 3 at 16:36
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    @kloddant It addresses the idea that one can infer 5 flowers = 5 continents. It addresses the problem with the histography. – Schwern Mar 4 at 5:22
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    @kloddant I don't think it is pedantic at all. 5 continents is a rather arbitrary decision, based in no small part on the perspective of ancient Greeks. Separating Europe and Asia, for example, is a stretch, since they are connected by a pretty large chunk of mountains. So the fact that now school children learn "the five continents" is not by all means that the Aztecs would have divided the world the same way, even if they had accurate cartography of the world. – Davidmh Mar 4 at 11:38

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