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The Lord of the Land of the Dead

Source: The following text comes from Sahagún's "General History" (Book III, Appendix, chapters 1-3), but the spelling has been modernized, and it appears in Michel Launey's Introduction à la Langue et à la Littérature Aztèques (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1980, vol. 2, pp. 286-299). I have substantially abridged the text and rendered it into English, guided in part by Launey's French version, and have added vocabulary notes. In a few cases I have changed the vowel length markers, usually to agree with Frances Karttunen's reconstructions in her An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl (Austin: U. of Texas Press, 1983). The line numbers agree with those in Launey's chrestomathy.

Mictlanteuctli, Lord of the Land of the Dead

Format: The macrons normally used to indicate long vowels in Nahuatl (ā, ē ī and ō) are here replaced with umlauts (ä, ë, ï, and ö) to agree with the usage in the on-line Nahuatl lessons and reference grammar. The first line includes a demonstration analysis to show how the vocabulary items apply to the text to produce the translation. The user is invited to try similar analyses with subsequent lines.

Background: The Aztecs are said to have believed that the spirits of the dead went to different places, with the best place of all being limited to warriors and sacrificial victims, who eventually reappeared on earth as hummingbirds and butterflies. This account describes what happens to the bodies (cremated and buried) and the souls of the dead and introduces the Lord of the Land of the Dead, Mictläntëuctli, show at the right.

(01) In iuh quimatïyah in nicän tläcah, in huëhuetqueh, ïhuän in tlahtohqueh: ca in ïxquichtin miquiyah, ëxcän in huih, in ihcuäc miquih. This is what was believed by people here, the elders and the rulers: all who died went to [one of] three places when they died.
mati Vt2 = believe, know
tläcatl = person
huëhueh = old person
tlahtoäni (pl: tlahtohqueh) = ruler
ïxquichtin = all (taken as a block)
miqui Vi2 = to die
ihcuäc = when, at the time that
ëyi = three (prefix variant: (y)ëx-)
yä = to go (irregular: present singular: yauh, plural: huih; past: yah)
Demonstration Analysis:
IN = structure marker (subordinate condition)
QUI.MAT.:IYA.H = subject-prefix-null + object-prefix IT + KNOW + imperfect + plural
IN = structure marker (noun phrase introducing subject following the verb)

NI.CÄN = possessive MY + locative = HERE
IN = structure marker (noun phrase)
IN = structure marker (noun phrase)

CA = structure marker (beginning of clause) = THAT
IN = structure marker (noun phrase: subject of clause)
ÏXQUICH.TIN = ALL + plural
MIQUI.YA.H = DUE + past + plural (verbal noun: DEAD PEOPLE)

ËYI/ËX.CÄN = THREE + time/place
IN = structure marker (points to verb)
HUI.H = GO + plural

IN = structure marker (subordinate condition)
MIQUI.H = DIE + plural
(02) In ic ceccän ömpa in mictlän. Auh in oncän Mictlän, oncän onoc, oncän cah Mictläntëuctli, … ïhuän in Mictëcahcihuätl, in ïcihuäuh Mictläntëuctli. The first place is Mictlän or "place of the dead." And there, in Mictlän is found, resides Mictläntëuctli, "the lord of Mictlän," … and Mictëcah-cihuätl ("lady of the inhabitants of Mictlän"), the wife of Mictläntëuctli.
in ic = inïc = when, during, through, under the condition that (sometimes left untranslated)
cë = one
ömpa = where, there
oncän = where, there
miqui Vi2 = to die
onoc Vi = to lie, stretch out, be located (preterite form used as present)
tëuctli = lord (sometimes borrowed into English in the spelling tecuhtli)
cihuätl = lady, woman, wife
Form Challenge 02A: How do you pronounce Mictlänteuctli? How about Mictëcahcihuätl?
Challenge 02B: Why is there an H in Mictëcahcihuätl?
Challenge 02C: What is the possessed form of Mictëcahcihuätl
Challenge 02D: What is the possessed form of Mictlänteuctli?
(03) Auh in ömpa huih Mictlän yehhuäntin in ïxquichtin tlälmiquih, in zan cocöliztli ic miquih in tlahtohqueh, in mäcëhualtin. And there, to Mictlan, go all those who die a natural [= earthly] death, who die of disease, kings or commoners.
yehhua = he/she/it; pl: yehhuän(tin)
ïxquichtin = all (taken as a block)
tlälli = earth
zan = only, merely, just
cocoliztli = sickenss
ic/ïc = when, because of
tlahtoaani (pl: tlahtohqueh) = ruler
mäcëhualli = commoner
Form Challenge 03: What does tlälmiquih mean?
(04) Auh in ihcuäc miquiya in oquichtli, ahnozo cihuätl, ahnozo piltöntli, auh in ic quitlahtlauhtiäyah in miquiya, in momiquiliäya, quilhuiäyah, in zan oc huetztoc, in zan oc äcantoc: And when a man would die or a woman or a little child, to speak of the one who had died, who was deceased, one would say of him that he had only "lain down," or had only "run aground."
oquichtli = man, husband
cihuätl = woman, wife
ahnozo = or perhaps, otherwise
pilli = child; noble
-tön- = (diminutive and derogatory suffix)
tlahtoa Vi3 = to speak
ilhuia Vt3 = to say
oc = additionally, besides
huetzi Vi2 = to fall down, be lying down
äcana Vt = to run [a boat] aground
Form Challenge 04: What is the plural of piltöntli? How do you say "our little children"?

[Deleted material includes words to be addressed to the dead and gifts to be offered to them.]

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(36) Auh in oncän in itzehecayän, quil cencah netolïnïlo, mochi [eh]ecatoco in itztli, ïhuän in xältetl, auh ïpampa in miquiyah in oquichtin, And in that place blow winds of obsidian, it appears that one is very miserable, that many fragments of obsidian pieces and gravel are carried by the wind, which is why, when men die,
itzli = obsidian, obsidian blade
eheca Vw1 = to blow
quil = it appears, as they say
cencah = very much
netolïniliztli = poverty, misery
tolïnia = to torment, inflict suffering on
mochi = all, everything
ehecatl = wind
töca Vt1 = to follow, pursue, bury
ecatici = to be borne by the win
xälli = sand
tetli = stone
ïpampa = and therefore
oquichtli = man, husband
(37) in ïntlahuizpetläcal, in ïnchïmal, in ïmmäcuauh, ïhuän in ïxquichtin ïmalteöhuän, ïhuän in ïxquich in ïtilmah, ïhuän in ïxquich in tlein ïtlahtlatqui, mochi ïpan quitlatiäyah; their boxes of insignia, their shields, their swords, and all the [emblems of] the gods of his prisoners, all his capes, and all his property all are burned at the same time they are.
tlahuiztli = arms; warriors' insignia
petläcalli = box, reed hamper
chïmalli = shield
mäccuahuitl = sword (a club with obsidian blades set in the sides)
mälli = captive
teötl = god
tilmahtli = feather cape (a status symbol)
tlätia Vt3 = to hide, especially bury, [something]
tlatia Vt3 = to burn [something]
tlahtlätia Vt3 = to hide [things] in various places. Here: to possess things.
Form Challenge 37: What is the verb form represented by "quitlatiäyah"? (Hint: Check the Inadequate Nahuatl Reference Grammar".)

(The odd shift between plural and singular possessive adjectives is in the original Nahuatl. There is no obvious reason for it.)
(38) zan ye nö ihui in cihuätl, in ïxquich in ïtanah, [baskets] … nö mochi ïpan tlatla: And the same for a woman, all her baskets, [and weaving materials and adornments] … all this burns at the same time as she does.
tänahtli = basket
tlatla Vi2 = to burn
(39) quil mach quimotenäntïz, ic mehecatzacuilïz in itzehecayän, ahmo cencah motolinïz; It was said that [the burning] would make them a wall to protect them from the winds of the place where the obsidian winds blow, so that they would not suffer too much;
quil = apparently
mach = as it appears, as it were
tenämitl = wall
ic = such that
ehecatl = wind
itztli = obsidian
eheca Vw1 = to blow (of wind)
tzaculilia Vt3 = to impede; to protect
ahmo = not
cencah = much, very, a lot
tolïnia = to torment, inflict suffering on
(40) auh in äquin ahtle ïtlatquitzin, in zan iuh yäuh, cencah tlaihiyöhuia, cencah motolïnia, in ic quïza itzehecayän. and he who has no property at all, who goes all alone, he has a bad time, he suffers a great deal in passing through the place of the obsidian winds.
äquin = who, the one who
ahtle = nothing
ihiyöhuia = to suffer, to endure, to have a bad time
quïza Vi2 = to pass through, exit, depart
Form Challenge 40: Which Nahuatl expression has been translated "place of the obsidian winds"? Is that literally what it means?
Mictlanteuctli, Lord of the Land of the Dead

[In deleted material a little dog is used to lead the dead to their destination, and upon arrival they present the goods they have been given to the lord of the land of the dead. The dog is cremated with the other goods. The travels of the dead go on for four years, at which time they are finally extinguished.

In the sculpture at the right, the god of the Land of the Dead is shown enthroned and wearing an enormous and elaborate headdress but with his characteristic skeletal arms and body. In this sculpture, from the Museo Nacional de Antropología, the bottom half of the body is shown with its flesh intact, however.]

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(60) Ïhuän in ihcuäc miquiyah in tlahtohqueh, ïhuän in pïpiltin, quintolöltiäyah chälchihuitl; auh in zan mäcëhualtin, zan texoxoctli, ahnozo itztli, quil mach ïnyölloh mochïhua. And when kings and nobles die, they put a piece of jade in their mouths, and for simple commoners, a green stone or a piece of obsidian; they say that this give them a heart.
tlatoäni (plural: tlahtohqueh) = king
pilli (plural: pïpiltin) = nobleman
toloa Vt3 = to swallow
tolöltia Vt3 = to make somebody swallow
chälcihuitl = jade
mäcëhualli = commoner
tetl = stone
xotl = something green
xoxoctic = blue-green; unripe
itztli = obsidian
yölli = heart; movement
mochïhua Vt2 = to happen, to occur

[In deleted material the process of cremation is described in lurid detail, and the burial of the bones thereafter.]

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(67) In ic öccän huïlöhua ömpa in Tlälöcän. Auh in Tlälocän cencah netlamachtïlo, cencah necuiltonölo, aïc mihiyöhuia, The second place where people go is the Tlälocän, "the place of the rain gods." And in Tlälocän one knows happiness and well being; one never suffers.
occän = in two places, in the second place
Tläloc = The rain god
tläloc (Irregular plural: tlälohqueh) = a rain god (There were many or there was one for each direction.)
tlamachtia Vt3 = to enrich. (Reflexive: to be rich, happy.)
cuiltönoa Vt3 = to enrich, to make happy. (Reflexive: to be rich, happy.)
aïc = never
(69) Auh ömpa nemih in tlälöqueh, iuhqueh in tlamacazqueh, päpapahhuahqueh, iuhqueh in tlenämacaqueh catcah. That is where the rain gods live, who are like priests, like the long-haired priests, or the fire-offering priests.
nemi Vi2 = live, dwell
iuhqui (plural: iuhqueh) = thus, in such a way
tlamacazqui = priest (generic), penitent
papahtli = long hair
papahhuah = one who has long hair (a kind of priest)
maca Vtt2 = to give
tletl = fire
tlenämacac = fire-giver (a kind of priest)
catcah Vi = to be (past tenses only)
ye Vi = to be (present tenses only)
(70) Auh in ömpa huih yehhuäntin in huïtecoh, ïhuän in ilaquïloh, ïhuän in ätlan miquih, … . And there go those who were struck [by lightning], and those who were drowned, those who died in water, [or died of various diseases].
huïtequi Vt2 = to strike
ilaqui Vi2 = to plunge, sink
ätl = water
(72) In yehhuän in, in ihcuäc miquih, ahmo tlatlah, zan quintöcayah, … These people, when they die, do not burn; they are simply buried; …
tlatla Vi2 = to burn
töca Vt1 = to bury
Form Challenge 72: This is the eighth occurance of "zan" in texts on this page. Given all these contexts, what does it "really" mean?
(74) Iuh quihtoah, in tlälöcän mochipa tlaceliya, mochipa tlatzmolïni, mochipa xöpantlah, tlaxöpammahmani. And they say that in Tlälocän nature is always green, the buds always open; it is always spring, a perpetual spring.
mochipa = always
celic = green, fresh
celiya Vi2 = to bud
tlatzmolïni Vi2 = to sprout again, (of vegetation) burst into life in the spring
xöpantlah = in the spring time (rainy season)
xöpan = in the spring time (rainy season)
mani Vi1 = to spread out, to extend, to be
(75) In ic ëxcän huïlöhua, ömpa in ïchän tönatiuh ilhuicac: yehhuäntin ömpa huih in yäömiqui, The third place where they go is to the domain of the sun in the sky. That is where those who die in war go,
ëyi = three (prefix variant: (y)ëx-)
chäntli = home
tönatiuh = sun
ilhuicatl = sky, heaven
yäötl = enemy (In compounds, yäö- means simply "in war.")
(76) in ahnozo huel oncän niman miquih yäöc, … in ahnozo zan calaquïloh, in zätëpan miquizqueh: as well as those who die in full combat, … those who are captured to die later,
calaquia Vt3 = to enclose, imprison, capture; to employ
Form Challenge 76: What is the verb form repesented by "miquizqueh"?
(77) in ahzo huahuanoh, ahzo tlepan tläxoh, ahzo tlaxichhuiloh, ahzo teöcönhuïloh, … mochintin huih in tönatiuh ïchän. those who have been flayed, thrown into fire, pierced with spears, spines, … they all go to the home of the sun.
huahuana Vt2 = to scratch, scrape; draw; flay
tletl = fire
tläxo Vt1 = to throw down
tlaxichtli = arrow, spear point
huilohua/huiloa Vi1 = to go, do
teöcomitl = sharp spine of a plant

[In deleted material the fiercer warriors are described as having greater privileges than the lesser ones.]

(81) Auh in ihcuäc önäuhxiuhtiqueh, niman ic mocuepah tlazohtötömeh, huïtzitziltin, xöchitötötl, tötöcoztli …tïzapapalötl, ihhuipapalötl, …: tlachïchïnah in ömpa ïmonoyän. And at the end of four years, they are transformed into rare birds: hummingbirds, orioles, yellow birds … white butterflies, downy butterflies, …: they gather nectar wherever they dwell.
nähui = four
xihuitl = year
cuepa Vt2 = to reverse, turn back (Reflexive: to come back, be turned into)
tlazoh (prefix) = precious
tötötl = bird; penis
huïtzitzilin/huïtzilin/huïtzilihhuitl = hummingbird
xöchitl = flower
coztic = yellow, golden
tïzatl = chalk, white
päpälötl = butterfly
ihhuitl = feather
chïchï Vti1 = to suckle, to nurse; to sip nectar
Content Challenge 81: What the dingdong is a downy butterfly?

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