0. Introduction (This Page), 1. Quetzalcöätl, 2. Toltecs, 3. Market, 4. Flaying,
5. Lord of the Dead, 6. Poems, 7. Murder, 8. Virgin
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An Aztec Folio

D.K. Jordan


  1. Introduction: About This Folio (This Page)
  2. The Death of Quetzalcöätl
  3. The Wonderful Toltecs
  4. Bernal Díaz: The Tlatelolco Market
  5. Diego Durán: The Flaying of Men
  6. Mictlanteuctli: Lord of the Land of the Dead
  7. Three Aztec Poems
    1. Poem VIII: Former Rulers (Anonymous)
    2. Poem XXIII: Nezahualcoyotl’s Meditation on Mortality
    3. Poem XXIV Intoxicating Flowers
  8. The Murder of Coatlicue and Coyolxauhqui
  9. Nican Mopohua: Here It Is Told
    (The story of the Apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A separate project, not part of the Aztec Folio.)

Introduction: About This Folio

Very few of the societies in the past had fully functional writing systems. When they did, as in the case of Linear B or Early Egyptian, their use was seldom widespread and nearly always very specialized. The texts we have, even when we are able to interpret them, are few and rarely of general interest. Some of these societies are known to us largely through archaeological evidence or through the accounts of travelers or ethnographers coming from literate societies (as in the case of the Nyoro or the Hopi). (Ethnographic sketches are available on this web site: Nyoro, Hopi.)

Sometimes, however, we (also) have writings from people remembering “the old ways” after wrenching culture contact has brought them literacy. For Aztec society, early post-Conquest writings are in many ways quite rich. This folio presents some selections: two in Spanish, the rest in Nahuatl, all with English translations.

Most collections of “original texts” include only English, and for most English readers the inclusion of the Nahuatl or Spanish versions can be ignored. But (1) it is humbling to remember that none of this material was originally written in English, which was an obscure and irrelevant language at the time, and (2) an occasional, espeically curious student may be interested in what the original texts were like, especially in the case of the two Spanish texts.

The two Spanish selections are by Spanish immigrants to Mexico and are based on what they saw or heard. The Nahuatl selections from the Florentine Codex are transcriptions of what Sahagún’s informants dictated to him, minimally edited, as far as can be discovered. The remaining Nahuatl works were written by ex-Aztecs or their descendants. Because all of this material is post-Conquest, it naturally is influenced by this fact. The account of the fall of Quetzalcóatl, for example, describes his tormentors as “demons.” A pre-Conquest account probably would have selected slightly different vocabulary.

The Nahuatl selections were originally objects of study in an informal “Recreational Nahuatl” reading group, to whom I express my appreciation for their collective efforts to understand these sometimes difficult works. Fuller notes and vocabulary for them, together with an elementary Nahuatl “textbook” and reference grammar used by the group are available. (Link)

Linguistic Note: Nahuatl spelling in the XVIth century was quite unstable. Some of the selections here retain original spellings, while others have been modernized. In the modernized ones, long vowels are shown with two dots over them, an easily typed convention originally adopted for Nahuatl materials by the reading group. Scholars disagree about vowel length on some words. Although I have tended to follow Launey (1980) much of the time for the modernized transcriptions, in a few cases I have overruled his vowel length decisions. In contrast to the essay on the Aztecs (Link), this folio does not add hyphens or stress marks to the spellings of Nahuatl words, but length diacritics are included when modernized Nahuatl spelling is used.

Works Cited

1992 Codex Chimalpopoca: The text in Nahuatl with a glossary and grammatical notes. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
BRINTON, Daniel G.
1904 Ancient Nahuatl poetry (Brinton’s Library of Aboriginal American Literature Number VII. Reprinted on-line: The Project Gutenburg.
DÍAZ del Castillo, Bernal
1568 Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España. Reprinted on-line: Biblioteca Virtual Antorcha.
1963 (1974) The conquest of New Spain. Tr. and ed. by J.M. COHEN. London: The Folio Society.
DURÁN, Diego
1570? (1967) Historia de las indias de Nueva España. Reprinted and edited by Angel Ma. Garibay. Mexico City: Editorial Porrua.
1971 Book of the gods and rites and The ancient calendar, by Fray Diego Durán. Tr. and ed. by Fernando HORCASITAS & Doris HEYDEN. Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
LAUNEY, Michel
1981 Introduction à la langue et à la littérature aztèques, vol. 2. Paris: L’Harmattan.
SAHAGÚN, Bernardino de
1547-1588 (1952) Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España. Tr. & ed. by Arthur J.O. ANDERSON and Charles E. DIBBLE. (Monographs of the School of American research No. 14) by the Santa Fe: School of American research and Salt Lake City: University of Utah.

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5. Lord of the Dead, 6. Poems, 7. Murder, 8. Virgin

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