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

Text 1: The Death of Quetzalcöätl
Tr. by DKJ
Reading Group Format

The Story: This is one variant of the story of a ruler named Quetzalcöätl (“Quetzal-bird Serpent,” usually rendered “Feathered Serpent”), believed by the Aztecs to have reigned over the extinct Toltec capital town of Tula several hundred years earlier.

It was common for ancient Mexicans to be named after their birthdays, and Quetzalcöätl was also called Cë-Acatl, or “One Reed,” the name of the day of his birth, probably in the year 843. (He is said to have died in a year numbered One Reed, corresponding to 895.) He is also referred to in the text as Topiltzin Quetzalcöätl (“Our Beloved Lord Quetzalcöätl”).

Quetzalcoatl in His Finery as Lord of the Wind, Ehecatl
(Codex Magliabecchi)

The human Quetzalcöätl’s mother was named Chimalman, a name perhaps related to chïmalli “war shield,” but nothing is known of his father. It was later said that Chimalman had been impregnated by having swallowed a piece of jade.

Inevitably King Quietzalcöätl is easily confused with the god Quetzalcöätl, after whom he presumably was named, and it seems likely that most Aztecs, living much later, suffered from this confusion.

Although we have no evidence to support such a view, it is provocative to imagine that King Quetzalcöätl, may have suffered from the same confusion, coming to believe himself an avatar or incarnation of the god whose name he bore. He would not be the only monarch in history to have considered himself divine, after all. (If you wanted to make a compelling film, you could have him gradually slide into madness.)

The human Quetzalcöätl appears to have been much given to religious fasting (perhaps rather conspicuously), and he was selected (?) to be king and high priest of the Toltecs when a vacancy occurred on the throne in the year Five House (AD 873), when he would presumably have been thirty.

The present text describes his elegant dwelling of precious stones and colorful feathers, in which he carried out his devotions, protected from public contact by his servants. It tells us that he angered other “sorcerers” because he refused to sacrifice human beings, substituting snakes, birds, and even butterflies. As our passage begins, these “sorcerers,” fed up with him, conspire to mock and harass him until he runs away so they can select a new monarch.

The Source: The present account is included in the Anales de Cuauhtitlan (sections 5 to 8) and dates to about 1570. (The Anales and another manuscript called the Leyenda de los Soles, dated about 1558, occur in the same manuscript, known as the Codex Chimalpopoca.) The use of terms like “demon” and “sorcerer” almost certainly reflects the politically correct usages of the early post-Conquest period.

Linguistic Note: The modernized spelling used here is based on Launey (1981: 192-203), and it is Launey’s numbering that is followed. Vowel length is here represented by a dieresis (umlaut) rather than a macron. In a few cases I have overruled Launey’s vowel length decisions. The English rendering is informed at many points by Launey’s French rendering, and retouched occasionally by reference to John Bierhorst’s scholarly treatment of the original text (Bierhorst 1992). I have tried to keep the English intelligibly close to the Nahuatl. Given the liberties I have taken with the text in adjusting it to the present need, I have unquestionably introduced distortions and mistakes.

Dramatis Personae

Quetzal-cöätl [Feathered Serpent]
A pious king of Tollan (Tula), fond of performing religious austerities. (Later called Tlahuizcalpantëuctli, "Lord of the Dawn")
His even more pious sister, at least as fond of performing religious austerities
A vicious demon
Ihhui-mecatl & Töl-tëcatl
Other demons, Tëzcatlipöca's sidekicks
A featherworker, in league with the demons
Quetzalcöätl's successor as ruler of Tollan (Tula)
Various servants, gardeners, &c.

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1. I äcatl. In ïpan inïn xihuitl in mic Quetzalcöätl. Auh mihtoa zan yah in Tlïllän Tlapallän in ic ömpa miquiz. Niman ommotlahtohcätlälih in Töllan tlahtohcät ïtöcä Mahtläcxöchitl. One reed. That was the year (A.D. 895) when Quetzalcöätl died. It is said that he went to Tlïllän Tlapallän in order to die there. And afterwards at Tula there was enthroned, there became king someone named Mahtläcxöchitl (“ten flowers”).
2. Niman motënëhua in quënin zan yah Quetzalcöätl: catca in ihcuäc ahmo quintläcamati tlätläcatecoloh in ïc tläcatica moxtlähuaz, tläcamictïz. It is told now that Quetzalcöätl simply left when he did not obey the demons to sacrifice human lives, to kill people.
3. Niman monohnötzqueh in tlätläcatecoloh. In motöcäyötiäyah Tëzcatlipöca ïhuän Ihhuimecatl Töltëcatl. Quihtohqueh: “Ca monequi in quitlälcähuïz in ïältepëuh oncän tinemizqueh.” So the demons took counsel. They were called Tëzcatlipöca, Ihhuimecatl, and Töltëcatl. They said, “It is necessary that he get out of town and that we live there.”
4. Quihtohqueh, “Mä ticchïhuacän octli, tiquïtïzqueh in ic tictlapolöltïzqueh in ic ahmo tlamahcëhuaz.” They said, “Let us make pulque to make him drink it and to make him lose his reason so that he doesn’t do penance.”
5. Auh niman quihtoh in Tëzcatlipöca, “Ca niquihtoa in nehhuätl, mä ticmacatih ïnacayö, quën quihtöz. And so Tëzcatlipöca said, “I say let us go give him his body/flesh, [and we’ll see] what he will say.
6. Quimonepanilhuihqueh in ic iuh quichïhuazqueh. Niman achtopa yah in Tëzcatlipöca concuïc tëzcatl necoc cemiztitl conquimiloh. They agreed together about what they were going to do. Tëzcatlipöca was the first to go. He took a large mirror a span wide [that] he packed up.
7. Auh in öahcic ömpa cah Quetzalcöätl, quimilhuih in quipiyayah ïtëcpoyöhuän, xicmilhuïlïtin in tlamacazqui, ‘Ca öhuällah tëlpöchtli mitz.mo.maqu.ilï.co auh mitzmottilïco in monacayo.’“ And when he had arrived where Quetzalcöätl was, he said to his stewards who were keeping guard, “Go and tell the priest, ‘A young man has arrived who has come to give you and show you your body.’”
8. Calacqueh in tëtëcpoyoh quicaquiltïto[h] in Quetzalcöätl. Quimilhuih: tlein on, cöcöl tecpoyötl, tlein nonacayo? In öquihuälcuïc xiquittacän, quin ihcuäc huälcalaquiz.” The stewards entered and went to tell Quetzalcöätl He said to them, “What is that, dear steward? What is ‘my body’? Have a look at what he has brought, and then he can come in.”
9. Ahmo quimittitïznec, Quimilhuih, “Ca nonohmatca nicnottitïlïz in tlamacazqui; xiquilhuïtin.” [Tëzcatlipöca] did not want to show it to them. He said to them, “I myself will show it to the priest; go and tell him.”
10. Quilhuiah, “Ahmo ceya, cencah mitzmottilïznequi.” Quihtoh in Quetzalcöätl, “Mä huälläuh, cöcöl.” They said [to Quetzalcöätl], “He doesn’t want to. He absolutely insists on seeing you.” [Quetzalcöätl] said, “Let him come, my dears.”
11. Connötzatoh in Tëzcatlipöca. Calac, quitlahpaloh, quilhuih: “Nopiltzin tlamacazqui Cë Äcatl Quetzalcöätl, nimitznotlahpalhuia, ïhuän nimitznottitïlïco in monacayo.” They went to call Tëzcatlipöca. He entered and greeted [Quetzalcöätl] and said to him, “My lord, priest One Reed, Quetzalcöätl, I salute you, and I have come to show you your body.”
12. Niman quihtoh in Quetzalcöätl, “Ötiquihiyöhuih, cöcöl. Cämpa tihuällah? Tlein nonacayo? Mä niquitta.” Quetzalcöätl said to him, “You endured much, my dear. Where have you come from? What is my body? Let me see it.”
13. Quilhuih: “Nopiltzin tlamacazqui, ca nimomäcëhual, ömpa nihuïtz in Nonohualcatepëtl ïtzintlan. Mä xicmottili in monacayötzin. [Tëzcatlipöca] said to him, “My lord priest, I am your subject. I have come from the foot of the mountain Nonoalcatepëtl. Behold your body.”
14. Niman commacac in tezcatl, quilhuih, “Mä ximïxihmati, mä ximotta, nopiltzin. Ca ïpan tonnëciz in tezcatl.” Then he presented the mirror to him and said to him, “Be wise and look at yourself, my lord. You will appear in the mirror.”
15. Auh niman mottac in Quetzalcöätl, cencah momäuhtih, quihtoh, “In tlä nëchittacän nomäcëhualhuän motlalözqueh!” And so Quetzalcöätl saw himself, and he was much frightened, and he said, “If ever my subjects were to see me, they would run away!”
16. Ïpampa cencah ïxcuätölmimiltic, ïxtecocoyoctic, huel nohuiyän xixiquipiltic in ïxäyac. Ahmo tläcacemeleh. For he had eyebrows completely puffed up, and eye sockets all pushed in; his face was covered with pockmarks. He was not pretty to look at.
17. In öquittac tezcatl quihtoh, aïc nëchittaz in nomäcëhual, ca nicän niyez.” When he had looked at himself in the mirror, he said, “My people must never see me if I am to remain here.”
18. Niman huälquïz quitlälcähuih in Tëzcatlipöca, auh monohnötzqueh in Ihhuimecatl. In ïca mohuetzcah, mocayähuah. And so Tëzcatlipöca went away, leaving him, and then Ihhuimecatl came back in with him. Laughing, they mocked Quetzalcöätl.
19.Quihtoh in Ihhuimecatl, “In nëci yeh huälyäuh in Coyötlïnähual in ämantëcatl.” Ihhuimecatl said, “He should go to Coyötlïnähual the featherworker.”
20. Quicaquiltihqueh in ic yehhuätl yäz Coyötlïnähual in ämantëcatl, quihtoh, “Ca ye cualli, mä niyäuh. Mä niquitta in Quetzalcöätl.” Niman yah. When they told Coyötlïnähual the feathermaker that he should go, he said, “Well, I must go there. I must go and see Quetzalcöätl.” And he went.
21. Quilhuih in Quetzalcöätl, “Nopiltzin, ca niquihtoa, mä ximoquïxti, mä mitzmottilïcän in mäcëhualtin. Mä nimitznochihchïhuili in ic mitzmottilïzqueh.” Quilhuih: xicchïhua, niquittaz, nocöl. He said to Quetzalcöätl, “My lord, I advise that you, to go out, so that your subjects can see you. Let me adorn you so that they can see you.” [Quetzalcöätl] said, “Do it so that I can see well, my friend.”
22. Auh niman quichïuh in ämantëcatl in Coyötlïnähual. Achto quichïuh in ïapanehcäyöuh Quetzalcöätl; And so the featherworker Coyötlïnähual busied himself with Quetzalcöätl. First he made Quetzalcöätl’s finery;
23. niman quichïhuilih ïxiuhxäyac. Concuïc tlapalli ic contëncuihcuiloh. Concuïc cöztic in ic quïxcuauhcalichïuh; then he gave him a mask of turquoise. And he took rouge and put it on his lips. And he took yellow [coloring] and put it inside his eyesockets;
24. niman quicöcöhuätlantih. Niman quichïhuilih in ïtentzon xiuhtötötl, tläuhquechöl in ic quitzimpachilhuih. and he gave him serpent’s fangs. Then he made a beard of cotinga feathers, and made the base for it with flamingo feathers tucked in below.
25. In öquicencäuh, in iuhqui ïnechihchïhual catca Quetzalcöätl, niman commacac tezcatl. In ömottac cencah mocualittac. Niman huel ihcuäc quïz in Quetzalcöätl in oncän piyalöya. And when he had prepared it, when Quetzalcöätl had been arrayed in this way, he held up the mirror for him. And when he saw himself, he saw it was good. And after that [Quetzalcöätl] departed from the place where they had been guarding him.
26. Auh niman yah in Coyötlïnähual in ämantëcatl quilhuïto in Ilhuimecatl: “Ca önicquïxtïto in Quetzalcöätl. Oc teh xiyäuh.” And then Coyötlïnähual the feathermaster went outside and spoke to Ihhuimecatl: “I have made Quetzalcöätl go out. Now you go.”
27. Quihtoh, “Ca ye cualli.” Niman quimocnïuhtih ïtöcä Töltëcatl. In ïnnehuän yahqueh, in ye yäzqueh. [Ihhuimecatl] said, “Good.” And he became friends with [one whose] name was Töltëcatl. And the two left, already prepared to depart.
28. Niman huällahqueh Xönacapacöyän, ïtlan motlälïcoh ïcuënchïuhcäuh, in Maxtlatön, Töltëcatepëc tlahpiyaya. And so they arrived at Xönacapacöyän (“The Place Where Onions Are Washed”), and set themselves up near the gardener Maxtlatön, who guarded the Toltec Mountain.
32. Niman yahqueh in ïchän Quetzalcöätl in ömpa Töllän, mochi quitquïqueh in ïnquil, in ïnchïl, eta. Then they went to the home of Quetzalcöätl in Tula, carrying with them the green vegetables and chiles, etc.
33. Ahcitoh, ommeyehyecohqueh, ahmo ceyayah in quipiyayah Quetzalcöätl in ic calcquïzqueh. Öppa, ëxpa quincuepqueh, ahmo celïlöyah. Once they had arrived, they tried [to enter], but the guards of Quetzalcöätl did not want them to enter. Twice, thrice they returned, but they were not received.
34. Zätëpan tlahtlanïlöqueh in cänin ïnchän. Tlanänquilihqueh, quihtohqueh, “Ca oncän in Tlamacazcätepëc in Töltëcatepëc.” In the end they were asked where they had come from.They answered, and said, “From down there on the hill of Tlamacazcä (“Hill of the Priest”) on Toltec Mountain.”
35. Iuh quicac in Quetzalcöätl, ye quihtoh, “Mä huälcalaquicän.” Calacqueh, auh quitlahpalohqueh, yëqueneh quimacaqueh in quilitl, eta. When Quetzalcöätl heard this, he said, “Let them enter.” They entered and greeted him, and at last they gave him the vegetables and such.
36. Auh in öquicuah, oc ceppa quitlätlauhtihqueh, quimacaqueh in octli. Auh quimilhuih, “Ca ahmo niquïz, ca ninozahua. Ahzo tëïhuintih ahzo tëmictih.” And when he had eaten, they implored him once more, and they gave him the pulque. But he said to them, “I won’t drink any of it, for I am practicing abstention. It may be intoxicating, [which would be] perhaps fatal.”
37. Quilhuihqueh, “Mä momahpiltzin ïc xicpalo, ca tëtlahuëlih, ca huitztli.” They said to him, “Taste it with your finger, it’s strong and refreshing.”


They said to him, “Taste it with your finger, it’s strong and refreshing.”

This illustration, from a very slightly different version of the story in the Florentine Codex, has Quetzalcoatl’s enemy Tëzcatlipöca appear to him as an old man wearing the tilma of a common farmer and carrying the pot of pulque. The 9-like marks between the two figures are a manuscript convention indicating speech. What appears to emerge from the pot is essentially a glyph for liquid. The picture, done about 1576 or so, puckishly gives the evil “demon” Tëzcatlipöca a slightly European look, while the king seems more indigenous. (See Diana Magaloni KERPEL 2014 The Colors of the New World. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute. Pp 33-34.)

38. In Quetzalcöätl ïmahpiltica quipaloh. In öquihuelmah, quihtoh, “Mä niquï, cöcöl.” Quetzalcöätl tasted it with his finger. It tasted good to him, and he said, “Let me drink some, dear friends.”
39. In ö cë conïc, quilhuihqueh in tlätläcatecoloh, “Nähui in ticmïtïz.” Iuh quimacaqueh ic mäcuilli, quihtohqueh, “Motlatoyähualtzin.” When he had drunk one serving, the demons said to him, “You ought to drink four of them.” And they gave him even a fifth, saying, “It’s a libation.”
40. Auh in öquïc niman mochintin quimmacaqueh in ïtëcpoyöhuän, mochintin mämäcuilli in quïqueh, in öquincentlähuäntihqueh. And when he had drunk, they gave it to all his servants. and they all drank five cups each, and thus they all became completely drunk.
43. Auh in ye päcticah Quetzalcöätl, quihtoh, “Xicänatin in nohuëltïuh Quetzalpetlatl, mä tonehuän titlähuänacän.” And while Quetzalcöätl was still drunk, he said, “Fetch my sister Quetzalpetlatl, so that we can drink together.”
44. Yahqueh in ïtecpoyöhuän in ömpa tlamahcëhuaya Nonohualcätepëc, quilhuïtoh, “Nopiltzin cihuäpilli Quetzapetlatl mozauhqui, ca timitztänilicoh; mitzmochi[yi]lia in tlamacazqui in Quetzalcöätl, ïtlan ti.mo.ye.tz.tiyetïuh.” So his servants went to the Hill of Nonohualco, where she was doing penance, and they said, “Noble lady Quetzalpetlatl, penitent, we have come to seek you; the priest Quetzalcöätl awaits you, that you may go and be by his side.”
45. Quihtoh, “Ca ye cualli, mä tihuiyän, cöcöl tëcpoyötl.” Auh in öhuällah, ïtlan motlälih in Quetzalcöätl. Niman öquimacaqueh in octli nähui, nö zan ïtlatoyähual ic mäquïlli. She said, “Very well, let us go, dear servants.” And when she arrived, and was seated beside Quetzalcöätl. He gave her four servings to drink, and also a fifth, his “libation.”
[In deleted material, once Ihhuimecatl and Töltëcatl have made everyone drunk, they sing to Quetzalpetlatl, insinuatingly reminding her that she has not been seen lately (which is in fact because she was doing penance). ]
48. In öïhuintiqueh aocmö quihtohqueh in tläcah, “Titlamahcëuhqueh!” Auh niman nö ahmo äpan temoh. Aocmo mohuitztlätïtoh. Aoctle quichïuhqueh in tlahuizcalpan. When they were drunk, the people no longer said, “We are doing penance!” And they no longer descended to the river. They did not pierce themselves with thorns. They did nothing till dawn.
49. Auh in ötlathuic, cencah tlaöcoxqueh; icnöyöhuac in ïnyölloh. And when the day came, they were very sad; their hearts were full of sadness.
[In his sadness, Quetzalcöätl sings a chant of lamentation. The text is difficult to interpret with certainty, but the general flow of thought is that his house has become a place of regrets, and that he has not accomplished what he hoped for. He mentions his mother, the goddess of the serpent skirt, apparently implying that he has failed her as well.]
52. In ihcuäc öcuïcac Quetzalcöätl, niman mochintin tlaöcoxqueh in ïtëcpoyöhuän, chöcaqueh. When Quetzalcöätl had sung this all his servants were saddened and wept.
[The servants in their turn sing a lament that Quetzalcöätl, once a “tree as pure as jade” is now broken.]
54. Auh in öcuïcaqueh ïtëcpoyöhuän, Quetzalcöätl niman oncän quimilhuih, “Cöcöl tëcpoyötl, mä ïxquich. Mä nictlälcähui in ältepëtl, mä niyäuh. Xitlanähuatïcän mä quichïhuacän tepetlacalli.” And when his servants had finished singing, Quetzalcöätl said to them, “Dear servant[s], that’s all. I must leave the town, I must go away. Give the order that they make me a stone chest.”
55. Niman ye iuh ca quixïnqueh centetl tepetlacalli, auh in ihcuäc öquixïnqueh, … in öyecauh, niman oncän quitëcaqueh in Quetzalcöätl. And so they made him, indeed, a stone chest and when they had made it, … they laid Quetzalcöätl down in it.
[He lay in the stone hamper for four days, and then ordered his servants to hide all of the objects associated with his reign, which they concealed at a place called Ätëcpanämöchco. Then he and his servants set out on foot across the landscape towards the sea. If you were an archaeologist, you'd be very pleased if you could discover Ätëcpanämöchco.]
62. Yeh ïpan inin xihuitl cë äcatl motënëhua. Mihtoa in ihcuäc öahcito teöäpan ilhuicaätënco, niman moquetz, chöcac, concuïc in ïtlatqui, mochihchïuh in ïapanehcäyöuh, in ïxiuhxäyac, eta. It was in the year called one-reed. It is said that when he arrived at the sea, on the shore of the ocean, he stopped, cried, arranged his belongings, and got dressed in his finery, his turquoise mask, etc.
63. Auh in ihcuäc ömocencäuh, niman ic ïnohmatcah motlatih, motlecähuih: ic motöcäyötia in Tlatlayän in ömpa motlatïto in Quetzalcöätl. And when he had entirely prepared himself, he himself set himself on fire, put himself into the flames And that is why it is called Tlatlayän, the place where Quetzalcöätl was burned.
64. Auh mihtoa in ihcuäc in ye tlatla, niman ye ic ahco quïza in ïnexyo, auh in nëciya in quittayah mochi tlazohtötömeh in ahco quïzah, in ilhuicac quimonitta, And they say that when he burned, his ashes rose up into the air, and there appeared, as they looked at it, all the rare birds, which flew upwards; and there were to be seen in the sky
65. tläuhquechöl, xiuhtötötl, tzinitzcän, äyöcuän, toznenemeh, alomeh, cochomeh, ïxquich in oc cequi tlazohtötömeh. the spoonbills, the cotinga, the trogons, the herons the yellow-headed toznene parakeets, the ara, the white cocho parakeets, and all the other rare birds.
66. Auh in ontlan ïnexyo, niman ye ic ahco quïza in ïyölloh Quetzalcöätl in quittah, auh in iuh quimatiyah, ilhuicac yah, ilhuicac calac. And after his ashes there [were all gone], then the heart of Quetzalcöätl rose up, as they saw, and according to their belief, and it went into the sky; it entered the sky.
67. Quihtoäyah in huëhuetqueh yehhuätl mocuep in citlälin in tlahuizcalpan huälnëci: in iuh quihtoah, in ihcuäc nëcico in mic Quetzalcöätl, yeh quitöcäyötiäyah Tlahuizcalpantëuctli. The old people said that it changed into the star that appears at dawn according to what they say, it appeared when Quetzalcöätl died, so they called it Tlahuizcalpantëuctli (“Lord of the Dawn”).
68. In quihtoäyah, in ihcuäc mic zan nähuilhuitl in ahmo nëz. Quihtoäyah, ihcuäc mictlän nemito. According to what they said, when he died, it was not seen for four days. They said that then he went to dwell in the realm of the dead.
69. Auh nö nähuilhuitl momïtih, ye chicuëyilhuitica in nëcico huëyi citlälli, in quihtoäyah Quetzalcöätl, quihtoäyah ihcuäc motëuctlälih. And during the four days [there] he made darts, and at the end of eight days a great star appeared, which they called Quetzalcöätl, and they said that he established himself in his realm.
[Thereafter whenever Quetzalcöätl appeared as a star, he appeared, it was believed, on behalf of particular groups of people, depending on the day-sign of the calendar, striking them with his darts, whatever the implications of that may be.]
74. In ömotënëuh Quetzalcöätl in ic nenco ïxquich in in tläcat ïpan cë äcatl auh in mic nö ïpan cë äcatl. In ic mocempöhua in ic cencah liii años. And that was the whole life of the one called Quetzalcöätl who was born in the year one-reed and also died in the year one-reed. And they calculate that he lived a total of 53 years.

“The Departure of Quetzalcoatl”
by José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949)
Mural in Baker Library, Dartmouth College

Proceed to: 0. Introduction, 1. Quetzalcöätl, 2. Toltecs, 3. Market, 4. Flaying,
5. Lord of the Dead, 6. Poems, 7. Murder, 8. Guadalupe

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Background Design: Coyolxauhqui Sacrificial Stone, Templo Mayor, Mexico City