General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Professor Esther Pasztory

Question for October 2006

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever learnt about the Aztecs? Asked by St Vincent’s RC Primary School. Chosen and answered by Professor Esther Pasztory.

‘The wisdom of the ancients’ - part of a screen mural by Roberto Cueva del Río
‘The wisdom of the ancients’ - part of a screen mural by Roberto Cueva del Río (Click on image to enlarge)

The strangest discovery I ever made about the Aztecs is that they wrote beautiful poetry about the shortness of life and what would happen after death. They concluded that life must be enjoyed here on earth.

“I weep, I feel forlorn:
I remember that we must leave flowers and songs.
For we go, we disappear.
Remove trouble from your hearts, oh my friends.
As I know so do others:
Only once do we live.
Let us in peace and pleasure spend our lives;
Come let us enjoy ourselves!
Let not those who live in anger join us.
The earth is so vast.
Oh that we could live forever!
Oh that one never had to die!”

The poems were composed by kings and lords as well as by professional bards. They were recited at feasts. One of the great poets was Nezhualcoyotl, ruler of Texcoco. This is a poem by him:-

“Will I have to go like the flowers that perish?
Will nothing remain of my name?
Nothing of my fame here on earth?
At least my flowers, at least my songs!
Earth is the region of the fleeting moment.
Is it also thus in the place
Where in some way one lives?
Is there joy there, is there friendship?
Or is it only here on earth
We come to know our faces?”

We know some Aztec poems because sixteenth century Spaniards wrote them down in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Most people are not familiar with Aztec poetry so I put one in my writings whenever I can.

More ideas on finding out about Aztec poetry...

Professor Esther Pasztory has answered 2 questions altogether:

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever learnt about the Aztecs?

What’s the most interesting fact you’ve come across about the Aztecs?

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