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The death of Moctezuma (3)

This is the concluding part of an article written specially for us by Professor Patrick Johansson (Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, UNAM, Mexico City). We’re delighted to be able to offer it in both Spanish and English versions. At the bottom of this page are the details of image sources for the complete article.

Pic 1:  Moctezuma takes pride of place for the British Museum’s Day of the Dead Festival 2009
Pic 1: Moctezuma takes pride of place for the British Museum’s Day of the Dead Festival 2009 (Click on image to enlarge)

4. Table of comparison

The parallels and connections between Huémac’s heroic deed, the story of Motecuhzoma’s ‘flight’, and the accounts of historical events, establish in what ‘should have been’ a fully indigenous approach to what ‘was’. The arrival of the Spanish and Motecuhzoma’s end become entwined in a single text with its own essential truth, the only truth that can bridge random historical fate with the profound intensity of a human being and his soul. What follows is an attempt to compare the key elements that link the fates of Motecuhzoma and Huémac.

Pic 2: Mexicolore staff study the Codex Moctezuma seeking evidence surrounding his death
Pic 2: Mexicolore staff study the Codex Moctezuma seeking evidence surrounding his death (Click on image to enlarge)

Motecuhzoma / Huémac

Takes Quetzalcóatl’s seat in México-Tenochtitlan / Takes Quetzalcóatl’s seat in Tollan
Tricked by the Spanish / Tricked by women-demons
Accused of being the ‘mistress’ of the Spanish / Has relations with the women-demons
The Spanish arrive from the East / The ‘demons’ come from the South (place of the soft fruit)
Seats of zapote (soft fruit tree) leaves / ‘Place of the soft fruit’
Ceases to be tlahtoani - replaced by Cuitláhuac and Cuauhtémoc / Ceases to play role of ‘Quetzalcóatl’ – replaced by Cuautli
Cruel king / Introduces human sacrifice
Haughty; loves riches / Haughty; scorns foods, preferring riches
Cannot enter Cincalco / Cannot enter Cincalco
Omens predicting the end of México / Omens predicting the end of Tollan
Becomes anxious / Despairs
Ends his kingdom / Ends his kingdom
Wants to enter Cincalco / Enters Cincalco
Wants to hang himself / Hangs himself

Pic 3: Folio 16 of the Codex Mendoza reveals suggestively that the year glyph marking Moctezuma’s death (2-Flint) is left feint, as if shrouded in mystery...
Pic 3: Folio 16 of the Codex Mendoza reveals suggestively that the year glyph marking Moctezuma’s death (2-Flint) is left feint, as if shrouded in mystery... (Click on image to enlarge)

The essential difference between the two protagonists is that, While Moctezuma’s desire to enter Cincalco and commit suicide remains just a whim, Huémac fully succeeds.

In contrast to the uncertainty behind the historical facts, the myth only serves to strengthen the accounts suggesting that Motecuhzoma let himself die from his wounds. The fact that his cremation and burial should have taken place, according to Cervantes de Salazar, at Chapúltepec – that is, at Hueymacco, ‘place of Huémac’, in the cave of Cincalco – tends to confirm this hypothesis.

Pic 4: The image of Moctezuma is moulded by celebrated Mexican artist Tiburcio Soteno at the British Museum, January 2010
Pic 4: The image of Moctezuma is moulded by celebrated Mexican artist Tiburcio Soteno at the British Museum, January 2010 (Click on image to enlarge)

The intervention of the Tzoncoztli, Huizilopochtli’s image who prevents his suicide, could also be a mythical expression of what actually happened: Motecuhzoma intended to allow himself to die from his wound – a ‘passive’ suicide inspired by example – but the Spanish stopped him, stabbing him before fleeing México.

As the wheel of history moved inexorably on, the story that would give meaning to Moctecuhzoma’s death was slowly being woven, knitted to existing mythical sketches. Perhaps we’ll never know, with certainty, the exact circumstances in which the Mexica king died, but the documents we’ve referred to paint a picture of an indigenous death fit for the tragic life of the last tlahtoani of an empire in its death throes.

Pic 5: Manipulated to the end by the Spanish - detail from the Enconchado series of colonial depictions of the Conquest of Mexico, Museo del Prado, Madrid
Pic 5: Manipulated to the end by the Spanish - detail from the Enconchado series of colonial depictions of the Conquest of Mexico, Museo del Prado, Madrid (Click on image to enlarge)

Very probably Motecuhzoma II is now wandering through the heavenly spaces of Cincalco, and each harvest of corn contains, in every ear, a little of his spirit. If he isn’t, then the Conquistadors robbed him, not only of his life and kingdom, but also of his own death.

Bibliography

• Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, Fernando de, Obras Históricas I y II, México, U.N.A.M, I.I.H, 1975.
• Cervantes de Salazar, Francisco, Crónica de la Nueva España, prólogo de Juan Millares Ostos, México, Editorial Porrúa, 1985.
• Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, Domingo, Memorial breve acerca de la fundación de la Ciudad de Culhuacan. Estudio introductorio y edición de Victor Castillo, México, U.N.A.M., 1991. - Annales de Chimalpahin en Rémi Siméon, Sixième et Septième Relations (1258-1612), Maisonneuve et Ch. Leclerc Editeurs, París, 1889.
• Clavijero, Francisco J. Historia antigua de México, México, Editorial Delfín, 1944.
• Cortés, Hernán, Cartas y Documentos, México, Editorial Porrúa, 1963.
Códice Chimalpopoca (Anales de Cuauhtitlan y Leyenda de los Soles), traducción del náhuatl de Primo Feliciano Velázquez, tercera ed., México, UNAM, 1992.
Códice Florentino, (Testimonios de los informantes de sahagún). Facsímile elaborado por el Gobierno de la República Mexicana, México, Giunte Barbera, 1979.
Códice Tudela, Madrid, Ediciones Cultura Hispánica del Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana, 1980
• Durán, Diego, Historía de las Indias de Nueva España e islas de Tierra Firme. (dos tomos), México, Editorial Porrúa, 1967.
• Glass, John B., Catálogo de la Colección de Códices, México, Museo Nacional de Antropología, 1964.
• Graulich, Michel, Montezuma, Paris, Fayard, 1994.
• Johansson, Patrick, Xochimiquiztli “la muerte florida”. El sacrificio humano entre los antiguos nahuas (dos tomos), México, Editorial McGraw-Hill, abril 2005.
• ------- “Motecuhzoma II. Crónica de una muerte anunciada” en Caravelle, Vol. 70, Toulouse, Université de Toulouse Le Miral, 1998.
• Sahagún, fray Bernardino de, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, México, Editorial Porrúa, 1989.
• Tezozómoc, Alvarado Hernando, Crónica Mexicana, México, Editorial Porrúa, 1980.

Image sources (complete article):-

• ‘The death of Moctezuma (1)’: all photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore, except Pic 8 - photo by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore
• Scans from the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) taken from our own copy of the 1938 James Cooper Clark (London) facsimile edition
• Scans from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994
• ‘The death of Moctezuma (2)’: Pic 1 from Wikipedia
• Scan from the Codex Borbonicus (original in the Bibliotheque de l’Assembée Nationale, Paris) taken from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1974
• ‘The death of Moctezuma (3)’: all photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jul 24th 2010

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