(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Cortes

“Men create gods after their own image”*…

 

cortes_moctezuma

The Meeting of Cortés and Moctezuma (detail), from the Conquest of México series, Mexico, second half of seventeenth century

 

It would become an accepted fact that the indigenous people of Mexico believed Hernando Cortés to be a god, arriving in their land in the year 1519 to satisfy an ancient prophecy. It was understood that Moctezuma (also known as Montezuma II), at heart a coward, trembled in his sandals and quickly despaired of victory. He immediately asked to turn his kingdom over to the divine newcomers, and naturally, the Spaniards happily acquiesced. Eventually, this story was repeated so many times, in so many reputable sources, that the whole world came to believe it.

What really happened when the messengers returned with their report was that Moctezuma sent scouts out to every important town between Tenochtitlan and the coast, and then set up a veritable war room. This is exactly what one would expect him to have done, given his history as a ferociously successful tlatoani who believed wholeheartedly in order, discipline, and information. Years later, a man who had been young at the time remembered: “A report of everything that was happening was given and relayed to Moctezuma. Some of the messengers would be arriving as others were leaving. There was no time when they weren’t listening, when reports weren’t being given.” The scouts even repeated a summary of the religious instruction that was being regularly offered by the Spanish priest and translated by Jerónimo de Aguilar and Marina. When the Spaniards later got to Tenochtitlan and tried to deliver a sermon to Moctezuma, he cut them off, explaining that he was already familiar with their little speech, his messengers having presented it to him in full.

Only one European recorded the events in writing as they were unfolding—or at least, only one account from that time has survived. Hernando Cortés himself penned a series of letters that he sent back to the king of Spain between 1519 and 1525. These are our only existing direct source, all other commentaries having been written years later when their authors were older men and the events deep in the past. And in his letters, written on the spot, Cortés never claimed that he was perceived as a god.

The idea first appeared, albeit in somewhat incoherent form, in some writings by Europeans in the 1540s…

In retrospect, the story of Cortés being mistaken for a god seems so obviously self-serving and even predictable that one has to wonder why it was believed for so long. In a fascinating turn of events, by the 1560s and ’70s, some of the Indians themselves were beginning to offer up the story as fact. The first ones to do so were the students of the very Franciscan friars who had originally touted the idea. The young indigenous writers were from elite families, the same ones who, forty or fifty years earlier had lost everything with the arrival of the Spaniards. And they were longing for an explanation. How had their once all-powerful fathers and grandfathers sunk so low? They were intimately acquainted with both sets of people—their Mexica families and their European teachers. They knew them both too well to believe that their own people were simply inferior, necessarily weaker or less intelligent than Europeans. Their own personal experience taught them that this was definitely not the case.

Here, however, was an explanation. God had been on the side of the Christians, of course; their own immediate ancestors had been trapped by their own loyalty to a blinding faith, tragically imprisoned in their own religiosity…

Camilla Townsend explains why it was believed that the Aztecs greeted Cortés as a deity: “Inventing a God.”

* Aristotle

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As we muse on memes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1533 that Francisco Pizarro completed his conquest of Peru and the Inca, entering their capital, Cuzco.

220px-Portrait_of_Francisco_Pizarro source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

Ready… Aim…

 

In 1936, 16-year-old Ria van Dijk from Tilburg, Holland, fires a gun in a fairground shooting gallery. She hits the target, triggering a camera to take her portrait as a prize.

At the age of 88, Ria van Dijk still makes her annual pilgrimage to the Shooting Gallery.

Lens Culture

Watch Ria’s progress in Retronaut’s “Shooting Gallery, 1936-2009.”

 

As we remember to exhale, then squeeze, we might recall that it was on this date in 1519 that Moctezuma welcomed Hernando Cortez and his 650 explorers to his capital at Tenochtitlan.  The Aztec ruler, believing that Cortez could be the white-skinned deity Quetzalcoatl, whose return had been foretold for centuries, greeted the arrival of these strange visitors with courtesy– until it became clear that the Spaniards were only too human and bent on conquest.

Cortez and his men, dazzled by Aztec riches and horrified by the human sacrifice central to their religion, began systematically to plunder Tenochtitlán and to tear down the bloody temples.  Moctezuma’s warriors fought back against the Spaniards; but Cortez had thousands of Indian allies (resentful of Aztec rule), Spanish reinforcements, superior weapons and disease; he completed the conquest of the Aztecs– approximately 25 million people– late in the summer of 1521.

Moctezuma imprisoned by Cortez (source)

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 8, 2011 at 1:01 am

The Riddle of the Sands…

With thanks to reader MK for the lead, a look at the Sand Sculpture at Harrison Hot Springs.  For 19 years, proprietors Karen and Bob Bell hosted the World Championships of Sand Sculpture.  For reasons obscure, there was no competition last year; still, the accomplishments of the 157 artists who worked there are nifty to behold.  Consider, e.g., this piece by Carl Jara:

or this one, by Brett Terry:

 

More at the Harrisand gallery.

As we brush off our feet, we might recall that on this date in 1519, Hernán Cortés entered Tenochtitlán (roughly where Mexico City stands today).  Aztec ruler Moctezuma welcomed him with great ceremony, as might befit a returning god…  little did the Aztec chief know…

Criss-crossed with canals, laced with aqueducts and markets, and set beside a grand lake, with floating gardens, Tenochtitlán was “the Venice of the New World”… or, rather, Venice was the mini-Tenochtitlán of Europe– the Mexican city was much larger and grander than that Italian town.

Indeed, according to early Spanish accounts,  Tenochtitlán was unlike the European cities they knew, but more like the ones they had seen in romantic books, as it was neither crowded nor dirty.  Indeed, Tenochtitlán was larger, more beautiful and more complex than any European city at the time. The population of the lake city was 200,000 – 300,000, at a time when London’s numbered about 40,000 and only 65,000 people lived in Paris.  Tenochtitlán’s craftsmen (for instance, its extraordinary goldsmiths) were a match for those in Europe, and the grandeur of the city’s pyramids rivalled that of the Egyptian “wonders of the world.”

Tenochtitlán

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