THE MYTHS OF MEXICO AND PERU. III. MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE ANCIENT MEXICANS. By Lewis Spence; 1913Category: Books, The Myths of Mexico and Peru
CHAPTER III: Myths and Legends of the Ancient Mexicans
The Mexican Idea of the Creation
“IN the year and in the day of the clouds,” writes Garcia in his Origin de los Indias, professing to furnish the reader with a translation of an original Mixtec picture-manuscript, “before ever were years or days, the world lay in darkness. All things were orderless, and a water covered the slime and ooze that the earth then was.” This picture is common to almost all American creation-stories. [See the author’s article on “American Creation-Myths” in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. iv.] The red man in general believed the habitable globe to have been created from the slime which arose above the primeval waters, and there can be no doubt that the Nahua shared this belief. We encounter in Nahua myth two beings of a bisexual nature, known to the Aztecs as Ometecutli-Omeciuatl (Lords of Duality), who were represented as the deities dominating the genesis of things, the beginning of the world. We have already become acquainted with them in Chapter II (see p. 104), but we may recapitulate. These beings, whose individual names were Tonacatecutli and Tonacaciuatl (Lord and Lady of our Flesh), occupy the first place in the calendar, a circumstance which makes it plain that they were regarded as responsible for the origin of all created things. They were invariably represented as being clothed in rich, variegated garments, symbolical of light. Tonacatecutli, the male principle of creation or world-generation, is often identified with the sun- or fire-god, but there is no reason to consider him as symbolical of anything but the sky. The firmament is almost universally regarded by American aboriginal peoples as the male principle of the cosmos, in contradistinction to the earth, which they think of as possessing feminine attributes, and which is undoubtedly personified in this instance by Tonacaciuatl.
In North American Indian myths we find the Father Sky brooding upon the Mother Earth, just as in early Greek creation-story we see the elements uniting, the firmament impregnating the soil and rendering it fruitful. To the savage mind the growth of crops and vegetation proceeds as much from the sky as from the earth. Untutored man beholds the fecundation of the soil by rain, and, seeing in everything the expression of an individual and personal impulse, regards the genesis of vegetable growth as analogous to human origin. To him, then, the sky is the life-giving male principle, the fertilising seed of which descends in rain. The earth is the receptive element which hatches that with which the sky has impregnated her.
Ixtlilxochitl’s Legend of the Creation
One of the most complete creation-stories in Mexican mythology is that given by the half-blood Indian author Ixtlilxochitl, who, we cannot doubt, received it directly from native sources. He states that the Toltecs credited a certain Tloque Nahuaque (Lord of All Existence) with the creation of the universe, the stars, mountains, and animals. At the same time he made the first man and woman, from whom all the inhabitants of the earth are descended. This “first earth” was destroyed by the “water-sun.” At the commencement of the next epoch the Toltecs appeared, and after many wanderings settled in Huehue Tlapallan (Very Old Tlapallan). Then followed the second catastrophe, that of the “wind-sun.” The remainder of the legend recounts how mighty earthquakes shook the world and destroyed the earth-giants. These earth-giants (Quinames) were analogous to the Greek Titans, and were a source of great uneasiness to the Toltecs. In the opinion of the old historians they were descended from the races who inhabited the more northerly portion of Mexico.
Creation-Story of the Mixtecs
It will be well to return for a moment to the creation story of the Mixtecs, which, if emanating from a somewhat isolated people in the extreme south of the Mexican Empire, at least affords us a vivid picture of what a folk closely related to the Nahua race regarded as a veritable account of the creative process. When the earth had arisen from the primeval waters, one day the deer-god, who bore the surname Puma-Snake, and the beautiful deer-goddess, or Jaguar-Snake, appeared. They had human form, and with their great knowledge (that is, with their magic) they raised a high cliff over the water, and built on it fine palaces for their dwelling. On the summit of this cliff they laid a copper axe with the edge upward, and on this edge the heavens rested. The palaces stood in Upper Mixteca, close to Apoala, and the cliff was called Place where the Heavens Stood. The gods lived happily together for many centuries, when it chanced that two little boys were born to them, beautiful of form and skilled and experienced in the arts. From the days of their birth they were named Wind-Nine-Snake (Viento de Neuve Culebras) and Wind-Nine-Cave (Viento de Neuve Cavernas). Much care was given to their education, and they possessed the knowledge of how to change themselves into an eagle or a snake, to make themselves invisible, and even to pass through solid bodies.
After a time these youthful gods decided to make an offering and a sacrifice to their ancestors. Taking incense vessels made of clay, they filled them with tobacco, to which they set fire, allowing it to smoulder. The smoke rose heavenward, and that was the first offering (to the gods). Then they made a garden with shrubs and flowers, trees and fruit-bearing plants, and sweet-scented herbs. Adjoining this they made a grass-grown level place (un prado), and equipped it with everything necessary for sacrifice. The pious brothers lived contentedly on this piece of ground, tilled it, burned tobacco, and with prayers, vows, and promises they supplicated their ancestors to let the light appear, to let the water collect in certain places and the earth be freed from its covering (water), for they had no more than that little garden for their subsistence. In order to strengthen their prayer they pierced their ears and their tongues with pointed knives of flint, and sprinkled the blood on the trees and plants with a brush of willow twigs.
The deer-gods had more sons and daughters, but there came a flood in which many of these perished. After the catastrophe was over the god who is called the Creator of All Things formed the heavens and the earth, and restored the human race.
Zapotec Creation Myth
Among the Zapotecs, a people related to the Mixtecs, we find a similar conception of the creative process. Cozaana is mentioned as the creator and maker of all beasts in the valuable Zapotec dictionary of Father Juan de Cordova, and Huichaana as the creator of men and fishes. Thus we have two separate creations for men and animals. Cozaana would appear to apply to the sun as the creator of all beasts, but, strangely enough, is alluded to in Cordova’s dictionary as “procreatrix,” whilst he is undoubtedly a male deity. Huichaana, the creator of men and fishes, is, on the other hand, alluded to as “water,” or “the element of water, and “goddess of generation.” She is certainly the Zapotec female part of the creative agency. In the Mixtec creation-myth we can see the actual creator and the first pair of tribal gods, who were also considered the progenitors of animals-to the savage equal inhabitants of the world with himself. The names of the brothers Nine-Snake and Nine-Cave undoubtedly allude to light and darkness, day and night. It may be that these deities are the same as Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl (the latter a Zapotec deity), who were regarded as twins. In some ways Quetzalcoatl was looked upon as a creator, and in the Mexican calendar followed the Father and Mother, or original sexual deities, being placed in the second section as the creator of the world and man.
The Mexican Noah
Flood-myths, curiously enough, are of more common occurrence among the Nahua and kindred peoples than creation-myths. The Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg has translated one from the Codex Chimalpopoca, a work in Nahuatl dating from the latter part of the sixteenth century. It recounts the doings of the Mexican Noah and his wife as follows:
“And this year was that of Ce-calli, and on the first day all was lost. The mountain itself was submerged in the water, and the water remained tranquil for fifty-two springs.
“Now toward the close of the year Titlacahuan had forewarned the man named Nata and his wife Nena, saying, ‘Make no more pulque, but straightway hollow out a large cypress, and enter it when in the month Tozoztli the water shall approach the sky.’ They entered it, and when Titlacahuan had closed the door he said, ‘Thou shalt eat but a single ear of maize) and thy wife but one also.’
“As soon as they had finished eating, they went forth, and the water was tranquil; for the log did not move any more; and opening it they saw many fish.
“Then they built a fire, rubbing together pieces of wood, and they roasted fish. The gods Citallinicue and Citallatonac, looking below, exclaimed, ‘Divine Lord, what means that fire below? Why do they thus smoke the heavens?’
“Straightway descended Titlacahuan-Tezcatlipoca, and commenced to scold, saying, ‘What is this fire doing here?’ And seizing the fishes he moulded their hinder parts and changed their heads, and they were at once transformed into dogs.”
The Myth of the Seven Caverns
But other legends apart from the creation-stories of the world pure and simple deal with the origin of mankind. The Aztecs believed that the first men emerged from a place known as Chicomoztoc (The Seven Caverns), located north of Mexico. Various writers have seen in these mythic recesses the fabulous “seven cities of Cibola” and the Casas Grandes, ruins of extensive character in the valley of the river Gila, and so forth. But the allusion to the magical number seven in the myth demonstrates that the entire story is purely imaginary and possesses no basis of fact. A similar story occurs among the myths of the Kiche of Guatemala and the Peruvians.
The Sacrificed Princess
Coming to semi-historical times, we find a variety of legends connected with the early story of the city of Mexico. These for the most part are of a weird and gloomy character, and throw much light on the dark fanaticism of a people which could immolate its children on the altars of implacable gods. It is told how after the Aztecs had built the city of Mexico they raised an altar to their war-god Huitzilopochtli. In general the lives rendered to this most sanguinary of deities were those of prisoners of war, but in times of public calamity he demanded the sacrifice of the noblest in the land. On one occasion his oracle required that a royal princess should be offered on the high altar. The Aztec king, either possessing no daughters of his own or hesitating to sacrifice them, sent an embassy to the monarch of Colhuacan to ask for one of his daughters to become the symbolical mother of Huitzilopochtli. The King of Colhuacan, suspecting nothing amiss, and highly flattered at the distinction, delivered up the girl, who was escorted to Mexico, where she was sacrificed with much pomp, her skin being flayed off to clothe the priest who represented the deity in the festival. The unhappy father was invited to this hideous orgy, ostensibly to witness his daughter’s deification. In the gloomy chambers of the war-god’s temple he was at first unable to mark the trend of the horrid ritual. But, given a torch of copal-gum, he saw the officiating priest clothed in his daughter’s skin, receiving the homage of the worshippers. Recognising her features, and demented with grief and horror, he fled from the temple, a broken man, to spend the remainder of his days in mourning for his murdered child.
The Fugitive Prince
One turns with relief from such a sanguinary tale to the consideration of the pleasing semi-legendary accounts of Ixtlilxochitl regarding the civilisation of Tezcuco, Mexico’s neighbour and ally. We have seen in the sketch of Nahua history which has been given how the Tecpanecs overcame the Acolhuans of Tezcuco and slew their king about the year 108. Nezahualcoyotl (Fasting Coyote), the heir to the Tezcucan throne, beheld the butchery of his royal father from the shelter of a tree close by, and succeeded in making his escape from the invaders. His subsequent thrilling adventures have been compared with those of the Young Pretender after the collapse of the “Forty-five” resistance. He had not enjoyed many days of freedom when he was captured by those who had set out in pursuit of him, and, being haled back to his native city, was cast into prison. He found a friend in the governor of the place, who owed his position to the prince’s late father, and by means of his assistance he succeeded in once more escaping from the hostile Tecpanecs. For aiding Nezahualcoyotl, however, the governor promptly paid the penalty of death. The royal family of Mexico interceded for the hunted youth, and he was permitted to find an asylum at the Aztec court, whence he later proceeded to his own city of Tczcuco, occupying apartments in the palace where his father had once dwelt. For eight years he remained there, existing unnoticed on the bounty of the Tecpanec chief who had usurped the throne of his ancestors.
Maxtla the Fierce
In course of time the original Tecpanec conqueror was gathered to his fathers, and was succeeded by his son Maxtla, a ruler who could ill brook the studious prince, who had journeyed to the capital of the Tecpanecs to do him homage. He refused Nezahualcoyotl’s advances of friendship, and the latter was warned by a favourably disposed courtier to take refuge in flight. This advice he adopted, and returned to Tczcuco, where, however, Maxtla set a snare for his life. A function which took place in the evening afforded the tyrant his chance. But the prince’s preceptor frustrated the conspiracy, by means of substituting for his charge a youth who strikingly resembled him. This second failure exasperated Maxtla so much that he sent a military force to Tezcuco, with orders to despatch Nezahualcoyotl without delay. But the same vigilant person who had guarded the prince so well before became apprised of his danger and advised him to fly. To this advice, however, Nezahualcoyotl refused to listen, and resolved to await the approach of his enemies.
A Romantic Escape
When they arrived he was engaged in the Mexican ball-game of tlachtli. With great politeness he requested them to enter and to partake of food. Whilst they refreshed themselves he betook himself to another room, but his action excited no surprise, as he could be seen through the open doorway by which the apart. ments communicated with each other. A huge censer, however, stood in the vestibule, and the clouds of incense which arose from it hid his movements from those who had been sent to slay him. Thus obscured, he succeeded in entering a subterranean passage which led to a large disused water-pipe, through which he crawled and made his escape.
A Thrilling Pursuit
For a season Nezahualcoyotl evaded capture by hiding in the hut of a zealous adherent. The hut was searched, but the pursuers neglected to look below a heap of maguey fibre used for making cloth, under which he lay concealed. Furious at his enemy’s escape, Maxtla now ordered a rigorous search, and a regular battue of the country round Tezcuco was arranged. A large reward was offered for the capture of Nezahual coyotl dead or alive, along with a fair estate and the hand of a noble lady, and the unhappy prince was forced to seek safety in the mountainous country between Tezcuco and Tlascala. He became a wretched outcast, a pariah lurking in caves and woods, prowling about after nightfall in order to satisfy his hunger, and seldom having a whole night’s rest, because of the vigilance of his enemies. Hotly pursued by them he was compelled to seek some curious place concealment in order to save himself. On one occasion he was hidden by some friendly soldiers inside a large drum, and on another he was concealed beneath some chia stalks by a girl who was engaged in reaping them. The loyalty of the Tezcucan peasantry to their hunted prince was extraordinary, and rather than betray his whereabouts to the creatures of Maxtla they on many occasions suffered torture, and even death itself At a time when his affairs appeared most gloomy, however, Nezahualcoyotl experienced a change of fortune. The tyrannous Maxtla had rendered himself highly unpopular by his many oppressions, and the people in the territories he. had annexed were by no means contented under his rule.
The Defeat of Maxtla
These malcontents decided to band themselves together to defy the tyrant, and offered the command of the force thus raised to Nezahualcoyotl. This he accepted, and the Tecpanec usurper was totally defeated in a general engagement. Rcstored to the throne of his fathers, Nezahualcoyotl allied himself with Mexico, and with the assistance of its monarch completely routed the remaining force of Maxtla, who was seized in the baths of Azcapozalco, haled forth and sacrificed, and his city destroyed.
The Solon of Anahuac
Nezahualcoyotl profited by the hard experiences he had undergone, and proved a wise and just ruler. The code of laws framed by him was an exceedingly drastic one, but so wise and enlightened was his rule that on the whole he deserves the title which has been conferred upon him of “the Solon of Anahuac.” He generously encouraged the arts, and established a Council of Music, the purpose of which was to supervise artistic endeavour of every description. In Nezahualcoyotl Mexico found, in all probability, her greatest native poet. An ode of his on the mutability of life displays much nobility of thought, and strikingly recalls the sentiments expressed in the verses of Omar Khayyám.
Nezahualcoyotl is said to have erected a temple to the Unknown God, and to have shown a marked reference for the worship of one deity. In one Whis poems he is credited with expressing the following exalted sentiments: “Let us aspire to that heaven where all is eternal, and corruption cannot come. The horrors of the tomb are the cradle of the sun, and the dark shadows of death arc brilliant lights for the stars.” Unfortunately these ideas cannot be verified as the undoubted sentiments of the royal bard of Tezcuco, and we are regretfully forced to regard the attribution as spurious. We must come to such a conclusion with very real disappointment, as to discover an untutored and spontaneous belief in one god in the midst of surroundings so little congenial to its growth would have been exceedingly valuable from several points of view.
The Poet Prince
We find Nezahualcoyotl’s later days stained by an act which was unworthy of such a great monarch and wise man. His eldest son, the heir to the crown, entered into an intrigue with one of his father’s wives, and dedicated many passionate poems to her, to which she replied with equal ardour. The poetical correspondence was brought before the king, who prized the lady highly because of her beauty. Outraged in his most sacred feelings, Nezahualcoyotl had the youth arraigned before the High Court, which passed sentence of death upon him-a sentence which his father permitted to be carried out. After his son’s execution he shut himself up in his palace for some months, and gave orders that the doors and windows of the unhappy young man’s residence should be built up so that never again might its walls echo to the sound of a human voice.
The Queen with a Hundred Lovers
In his History of the Chichimeca Ixtlilxochitl tells the following gruesome tale regarding the dreadful fate of a favourite wife of Nezahualpilli, the son of Nezahualcoyotl: When Axaiacatzin, King of Mexico, and other lords sent their daughters to King Nezahualpilli, for him to choose one to be his queen and lawful wife, whose son might succeed to the inheritance, she who had the highest claims among them, for nobility of birth and rank, was Chachiuhnenetzin, the young daughter of the Mexican king. She had been brought up by the monarch in a separate palace, with great pomp, and with numerous attendants, as became the daughter of so great a monarch. The number of servants attached to her household exceeded two thousand. Young as she was, she was exceedingly artful and vicious; so that, finding herself alone, and seeing that her people feared her on account of her rank and importance, she began to give way to an unlimited indulgence of her power. Whenever she saw a young man who pleased her fancy she gave secret orders that he should be brought to her, and shortly afterwards he would be put to death. She would then order a statue or effigy of his person to be made, and, adorning it with rich clothing, gold, and jewellery, place it in the apartment in which she lived. The number of statues of those whom she thus sacrificed was so great as to almost fill the room. When the king came to visit her, and inquired respecting these statues, she answered that they were her gods; and he, knowing how strict the Mexicans were in the worship of their false deities, believed her. But, as no iniquity can be long committed with entire secrecy, she was finally found out in this manner: Three of the young men, for some reason or other, she had left alive. Their names were Chicuhcoatl, Huitzilimitzin, and Maxtla, one of whom was lord of Tesoyucan and one of the grandees of the kingdom, and the other two nobles of high rank. It happened that one day the king recognised on the apparel of one of these a very precious jewel which he had given to the queen; and although he had no fear of treason on her part it gave him some uneasiness. Proceeding to visit her that night, her attendants told him she was asleep, supposing that the king would then return, as he had done at other times. But the affair of the jewel made him insist on entering the chamber in which she slept; and, going to wake her, he found only a statue in the bed, adorned with her hair, and closely resembling her. Seeing this, and noticing that the attendants around were in much trepidation and alarm, the king called his guards, and, assembling all the people of the house, made a general search for the queen, who was shortly found at an entertainment with the three young lords, who were arrested with her. The king referred the case to the judges of his court, in order that they might make an inquiry into the matter and examine the parties implicated. These discovered many individuals, servants of the queen, who had in some way or other been accessory to her crimes-workmen who had been engaged in making and adorning the statues, others who had aided in introducing the young men into the palace, and others, again, who had put them to death and concealed their bodies. The case having been sufficiently investigated, the king despatched ambassadors to the rulers of Mexico and Tlacopan, giving them information of the event, and signifying the day on which the punishment of the queen and her accomplices was to take place; and he likewise sent through the empire to summon all the lords to bring their wives and their daughters, however young they might be, to be witnesses of a punishment which he designed for a great example. He also made a truce with all the enemies of the empire, in order that they might come freely to see it. The time having arrived, the number of people gathered together was so great that, large as was the city of Tezcuco, they could scarcely all find room in it. The execution took place publicly, in sight of the whole city. The queen was put to the garrotte (a method of strangling by means of a rope twisted round a stick), as well as her three gallants; and, from their being persons of high birth, their bodies were burned, together with the effigies before mentioned. The other parties who had been accessory to the crimes) who numbered more than two thousand persons, were also put to the garrotte, and burned in a pit made for the purpose in a ravine near a temple of the Idol of Adulterers. All applauded so severe and exemplary a punishment, except the Mexican lords, the relatives of the queen, who were much incensed at so public an example, and, although for the time they concealed their resentment, meditated future revenge. It was not without reason, says the chronicler, that the king experienced this disgrace in his household, since he was thus punished for an unworthy subterfuge made use of by his father to obtain his mother as a wife!
This Nezahualpilli, the successor of Nezahualcoyotl, was a monarch of scientific tastes, and, as Torquemada states, had a primitive observatory erected in his palace.
The Golden Age of Tezcuco
The period embraced by the life of this monarch and his predecessor may be regarded as the Golden Age of Tezcuco, and as semi-mythical. The palace of Nezahualcoyotl, according to the account of Ixtlilxochitl, extended east and west for 1234 yards, and for 978 yards from north to south. Enclosed by a high wall, it contained two large courts, one used as the municipal market-place, whilst the other was surrounded by administrative offices. A great hall was set apart for the special use of poets and men of talent, who held symposiums under its classic roof, or engaged in controversy in the surrounding corridors. The chronicles of the kingdom were also kept in this portion of the palace. The private apartments of the monarch adjoined this College of Bards. They were gorgeous in the extreme, and their description rivals that of the fabled Toltec city of Tollan. Rare stones and beautifully coloured plaster mouldings alternated with wonderful tapestries of splendid feather-work to make an enchanting display of florid decoration, and the gardens which surrounded this marvellous edifice were delightful retreats, where the lofty cedar and cypress overhung sparkling fountains and luxurious baths. Fish darted hither and thither in the ponds, and the aviaries echoed to the songs of birds of wonderful plumage.
A Fairy Villa
According to Ixtlilxochitl, the king’s villa of Tezcotzinco was a residence which for sheer beauty had no equal in Persian romance, or in those dream-tales of Araby which in childhood we feel to be true, and in later life regretfully admit can only be known again by sailing the sea of Poesy or penetrating the mist-locked continent of Dream. The account which we have from the garrulous half-blood reminds us of the stately pleasure-dome decreed by Kubla Khan on the turbulent banks of the sacred Alph. A conical eminence was laid out in hanging gardens reached by an airy flight of five hundred and twenty marble steps. Gigantic walls contained an immense reservoir of water, in the midst of which was islanded a great rock carved with hieroglyphs describing the principal events in the reign of Nezahualcoyotl. In each of three other reservoirs stood a marble statue of a woman, symbolical of one of the three provinces of Tezcuco. These great basins supplied the gardens beneath with a perennial flow of water, so directed as to leap in cascades over artificial rockeries or meander among mossy retreats with refreshing whisper, watering the roots of odoriferous shrubs and flowers and winding in and out of the shadow of, the cypress woods. Here and there pavilions of marble arose over porphyry baths, the highly polished stone of which reflected the bodies of the bathers. The villa itself stood amidst a wilderness of stately cedars, which shielded it from the torrid heat of the Mexican sun. The architectural design of this delightful edifice was light and airy in the extreme, and the perfume of the surrounding gardens filled the spacious apartments with the delicious incense of nature. In this paradise the Tezcucan monarch sought in the company of his wives repose from the oppression of rule, and passed the lazy hours in gamesome sport and dance. The surrounding woods afforded him the pleasures of the chase, and art and nature combined to render his rural retreat a centre of pleasant recreation as well as of repose and refreshment.
That some such palace existed on the spot in question it would be absurd to deny, as its stupendous pillars and remains still litter the terraces of Tezcotzinco. But, alas! we must not listen to the vapourings of the untrustworthy Ixtlilxochitl, who claims to have seen the place. It will be better to turn to a more modern authority, who visited the site about seventy-five years ago, and who has given perhaps the best account of it. He says:
“Fragments of pottery, broken pieces of obsidian knives and arrows, pieces of stucco, shattered terraces, and old walls were thickly dispersed over its whole surface. We soon found further advance on horseback impracticable, and, attaching our patient steeds to the nopal bushes, we followed our Indian guide on foot, scrambling upwards over rock and through tangled brushwood. On gaining the narrow ridge which connects the conical hill with one at the rear, we found the remains of a wall and causeway; and, a little higher, reached a recess, where, at the foot of a small precipice, overhung with Indian fig and grass, the rock had been wrought by hand into a flat surface of large dimensions. In this perpendicular wall of rock a carved Toltec calendar existed formerly; but the Indians, finding the place visited occasionally by foreigners from the capital, took it into their heads that there must be a silver vein there, and straightway set to work to find it, obliterating the sculpture, and driving a level beyond it into the hard rock for several yards. From this recess a few minutes’ climb brought us to the summit of the hill. The sun was on the point of setting over the mountains on the other side of the valley, and the view spread beneath our feet was most glorious. The whole of the lake of Tezcuco, and the country and mountains on both sides, lay stretched before us.
“But, however disposed, we dare not stop long to gaze and admire, but, descending a little obliquely, soon came to the so-called bath, two singular basins, of perhaps two feet and a half diameter, cut into a bastion-like solid rock, projecting from the general outline of the hill, and surrounded by smooth carved seats and grooves, as we supposed-for I own the whole appearance of the locality was perfectly inexplicable to me. I have a suspicion that many of these horizontal planes and grooves were contrivances to aid their astronomical observations, one like that I have mentioned having been discovered by de Gama at Chapultepec.
“As to Montezuma’s Bath, it might be his foot-bath if you will, but it would be a moral impossibility for any monarch of larger dimensions than Oberon to take a duck in it.
“The mountain bears the marks of human industry to its very apex, many of the blocks of porphyry of which it is composed being quarried into smooth horizontal planes. It is impossible to say at present what portion of the surface is artificial or not, such is the state of confusion obscrvable in every part.
“By what means nations unacquainted with the use iron constructed works of such a smooth polish, in rocks of such hardness, it is extremely difficult to say. Many think tools of mixed tin and copper were employed; others, that patient friction was one of the main means resorted to. Whatever may have been the real appropriation of these inexplicable ruins,or the epoch of their construction, there can be no doubt but the whole of this hill, which I should suppose rises five or six hundred feet above the level of the plain, was covered with artificial works of one kind or another. They are doubtless rather of Toltec than of Aztec origin, and perhaps with still more probability attributable to a people of an age yet more remote.”
The Noble Tlascalan
As may be imagined regarding a community where human sacrifice was rife, tales concerning those who were consigned to this dreadful fate were abundant. Perhaps the most striking of these is that relating to the noble Tlascalan warrior Tlalhuicole, who was captured in combat by the troops of Montezuma. Less than a year before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico war broke out between the Huexotzincans and the Tlascalans, to the former of whom the Aztecs acted as allies. On the battlefield there was captured by guile a very valiant Tlascalan leader called Tlalhuicole, so renowned for his prowess that the mere mention of his name was generally sufficient to deter any Mexican hero from attempting his capture. He was brought to Mexico in a cage, and presented to the Emperor Montezuma, who, on learning of his name and renown, gave him his liberty and overwhelmed him with honours. He further granted him permission to return to his own country, a boon he had never before extended to any captive. But Tlalhuicole refused his freedom, and replied that he would prefer to be sacrificed to the gods, according to the usual custom. Montezuma, who had the highest regard for him) and prized his life more than any sacrifice, would not consent to his immolation. At this juncture war broke out between Mexico and the Tarascans, and Montezuma announced the appointment of Tlalhuicole as chief of the cxpeditionary force. He accepted the command, marched against the Tarascans, and, having totally defeated them, returned to Mexico laden with an enormous booty and crowds of slaves. The city rang with his triumph. The emperor begged him to become a Mexican citizen, but he replied that on no account would he prove a traitor to his country. Montezuma then once more offered him his liberty, but he strenuously refused to return to Tlascala, having undergone the disgrace of defeat and capture. He begged Montezuma to terminate his unhappy existence by sacrificing him to the gods, thus ending the dishonour he felt in living on after having undergone defeat, and at the same time fulfilling the highest aspiration of his life-to die the death of a warrior on the stone of combat. Montezuma, himself the noblest pattern of Aztec chivalry, touched at his request, could not but agree with him that he had chosen the most fitting fate for a hero, and ordered him to be chained to the stone of combat, the blood-stained temalacatl. The most renowned of the Aztec warriors were pitted against him, and the emperor himself graced the sanguinary tournament with his presence. Tlalhuicole bore himself in the combat like a lion, slew eight warriors of renown, and wounded more than twenty. But at last he fell, covered with wounds, and was haled by the exulting priests to the altar of the terrible war-god Huitzilopochtli, to whom his heart was offered up.
The Haunting Mothers
It is only occasionally that we encounter either the gods or supernatural beings of any description in Mexican myth. But occasionally we catch sight of such beings as the Ciuapipiltin (Honoured Women), the spirits of those women who had died in childbed, a death highly venerated by the Mexicans, who regarded the woman who perished thus as the equal of a warrior who met his fate in battle. Strangely enough, these spirits were actively malevolent, probably because the moon-goddess (who was also the deity of evil exhalations) was evil in her tendencies, and they were regarded as possessing an affinity to her. It was supposed that they afflicted infants with various diseases, and Mexican parents took every precaution not to permit their offspring out of doors on the days when their influence was believed to be strong. They were said to haunt the cross-roads, and even to enter the bodies of weakly people, the better to work their evil will. The insane were supposed to be under their especial visitation. Temples were raised at the cross-roads in order to placate them, and loaves of bread, shaped like butterflies, were dedicated to them. They were represented as having faces of a dead white, and as blanching their arms and hands with a white powder known as tisatl. Their eyebrows were of a golden hue, and their raiment was that of Mexican ladies of the ruling class.
The Return of Papantzin
One of the weirdest legends in Mexican tradition recounts how Papantzin, the sister of Montezuma II, returned from her tomb to prophesy to her royal brother concerning his doom and the fall of his empire at the hands of the Spaniards. On taking up the reins of government Montezuma had married this lady to one of his most illustrious servants, the governor of Tlatelulco, and after his death it would appear that she continued to exercise his almost vice regal functions and to reside in his palace. In course of time she died, and her obsequies were attended by the emperor in person, accompanied by the greatest personages of his court and kingdom. The body was interred in a subterranean vault of his own palace, in close proximity to the royal baths, which stood in a sequestered part of the extensive grounds surrounding the royal residence. The entrance to the vault was secured by a stone slab of moderate weight, and when the numerous ceremonies prescribed for the interment of a royal personage had been completed the emperor and his suite retired. At daylight next morning one of the royal children, a little girl of some six years of age, having gone into the garden to seek her governess, espied the Princess Papan standing near the baths. The princess, who was her aunt, called to her, and requested her to bring her governess to her. The child did as she was bid, but her governess, thinking that imagination had played her a trick, paid little attention to what she said. As the child persisted in her statement, the governess at last followed her into the garden, where she saw Papan sitting on one of the steps of the baths. The sight of the supposed dead princess filled the woman with such terror that she fell down in a swoon. The child then went to her mother’s apartment, and detailed to her what had happened. She at once proceeded to the baths with two of her attendants, and at sight of Papan was also seized with affright. But the princess reassured her, and asked to be allowed to accompany her to her apartments, and that the entire affair should for the present be kept absolutely secret. Later in the day she sent for Tiçotzicatzin, her majordomo, and requested him to inform the emperor that she desired to speak with him immediately on matters of the greatest importance. The man, terrified, begged to be excused from the mission, and Papan then gave orders that her uncle Nezahualpilli, King of Tezcuco, should be communicated with. That monarch, on receiving her request that he should come to her, hastened to the palace. The princess begged him to see the emperor without loss of time and to entreat him to come to her at once. Montezuma heard his story with surprise mingled with doubt. Hastening to his sister, he cried as he approached her: “Is it indeed you, my sister, or some evil demon who has taken your likeness?” “It is I indeed, your Majesty,” she replied. Montezuma and the exalted personages who accompanied him then seated themselves, and a hush of expectation fell upon all as they were addressed by the princess in the following words:
“Listen attentively to what I am about to relate to you. You have seen me dead, buried, and now behold me alive again. By the authority of our ancestors, my brother, I am returned from the dwellings of the dead to prophesy to you certain things of prime importance.
“At the moment after death I found myself in a spacious valley, which appeared to have neither commencement nor end, and was surrounded by lofty mountains. Near the middle I came upon a road with many branching paths. By the side of the valley there flowed a river of considerable size, the waters of which ran with a loud noise. By the borders of this I saw a young man clothed in a long robe, fastened with a diamond, and shining like the sun, his visage bright as a star. On his forehead was a sign in the figure of a cross. He had wings, the feathers of which gave forth the most wonderful and glowing reflections and colours. His eyes were as emeralds, and his glance was modest. He was fair, of beautiful aspect and imposing presence. He took me by the hand and said: ‘Come hither. It is not yet time for you to cross the river. You possess the love of God, which is greater than you know or can comprehend.’ He then conducted me through the valley, where I espied many heads and bones of dead men. I then beheld a number of black folk, horned, and with the feet of deer. They were engaged in building a house, which was nearly completed. Turning toward the east for a space, I beheld on the waters of the river a vast number of ships manned by a great host of men dressed differently from ourselves. Their eyes were of a clear grey, their complexions ruddy, they carried banners and ensigns in their hands and wore helmets on their heads. They called themselves ‘Sons of the Sun.’ The youth who conducted me and caused me to see all these things said that it was not yet the will of the gods that I should cross the river, but that I was to be reserved to behold the future with my own eyes, and to enjoy the benefits of the faith which these strangers brought with them; that the bones I beheld on the plain were those of my countrymen who had died in ignorance of that faith, and had consequently suffered great torments; that the house being builded by the black folk was an edifice prepared for those who would fall in battle with the seafaring strangers whom I had seen; and that I was destined to return to my compatriots to tell them of the true faith, and to announce to them what I had seen that they might profit thereby.”
Montezuma hearkened to these matters in silence, and felt greatly troubled. He left his sister’s presence without a word, and, regaining his own apartments, plunged into melancholy thoughts.
Papantzin’s resurrection is one of the best authenticated incidents in Mexican history, and it is a curious fact that on the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores one of the first persons to embrace Christianity and receive baptism at their hands was the Princess Papan.