Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

Ancient Nahuatl Poetry ||| Introduction

Category: Ancient Nahuatl Poetry


The passionate love with which the Nahuas cultivated song, music and

the dance is a subject of frequent comment by the historians of

Mexico. These arts are invariably mentioned as prominent features of

the aboriginal civilization; no public ceremony was complete without

them; they were indispensable in the religious services held in the

temples; through their assistance the sacred and historical

traditions were preserved; and the entertainments of individuals

received their chief lustre and charm from their association with

these arts.

The profession of the poet stood in highest honor. It was the custom

before the Conquest for every town, every ruler and every person of

importance to maintain a company of singers and dancers, paying them

fixed salaries, and the early writer, Duran, tells us that this

custom continued in his own time, long after the Conquest. He

sensibly adds, that he can see nothing improper in it, although it

was condemned by some of the Spaniards.1 In the training of these

artists their patrons took a deep personal interest, and were not at

all tolerant of neglected duties. We are told that the chief selected

the song which was to be sung, and the tune by which it was to be

accompanied; and did any one of the choir sing falsely, a drummer

beat out of time, or a dancer strike an incorrect attitude, the

unfortunate artist was instantly called forth, placed in bonds and

summarily executed the next morning!2

With critics of such severity to please, no wonder that it was

necessary to begin the training early, and to set apart for it

definite places and regular teachers. Therefore it was one of the

established duties of the teachers in the calmecac or public school,

“to teach the pupils all the verses of the sacred songs which were

written in characters in their books.”3 There were also special

schools, called cuicoyan, singing places, where both sexes were

taught to sing the popular songs and to dance to the sound of the


In the public ceremonies it was no uncommon occurrence for

the audience to join in the song and dance until sometimes many

thousands would thus be seized with the contagion of the rhythmical

motion, and pass hours intoxicated (to use a favorite expression of

the Nahuatl poets) with the cadence and the movement.

After the Conquest the Church set its face firmly against the

continuance of these amusements. Few of the priests had the liberal

views of Father Duran, already quoted; most of them were of the

opinion of Torquemada, who urges the clergy “to forbid the singing of

the ancient songs, because all of them are full of idolatrous

memories, or of diabolical and suspicious allusions of the same


To take the place of the older melodies, the natives were taught the

use of the musical instruments introduced by the Spaniards, and very

soon acquired no little proficiency, so that they could perform upon

them, compose original pieces, and manufacture most of the

instruments themselves.6

To this day the old love of the song and dance continues in the

Indian villages; and though the themes are changed, the forms remain

with little alteration. Travelers describe the movements as slow, and

consisting more in bending and swaying the body than in motions of

the feet; while the songs chanted either refer to some saint or

biblical character, or are erotic and pave the way to orgies.7


The Nahuatl word for a song or poem is cuicatl. It is derived from

the verb cuica, to sing, a term probably imitative or

onomatopoietic in origin, as it is also a general expression for the

twittering of birds. The singer was called cuicani, and is

distinguished from the composer of the song, the poet, to whom was

applied the term cuicapicqui, in which compound the last member,

picqui, corresponds strictly to the Greek ποιητὴς,

being a derivative of piqui, to make, to create.8 Sometimes he

was also called cuicatlamantini, “skilled in song.”

It is evident from these words, all of which belong to the ancient

language, that the distinction between the one who composed the poems

and those who sang them was well established, and that the Nahuatl

poetry was, therefore, something much above mere improvisation, as

some have thought. This does not alter the fact that a professed bard

usually sang songs of his own composition, as well as those obtained

from other sources. This is obvious from the songs in this

collection, many of which contain the expression ni cuicani, I, the

singer, which also refers to the maker of the song.

In the classical work of Sahagun, the author describes the ancient

poet: “The worthy singer has a clear mind and a strong memory. He

composes songs himself and learns those of others, and is always

ready to impart either to the fellows of his craft. He sings with a

well-trained voice, and is careful to practice in private before he

appears before the public. The unworthy singer, on the other hand, is

ignorant and indolent. What he learns he will not communicate to

others. His voice is hoarse and untrained, and he is at once envious

and boastful.”9


From what he could learn about them some two centuries or more after

the Conquest, the antiquary Boturini classified all the ancient songs

under two general heads, the one treating mainly of historical

themes, while the other was devoted to purely fictitious, emotional

or imaginative subjects.10 His terse classification is expanded by

the Abbй Clavigero, who states that the themes of the ancient poets

were various, some chanting the praises of the gods or petitioning

them for favors, others recalled the history of former generations,

others were didactic and inculcated correct habits of life, while

others, finally, were in lighter vein, treating of hunting, games and


His remarks were probably a generalization from a chapter in

Torquemada’s Monarquia Indiana, in which that writer states that

the songs at the sacred festivals differed in subject with the

different months and seasons. Thus, in the second month of their

calendar, at its stated festival, the people sang the greatness of

their rulers; in the seventh month all the songs were of love, of

women, or of hunting; in the eighth the chants recalled the noble

deeds of their ancestors and their divine origin; while in the ninth

month nothing was heard but verses fraught with lamentation for the

dead.12 With less minuteness, Father Duran gives almost the same

information. He himself had often heard the songs which Montezuma of

Tenochtitlan, and Nezahualpizintli of Tezcuco, had ordered to be

composed in their own honor, describing their noble lineage, their

riches, their grandeur and their victories. These songs were in his

day still sung at the public dances of the natives, and he adds,

“although they were filled with laudation of their ancient rulers, it

gave me much pleasure to hear the praises of such grandeur.” There

were other poets, he observes, who lived in the temples and composed

songs exclusively in honor of the gods.13

These general expressions may be supplemented by a list of terms,

specifying particular classes of songs, preserved by various writers.

These are as follows:—

melahuacuicatl: this is translated by Tezozomoc, “a straight and

true song.”14 It is a compound of melahuac, straight, direct,

true; and cuicatl, song. It was a beginning or opening song at the

festivals, and apparently derived its name from its greater

intelligibility and directness of expression. A synonym, derived from

the same root, is tlamelauhcayotl, which appears in the title to

some of the songs in the present collection.

xopancuicatl: this term is spelled by Ixtlilxochitl,

xompacuicatl, and explained to mean “a song of the spring” (from

xopan, springtime, cuicatl, song). The expression seems to be

figurative, referring to the beginning or early life of things. Thus,

the prophetic songs of Nezahualcoyotl, those which he sang when he

laid the foundation of his great palace, bore this name.15

teuccuicatl: songs of the nobles (teuctli, cuicatl). These were

also called quauhcuicatl, “eagle songs,” the term quauhtli,

eagle, being applied to distinguished persons.

xochicuicatl: flower-song, one singing the praises of flowers.

icnocuicatl: song of destitution or compassion.

noteuhcuicaliztli: “the song of my lords.” This appears to be a

synonymous expression for teuccuicatl; it is mentioned by Boturini,

who adds that on the day sacred to the god Xiuhteuctli the king began

the song so called.16

miccacuicatl: the song for the dead (miqui, to die, cuicatl).

In this solemn chant the singers were seated on the ground, and their

hair was twisted in plaits around their heads.17

In addition to the above terms drawn from the subject or character of

the songs, there were others, of geographical origin, apparently

indicating that the song, or its tune, or its treatment was borrowed

from another locality or people. These are:—

Huexotzincayotl: a song of Huexotzinco, a Nahuatl town, situated

east of the Lake of Tezcuco. This song was sung by the king and

superior nobles at certain festivals, and, in the prescribed order of

the chants, followed a melahuaccuicatl.18

Chalcayotl: a song of Chalco, on the lake of the same name. This

followed the last mentioned in order of time at the festivals.

Otoncuicatl: a song of the Otomis. These were the immediate

neighbors of the Nahuas, but spoke a language radically diverse. The

songs so-called were sung fourth on the list.

Cuextecayotl: a song of the country of the Cuexteca, or Cuextlan, a

northern province of Mexico.

Tlauancacuextecayotl: a song of the country of the


Anahuacayotl: a song of Anahuac, that is, of a country near the

water, either the valley of Mexico, or the shores of the ocean.

Some very ancient sacred songs were referred to by Tezozomoc as

peculiar to the worship of Huitzilopochtli, and, indeed, introduced

by this potent divinity. From their names, cuitlaxoteyotl, and

tecuilhuicuicatl,19 I judge that they referred to some of those

pederastic rites which still prevail extensively among the natives of

the pueblos of New Mexico, and which have been described by Dr.

William A. Hammond and other observers.20 One of these songs began,

Cuicoyan | nohuan | mitotia;
In-the-place-of-song | with-me | they-dance.

But the old chronicler, who doubtless knew it all by heart, gives us

no more of it.21


The assertion is advanced by Boturini that the genuine ancient

Nahuatl poetry which has been preserved is in iambic metre, and he

refers to a song of Nezahualcoyotl in his collection to prove his

opinion. What study I have given to the prosody of the Nahuatl tongue

leads me to doubt the correctness of so sweeping a statement. The

vocalic elements of the language have certain peculiarities which

prevent its poetry from entering unencumbered into the domain of

classical prosody.

The quantity of Nahuatl syllables is a very important element in the

pronunciation of the tongue, but their quantity is not confined, as

in Latin, to long, short, and common. The Nahuatl vowels are long,

short, intermediate, and “with stress,” or as the Spanish grammarians

say, “with a jump,” con saltillo. The last mentioned is peculiar to

this tongue. The vowel so designated is pronounced with a momentary

suspension or catching of the breath, rendering it emphatic.

These quantities are prominent features in the formal portions of the

language, characterizing inflections and declinations. No common

means of designating them have been adopted by the grammarians, and

for my present purpose, I shall make use of the following signs:—

ă , short.
a , intermediate
ā , long.
в , with stress.

The general prosodic rules are:—

1. In polysyllabic words in which there are no long vowels, all the

vowels are intermediate.

2. The vowels are long in the penultimate of the plurals of the

imperatives when the preterit of the verb ends in a vowel; the ā

of the cān of the imperatives; the ī of the ; of the

gerundives; the last vowel of the futures when the verb loses a vowel

to form them; the penultimates of passives in lo, of impersonals,

of verbals in oni, illi, olli and oca, of verbal nouns with

the terminations yan and can; the ō of abstract nouns in

otl in composition; and those derived from long syllables.

3. Vowels are “with stress” when they are the finals in the plurals

of nouns and verbs, also in the perfect preterite, in possessives

ending in в, к, ф, and in the penultimate of nouns ending in tli,

tla and tle when these syllables are immediately preceded by the


The practical importance of these distinctions may be illustrated by

the following examples:—

tвtli , father.
tātlĭ , thou drinkest.
tātlо , we drink.

It is, however, evident from this example that the quantity of

Nahuatl syllables enters too much into the strictly formal part of

the language for rules of position, such as some of those above

given, to be binding; and doubtless for this reason the eminent

grammarian Carlos de Tapia Zenteno, who was professor of the tongue

in the University of Mexico, denies that it can be reduced to

definite rules of prosody like those of the Latin.


Substituting accent for quantity, there would seem to be an iambic

character to the songs. Thus the first words of Song I, were probably


Nino’ yolno’ notza’ campa’ nicŭ iz’ yec tli’ ahui aca’ xochitl’:


But the directions given for the drums at the beginning of Songs

XVIII, XIX, etc., do not indicate a continuance of these feet, but of

others, as in XIX:—

u—, u—, u—, uu—, u—, u—, u—, etc.

Indeed, we may suppose that the metre varied with the subject and the

skill of the poet. This, in fact, is the precise statement of Father

Duran,24 who speaks of the native poets as “giving to each song a

different tune (sonada), as we are accustomed in our poetry to have

the sonnet, the octava rima and the terceto.”


Descriptions of the concerts so popular among the Nahuas have been

preserved by the older writers, and it is of the highest importance

to understand their methods in order to appreciate the songs

presented in this volume.

These concerts were held on ceremonial occasions in the open air, in

the village squares or in the courtyards of the houses. They began in

the morning and usually continued until nightfall, occasionally far

into the night. The musicians occupied the centre of the square and

the trained singers stood or sat around them. When the sign was given

to begin, the two most skillful singers, sometimes a man and a woman,

pronounced the first syllables of the song slowly but with a sharp


the drums began in a low tone, and gradually increased in

strength as the song proceeded; the other singers united their voices

until the whole chorus was in action, and often the bystanders, to

the numbers of thousands, would ultimately join in the words of some

familiar song, keeping time by concerted movements of the hands and


Each verse or couplet of the song was repeated three or four times

before proceeding to the next, and those songs which were of the

slowest measure and least emotional in character were selected for

the earlier hours of the festivals. None of the songs was lengthy,

even the longest, in spite of the repetitions, rarely lasting over an


The tone in which the words were chanted is described by Clavigero,

Mьhlenpfordt and other comparatively recent travelers as harsh,

strident and disagreeable to the European ear. Mendieta calls it a

“contra-bass,” and states that persons gifted with such a voice

cultivated it assiduously and were in great demand. The Nahuas call

it tozquitl, the singing voice, and likened it to the notes of

sweet singing birds.


The Nahuas were not acquainted with any stringed instrument. They

manufactured, however, a variety of objects from which they could

extract what seemed to them melodious sounds. The most important were

two forms of drums, the huehuetl and the teponaztli.

The word huehuetl means something old, something ancient, and

therefore important and great. The drum so-called was a hollow

cylinder of wood, thicker than a man’s body, and usually about five

palms in height. The end was covered with tanned deerskin, firmly

stretched. The sides were often elaborately carved and tastefully

painted. This drum was placed upright on a stand in front of the

player and the notes were produced by striking the parchment with the

tips of the fingers.

A smaller variety of this instrument was called tlapanhuehuetl, or

the half drum, which was of the same diameter but only half the

height.27 Still another variety was the yopihuehuetl, “the drum

which tears out the heart,”28 so called either by reason of its

penetrating and powerful sound, or because it was employed at the

Yopico, where that form of human sacrifice was conducted.

The teponaztli was a cylindrical block of wood hollowed out below,

and on its upper surface with two longitudinal parallel grooves

running nearly from end to end, and a third in the centre at right

angles to these, something in the shape of the letter I. The two

tongues left between the grooves were struck with balls of rubber,

ulli, on the ends of handles or drum sticks. These instruments

varied greatly in size, some being five feet in length, and others so

small that they could conveniently be carried suspended to the neck.

The teponaztli was the house instrument of the Nahuas. It was

played in the women’s apartments to amuse the noble ladies, and the

war captains carried one at the side to call the attention of their

cohorts on the field of battle (Sahagun). The word is derived from

the name of the tree whose wood was selected to make the drum, and

this in turn from the verb tepunazoa, to swell, probably from some

peculiarity of its growth.29

A much superior instrument to the teponaztli, and doubtless a

development from it, was the tecomapiloa, “the suspended vase”

(tecomatl, gourd or vase, piloa, to hang or suspend). It was a

solid block of wood, with a projecting ridge on its upper surface and

another opposite, on its lower aspect; to the latter one or more

gourds or vases were suspended, which increased and softened the

sound when the upper ridge was struck with the ulli.30 This was

undoubtedly the origin of the marimba, which I have described


The musical properties of these drums have been discussed by Theodor

Baker. The teponaztli, he states, could yield but two notes, and

could not have been played in accord with the huehuetl. It served as

an imperfect contra-bass.32

The omichicahuaz, “strong bone,” was constructed somewhat on the

principle of a teponaztli. A large and long bone was selected, as

the femur of a man or deer, and it was channeled by deep longitudinal

incisions. The projections left between the fissures were rasped with

another bone or a shell, and thus a harsh but varied sound could be


The tetzilacatl, the “vibrator” or “resounder,” was a sheet of

copper suspended by a cord, which was struck with sticks or with the

hand. It appears to have been principally confined to the sacred

music in the temples.

The ayacachtli was a rattle formed of a jar of earthenware or a

dried gourd containing pebbles which was fastened to a handle, and

served to mark time in the songs and dances. An extension of this

simple instrument was the ayacachicahualiztli, “the arrangement of

rattles,” which was a thin board about six feet long and a span wide,

to which were attached bells, rattles and cylindrical pieces of hard

wood. Shaking this produced a jingle-jangle, agreeable to the native

ear. The Aztec bells of copper, tzilinilli, are really metallic

rattles, like our sleigh bells. They are often seen in collections of

Mexican antiquities. Other names for them were coyolli and


Various forms of flutes and fifes, made of reeds, of bone or of

pottery, were called by names derived from the word pitzaua, to

blow (e.g., tlapitzalli, uilacapitzli), and sometimes, as being

punctured with holes, zozoloctli, from zotl, the awl or

instrument used in perforating skins, etc. Many of those made of

earthenware have been preserved, and they appear to have been a

highly-esteemed instrument, as Sahagun mentions that the leader of

the choir of singers in the temple bore the title tlapitzcatzin,

“the noble flute player.”

Large conches were obtained on the seashore and framed into wind

instruments called quiquiztli and tecciztli, whose hoarse notes

could be heard for long distances, and whistles of wood, bone and

earthenware added their shrill notes to the noise of the chanting of

the singers. The shell of the tortoise, ayotl, dried and suspended,

was beaten in unison with such instruments.

Recent researches by competent musical experts conducted upon

authentic specimens of the ancient Mexican instruments have tended to

elevate our opinion of their skill in this art. Mr. H.T. Cresson, of

the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, has critically

examined the various Aztec clay flutes, whistles, etc., which are

there preserved, and has reached the following conclusions:—

“I. That upon the four-holed clay flageolets the chromatic and

diatonic scales can be produced with a full octave.

“II. That the clay whistles or pitch pipes, which may be manipulated

in quartette, will produce an octave and a fourth.

“III. From the facts above shown, the Aztecs must have possessed a

knowledge of the scales as known to us, which has been fully tested

by comparison with the flute and organ.”34

This result indicates for the instrumental accompaniment a much

higher position in musical notation than has hitherto been accepted.


All the old writers who were familiar with the native songs speak of

their extreme obscurity, and the difficulty of translating them. No

one will question the intimate acquaintance with the Nahuatl language

possessed by Father Sahagun; yet no one has expressed more strongly

than he the vagueness of the Nahuatl poetic dialect. “Our enemy on

earth,” he writes, “has prepared a thick woods and a dangerous ground

full of pitfalls, wherein to devise his evil deeds and to hide

himself from attack, as do wild beasts and venomous serpents. This

woods and these pitfalls are the songs which he has inspired to be

used in his service, as praises to his honor, in the temples and

elsewhere; because they are composed with such a trick that they

proclaim only what the devil commands, and are understood only by

those to whom they are addressed. It is well known that the cavern,

woods or depths in which the devil hides himself were these chants or

psalms which he himself has composed, and which cannot be understood

in their true significance except by those who are accustomed to the

peculiar style of their language.”35

Not less positive are the expressions of Father Diego Duran,

contemporary of Sahagun, and himself well versed in the native

tongue. “All their songs,” he observes, “were composed in such

obscure metaphors that scarcely any one can understand them unless he

give especial attention to their construction.”36 The worthy

Boturini was puzzled by those which he had collected, and writes,

“the songs are difficult to explain, because they mystify historical

facts with constant allegorizing,”37 and Boturini’s literary

executor, Don Mariano Echevarria y Veitia, who paid especial

attention to the poetic fragments he had received, says frankly: “The

fact is, that as to the songs I have not found a person who can fully

translate them, because there are many words in them whose

signification is absolutely unknown to-day, and moreover which do not

appear in the vocabularies of Molina or others.”38

The Abbй Clavigero speaks in somewhat more definite terms of the

poetic forms and licenses of the language. He notes that in the

fragments of the ancient verses which had been preserved until his

day there were inserted between the significant words certain

interjections and meaningless syllables, apparently to fill out the

metre. Nevertheless, he considered the language of the chants, “pure,

pleasant, brilliant, figurative and replete with allusions to the

more pleasing objects in nature, as flowers, trees, brooks, etc.”39

It is quite evident from the above extracts that in the translation

of the ancient songs in the present volume we must be prepared for

serious difficulties, the more so as the Nahuatl language, in the

opinion of some who are the best acquainted with it, lends itself

with peculiar facility to ambiguities of expression and obscure

figures of speech.40 Students of American ethnology are familiar

with the fact that in nearly all tribes the language of the sacred

songs differs materially from that in daily life.

Of the older grammarians, Father Carochi alone has left us actual

specimens of the ancient poetic dialect, and his observations are

regretably brief. They occur in his chapter on the composition of

nouns and read as follows:41

“The ancient Indians were chary in forming compounds of more than two

words, while those of to-day exceed this number, especially if they

speak of sacred things; although in their poetic dialect the ancients

were also extravagant in this respect, as the following examples


1. Tlāuhquйchōllaztalēhualtт tōnatoc.

1. It is gleaming red like the tlauhquechol bird.

2. Ayauhcoзamālōtōnamēyтtimani.

2. And it glows like the rainbow.

3. Xiuhcуyуlizнtzоlica in teōcuitlahuēhuētl.

3. The silver drum sounds like bells of turquoise.

4. Xiuhtlapallаcuilōlāmoxtli manca.

4. There was a book of annals written and painted in colors.

5. Nic chālchiuhcozcameca quenmach tтtуma in nocuic.

5. I see my song unfolding in a thousand directions, like a string of

precious stones.”

From the specimens presented in this volume and from the above

extracts, I would assign the following peculiarities to the poetic

dialect of the Nahuatl:—

I. Extreme frequency and richness of metaphor. Birds, flowers,

precious stones and brilliant objects are constantly introduced in a

figurative sense, often to the point of obscuring the meaning of the


II. Words are compounded to a much greater extent than in ordinary

prose writing.

III. Both words and grammatical forms unknown to the tongue of daily

life occur. These may be archaic, or manufactured capriciously by the


IV. Vowels are inordinately lengthened and syllables reduplicated,

either for the purpose of emphasis or of meter.

V. Meaningless interjections are inserted for metrical effect, while

others are thrown in and repeated in order to express emotion.

VI. The rhetorical figure known as aposiopesis, where a sentence is

left unfinished and in an interjectional condition, in consequence of

some emotion of the mind, is not rare and adds to the obscurity of

the wording.


In a passage already quoted,42

Sahagun imparts the interesting

information that the more important songs were written down by the

Nahuas in their books, and from these taught to the youth in the

schools. A certain branch of the Mexican hieroglyphic writing was

largely phonetic, constructed on that method to which I have applied

the adjective ikonomatic, and by which it was quite possible to

preserve the sound as well as the sense of sentences and verses.43

Such attention could have been bestowed only on the sacred, royal, or

legendary chants, while the compositions of ordinary poets would only

be disseminated by oral teaching.

By one or both of these methods there was a large body of poetic

chants the property of the Nahuatl-speaking tribes, when they were

subjugated by the Europeans. Among the intelligent missionaries who

devoted their lives to mastering the language and translating into it

the doctrines of Christianity, there were a few who felt sufficient

interest in these chants to write some of them down in the original

tongue. Conspicuous among these was the laborious Bernardino de

Sahagun, whose works are our most valued sources of information on

all that concerns the life of the ancient Nahuas. He collected a

number of their sacred hymns, translated them into Spanish, and

inserted them into the Appendix to the Second Book of his History ofNew Spain; but this portion of his work was destroyed by order of

the Inquisition, as a note in the original MS. expressly states.44

A certain number, however, were preserved in the original tongue,

and, as already noted, we find the able grammarian Horatio Carochi,

who published his Grammar of the Nahuatl in 1645, quoting lines from

some as furnishing examples of the genuine ancient forms of

word-building. He could not, therefore, have doubted their antiquity

and authenticity.

A number of these must have come to the knowledge and were probably

in the possession of the eminent mathematician and antiquary Don

Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora, who lived in the latter half of the

same century (died 1700). It was avowedly upon the information which

he thought he gleaned from these ancient chants that he constructed

his historical theory of the missionary labors of St. Thomas in

Mexico in the first century of our era. The title of the work he

wrote upon this notion was as follows:—

Fenix del Occidente San Thomas Apуstol, hallado con el nombre deQuetzalcoatl entre las cenizas de antiguas tradiciones, conservadas

en piedras, en Teoamoxtles Tultecas, y en cantares Teochichimecas y


For many years this curious work, which was never printed, was

supposed to be lost; but the original MS. is extant, in the

possession of the distinguished antiquary Don Alfredo Chavero, of the

City of Mexico.45 Unfortunately, however, the author did not insert

in his work any song in the native language nor a literal translation

of any, as I am informed by Seсor Chavero, who has kindly examined

the work carefully at my request, with this inquiry in view.

Half a century later, when Boturini was collecting his material, he

found but very few of the old poems. In the catalogue of his MSS. he

mentions (XIX, 1) some fragments of ancient songs, badly written, on

European paper, but he does not say whether in the original or

translated. The same doubt might rest on the two songs of

Nezahualcoyotl named in his Catalogue (V, 2). He does not

specifically state that they are in the original. The song of

Moquihuix, King of Tlatilulco, in which he celebrated his victory

over the Cuextla, which Boturini states in his text (p. 91) as in his

possession, is not mentioned at all in his Catalogue, and it is

uncertain whether his copy was in Nahuatl.

His literary friend, however, Don Mariano Echevarria y Veitia,

removes the uncertainty about the two songs of Nezahualcoyotl, as he

informs us that they were in the original tongue, and adds that he

had inserted them in his History without translation.46 I have

examined the manuscript of his work, now in the Lenox Library, New

York City, but it does not contain these texts, and evidently the

copy used by Bustamente did not.47

Boturini included the translations of the two odes of Nezahualcoyotl

in a work on the Virgin of Guadelupe, only a fragment of which has

been preserved. One of the chapters in this Latin Essay is entitled

De Indorum Poetarum Canticis sive Prosodiis, in which he introduces

Ixtlilxochitl’s translation and also a song in the original Nahuatl,

but the latter is doubtless of late date and unimportant as a really

native production.48

The fragments of Boturini’s library collected by M. Aubin, of Paris,

contain a number of the original ancient songs of the highest

importance, which make us regret the more that this collection has

been up to the present inaccessible to students. In his description

of these relics published in 1851, M. Aubin refers to the HistoricalAnnals of the Mexican Nation (§ VIII, 10, of Boturini’s Catalogue)

as containing “historical songs in a dialect so difficult that I have

not been able to translate them entirely,” and adds that similar

songs are preserved in others of the ancient annals in his hands.49


The most distinguished figure among the Nahuatl poets was

Nezahualcoyotl, ruler of Tezcuco. His death took place in 1472, at

the age of eighty years. His father, Ixtlilxochitl, had been deprived

of his possessions and put to death by Tezozomoc, King of the

Tepanecas, and until the death of the latter at an advanced age in

1427, Nezahualcoyotl could make but vain efforts to restore the power

of his family. Much of the time he was in extreme want, and for this

reason, and for his savage persistence in the struggle, he acquired

the name “the fasting or hungry wolf”— nezahualcoyotl. Another of

his names was Acolmiztli, usually translated “arm of the lion,”

from aculli, shoulder, and miztli, lion.

A third was Yoyontzin, which is equivalent to cevetor nobilis,

from yoyoma (cevere, i.e., femora movere in re venered); it is

to be understood figuratively as indicating the height of the

masculine forces.

When his power became assured, he proved himself a liberal and

enlightened patron of the arts and industries. The poetry and music

of his native land attracted him the more as he felt within himself

the moving god, firing his imagination with poetic vision, the Deusin nobis, calescimus, agitant’illo. Not only did he diligently seek

out and royally entertain skilled bards, but he himself had the

credit of composing sixty chants, and it appears that after the

Conquest there were that many written down in Roman characters and

attributed to him. We need not inquire too closely whether they were

strictly his own composition. Perhaps they were framed on themes

which he furnished, or were selected by him from those sung at his

court by various bards. The history of the works by royal authors

everywhere must not be too minutely scanned if we wish to leave them

their reputation for originality.

He was of a philosophic as well as a poetic temperament, and

reflected deeply on the problems of life and nature. Following the

inherent tendency of the enlightened intellect to seek unity in

diversity, the One in the Many, he reached the conclusion to which so

many thinkers in all ages and of all races have been driven, that

underlying all phenomena is one primal and adequate Cause, the

Essence of all Existence. This conclusion he expressed in a

philosophic apothegm which was preserved by his disciples, in these


Ipan in chicunauitlamanpan meztica in tloque nahuaque palne nohuaniteyocoyani icel teotl oquiyocox in ixquex quexquex in ittoni ihuan

amo ittoni.

“In the ninth series is the Cause of All, of us and of all created

things, the one only God who created all things both visible and


To perpetuate the memory of this philosophic deduction he caused to

be constructed at Tezcuco a stone tower nine stories in height, the

ruins of which were visible long after the Spanish occupation. To

this tower he gave the name Chililitli, a term of uncertain meaning,

but which we find was applied in Tenochtitlan to a building sacred to

the Nine Winds.51 To explain the introduction of this number, I

should add that a certain school of Nahuatl priests taught that the

heaven above and the earth below were each divided into nine

concentric arcs, each leading farther and farther away from the

conditions of the present life. Hence, there were nine heavens,

abodes of the gods, and nine lower regions, abodes of the souls of

the dead. Another school taught that there were not nine but thirteen

of these stages.

The sixty poems by Nezahualcoyotl are mentioned by various writers as

in existence after the Conquest, reduced to writing in the original

tongue, and of several of them we have translations or abstracts.52

Of four the translations claim to be complete, and were published

entire for the first time in the original Spanish by Lord

Kingsborough in the ninth volume of his great work on the

Antiquities of Mexico. Since then they have received various

renderings in prose and verse into different languages at the hands

of modern writers.

I shall give a literal prose translation from the Spanish, numbering

the poems and their verses, for convenience of reference, in the

order in which they appear in the pages of Lord Kingsborough.

The first is one referred to, and partly translated by Ixtlilxochitl,

in his Historia Chichimeca (cap. 47). He calls it a xopancuicatl

(see ante, p. 15), and states that it was composed and sung on the

occasion of the banquet when the king laid the foundations of his

great palace. He gives the first words in the original as follows:—

Tlaxoconcaguican ani Nezahualcoyotzin;

And the translation:—

“Hear that which says the King Nezahualcoyotl.”

Restoring the much mutilated original to what I should think was its

proper form, the translation should read:—

“Listen attentively to what I, the singer, the noble Nezahualcoyotl,



1. Listen with attention to the lamentations which I, the King

Nezahualcoyotl, make upon my power, speaking with myself, and

offering an example to others.

2. O restless and striving king, when the time of thy death shall

come, thy subjects shall be destroyed and driven forth; they shall

sink into dark oblivion. Then in thy hand shall no longer be the

power and the rule, but with the Creator, the All-powerful.

3. He who saw the palaces and court of the old King Tezozomoc, how

flourishing and powerful was his sway, may see them now dry and

withered; it seemed as if they should last forever, but all that the

world offers is illusion and deception, as everything must end and


4. Sad and strange it is to see and reflect on the prosperity and

power of the old and dying King Tezozomoc; watered with ambition and

avarice, he grew like a willow tree rising above the grass and

flowers of spring, rejoicing for a long time, until at length,

withered and decayed, the storm wind of death tore him from his

roots, and dashed him in fragments to the ground. The same fate

befell the ancient King Colzatzli, so that no memory was left of him,

nor of his lineage.

5. In these lamentations and in this sad song, I now call to memory

and offer as an example that which takes place in the spring, and the

end which overtook King Tezozomoc; and who, seeing this, can refrain

from tears and wailing, that these various flowers and rich delights

are bouquets that pass from hand to hand and all wither and end even

in the present life!

6. Ye sons of kings and mighty lords, ponder well and think upon that

which I tell you in these my lamentations, of what takes place in

spring and of the end which overtook King Tezozomoc; and who, seeing

this, can refrain from tears and wailing that these various flowers

and rich delights are bouquets that pass from hand to hand and all

wither and end even in the present life!

7. Let the birds now enjoy, with melodious voices, the abundance of

the house of the flowery spring, and the butterflies sip the nectar

of its flowers.

The second song is preserved in a Spanish metrical translation only,

but which from internal evidence I should judge to be quite literal.

The words of the poem do not represent it as a composition by the

royal poet, but one which was sung before him, and addressed to him.

It admonishes him to rejoice in the present moment, as the

uncertainties of life and fate must at some time, perhaps very soon,

deprive him of their enjoyment.


1. I wish to sing for a moment, since time and occasion are

propitious; I hope to be permitted, as my intention merits it, and I

begin my song, though it were better called a lamentation.

2. And thou, beloved companion, enjoy the beauty of these flowers,

rejoice with me, cast out fears, for if pleasure ends with life, so

also does pain.

3. I, singing, will touch the sonorous instrument, and thou,

rejoicing in the flowers, dance and give pleasure to God the

powerful. Let us be happy in the present, for life is transitory.

4. Thou hast placed thy noble court in Acolhuacan, thine are its

lintels, thou hast decked them, and one may well believe that with

such grandeur thy state shall increase and grow.

5. O prudent Yoyontzin, famous king and peerless monarch, rejoice in

the present, be happy in the springtime, for a day shall come in

which thou shall vainly seek these joys.

6. Then thy destiny shall snatch the sceptre from thy hand, thy moon

shall wane, no longer wilt thou be strong and proud, then thy

servants shall be destitute of all things.

7. In this sad event, the nobles of thy line, the provinces of might,

children of noble parents, lacking thee as their lord, shall taste

the bitterness of poverty.

8. They shall call to mind how great was thy pomp, thy triumphs and

victories, and bewailing the glory and majesty of the past, their

tears will flow like seas.

9. These thy descendants who serve thy plume and crown, when thou art

gone, will forsake Culhuacan, and as exiles will increase their woes.

10. Little will fame have to tell of this wondrous majesty, worthy of

a thousand heralds; the nations will only remember how wisely

governed the three chieftains who held the power,

11. At Mexico, Montezuma the famous and valorous, at Culhuacan the

fortunate Nezahualcoyotl, and at the stronghold of Acatlapan,


12. I fear no oblivion for thy just deeds, standing as thou dost in

thy place appointed by the Supreme Lord of All, who governs all


13. Therefore, O Nezahualcoyotl, rejoice in what the present offers,

crown thyself with flowers from thy gardens, hear my song and music

which aim to please thee.

14. The pleasures and riches of this life are but loaned, their

substance is vain, their appearance illusory; and so true is this

that I ask thee for an answer to these questions:

15. What has become of Cihuapan? Of the brave Quantzintecomatzin? Of

Conahuatzin? What of all these people? Perhaps these very words have

already passed into another life.

16. Would that we who are now united by the ties of love and

friendship could foresee the sharp edge of death, for nothing is

certain, and the future ever brings changes.

The third is a “spring song” in which the distinguished warriors of

the king are compared to precious stones. Such jewels were believed

by the Nahuas to possess certain mysterious powers as charms and

amulets, a belief, it is needless to say, found among almost all

nations. In verse 18 there is a reference to the superstition that at

dawn, when these jewels are exposed to the first rays of the sun,

they emit a fine vapor which wafts abroad their subtle potency. The

poem is in Spanish verse, and the original is said to have been

written down by Don Fernando de Avila, governor of Tlalmanalco, from

the mouth of Don Juan de Aguilar, governor of Cultepec, a direct

descendant of Nezahualcoyotl.


1. The flowery spring has its house, its court, its palace, adorned

with riches, with goods in abundance.

2. With discreet art they are arranged and placed, rich feathers,

precious stones, surpassing in luster the sun.

3. There is the valued carbuncle, which from its beauteous center

darts forth rays which are the lights of knowledge.

4. There is the prized diamond, sign of strength, shooting forth its

brilliant gleams.

5. Here one sees the translucent emerald suggesting the hope of the

rewards of merit.

6. Next follows the topaz, equaling the emerald, for the reward it

promises is a heavenly dwelling.

7. The amethyst, signifying the cares which a king has for his

subjects, and moderation in desires.

8. These are what kings, princes and monarchs delight to place upon

their breasts and crowns.

9. All these stones with their varied and singular virtues, adorn Thy

house and court, O Father, O Infinite God!

10. These stones which I the King Nezahualcoyotl have succeeded in

uniting in loving liens,

11. Are the famous princes, the one called Axaxacatzin, the other

Chimalpopoca, and Xicomatzintlamata.

12. To-day, somewhat rejoiced by the joy and words of these, and of

the other lords who were with them,

13. I feel, when alone, that my soul is pleased but for a brief time,

and that all pleasure soon passes.

14. The presence of these daring eagles pleases me, of these lions

and tigers who affright the world,

15. These who by their valor win everlasting renown, whose name and

whose deeds fame will perpetuate.

16. Only to-day am I glad and look upon these rich and varied stones,

the glory of my bloody battles.

17. To-day, noble princes, protectors of the realm, my will is to

entertain you and to praise you.

18. It seems to me that ye answer from your souls, like the fine

vapor arising from precious stones,—

19. “O King Nezahualcoyotl, O royal Montezuma, your subjects sustain

themselves with your soft dews.

20. “But at last a day shall come which will cut away this power, and

all these will be left wretched orphans.

21. “Rejoice, mighty King, in this lofty power which the King of

Heaven has granted you, rejoice and be glad.

22. “In the life of this world there is no beginning anew, therefore

rejoice, for all good ends.

23. “The future promises endless changes, griefs that your subjects

will have to undergo.

24. “Ye see before you the instruments decked with wreaths of odorous

flowers; rejoice in their fragrance.

25. “To-day there are peace, and goodfellowship; therefore let all

join hands and rejoice in the dances,

26. “So that for a little while princes and kings and the nobles may

have pleasure in these precious stones,

27. “Which through his goodness the will of the King Nezahualcoyotl

has set forth for you, inviting you to-day to his house.”

The fourth song has been preserved in an Otomi translation by the

Mexican antiquary Granados y Galvez53 and in an abstract by

Torquemada.54 The latter gives the first words as follows:—

Xochitl mamani in huehuetitlan:

Which he translates:—

“There are fresh and fragrant flowers among the groves.”

It is said to have been composed at the time the king dedicated his



1. The fleeting pomps of the world are like the green willow trees,

which, aspiring to permanence, are consumed by a fire, fall before

the axe, are upturned by the wind, or are scarred and saddened by


2. The grandeurs of life are like the flowers in color and in fate;

the beauty of these remains so long as their chaste buds gather and

store the rich pearls of the dawn and saving it, drop it in liquid

dew; but scarcely has the Cause of All directed upon them the full

rays of the sun, when their beauty and glory fail, and the brilliant

gay colors which decked forth their pride wither and fade.

3. The delicious realms of flowers count their dynasties by short

periods; those which in the morning revel proudly in beauty and

strength, by evening weep for the sad destruction of their thrones,

and for the mishaps which drive them to loss, to poverty, to death

and to the grave. All things of earth have an end, and in the midst

of the most joyous lives, the breath falters, they fall, they sink

into the ground.

4. All the earth is a grave, and nought escapes it; nothing is so

perfect that it does not fall and disappear. The rivers, brooks,

fountains and waters flow on, and never return to their joyous

beginnings; they hasten on to the vast realms of Tlaloc, and the

wider they spread between their marges the more rapidly do they mould

their own sepulchral urns. That which was yesterday is not to-day;

and let not that which is to-day trust to live to-morrow.

5. The caverns of earth are filled with pestilential dust which once

was the bones, the flesh, the bodies of great ones who sate upon

thrones, deciding causes, ruling assemblies, governing armies,

conquering provinces, possessing treasures, tearing down temples,

flattering themselves with pride, majesty, fortune, praise and

dominion. These glories have passed like the dark smoke thrown out by

the fires of Popocatepetl, leaving no monuments but the rude skins on

which they are written.

6. Ha! ha! Were I to introduce you into the obscure bowels of this

temple, and were to ask you which of these bones were those of the

powerful Achalchiuhtlanextin, first chief of the ancient Toltecs; of

Necaxecmitl, devout worshiper of the gods; if I inquire where is the

peerless beauty of the glorious empress Xiuhtzal, where the peaceable

Topiltzin, last monarch of the hapless land of Tulan; if I ask you

where are the sacred ashes of our first father Xolotl; those of the

bounteous Nopal; those of the generous Tlotzin; or even the still

warm cinders of my glorious and immortal, though unhappy and luckless

father Ixtlilxochitl; if I continued thus questioning about all our

august ancestors, what would you reply? The same that I reply—I know

not, I know not; for first and last are confounded in the common

clay. What was their fate shall be ours, and of all who follow us.

7. Unconquered princes, warlike chieftains, let us seek, let us sigh

for the heaven, for there all is eternal, and nothing is corruptible.

The darkness of the sepulchre is but the strengthening couch for the

glorious sun, and the obscurity of the night but serves to reveal the

brilliancy of the stars. No one has power to alter these heavenly

lights, for they serve to display the greatness of their Creator, and

as our eyes see them now, so saw them our earliest ancestors, and so

shall see them our latest posterity.

It will be seen that the philosophy of these songs is mostly of the

Epicurean and carpe diem order. The certainty of death and the

mutability of fortune, observations which press themselves upon the

mind of man everywhere, are their principal staples, and cast over

them a hue of melancholy, relieved by exhortations to enjoy to the

utmost what the present moment offers of pleasure and sensual

gratification. Here and there a gleam of a higher philosophy lights

the sombre reflections of the bard; his thoughts turn toward the

infinite Creator of this universe, and he dimly apprehends that by

making Him the subject of his contemplation, there is boundless

consolation even in this mortal life.

Both these leading motifs recur over and over again in the songs

printed in the original in the present volume, and this similarity is

a common token of the authenticity of the book.


The most recent Mexican writers formally deny that any ancient

Mexican poetry is now extant. Thus the eminent antiquary, Don Alfredo

Chavero, in his elaborate work, Mйxico б travйs de los Siglos,

says, “the truth is, we know no specimens of the ancient poetry, and

those, whether manuscript or printed, which claim to be such, date

from after the Conquest.”55 In a similar strain the grammarian

Diario Julio Caballero, writes: “There has never come into our hands

a single poetic composition in this language. It is said that the

great King Nezahualcoyotl was a poet and composed various songs;

however that may be, the fact is that we have never seen any such

compositions, nor met any person who has seen them.”56

It is important, therefore, to state the exact provenance of the

specimens printed in this volume, many of which I consider to have

been composed previous to the Conquest, and written down shortly

after the Nahuatl language had been reduced to the Spanish alphabet.

All of them are from a MS. volume in the library of the University of

Mexico, entitled Cantares de los Mexicanos y otros opusculos,

composed of various pieces in different handwritings, which, from

their appearance and the character of the letter, were attributed by

the eminent antiquary Don Josй F. Ramirez, to the sixteenth and

seventeenth centuries.

The copy I have used is that made by the late Abbй Brasseur (de

Bourbourg). It does not appear to be complete, but my efforts to have

it collated with the original have not been successful. Another copy

was taken by the late well-known Mexican scholar Faustino

Chimalpopoca, which was in the possession of Seсor Ramirez and sold

at the vendue of his books in 1880. It is No. 511 of the catalogue.

The final decision of the age of the poems must come from a careful

scrutiny of the internal evidence, especially the thoughts they

contain and the language in which they are expressed. In applying

these tests, it should be remembered that a song may be almost wholly

ancient, that is, composed anterior to the Conquest, and yet display

a few later allusions introduced by the person who preserved it in

writing, so as to remove from it the flavor of heathenism. Some

probable instances of this kind will be pointed out in the Notes.

The songs are evidently from different sources and of different

epochs. There are two notes inserted in the MS. which throw some

light on the origin of a few of the poems. The first is in connection

with No. XII. In my copy of the MS, the title of this song is written

twice, and between the two the following memorandum appears in


“Ancient songs of the native Otomis, which they were accustomed to

sing at their festivals and marriages, translated into the Mexican

language, the play and the spirit of the song and its figures of

speech being always retained; as Your Reverence will understand, they

displayed considerable style and beauty, better than I can express

with my slight talent; and may Your Reverence at your convenience

approve and be entertained by them, as a skilled master of the

tongue, as Your Reverence is.”

From its position and from the titles following, this note appears to

apply only to No. XII.

The second note is prefixed to No. XIV, which has no title. It is in

Nahuatl, and reads as follows:—


Nican ompehua in cuicatl motenehua melahuac Huexotzincayotl ic

moquichitoya in tlatoque Huexotzinca mani mecatca; yexcan inic

tlatlamantitica, teuccuicatl ahnoзo quauhcuicatl, xochicuicatl,

icnocuicatl. Auh inic motzotzona huehuetl cencamatl mocauhtiuh, auh

in occencamatl ipan huetzi yetetl ti; auh in huel ic ompehua centetl

ti; auh inic mocuepa quiniquac iticpa huehuetzi y huehuetl, zan

mocemana in maitl; auh quiniquac iyeinepantla occeppa itenco

hualcholoa in huehuetl; tel yehuatl itech mottaz, ynima ynaquin

cuicani quimati iniuh motzotzona; auh yancuican yenoceppa inin

cuicatl ychan D. Diego de Leon, Governador Azcapotzalco; yehuatl

oquitzotzon in D. Frco Placido ypan xihuitl 1551, ypan in

ezcalilitzin tl Jesu Christo.

This may be freely translated as follows:—

“Here begins a song called a plain song of Huexotzinco as it was

recited by the lords of Huexotzinco. These songs are divided into

three classes, the songs of the nobles or of the eagles, the flower

songs, and the songs of destitution. (Directions follow for beating

the drum in unison with the voices.) This song was sung at the house

of Don Diego de Leon, Governor of Azcapotzalco; he who beat the drum

was Don Francisco Placido; in the year of the resurrection of our

Lord Jesus Christ 1551.”

This assigns beyond doubt the song in question to the first half of

the sixteenth century, and we may therefore take its phraseology as a

type of the Nahuatl poetry shortly after the Conquest. It is also

stated to be a native composition, and from its contents, it was

clearly composed by one of the converts to the Christian faith.



Diego Duran, Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espaсa,

Tom. I, p. 233; and compare Geronimo de Mendieta, HistoriaEclesiastica Indiana, Lib. II, cap. 31.


Sahagun, Historia de Nueva Espaсa, Lib. VIII, cap.



Sahagun, Historia de Nueva Espaсa, Lib. III, cap. 8.


Cuicoyan, from cuica, song, and the place-ending

yan, which is added to the impersonal form of the verb, in this

instance, cuicoa. Mr. Bancroft entirely misapprehends Tezozomoc’s

words about these establishments, and gives an erroneous rendering of

the term. See his Native Races of the Pacific Coast, Vol. II, p.

290, and Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, cap. 18.


Juan de Torquemada, Monarquia Indiana, Lib. VI, cap.



Torquemada, Monarquia Indiana, Lib. XVII, cap. 3.

Didacus Valades, who was in Mexico about 1550, writes of the natives:

“Habent instrumenta musica permulta in quibus semulatione quadam se

exercent.” Rhetorica Christiana, Pars. IV, cap. 24.


Descriptions are given by Edward Mьhlenpfordt, DieRepublik Mexico, Bd. I, pp. 250-52 (Hannover, 1844).


Molina translates piqui, “crear ф plasmar Dios alguna

cosa de nuevo.” Vocabulario de la Lengua Mexicana, s.v.


Sahagun, Historia de Nueva Espaсa, Lib. X, cap. 8.


Boturini, Idea de una Nueva Historia General, p. 97.


Clavigero, Storia antica di Messico, Lib. VII, p.



Torquemada, Monarquia Indiana, Lib. X, cap. 34.


Duran, Hist. de la Indias de Nueva Espaсa, Tom. I, p.



Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, cap. 64.


Ixtlilxochitl, Historia Chichimeca, cap. 47.


Boturini, Idea de una Nueva Historia General, p. 90.


Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, cap. 53.


See Sahagun, Historia de Neuva Espaсa, Lib. IV, chap.

17, and Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, cap. 64.


Cuitlaxoteyotl, from cuitatl, mierda;

tecuilhuicuicatl, from tecuilhuaztli, sello, tecuilonti, el que

lo haze a otro, pecando contra natura. Molina, Vocabulario.


William A. Hammond, The Disease of the Scythians(morbus feminarum) and Certain Analogous Conditions, in the

American Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1882.


Cronica Mexicana, cap. 2.


On this subject the reader may consult Parades,

Compendio del Arte de la Lengua Mexicana, pp. 5, 6, and Sandoval,

Arte de la Lengua Mexicana, pp. 60, 61. Tapia Zenteno whose ArteNovissima de la Lengua Mexicana was published in 1753, rejects

altogether the saltillo, and says its invention is of no use except

to make students work harder! (pp. 3, 4.) The vowels with saltillo,

he maintains, are simply to be pronounced with a slight aspiration.

Nevertheless, the late writers continue to employ and describe the

saltillo, as Chimalpopoca, Epitome б Modo Facil de aprender elIdioma Nahuatl, p. 6. (Mexico, 1869.)


Arte Novissima de la Lengua Mexicana, pp. 3, 4.


Duran, Historia de Nueva Espaсa, Tom. I, p. 230.


The singer who began the song was called cuicaito,

“the speaker of the song.”


The most satisfactory description of these concerts is

that given by Geronimo de Mendieta, Historia Eclesiastica Indiana,

Lib. II, cap. 31. I have taken some particulars from Boturini and



Literally, “the broken drum,” from tlapana, to break,

as they say tlapanhuimetzli, half moon. It is described by

Tezozomoc as “un atambor bajo.” Cronica Mexicana, cap. 53.


From yollotl, heart, and pi, to tear out. The

instrument is mentioned by Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, cap. 48. On

the Yopico, and its ceremonies, see Sahagun, Historia de NuevaEspaсa, Lib. II, cap. 1, and Appendix.


Simeon, however, thinks the name arose from the growing

and swelling of the sound of the instrument (notes to Jourdanet’s

translation of Sahagun, p. 28). Mr. H.H. Bancroft gives the

astonishing translation of teponaztli, “wing of stone vapor!”

(Native Races of the Pacific States, Vol. II, p. 293.) Brasseur

traced the word to a Maya-Quiche root, tep. In both Nahuatl and

Maya this syllable is the radicle of various words meaning to

increase, enlarge, to grow strong or great, etc.


Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espaсa, Lib. II, cap. 27.


See The Gьegьence, a Comedy ballet in the NahuatlSpanish dialect of Nicaragua, Introd., p. 29. (Philadelphia, 1883.)


Theodor Baker, Ueber die Musik der Nord-AmerikanischenWilden., pp. 51-53. (Leipzig, 1882.)


Omitl, bone, chicahuac, strong. A specimen made of

the bone of a fossil elephant is possessed by Seсor A. Chavero, of

Mexico. See Tezozomoc, Cronica Mexicana, cap. 55, and the note of

Orozco y Berra to that passage in the Mexican edition. Also Sahagun,

Hist. de Nueva Espaсa, Lib. VIII, cap. 20, who likewise describes

most of the instruments referred to in this section.


H.T. Cresson, On Aztec Music, in the Proceedings ofthe Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, 1883.


Sahagun, Historia de Nueva Espaсa, Lib. II,



Duran, Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espaсa, Tom.

I, p. 233.


Boturini, Idea de una Nueva Historia General,

Appendice, p. 95.


Echevarria, Historia del Origen de las Gentes de NuevaEspaсa, Discurso Preliminar.


Clavigero, Storia Antica di Messico, Lib. VII, p.



“Ihre Sprachen sind ьberreich an doppelsinnigen

Ausdrьcken die sie absichtlich anwenden um ihre Gedanken zu

verbergen. Geistliche haben mir versichert, dass sie obgleich der

Aztekischen Sprache vollstдndig mдchtig, oft den wahren Sinn einer

Beichte nicht zu verstehen vermochten, weil die Beichtende sich in

rдthselhafter und metaphorreicher Weise auszudrьcken pflegten.”

Carlos von Gagern, Charakteristik der Indianischen BevцlkerungMexico’s, p. 17 (in the Mit. der Geog. Gesell., Wien. 1837).


Carochi’s translations are not quite literal. The

following notes will explain the compounds:—

1. Tlauitl, red ochre, quecholli, a bird so called, aztatl, a

heron, ehualtia, reverential of ehua, to rise up; hence, “It (or

he) shone like a noble red-winged heron rising in flight.”

2. Ayauitl, mist; coзamalotl, rainbow; tonameyotl, shining,

brightness; ti, connective; mani, substantive verb. “The

brightness of the rain bow is there.” There is no conjunction “and”;

Father Carochi seems to have carelessly taken ayauh, which is the

form of ayauitl in composition, for the conjunction auh, and.

Each of the lines given is a detached fragment, without connection

with the others.

3. xiuitl, something blue or green; coyolli, bells;

tzitzilicaliztli, tinkling. “The golden drum’s


4. xiuhtic, blue or green; tlapalli, red; cuiloa, to paint or

write; amoxtli, book; manca, imperf. of mani. “There was a book

painted in red and green.” 5. chalchiuhuitl, the jade; cozcatl,

a jewel; mecatl, a string; totoma, frequentative of toma, to

unfold, unwind. “I unwind my song like a string of precious jewels.”


See above, page 10


On the Ikonomatic Method of Phonetic Writing, withspecial reference to American Archeology. By D. G. Brinton, in

Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, for October,



This fact is mentioned by Lord Kingsborough in his

great work on Mexico, Vol. VI, p. 533.


It is described in the Anales del Museo Nacional,

Tom. III, p. 262.


Echevarria’s words are “los pongo en su idioma.” Hist.del Origen de las Gentes que poblaron la Nueva Espaсa, Discurso

Preliminar, in Kingsborough’s Mexico, Vol. VIII.


See his Tezcuco en los Ultimas Tiempos de sus AntiguosReyes. Parte IV (Mexico, 1826).


See the description of this fragment of Boturini by

Seсor Alfredo Chavero in the Anales del Museo Nacional, Tom. III,

p. 242.


M. Aubin, Notice sur une Collection d’AntiquitйsMexicaines, pp. 8, 9. (Paris, 1851.)


Printed very incorrectly in Lord Kingsborough’s edition

of Ixtlilxochitl’s Relaciones Historicas (Rel. X, Kingsborough,

Antiquities of Mexico, Vol. IX, p. 454).


See Sahagun, Historia de Nueva Espaсa, Lib. II,



Bustamente puts the number of the songs of

Nezahualcoyotl at eighty, of which he could find only one extant, and

this, as I understand his words, in Spanish only. See his Tezcuco enlos Tiempos de sus Antiguous Reyes, p. 253 (Mexico, 1826). When

Alexander von Humboldt visited Mexico he sought in vain for any

fragment of the songs of the royal bard. Vues lies Cordillиres,

etc., Tom. II, p. 391.


Tardes Americanas, pp. 90-94. (Mexico, 1778.)


Torquemada, Monarquia Indiana, Lib. II, cap. 45. The

word huehuetitlan, seems to be a misprint for ahuehuetitlan, from

ahuehuetl, with the ligature ti, and the postposition tlan,

literally “among the cypresses.”


Op. cit.Tom. I, p. 795.


Grammatica del Idioma Mexicano, p. 180. (Mexico,


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