Ancient Nahuatl Poetry ||| IntroductionCategory: Ancient Nahuatl Poetry
§ 1. THE NATIONAL LOVE OF 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
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
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
§ 2. THE POET AND HIS WORK.
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
§ 3. THE THEMES AND CLASSES OF THE SONGS.
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,
But the old chronicler, who doubtless knew it all by heart, gives us
no more of it.21
§ 4. PROSODY OF THE SONGS.
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
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:—
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 tī; 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:—
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.”
§ 5. THE VOCAL DELIVERY OF THE SONG.
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.
§ 6. THE INSTRUMENTAL ACCOMPANIMENT.
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.
§ 7. THE POETIC DIALECT.
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. 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
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
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
§ 8. THE PRESERVATION OF THE ANCIENT SONGS.
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
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
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
§ 9. THE LX SONGS OF THE KING NEZAHUALCOYOTL.
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
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
“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
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.
§ 10. THE HISTORY OF THE PRESENT COLLECTION.
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
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:—
I H S
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,
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,