After Moctezuma had listened to reports on the massacre in Cholula, he sacrificed some people to Huitzilopochtli, so the god of war could reveal the truth of the arrival of the strangers and answer whether he would let them enter Tenochtitlán.
For two days, Moctezuma had locked himself in with ten seniors, and he had prayed and sacrificed. The gods had advised him to send a messenger to the Spaniards and apologize for what had happened in Cholula, and to under the mask of friendship let the Spaniards come in to Tenochtitlán: when they were there, he should hinder them from having food and water, hoist the bridges and let them kill. If the Aztecs attacked the Spaniards, they would be wiped out in a single day, and Moctezuma could sacrifice to both Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, and they would be able to saturate with the Spaniards thighs, legs, arms, entrails, bodies. All the rest could saturate the lizards, snakes and tigers they had in wooden cages.
Thats how the Spaniard Diaz sketched Moctezumas considerations.
After the massacre, Moctezuma let his representatives accompany the Spaniards to Tenochtitlán, but received several times messages from the gods: THE STRANGERS MUST BE HINDERED IN REACHING TENOCHTITLÅN! That is why Moctezuma sent several gifts to the Spaniards with the message: Go back, and I will send even more gold and silver and elegant suits to the King of Spain. Cortés replied that he was amazed that Moctezuma changed his mind so often.
Moctezumas shifting behaviour must be due to that the Spaniards should be enticed in a trap. But Cortés wanted to come in to Tenochtitlán. He wanted to meet the supreme lord of the Aztecs.
Moctezuma sends his nephew with a splendid retinue to welcome Cortés. As always, the Spaniards have scouts and guards, and they report that towards them is coming a large crowd of peaceful Aztecs and that they can see that these are dressed in precious robes. Cortés stops, lets the distinguished approach, they bow deeply to him and announce that now comes Cacanatzin, lord of Texcoco, the great Moctezumas nephew. Cacanatzin comes with the greatest brilliance and splendor the Spaniards have seen any Aztec lord show. He is carried in a splendid litter, adorned with green feathers and a lot of silver fittings and precious stones in a kind of foliage of gold. Eight tall gentlemen carry the litter on their shoulders. Then they help him down from the litter and sweep the ground clean of straw where he has to move. When Cacanatzin arrives at Cortés, he greets and declares that he has come to please him and hand over all that he and his companions may need and bring them to their homes in the capital – as Moctezuma has commanded. Moctezuma apologizes for not being able to come, he is not doing so well, but it is certainly not due to unwillingness.
Cortés and his people think it is great that Moctezumas nephew receives them and asks each other: When a nephew receives them so, how will Moctezuma then receive us? After the nephew has kept his speech, Cortés embraces him and the other distinguished men and gives them colored pearls and diamonds.
As they reach Iztapalapa, the Spaniards get the sight of cities in the water, larger cities on land and the straight road leading to Tenochtitlán. They are affected by admiration and proclaim that it looks like the enchanted palaces, like those described in novels. There are also Spanish soldiers who think this can only be a dream.
Diaz admits: It’s not stranges that he writes as he does, but the reader must remember that the Spaniards here see something they’ve never heard of or seen before, barely dreamed of, so he doesn’t know how to tell about it. As they continue, they spot several distinguished dressed, who are approaching, and then they are accommodated in some large palaces, wellbuilt of excellent masonry and of cedar tree and other fragrant woods. After they have seen it all, they take a walk in the orchard and the flower garden, which is extremely admirable. You can sail in canoe through the garden, so you don’t have to go ashore. All buildings are whitewashed and shining, there are all kinds of stones and painted decorations, and numerous kinds of birds swim in the pond.
What Diaz saw, he considered was nowhere else in the world – and added in his book: At that time there was no Peru or notion about it. Now it’s all destroyed; not a little is left.
Cortés received a golden gift that Diaz estimated being worth 200 piastre. Cortés thanked and explained the Christian faith and the power of the Spanish King; but as there were much other negotiation, he didn’t want say anything about it, he wrote.
Too bad! It would have been exciting to hear the Aztec faiths about the strangers. Maybe footsoldier Diaz was not close enough to the conversations to hear what was said.
The following morning, four hundred Spanish soldiers are accompanied by of the Aztec lords, and thousands of Aztecs gathers along the straight road across the dam with bridges: the Aztecs gape over the horses, and the Spaniards gape over everything else they didn’t know was real. The Spaniards remind each other of the warnings they have had from other Indians: They must beware, because the Aztecs will kill them when they are in the city.
Diaz explicitly calls on his readers to note the courage of the Spaniards!
The Spaniards are met by even more distinguished gentlemen in precious robes – all dressed differently. The gentlemen come to Cortés and welcome, touch the ground with the hand and then kiss the hand. The finest gentlemen leave the Spaniards, returning bearing on a large litter. With that in the lead, they continue and the Spaniards see the man in the litter. It must be Moctezuma. It’s Moctezuma! Moctezuma!
The chiefs carry him under a wonderful, precious canopy that shines with green feathers and glorious gold ornaments and a multitude of silver and pearls and stones hanging like borders. Moctezuma is lavishly dressed: on his feet he has sandals with gold soles and gemstones; the four gentlemen who carry him are richly dressed, each in their own way. It seems they have had the clothes ready to accompany their ruler in the right fashion, because they did not wear the suits when they received the Spaniards. In addition to the four gentlemen, there are four others who carry the canopy over the forementioned heads and many distinguished gentlemen who walk in front of the great Moctezuma and sweep the ground he has to step on, spread blankets to prevent him from stepping on the bare soil. None of these gentlemen dare to face him, but look down in reverence, except the four nephews and other relatives who carry the litter.
It is November 8, 1519 in Coyoacán.
When Cortés sees Moctezuma coming, he jumps off his horse, hurries to him, and mutually shows each other a lot of courtesy. Moctezuma welcomes him, and Cortés wishes him all the best.
As far as Diaz remembers, Cortés had stretched his right hand to Moctezuma, but he would not take it, on the contrary, he stretched his to Cortés. Hands were straight and stretched, offered and rejected.
Kings don’t shake hands with everybody.
Cortés had taken out a collar consisting of glass beads with various colored figures, pearls on a golden cord with smell of musk, had put it around the neck of Moctezuma and tried to embrace him – but chiefs had immediately stopped Cortés’ arm, kept it so that he couldn’t complete the embrace that they might have regarded as a mockery.
Through Malinche, Cortés had said that his heart was full of joy now having seen such a great prince, and that he was deeply grateful because Moctezuma had personally come to accept him and for all the kindness he had shown him. Moctezuma had answered with polite words and commanded two of his nephews, the lord of Texcoco and him from Coyoacán, to follow us to our neighborhood. Then Moctezuma had returned to the city with his relatives.
Thats how our eyewitness, the former footsoldier and conquistador, Governor of Guatemala Bernal Diaz del Castillo revived the world-historic summit.
THE MEETING IN TENOCHTITLÀN
Let me try to give you an impression of the size of Tenochtitlán: the population of the city at the time of the Spanish conquest has been estimated at 300,000, which is probably exaggerated because one must take into account that the countless channels that cut through the city and the extensive temples palaces, marketplaces, gardens scattered between the houses, limited the residential area. Some scholars estimate that the city had between 100,000 and 200,000 inhabitants. Only Paris, Constantinople and Beijing had more.
Other scholars have estimated that the city hardly had more than 75,000 inhabitants, which is still a considerable number at that time.
On October 30, 1520 – less than a year after the meeting – Hernán Cortés wrote in his second letter to King Carlos in Spain what had happened. This is the oldest written source of the meeting:
Having passed the bridge, we were received by that lord, Moctezuma, with about two hundred chiefs, all barefooted, and dressed in a kind of livery, very rich, according to their custom, and some more so than others. They approached in two processions near the walls of the street, which is very broad, and straight, and beautiful and very uniform from one end to the other, being about two thirds of a league long, and having, on both sides, very large houses, both dwelling places and mosques. Moctezuma came in the middle of the street, with two lords, one on the right side, and the other on the left, one of whom was the same great lord, who, as I said, came in that litter to speak with me, and the other was the brother of Moctezuma, lord of that city Iztapalapa, whence I had come that day. All were dressed in the same manner, except that Moctezuma was shod, and the other lords were barefooted. Each supported him below his arms, and as we approached each other, I descended from my horse, and was about to embrace him, but the two lords in attendance prevented me, with their hands, that I might not touch him, and they, and he also, made the ceremony of kissing the ground. This done, he ordered his brother who came with him, to remain with me, and take me by the arm, and the other attendant walked a little ahead of us. After he had spoken to me, all the other lords, who formed the two processions, also saluted me, one after the other, and then returned to the procession. When I approached to speak to Moctezuma, I took off a collar of pearls and glass diamonds, that I wore, and put it on his neck, after we had gone through some of the streets, one of his servants came with two collars, wrapped in a cloth, which were made of coloured shells. These they esteem very much; and from each of the collars hung eight golden shrimps executed with great perfection and a span long. When he received them, he turned towards me, and put them on my neck, and again went on through the streets, as I have already indicated, until we came to a large and handsome house, which he had prepared for our reception. There he took me by the hand, and led me into a spacious room, in front of the court where we had entered, where he made me sit on a very rich platform, which had been ordered to be made for him, and he told me to wait there; and then he went away.
Cortés continues that when the Spanish soldiers had been quartered, Moctezuma returned to him with many valuables of gold and silver work, and five or six thousand pieces of rich cotton stuffs, woven and embroidered in divers ways. After giving them to him, he sat on another platform, which they immediately prepared near the one where Cortés was seated, after which Moctezuma explained:
We have known for a long time, from the chronicles of our forefathers, that neither I, nor those who inhabit this country, are descendants from the aborigines of it, but from strangers who came to it from very distant parts; and we also hold, that our race was brought to these parts by a lord, whose vassals they all were, and who returned to his native country. After a long time he came back, but it was so long, that those who remained here were married with the native women of the country, and had many descendants, and had built towns where they were living; when, therefore, he wished to take them away with him, they would not go, nor still less receive him as their ruler, so he departed. And we have always held that those who descended from him would come to subjugate this country and us, as his vassals; and according to the direction from which you say you come, which is where the sun rises, and from what you tell us of your great lord, or king, who has sent you here, we believe, and hold for certain, that he is our rightful sovereign, especially as you tell us that since many days he has had news of us. Hence you may be sure, that we shall obey you, and hold you as the representative of this great lord of whom you speak, and that in this there will be no lack or deception; and throughout the whole country you may command at your will (I speak of what I possess in my dominions), because you will be obeyed, and recognised, and all we possess is at your disposal.
This acknowledgement that the Aztecs were not the countrys native, ie. rightful, population, and the record of the Aztecs concept of a legitimate rulers knowledge and return could not be better, Cortés must have thought that the King of Spain would think.
Here, apparently, a fusion of the Aztecs rightful sovereign – Quetzalcoatl, without the name of the god – and the Spanish King Carlos. A worldhistorical mix of an Indian god and a Spanish King.
Perhaps Hernán Cortés has put his hand in his pocket, ensured that he had the Spanish Kings Requerimiento from 1513, perhaps for a moment speculated if it was now to proclaim this basic text for Moctezuma, who on behalf of the greatest and strongest Indian empire known yet, by his own accord, already had stated that he was confident that the King of Spain was our rightful sovereign, and that the Aztecs would obey the Spaniards and hold them as the representative of this great lord.
Jesus Christ! Perhaps Cortés then pulled his hand up and let the Spanish Kings Requerimiento remain in his pocket. Completely redundant under these circumstances!
The voluntary submission of the Aztecs, the confession of the Tlatoani, was due to their basic perception, that during the year 1 Reed Quetzalcoatl had to come from the east as their long awaited ruler god. They had to perceive the Spaniards as divine messengers, and that perception was strengthened by the Spaniards – allegedly – having known the Aztecs.
Moctezuma did not assume that Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl, but as the Aztec religious practices implied that chiefs and priests dressed up as gods before performing rituals, they were accustomed to relate to representations. Cortés could be such a person representing Quetzalcoatl.
In Cortés letter to the King, written hardly a year after this worldhistoric meeting – that is, after he had had time of thinking to find the best wordings – he doesn’t let Moctezuma pronounce the name Quetzalcoatl. Just the impersonal a great Lord and the personal pronom he. The decisive fusion, the meaning carrying connotation could – and should probably – arise at the reader.
Cortés could make it!
The Moctezuma quote – as reproduced by Cortés – was nothing less than a divine gift for the Spanish conquerors. Thanks, thanks, thank you! Hernán Cortés understood immediately what advantage the ambiguity contained, and endeavored to disseminate and maintain it beyond any likelihood. Cortés hit without hesitating the weak points of the Indians when he organized his terror and played god, Le Clézio notes.
Two generations after Cortés and Moctezumas first meeting and after having read Cortés published letter Diaz – who hardly had participated in this summit – quoted Moctezuma:
I have very well understood your speech and interpretation, and what you at the coast have told my servants about three gods and of the cross and all things you have preached in the cities you have passed. But we have not answered anything to this. For from the very beginning we have worshipped our gods and have considered them to be good, and so are yours for you. For the moment, therefore, do not talk to us more about them. And what concerns the creation of the world, we have believed just like that long time ago, and for that reason we consider it for sure that is you, about who our ancestors told us, that they should come from where the sun rises. I am very much committed to your great king and I will give him what I have.
Diaz readers had to understand that the Aztec ancestors had been expecting the Spaniards. From other sources we know that the Aztecs had been waiting Quetzalcoatl, but Diaz did not mention Quetzalcoatl by name and did neither write that the Aztecs waited for Quetzalcoatl in the year 1 Reed! The Spanish readers understood that the conquistadors had preached about three Christian gods – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – and that before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Aztecs had expected gods. Moctezuma believed in the same creation and good gods. Bottom line: Christianity was waited! And no more questions!
This was Diaz proof of just of the Spanish conquest that could be used in the European debate. Both in Spain and outside its borders.
Diaz also wrote that Moctezuma had explained Cortés that when he had told them not to enter the capital, it was not due to his free will – he had wished to see the strangers but his subjects had been scared because they had been told that the Spaniards shot lightning, that the Spaniards with their horses had killed many Indians and that the Spaniards were some bad teuls, ie. gods.
The question is whether Diaz ment that Moctezuma had presented himself as a curious man of the world and a considerate leader or whether he suggested that Moctezuma was terrified, that he in this way propped up his image as man of the world.
It’s obvious that Diaz described the Aztec ruler as human; perhaps Moctezuma had been relieved of his anxiety:
I know very well that these people from Tlaxcala, who you have become so good friends with, have told you that I am like a god or teul, and that all at me is gold and silver and precious stones, but I am sure, that you who are so reasonable, didn’t believe it and considered it a joke.
Now you see that my body is of flesh and bones just like yours, my houses and palaces of stone and wood and lime. I am a great king, that is for sure, and wealth I have inherited from my ancestors; but what you have told about me is madness and lies, and you should only regard it as tomfoolery, just as I think about your thunder and lightning.
It is as if divinity – both Moctezumas and Cortés – is completely peeled off here. Two humans talking, humans of flesh and bones.
Moctezumas statement that they were both flesh and bones has without undoubt been told by Cortés to his captains who must have laughed and grinned.
In his letter to the King, Cortés had written that Moctezuma had held up his robes to show his body and said: Look at me, and see that I am flesh and bones, the same as you, and everybody, and that I am mortal, and tangible.
TO TENOCHTITLÁN – ACCORDING TO INDIANS
Now it’s time to let Indians take the floor! It will be those Indians who told the story to the monk Bernardino de Sahagún, who fifty years after the events, let it write in Codex Florentino.
And then, when the Spaniards had arrived to Xoloco when it had come so far, as it had come to the extreme, Moctezuma equips him self, prepares to meet them, along with other very great gentlemen, the sons of the ruling families, his rulers, his princes. Then they went to receive them. In wide pumpkin bowls, they placed beautiful flowers, sunflowers, magnolias, and in the middle were jasmines, yellow tobacco flowers, cocoa flowers; flowers in wreaths, flowers in garlands, and gold necklaces they are bringing, necklaces with jewelry pendants, necklaces in wickerwork with precious stones.
Moctezuma prepares while the Spaniards are standing waiting in Xoloco, on the dam connecting the hinterland with Tenochtitlán. Peacefully the Tlatoani prepares for the meeting with the conquistadors. The parties meet halfway between Xoloco and Tenochtitláns center.
And when Moctezuma had met them there at Uitzillan, he bestowed gifts for the war chief of the warriors, the warriors leader; he gave him flowers, he gave him a necklace, he gave a flower necklace, he put a flower garland on him, he put a flower wreath on him. Then he spread on the ground in front of him the gold necklaces, all the reception gifts, all the welcome gifts, so that he had finished wreathening him.
Chief of the warriors and warriors leader here describe Cortés, who receives both flower necklace and gold necklace by Moctezuma.
Codex Florentino continues:
Then Cortés said to Moctezuma: Isn’t that you? Is that you? Is it you who is Moctezuma? Moctezuma replied: Yes! It is me. Then he stands up, stands in front of him, bows deeply to him, steps all the way to him, straightens himself fully. Then he prayed to him, said, Our Lord! With difficulty, with effort, you have come to the land, you have arrived here, you have come to take advantage of your honorable city Tenochtitlán, you have come to put yourself on your venerable mat, on your ruler seat, which I a short time have been guarding for you, have protected for you. Gone are your vassals, the rulers Itzcoatl, Moctezuma the Elder, Axayácatl, Tizoc, Ahuitzotl, who only for a short time have guarded for you, have ruled the city, Tenochtitlán. Under their protection, your subjects have come here. Maybe they will come and visit their survivors here, those who are left here? However, one of them may see, with wonder get to see, what has now surpassed me, what I see, I their survivor, I as our lords have left here. For it is not that I just dream that I just get up in sleep, that I just see it in dreams, that I just dream that I have seen you that I have seen your face. For I was worried, for five days, for ten days; I have looked in the direction from where you have come – the land of the clouds, the land of the fog. For this, the rulers have stated that you will come to visit your honorable city, that you will come to sit on your venerable mat, on your ruler seat, that you will go here. And now: it has become truth that you have committed yourself to here, with difficulty, in exertion. Be welcomed to the country! Let yourself rest! Let yourself be known for your palace! Let your body rest! Let our lords be welcome to the land!
This is how Moctezuma in Codex Florentino is quoted for in deference to have welcomed Cortés as Our Lord, who with difficulty have come to the honorable city Tenochtitlán to take his ruler seat, which has been guarded by the Tlatoanis, the rulers.
Fifty years after the worldhistoric meeting, Cortés is in writing made divine by the Aztec Tlatoani – according to Sahagún in Codex Florentino. More divinely made than Cortés himself had dared to write in his letter to the King, if one can bend made divinely.
Is this divinity due to the Aztec ruler?
Is it due to the Indian sources? Or Sahagún?
Six years later, Hernán Cortés in Sahagúns last rewriting is presented as savior: as another Moses, he must lead the Indians out of paganism!
I think – but obviously I can’t document it – that Cortés in 1520 would have quoted Moctezuma for this divine welcome if he had heard it in 1519.
The wording may be due to the oral tradition that existed around Tlatelolco, and where the Aztec suppression of the once independent kingdom of Tlatelolco had not been forgotten.
(pp. 356-366 in volume 1, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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