MEXICO: CUAUHTÉMOC MEETS CORTÉS

In his letter to King Carlos, Cortés wrote that he had let Tlatoani Cuauhtémoc know that he was waiting for his arrival, but apparently the Tlatoani had decided not to come. The answer of the Tlatoani was that he did not want anything but death. Cortés also wrote that he had promised some Aztec chiefs that he would not do any harm to Cuauhtémoc, that if he wanted peace he would be well received and treated well. Cortés had also given them other arguments that had made these chiefs cry.

Thus, Cortés claimed the year after the events.

In Codex Florentino was described a nightly experience that was far more important than Cortés invitation:

When it was night, it rained, it rained lightly. And in the middle of the night a fire appeared; it appeared, it appeared as if it came from heaven. Like a whirlwind it winds around, it turns around; it is like a flower of fire that unfolds like glowing coal that sparks, soon very large, soon only small, soon only as a glow; like a storm-copper it rises, it crackles, it roars like fire, it roars in its interior. After having circled over the dam, it visits Coyonacazco; then it goes down in the middle of the water, to be destroyed there.

Tlatoani Cuauhtémoc watched the sky and knew this was the sign of the time, for his time. Now his time had come.

Then they accompany Cuauhtémoc in a canoe; only two escorted him, were with him, Teputztitoloc, an official, and Yaztachimal, Cuauhtémocs personal servant. And he who paddles for them is named Cenyaotl. And as they accompany Cuauhtémoc on his way, the entire people cry. They said: Now the young lord, Cuauhtémoc, is going, now he is going to surrender to the gods, to the Spaniards.

Such had the informers told Sahagún and his Indian writers.

Along with Sahagún – that was half a century after the events – the former foot-soldier Diaz, who had participated in the conquest, but hardly could have been eyewitness to everything he described, so he also included something he had heard and read, wrote:

Cuauhtémoc had 50 manned war canoes lying hidden in the reeds with belongings and wives, but Our Lord wanted it so that the officer Garcia de Holguín on St. Hippolytus Day, August 13, at sunset time had discovered the canoe of the Tlatoani. With shots he forced the Tlatoani to stop and Cuauhtémoc stated: Don’t shoot me, I’m Tlatoani over this city and is called Cuauhtémoc. Holguín embraced Cuauhtémoc with great reverence and led him aboard the brigantine as well as his consort and 30 distinguished men. He let them sit in the stern and gave them something to eat.

At the same time Admiral Gonzalo de Sandoval commanded all the brigantines to retreat, but when he heard that Holguín had captured Cuauhtémoc, he had his helmsmen chase him and demanded the prisoner extradited. Actually, the two Spanish were friends, but there was a hierarchy between Admiral and Captain, and then it was the honor and perhaps even a royal nobility.

Another captain mingled, claimed to be entitled to the reward because it was him who had conveyed the wonderful message to Hernán Cortés. Cortés summoned them: Now they should not quarrel any longer, but bring the prisoner and his family while observing all courtesy. He would decide for himself who the prisoner should belong to!

According to Diaz, Cuauhtémoc immediately urged Cortés to kill him with his knife, but this was refused by Cortés. Instead he offered Cuauhtémoc to sit by his side, for he had already set up a throne for him with mats and meals. Cuauhtémoc had ordered his consort and the 30 distinguished men to remain in the boat.

An explanation was that Cuauhtémoc had hoped be able to to sail away, that he had tried to escape his Spanish fate, but when he had been caught, he preferred the fast death by knife rather than being hit by his peoples mockery like Moctezuma who had been stoned. This cowardice of the Tlatoani, Cortés met with grace, courtesy and indulgence.

The oldest description of Cuauhtémocs surrender is due to Cortés himself. In his letter nine months after the events, he wrote to King Carlos:

It pleased God that the captain of a brigantine, called Garcia de Holguín, overtook a canoe in which there were some distingished people.

MacNutt, publisher of Cortés letters to King Carlos, stated in a footnote that there was only little to add to what Cortés had written about what had happened, except that Cortés had failed to mention that he had said that particular regard should be paid to the young queen.

Cortés presented as a gentleman!

Cortés knew that Cuauhtémoc alive was worth more than a dead, and to King Carlos he wrote:

Placing his hand on a dagger which I wore he asked me stab him with it and kill him. I encouraged him, and told him not to be afraid; and this lord having been made prisoner, the war immediately ceased, which God Our Lord was pleased.

Sixty years after the events, the Spanish Dominican monk Diego Durán wrote that Cuauhtémoc had missed men to defend himself and the city, that he had been concerned over so many had lost their lives and many others had fled and that he had decided not to show weakness or lack of courage.

In his codex, Durán expressed sympathy with the Indian people, so Spaniards criticized him for supporting paganism. But the Indian population was composed so it was not that simple.

About Cuauhtémoc, Durán had written:

He pretended that he did nok lack warriors to fight for him and therefore had all the women of the city take up shields and swords. Early in the morning the women ascended to the flat roofs of the houses, where they made gestures of scorn to the Spaniards. Leading the allies from Tlatelolco, brave Cuauhtémoc brought his few remaining men to face the enemy.

When Cortés saw the great number of people covering the flat roofs and filling the streets of the city, he became afraid and feared that he would not be able to conquer Tenochtitlán without causing harm to his Spaniards and friends. But he urged the Chalacas, Tezcocans, Tlaxcaltecs and Tepanecs of Tacuba to take courage and finish with the enterprise. All the men returned to the combat and at this time they realized that the warriors who stood on the roofs were women. They sent word to Cortés about this and than they began to ridicule and insult the enemy and attack and kill many of them. However, the men of Tlatelolco did everything in their power to defend themselves and killed numerous enemy Indians and some Spaniards, among them a lieutenant from whom they snatched the banner, tearing it to pieces in front of the entire army.

The womens participation in the playoff I have not read anywhere else. Perhaps that angle was too annoying for all parties. Maybe it was his imagination about Indian women.

Durán referred to the brave Cuauhtémoc. According to him, Cuauhtémoc apparently came alone, unlike the royal retinue mentioned by other sources.

The Aztecs used the word mat as designation of the royal seat, meaning the royal power. But Durán wrote that the Tlatoani was hiding under a straw mat. The choice of words does not emphasize Cuauhtémoc as brave, rather as a leader on the run or perhaps the one who has decided to give up his power.

Cuauhtémoc boarded a small canoe, covered himself with a straw mat, and was rowed out of the city by only one man. He was taken prisoner, however, by some Spanish soldiers who saw him from their brig and then brought him before Cortés. When Cortés faced this youth, a man of refinement and handsome appearance, he said to Malinche, the interpreter: Ask Cuauhtémoc why he permitted the destruction of the city with such loss of lives of his own people and of ours? Many were the times I begged him for peace!

The young king replied:

Tell the captain

that I have done my duty;

I have defended my city, my kingdom,

just as he would have defended his

had I attempted to take it from him.

But I have failed!

Now that I am his captive,

let him take this dagger

and kill me with it!

Putting forth his hand, Cuauhtémoc took a dagger that Cortés carried in his belt and placed it in the captains hands, begging to be slain.

According to Durán, Cuauhtémoc reported himself and asked to be killed because he had failed, had not shown so-called Aztec heroism.

——————————

(pp. 425-429 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

476 pages + 540 pages. Richly illustrated in colors

400  Dkr. for each volume (Danish tax is included) + shipping

Published by Selskabet for smukkere Byfornyelse

Sale: selskabetfor@outlook.dk

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