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Mesoamerican epic poetry and saga: Universal elements Ronald A. Barnett ©

An Aztec musician poet from the Codex Borbonicus
The Aztecs formed a highly civilized society with poet-kings busily engaged in learned philosophical discussions. Unfortunately, the general public hears mostly about the Aztec practice of tearing out human hearts.

Prior to the Conquest, written documents in Roman transcription did not exist. The Aztecs handed down history and customs through an oral tradition backed up by codices — the "painted books" of ancient Mexico. It is true that the Aztecs did have a form of writing based on a combination of commonly recognized symbols (the Maya had an even more advanced form of phonetic symbolism). Nevertheless, written documents do imply a post-Conquest period of composition. This, in turn, raises the question of Spanish missionary influence on these apparently "native" compositions... read more

Nahuatl Song-Poems Ronald A. Barnett ©

Diorama of a Tenochtitlan market
© Anthony Wright, 2013
The Nahuatl language and culture of the Aztecs of central Mexico are among the best-documented sources of information we have for understanding the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Aztec society was abruptly interrupted and brought to an untimely end by the Spanish invasion and conquest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 1521. Nevertheless, it is from this very early stage of the Spanish Colonial Period that we have some of the most intriguing and yet controversial and difficult documents in Nahuatl — the language of Tenochtitlan at the time of the Conquest. read more

The codices of ancient and colonial Mexico Ronald A. Barnett ©

Extract of page 2 of the Codex Colombino, depicting a Mesoamerican ballgame
How do we really know what happened in ancient Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards and the introduction of writing? To get an idea how the Indians actually viewed these events we must turn to the pictorial and "written" manuscripts or codices produced by the people themselves. The codices themselves were generally in the form of long strips of native paper (amatl) or sized deerskin folded up into the shape of a moderate sized book, hence the name codex. Others were originally produced in book format. read more

Mesoamerican epic poetry and saga: A survey Ronald A. Barnett ©

Tonatiuh from the Codex Borgia
Public Domain
Mexican scholar A. Garibay believed that the ancient Aztecs too had a form of epic poetry, traces of which survived the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.

Much Aztec history and traditional lore were preserved in the Calmecac and other schools of learning in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Using the hieroglyphic codices as "prompt" books, priests and scribes were no doubt able to recount long epic-type narratives.

Although no long sustained metrical epics have survived the Conquest, numerous fragments remain of what Garibay believed must once have been an extensive body of epic poetry and saga in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs... read more

Mesoamerican epic poetry and saga: What is epic? Ronald A. Barnett ©

Coba in Yucatan, an ancient Maya city
© Roger Cunningham, 2013
Heroic type epics focus on a main hero, and epic themes may also include shamanism where the hero relies as much on magic as on personal resources.

To what extent Nahuatl epic corresponds to this type of epic literature remains to be seen. read more

Mexico City's Templo Mayor connects Mexicans with their past Anthony Wright

Despite years living in Mexico City, I had never been to the archeological zone of Templo Mayor — once the heart of the Aztec empire of Tenochtitlan, now located in the heart of the Historic Centre n... read more

An ancient Aztec betrayal Biblical style Ronald A. Barnett ©

Our knowledge of ancient Aztec civilization comes from many different sources: archaeology, codices or painted books, comparative ethnological studies and the like. But it is not until the advent of writing that a clear picture of past history begins to emerge.

That is not to say that historical accounts did not exist before the Conquest. read more

Aztec poets or ghost riders? Ronald A. Barnett ©

The Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards under Cortes in the sixteenth century brought to an abrupt end the developing civilization of the ancient Aztecs. With the destruction of their capital of Tenochtitlan (now modern Mexico City) much of Aztec religion and culture was destroyed in a catastrophic cultural holocaust. However, within a few decades of the Conquest, Franciscan friars had established a school for survivors or their offspring at Tlatelolco, not far from present day Mexico City. read more

Translation, evangelism and Mexico's classical Aztec literature Ronald A. Barnett ©

Aztec temples were brightly colored.
The Nahuatl (Aztec) song-poems are contained in three collections: the Cantares Mexicanos (Mexico City), the Romances de los señores de Nueva España (University of Texas), and a third fragmentary collection in Paris. read more

Was the Aztec's Nahuatl literature a Spanish invention? Translation and evangelism Ronald A. Barnett ©

In ancient Mexico, the spoken word or the oral tradition was greatly reinforced by the use of painted books in which native history and religion were preserved and handed down through successive generations. The Maya had the most advanced system of writing in the Americas at the time Europeans began to arrive, but the Mixtec and Aztec peoples also had a very efficient system of written communication. read more

Aztec Hamlet: the tragedy of Moctezuma 2 Jim Tuck

In history, there are innumerable cases of dynasties toppling because of the weakness of incumbents. The incompetence of do-nothing rulers had much to do with the fall of the late Roman Empire. In Fran... read more

Aztec, Mexica, or Alien? Ronald A. Barnett ©

Are you an illegal alien? If you are white and of European ancestry, however remote, the California-based Mexica Movement says that you have no right to be on this continent. These people, who call the... read more

Mesoamerican religion and multiverses: Part Two Ronald A. Barnett ©

It is generally assumed that the idea of other universes is the unique product of "post-modern" thinking based on the Theory of Relativity and quantum mechanics. But the ancient Aztecs and Maya probabl... read more

Did You Know? The oldest ballgame in the Americas Tony Burton

Baseball is not the oldest ballgame in the Americas Forget modern "traditions" like the World Series! Forget soccer, tennis and golf! By far the oldest ballgame in the Americas is the little known ga... read more

Did you know? Mexico's Domesday Book Tony Burton

Mexico's equivalent of the Domesday book was compiled in the sixteenth century. History shows that conquerors often have very little idea of what they have really acquired until it is firmly within th... read more

Mesoamerican religious concepts: Aztec symbolism, Part Three Ronald A. Barnett ©

The Aztec Calendar Stone is one of the most important monumental works of art left to us by the Aztecs. Since its discovery in what is now the main zocalo of Mexico City, it has been studied in minute ... read more

Mesoamerican religious concepts: Aztec symbolism, Part Two Ronald A. Barnett ©

Some communications "experts" claim that most of our communication is non-verbal and that we interact with one another more with signs and symbols than through the spoken word. However, it is difficult... read more

Aztec symbolism: Part two Ronald A. Barnett ©

The Internet is an invaluable source of information but it can also be a source of misinformation and great confusion. Recently I was accused of "plagiarizing" some of my material from the Internet. Th... read more

Reinventing the Aztecs, Part three Ronald A. Barnett ©

In previous articles we looked at some Aztec lyric poems contained in the Cantares Mexicanos and other manuscript collections. The current controversy over the correct translation and interpreta... read more

Reinventing the Aztecs, Part two Ronald A. Barnett ©

In Part One we looked at a new interpretation of ancient Aztec literature, which, if correct, calls into question, perhaps even invalidates, much of the previous research. To recapitulate: the current ... read more

Reinventing the Aztecs, Part one Ronald A. Barnett ©

Perhaps no people on earth have been so maligned on the one hand and so highly praised on the other as the ancient Aztecs of Mexico-Tenochtitlán. You don't have to be a Mesoamerican scholar to have he... read more

Early pictorial and written sources of Aztec history Ronald A. Barnett ©

The pre-Hispanic history of Mexico is contained in the numerous pictorial codices or painted hieroglyphic books produced by the Aztecs, the Maya, the Mixtecs, and others. Unfortunately, very few pre-Co... read more

Primary sources Ronald A. Barnett ©

The Maya, Aztecs, and other peoples of ancient Mexico had a very strong sense of their own history, which they went to great lengths to preserve. But in some ways, their concept of history differed rad... read more

Aztec Sunstone or Aztec Calendar, Mexico

Aztec calendar stone Related articles and Links: Ancient History of Mexico Mexica/Aztec Calendar Systems - Dale Hoyte Palfrey (detailed explanation of the symbols) Mysteries of the Fifth Sun - Dale... read more

Aztec by Gary Jennings Reviewed by Allan Cogan

I found this novel to be a total winner. In fact, it just kept on getting better and better and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A couple of people described it as "that gory book" when I mentioned I was reading it. Yes, it’s gory, because it describes a society that was rather big on human sacrifice and a people who were rather beastly to neighboring tribes. But they had worthy things going for them, too. They built a wonderful city and produced great artists and created a viable civilization. My hat is off to Gary Jennings. read more
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