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The Conquest of Mexico by a Conquistador

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This is one of the definitive works on the Conquest by a conquistador (albeit written 35 years after the Conquest was over)., Even though the introduction states that “…It is indeed one of the very few books of the sixteenth century which are still readable in the twentieth, because it is written very naturally, with none of the flourishes and affectations with which most writers of the Renaissance felt necessary to establish their style…” It is not quite modern Spanish but this edition is surprisingly readable. It is interesting that Spanish has remained far less changed than English. The 16th c. sported a flowery Spanish but it was really similar as opposed to 16th c. English. Here is an example from “The Discovery…”:

…As we were filling our casks with water there came along the coast towards us many squadrons of Indians clad in cotton armor reaching to the knees, and armed with bows and arrows, lances and shields, and swords like two handed broad swords, and slings and stones and carrying the feathered crests, which they are accustomed to wear. Their faces were painted black and white, and ruddled and they came in silence straight towards us, as though they came in peace, and by signs they asked whether we came from where the sun rose, and we replied that we did come from the direction of the sunrise. We were at our wits end considering the matter, and wondering what the words were which the Indians called out to us…
As soon as it was daylight we could see, coming along the coast, many more Indian warriors with their banners raised. When their squadrons were formed up they surrounded us on all sides and poured in such showers of arrows and darts and stones thrown from their slings that over eighty of us soldiers were wounded, and they attacked us hand to hand, some with lances and the others shooting arrows, and others with two-handed knife edged swords, and they brought us to a bad pass…
Feeling that our strength was exhausted we determined with stout hearts to break through the battalions surrounding us and seek shelter in the boats which awaited us near the shore; so we formed in close array and broke through the enemy.
Ah! then to hear the yells, hisses and cries, as the enemy showered arrows on us and hurled lances with all their might, wounding us sorely.
Then another danger befell us; as we all sought shelter in the boats at the same time they began to sink, so in the best way we could manage hanging on the waterlogged boats and half swimming, we reached the vessel of lightest draught which came in haste to our assistance…”

A.P. Maudslay is a fine translator– a talent I admire far more now that I have become bilingual. It is a great story of a strange time. The Spaniards and the indigenous MesoAmericans were so similar It is beyond me to decide which was more advanced. The Aztecs cut their prisoners’ hearts out, sometimes still beating (an early by-pass technique) .
The Spaniards brought the Inquisition with them and put people on the rack,
burned them at the stake, took them as slaves. Somehow the two segments of the Old and New Worlds seemed to make a strange complement to each other. The story of the conquest from the side of the conquistador is a peek into a time of plunder, greed, impossible cruelty against sometimes primitive forces that had invented the zero in math and studied the heavens almost as well as the Europeans (sometimes better), created a calendar far better than the Gregorian and, in the end; fell to a few scientific advances and geographic and cultural benefits (horses and gunpowder, for example). They also were not ready for the treachery of the Spaniards. There were other factors as well: the yellow haired god that had been predicted who they mistook for Hernàn Cortes and the hatred of so many subject tribes for the Aztecs that many were ready to join anybody, no matter how strange; if they would only fight the Aztec conquerors with them.
Diaz writes that …”These Caciques also told us that they had learnt from their forefathers that one of their Idols, to which they paid the greatest devotion, had told them that men would come from distant lands in the direction of the rising sun to subjugate them and govern them, and that if we were those men, they were rejoiced at it…”
Living as expatriates in Mexico has changed our reading habits. My wife has always been on the more academic side with a love of history. For me the doors to 19th c. English literature, for example, (much as I love Dickens) was sometimes ignored for a good, current read and even reams of science fiction and mystery series. Mexico has given me a new love for books to sink ones’ teeth into: George Eliot, histories, more Dickens, Trollope…. Perhaps, as in Dickens, Hard Times; it is because Mexico straddles the mid-19th c. and the 21st. There are still vaqueros (cowboys who are often Indians) riding to the public cell phone on a pole with a solar collector in the village. I know as I saw him one day near the Guatemala border.
Therefore I am pleased to be pushed to write of things more academic by Blogcritics.org. I also refer you to my Photoblog: Laguna Bacalar and Beyond at http://www.homepage.mac.com/donfrancisco864/iblog/index.html and to the website: Beyond Cancun at http://www.homepage.mac.com/donfrancisco864/Menu6.html. They are filled with travel stories, observations, advisories and pictures and pictures. Drop by. Also follow the link to The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico at Amazon.com since I looked this morning and they only have 3 new ones left.

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About hfdratch

  • Francisco, very interesting and provocative area of history that woefully ignored in the US (as is the case with many areas of world history).

    Please try and proofread your work before posting it, or have someone else look at it for you.


    THanks for the tip, this is a time and place in history that needs much more illumination.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks francisco, very interesting perspective on history from South o the Border – thanks and welcome!