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and copper, and metal in every state, whether ore, or smelted, moulded, or manufactured into jewelry.1
The artists are very clever in imitating nature; for they reproduce whatever they see with great artistic skill. There does not exist a single bird, or figure, or form of quadruped, of which Muteczuma does not possess a reproduction so real and so lifelike that at a little distance it seems alive. Your Beatitude is not ignorant of this fact, for you saw and examined some specimens of this industry among the presents brought to Spain before you left for Rome.
There is another detail which should not be omitted. On one side of the great market-place there stands a court of justice, where ten or twelve chosen ancients continually sit, as judges, to decide all cases presented. They are assisted by servants like lictors armed with staves, who carry out their orders. Ediles are also in attendance there to regulate accounts and measures. It still remains to discover what weights they use, for we do not know this. There is something else meriting notice. I have said that there is a great abundance of everything in this town built in the midst of the lake, and yet the inhabitants use no beasts of burden, neither mules, asses, nor oxen to draw their wagons and carts. It will not be unreasonable to ask how they manage their carrying, especially the transport of such large beams and building-stones and similar materials. All these, let it be known, are carried on the backs of slaves. It will also be thought very extraordinary that, having no steel, or iron, they execute their work with such delicacy and elegance. Let me say that all these things are fashioned with stone tools.
1Consult Reynolds, The Metal Art of Ancient Mexico (1887); Blake, The metals of the Aztecs (1888); Ed. Seler's paper in the report of the Americanist Congress of 1890 at Paris, on Mexican jewelry and featherwork; also Zelia Nuttall's interesting study on the same subject, contained in the same report.
At the very beginning of the Maritime Prefect's discoveries or to give him his Spanish title, the Admiral, Christopher Columbus, I had in my hands a stone brought from that country, which the Admiral had himself presented to me. It was of emerald green colour, set and fastened in very hard wood. I myself have struck bars of iron with it as hard as I could, but although the iron bars showed visible marks, the stone remained intact. It is of such stones they make the tools required for the lapidaries', carpenters', goldsmiths', and jewelers' arts.
Fearing vicissitudes—the changing events—might affect the disposition of the natives, and that the inhabitants of Temistitan might, contrary to Muteczuma's will, revolt, either from weariness of the prolonged hospitality they showed the Spaniards, or that they might seize any excuse that offered for taking up arms, Cortes, seeing himself shut in by water on one side, and by easily removable bridges on the other, built on the salt lake four small galleys with two banks of oars of the type called brigantines. He hoped, in case of necessity, to use these brigantines for transporting a score of his men and their horses to land. As soon as the brigantines were finished he felt himself, thanks to them, in safety, and resolved to inspect the curiosities of the capital, which are certainly not negligible.
He first visited the temples in company with Muteczuma. Just as we have what is called a parish in each quarter, and dedicate churches to particular saints, so amongst the Mexicans there are temples dedicated to the particular idols of the quarter. May Your Beatitude listen to the details concerning the largest temple and the idols which there hold the first place. This temple,' is square, and on each side is a large door, to which those four magnificent causeways, which unite the town with the mainland like so many bridges, lead in straight lines. The space occupied by the temple is large enough for a town of five hundred inhabitants. It is surrounded by lofty walls of stone, artistically built. Upon these walls are numerous towers and the whole has the appearance of a strong fortress. Four of these towers are larger and more spacious than the others, because in them are courts and chambers for housing of the priests. The first halls, where the priests who perform the sacrifices, live are reached by marble stairs of fifty steps. The sons of the principal chiefs of the state are kept there from the age of seven, never leaving or going a step outside, before reaching the marriageable age for which they are educated. During this period they never cut their hair. They live simply, abstaining on certain days of the year from flesh meat, and disciplining their bodies by fasts, to keep them in subjection to their reason. They are dressed in black.
1 The great temple was begun by Montezuma I., called Ilhuicanima and finished by his son and successor, Ahuitzotl, in i486 when it was dedicated with wearisome and bloodthirsty rites in which countless lives were sacrificed. Consult Tezozomoc, Ilistoria de Mexico, and Orozco y Bcrra, Hist. Antique de la Conquista, tom, iii., cap. vii.
According to Cortes, one of these towers is loftier than the highest belfry of Seville.' He adds: "Nowhere have I seen more beautiful or more important monuments, built with more perfect art." I shall doubtless be asked by inquisitive people whether Cortes has ever seen any monuments outside Spain.2
Those who return from that country report the idols as horrible beyond description. I make no mention of the marble statue of Vuichilabuchichi,3 the greatest of their gods, always accompanied by three human statues, and which is in no way inferior to the Colossus of Rhodes. Whenever a devotee, moved by piety, desires to dedicate a statue to any divinity, he busies himself in collecting a quantity of all kinds of edible seeds, sufficient to compose a statue of the size he desires. These seeds are then ground to flour.
1 Meaning the famous Giralda tower.
'As a matter of fact he had not. Born in the insignificant town of Medellin, Cortes studied two years at Salamanca; he spent a year of poverty and hardship at Valencia and may possibly have visited Seville, Cordova, and other cities in his wanderings. He sailed at the age of nineteen for San Lucar de Barramcda, so his knowledge of great architectural monuments, seen in Spain, was obviously limited.
'Meaning Huitzilopochtli, at whose side sat the page Huitziton; the companion idol was that of Tezcatlipoca. The temple first visited by Cortes was not the great teocalli, but the one standing in the Tlatclolco market-place.
Oll, what frightful crime! O, what horrible barbarity! When this flour is ground, children, young girls, and slaves in the required number are murdered, and their blood supplies the place of tepid water in mixing a paste. While this paste is still damp and soft, though sufficiently thick, the artist and the overseer of this odious work, assisted by the infernal sacrificing priest, handles this substance as the potter does his clay or the wax-modeller his wax, and complete their labour without repugnance. If I remember rightly I have elsewhere reported that the victims are not sacrificed by cutting their throats, but by opening their breasts above the heart; and that while these unfortunates are still living and realise their unhappy fate, their hearts are torn out and offered to the gods. The lips of the idols are smeared with the blood that flows from the heart, and the latter is burned, to appease, as they think, the anger of the divinity: at least the priests have taught the people this absurdity.
I will be asked, and with reason, what is done with the members and flesh of the unhappy victims. O abominable and nauseous disgust! Just as the Jews under the ancient law formerly ate the lambs they sacrificed, so do these natives devour the human flesh, leaving only the hands, feet, and entrails untouched. Let us note that, according to their wants, they construct different figures of gods, one to secure victory, another to obtain health, or for some similar motive.
But let us return to the visit of Cortes in the great temple. In the vast courts we have mentioned, there are numerous huge statues of gods and also dark sanctuaries, only entered by narrow openings, entrance to which is the exclusive privilege of the priests. The great courts dedicated to the important gods are set aside as burialplaces for princes, and the smaller and less important ones for the burial of nobles. Human sacrifices are celebrated each year according to the means of each family, just as amongst us poor people burn a small dip to the divinity, while the wealthy light a large candle; or many are content to burn incense, while others found churches. We believe the incense and wax suffice to procure us the favour of Christ and the saints, provided our offering is fervently made.
In the course of the visit of Cortes and Muteczuma to the temple, it happened that some of the former's companions entered the narrow dark sanctuaries, in spite of the opposition of the guardians. They perceived by the light of torches that the walls were stained red; and wishing to convince themselves they scratched the wall with their daggers. O horrors! not only were the walls sprinkled with the blood of human victims, but there were pools of blood two fingers deep on the floors. It was enough to nauseate the stomach! Where the wall had been scratched with their daggers, an intolerable odour exhaled from the decomposed blood covered with fresh blood.
In the midst of all these horrors there is one thing that will cause us rejoicing. Cortes ordered all the idols in the court to be overthrown,1 after which he smashed them to pieces, and the pieces, after being reduced to
1 Two separate visits of Cortes to two different temples are here combined into one. Subsequent authors, ignoring the description penned by the Conqueror himself in his second letter to Charles V., have repeated this error. The smashing of the idols in the great teocalli took place five months after the first visit to the Tlatelolco temple. Consult, Letters of Cortes, Second Letter to Charles V.; Hist. Verdad., cap. viii.; Orozco y Berra, Hist. Antiq., tom, iv., cap. v.