Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Poem of Nezahualcoyotl

I tend to go about learning new subjects by finding the most comprehensive books I can find. From there, I'll note down other works mentioned in those texts. This is helpful in the study of history and the social sciences because the amount of content can be overwhelming at times.

I've been reading more about Mesoamerica lately and that led me to the work of the late Scott Gentling and Stuart Gentling. This team of Texas-born brothers will probably remain unknown to the larger public but their artwork is the most detailed and researched I have ever seen of the Aztec era. Not being able to find any traditional publication that showcased their work (besides this January 2011 article in 360 West Magazine), I decided to contact the only person I could locate that was familiar with their work and whom had overseen an exhibition of their artwork in 2003. Carolyn Tate, retired Professor of Pre-Columbian Art History at Texas Tech University, was as kind as anyone could ask for and did not hesitate to send me information about the Gentlings' 2003 exhibition. Their interpretations of Tenochtitlan combined with the latest archaeological information available at the time really brings to life the culture that dominated central and southern Mexico in the early 16th century.

At one point, I found myself reading books that contained little new information. So, I had to go elsewhere if I wanted a more complete idea of what it was like in those times. By chance, I stumbled upon The Broken Spears by Miguel Léon-Portilla and it wasn't until later that I realized Léon-Portilla's research is a benchmark in the field of Mesoamerican studies. I realized that as an amateur historian my time would be limited and books on the subject would have to be carefully selected. I found that Léon-Portilla had published a compilation of Aztec poems, Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World. Léon-Portilla provides commentary on and historical context of a selection of extant poems as recorded in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire. This, in turn, led me to seek out a book that might help me better understand the language itself. 

I resisted this last endeavor because I knew it would be difficult to find the time to devote any study to it. Any free time I do have for foreign language study I prefer to devote to French. From what I've done so far, it's been fascinating. In a previous blog post I published a paper I wrote in college dealing with the American Indian experience in Kansas City, MO. One insight I learned from that research is that learning about and engaging in one's own culture may help decrease the negative effects associated with minority isolation. It has been an encouraging experience to reach out into the fog of the past and connect with the language of some of my ancestors. I'm using Nahuatl as Written: Lessons in Older Written Nahuatl with Copious Examples and Texts by James Lockhart which is considered the standard for English-speaking learners. With the language-learning I'm able to cut to the marrow of Mexican culture and look at it from within. Until now, I've always been an outsider being a non-Spanish speaking Latino-American living in El Norte.

The book of poetry led me to Nezahualcoyotl who is the most fascinating character I've read about so far in this era. Living from A.D. 1402 to A.D. 1472, he was and educated ruler of the city-state Tezcoco in 15th century Mexico. His poems are haunting, to say the least, and a little heart-rending. Nezahualcoyotl clearly questioned some of the idolatrous and bloody religious doctrines of his culture through songs and searched for a hidden god whom he felt was ultimately unknowable. He called this deity "Tloqueh Nahuaqueh" (The Lord of the Near and Close), "Moyocoyani" (He Who Invents Himself) and "Teyocoyani" (He Who Invents Humans, Who Exist On the Earth.)

Glyph of Nezahualcoyotl

I've reached a point in my life where I know I'll never have enough time to learn all of the things I want to know. One subject leads to another and more questions arise. Below is a recording I made reading one of the poems found in Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World.



video

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