marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Aztecs: An Interpretation

Aztecs: An Interpretation by Inga Clendinnen

An analysis of Aztec culture, insofar as it can be reconstructed.  With some information on its history.  It was rather brief.  Two lifespans would have been enough to encompass it from its beginnings to its fall before the Spanish.

It can be a bit grim.  It starts with talking about the main city itself and its environment, including such details as the occasions when lords gave food to the commoners, and ceremonial feasting, whose god was touchy and would make you choke if you offended him, but then it goes into the social roles.  The first of which is on "victim."  Which does go into the possibility.  An interesting point is that while many victims were helpless, others were needed to perform correctly, often under circumstances where drugs would interfere rather than subdue the victim.  The roles of warrior, priest, and merchant for men -- all men were in theory warriors, at least until they were shamed by not having taken a sacrificial captive in their first fights.  Those commoners who did were elevated, though not quite noble; the Spaniards described them as "Gray Knights", who were in Spain elevated commoners.  The problem of dealing with sorcerers -- Spanish sources treat them as more marginal than they actually were, if you read between the lines.  (Sorcerers were regarded as shapeshifters.  Those of noble blood could be fierce animals, or a coyote.  Commoners could only manage less beasts.)  Women as wives and mothers.  The midwife's greeting to a newborn girl emphasized her home-bound status even beyond the reality.  The perils of a woman who died in childbirth -- you had to take her body out by knocking a hole in the wall, and warriors would try to steal parts of the corpse for its magical effect -- and after a time accompanying the sun to sunset set, such a woman would turn into a dangerous monster, and these monsters would in due course destroy the world.    During the fifty-two year rite that marked the transition from one bundle of years to the next, there was the great peril that the world would end and pregnant women were locked in granaries to contain them.  (Yes it's full of pleasant details like that.  For instance, children were shifted from infants to actual children at a rite every four years.  It involved keeping them awake all night and getting them drunk.)

Not light reading, but full of detail.
Tags: history reviews: 15th-18th centuries

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