24 - Pre Columbian Narratives
The poet king Nezahualcóyotl, had an epic life, of persecutions, major constructions, alliances, and conquests. But little is said about his family and how his passion led him to make an unforgettable mistake. Later we talk about the contradictions in the narratives about Nezahualcóyotl.
1. Historia Antigua y de la Conquista de México. Tomo Tercero. Lic. Manuel Orozco y Berra. Tipografía de Gonzalo A. Esteva. San Juan de Letran número 6. 1880. México. URL: http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra/historia-antigua-y-de-la-conquista-de-mexico-tomo-tercero-846978/ 2. El Sistema de Dominación Azteca: El Imperio Tepaneca. Carlos Santamarina Novillo. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Madrid, 2006. URL: https://eprints.ucm.es/7240/1/T28903.pdf
3. Nezahualcóyotl, Vida y Obra. José Luis Martínez. Biblioteca Americana. Fondo de Cultura Económica. México, 1972.
4.The Poet King of Tezcoco. A great Leader of Ancient Mexico. Francisco Serrano. Illustrated by Pablo Serrano. Groundwood Books. House of Anansi Press. Toronto, Berkeley, 2006.
5.Reexamining Nezahualcóyotl's Texcoco: Politics, Conquests and Law. UNAM. Mexico. Jongsoo Lee. URL:http://www.ejournal.unam.mx/ecn/ecnahuatl37/ECN003700012.pdf
On one occasion, the King Nezahualcóyotl was at an enclosed balcony in his palace. Unaware of the king's presence, a woodcutter came with his wife and rested under the balcony. After resting his load, the woodcutter raised his eyes, and upon admiring the magnificence of the palace said:
The owner of all this must be full and satisfied. We, on the other hand, we are tired and starving.
The woman interrupted her husband, saying: Silence! Someone could hear your words and punishment could fall upon you.
After listening to that conversation, Nezahualcóyotl sent a servant to call the woodcutter and his wife. The couple arrived, shivering in fear. Nezahualcóyotl asked the woodcutter to repeat what he had said. The poor man repeated the conversation as faithfully as he could.
Then Nezahualcóyotl said: Do not whisper about your lord and king, because the walls can hear you. It appears to you that I am full of riches and satisfied with my palaces and power. Still, you do not know the burden it is to keep justice among you all and rule such a powerful kingdom like this one.
Then Nezahualcóyotl handed the woodcutter a gift saying: Take this, with it you will live satisfied and happy, while I under these magnificent palaces have a life of anguish and affliction.
Nezahualcóyotl, The Wise King
Story adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
The King Nezahualcóyotl is in the garden where music, and poetry are enjoyed, surrounded by other poets he respects. His son Tetzauhpiltzintli, the legitimate heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Texcoco, is part of the crowd.
The young prince is only 12 old, and has been schooled in the Tlacateo, the school for children of nobility, where he has learned the Nahua's way of war, and the appreciation of the high arts. The young prince enjoys the opportunity of attending this joyful yet, at times, a somber reunion of poets.
Some poets have recited new works, others have recited old songs now the crowd begs their king to deliver one of his flowery songs. The king always ends the meetings reciting last. He looks at his son. Tetzauhpiltzintli looks at his father with veneration, as if he were a god incarnated. Then Nezahualcóyotl stands up and recites:
I am confounded.
I worry, I think, I wish
that I might never die,
that I might never disappear!
That I might reach the realm
where death does not exist,
where death is overcome.
If I might never die
if I might never disappear!
The crowd rejoices in the words of their wise king. They sincerely hope he is a god incarnated, that will live forever. Under his rule, they have seen splendor, greatness, and strength. With their allies, they are conquering the world. But peace is as feeble as a flower. Which is why these gatherings are so valuable to the king. He finds solace in the beauty and reflections of each song, of each poem.
The poets and musicians vow to their king and begin to disperse back to their homes. Tetzauhpiltzintli stays; he wants to ask his father to tell him a story – the one story he has heard so many times, from him and from others. He hopes one day to be able to emulate his father's bravery and cunning.
Nezahualcóyotl is over 50 years old, he has lived an adventurous life, at times a real ordeal. But all that is now in the past so why not honor his son's desire for a story. He begins.
Nezahualcóyotl: Fine, son! Here is the story of my youth, the one you do not seem to be tired of hearing. I was born in the day 1 Deer of the year 1 Rabbit. The necromancers said I could be astute, proud, nimble, and strong, or I could be the entire opposite (laughter). And just like the deer, they foresaw that I would have to be vigilant and aware of the unexpected enemies. (pause) I had a pleasant life and was schooled by the great philosopher Huitzili
(he is interrupted by his son)
Tetzauhpiltzintli: Huitzilihuitzin the wise!
Nezahualcóyotl smiles: Indeed, young prince! He taught me the love for knowledge and poetry. He was a loyal ally and heroic defender of my life.
Nezahualcóyotl takes a moment, his memory does not fault him; on the contrary, it brings back a harrowing scene. When he froze in fear and felt the utmost powerless.
Nezahualcóyotl was 16 years old, his father, King Ixtlilxóchitl of Texcoco, was ambushed by a group of Tezozómoc's henchmen sent by the Tepanec king of Azcapotzalco. This king was allegedly a descendant of the legendary Xolotl, and had been trying for several years to claim the throne of Texcoco. He had initiated rumors, encouraging partnerships, and turning old enemies into allies.
Some rumors said that Tezozómoc, the Tepanec king, had not forgotten the humiliation King Ixtlilxóchitl had caused him. It was Tezozómoc's custom to marry his daughters to the leaders of other kingdoms to expand the Tepanec power. Years ago, the ambitious Tezozomoc had sent to the King of Texcoco one of his daughters expecting that the latter would make her his Queen. But instead Ixtlilxóchitl chose for his wife, the daughter of Huitzilihuitl from Tenochtitlan, a Mexica girl, sister of Chimalpopoca. Then, the daughter of Tezozomoc became a just concubine. The Tepanec King felt deeply insulted.
Nezahualcóyotl: The Tepanec king thought he had the right to be our king. My father had done what he could to keep him away, but there is only so much a king can do.
On a last attempt to reassure our hesitant allies that we were the legitimate descendants to the throne, my father swore an oath as the lord of Acolhuacan. After 50 days of valiant resistance, my father had to abandon the capital. He, I, and other locals took refuge in the forest. Your grandfather asked for help, but it did not come. That was when he knew that the only way to protect me, was to put himself in the hands of danger.
The young prince interrupts his father's narration.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: Grandfather Ixtlixóchitl said, "This is the last of my misfortunes, and I regret to leave this life. I ask you, I implore of you son, to never desert your subjects, your people. Do not forget that you are a Chichimec and recover your kingdom that so unjustly Tezozómoc tyrannizes. Avenge the death of your grieving father. Now hide and live, or the antiquity of our empire will die with you."
Nezahualcóyotl: those were indeed his exact words, son! So, as you recounted, on that tragic day, I hid and watched my father as he valiantly fought for my life. Know this son, there is nothing secured on this earth. All of a sudden, after my father's tragic death, my head had a price, dead or alive. And many were punished for offering their help to this orphan soul.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: But many brave warriors protected you! And then you were saved! Grand was King Chimalpopoca and King Itzcoatl! Their spirits must be rising with the sun!
Nezahualcóyotl: Indeed, son! To my loyal friends and brothers as much to my uncles, I owe a debt of gratitude. But my presence put them in constant danger. So, I did not stay long enjoying their hospitality. After I left their kingdoms, I traveled day and night, trusting no one but still counting my blessings.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: Did you ever think about giving up?
Nezahualcóyotl reflects. It was tempting to show himself in an heroic light. Still, the song he composed in those years reminds him of the fear in which he lived.
In vain I have been born,
in vain I have come
from the house of the lord of earth,
I am the needy one!
I wish I hadn't come
that I hadn't come to earth...
Nezahualcóyotl: I'd like to say I did not want to give up, but I would not be truthful. However, every time I thought I had reached the end, the masters of life smiled upon me. After a while of running, hiding, escaping, and putting others in danger, my mother's sisters persuaded the infamous usurper of my throne to temporarily pardon my life. And so it happened.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: Do you think Tezozomoc let you stay in Tenochtitlan because he had a change of heart?
Nezahualcóyotl smiles and says: No, I think my aunt's speech must have been pretty convincing. Women can be crafty with their words too. And well, I am sure he had other conquests to attend. I was just another piece in the game. So, my killing was put on hold.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: let's skip the part about those uneventful years of learning the Aztec ways and tell me how you finally got the kingdom back.
Nezahualcóyotl: Well, no one lives forever, neither me nor the usurper! I was 25 years old when the news of his death was gratefully received. I knew my moment was coming, but also anticipated that his death would bring a storm and many would-be wiped out.
The young prince stands up and solemnly resumes the passage as if he had been there too.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: The heir of the Tepanec kingdom, Tezozómoc's son Tayatzin is forced to resign by his brother Maxtla the cruel. Those were times of utmost turmoil. There were rumors that Maxtla wanted your uncle King Chimalpopoca dead, but others said it was a conspiracy within his own court. The timing could not have been worse for him, he died, and you father, you again went into hiding.
Nezahualcóyotl laughs: sometimes, you seem to know the story better than me! You are right, I again had to escape. But Maxtla was smart, I was always only one step ahead of losing my head. (The kings laughs before continuing) Ah! I remember that time when the tyrant's captains came to Cillan where I was hiding. They tried to intimidate my faithful servant, so he led them into a large room. where I came and offered them flowers. (Laughter) you should have seen their faces, they were all confused. Then the copal smoke began to rise, and fill the room. Swiftly I spread my cloak and wrapped myself in it and disappeared, right in front of their noses. Now you know when a little bit of magic and cunning comes in handy!
Tetzauhpiltzintli: I get the hint, father! I know it is crucial to learn all the arts! But let's not dwell on the things I can learn from my teachers. I want to know more about you, the most astute and valorous king ever existed!
Nezahualcóyotl: Wow, indeed, you have put me in a pedestal son!, I would not dare to give myself that much credit. It all sounds like an epic adventure, but there were so many bitter moments. Like when one of my brothers betrayed me, and for the second time, I almost gave up. I asked all of those who had so faithfully followed me to return to safety.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: but that is not the end of the story
Nezahualcóyotl: but I did not give in to despair for too long. I began exploiting the art of diplomacy and gaining allies around the common hatred against our long-lasting enemy! And many listened, many put themselves in the hands of fate to lie about my whereabouts. Like that time when I hid inside a big drum, and the drummer played a tune of war.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: and then the Triple Alliance happened! The king of Tenochtitlan and king Tlacopan joined forces with the mightiest!
Nezahualcóyotl: certainly so. But please do not call me that again. Remember, Tenochtitlan is the most important ally we have, and they are far more powerful than us. Your praises could be misinterpreted by the wrong ears one day. If it wasn't for the other kings' help, you would not be here listening to my story. Also, we should recognize the bravery of other realms that, even before the triple alliance was formed, responded to my call. Do you remember who they were?
Tetzauhpiltzintli: ah! Since when the story turned into a test? But oh well, your first allies in the reconquest of Texcoco were the towns of Zacatlan, Totototépec, Tepeapulco, Tlaxcala, Huexotzinco, Chololan and Chalco.
Nezahualcóyotl: Very well, And what happened next?
Tetzauhpiltzintli: you killed Maxtla the Cruel, and you became king!
Nezahualcóyotl: Well, not immediately. King Izcóatl [eez-KO-a-tol] knew about my vocation as an engineer and entrusted me with the building of roads, canals, and bridges in the Aztec capital. And since I owed him that much, I took off the conqueror's hat and put on the architect's hat for a while. Then, four years later, I was crowned.
Tetzauhpiltzintli: On the year Nahui ácatl -in 1431- you father became the rightful King of Texcoco. Then, you father rebuilt this magnificent city from dust! Reinstalled education, justice, and arts, as you said it in your song:
I will create a work of art.
I am a poet, and my song
will endure on earth.
I will be remembered for my songs!
Before Nezahualcóyotl was able to praise his son for such a summarized version of what took him nearly 30 years to build, Tetzauhpiltzintli, bowed to his father and quickly excused himself. The duty of playing with some of his half-brothers was calling. Soon, Nezahualcóyotl heard the prince suggesting his siblings to play the game in which he was his father running away from the cruel Tezozomoc.
Nezahualcóyotl frowned when he heard his son's idea of an entertaining game. He has worked very hard to prevent a similar fate falling upon his only legitimate son. A gentle future is secured for the prince. But what about those years of misfortune that came like a dark coincidence with the birth of the prince? Were they a sign? An omen of a bleak future?
No, the prince was still too young for anything terrible to happen. And the triple alliance was as solid as ever. If a threat came, it would not come from any political or army front. Everyone respected him. But what about that debt of life, will it ever catch up with him?
Nezahualcóyotl reflects, perhaps he shouldn't have let his anger and later passion govern that shameful decision he made 12 years ago.
Back in time, it is the year of 1442, Nezahualcóyotl was already in his 40's when he realized that all this time, busy in his projects of reconstruction and surrounded by delightful concubines, he had forgotten to find a proper Queen. That he had not yet worried about the legitimate continuation of his legacy.
The way to proceed was to find a noblewoman from one of the ancient houses of the realm, such as Huexotla or Coatlichan. But there was only one suitable girl. A child from the house of Coatlichan. The marriage was arranged to happen when the girl had reached the proper age. For now, the child needed an education.
Thus the elder Cuatlehuatzin was assigned to be her tutor. But after some years, he died, and his son Ixhuetzcatocatzin was given the task. Yet, even though he knew who she was promised to, the new tutor fell in love with the girl and secretly married her.
After several years, when Nezahualcóyotl remembered the arrangement is when he realized how unexpectedly the events had unfolded. The imprudent husband was sent to court. Nezahualcóyotl hoped the daring man would be rightfully punished, but instead, the man was found free of all charges.
Nezahualcóyotl was deeply annoyed. He was not in-love with the girl, he hardly knew her, but it was the principal of that dishonest act, and the lack of justice imparted upon it, that bothered him so much.
One day, while wandering around the country, the King arrived at the town of Tepechpan, where the lord of the village, the elder Cuacuahtzin, welcomed him and asked the most precious damsel to arrange the table where the lords where going to feast.
When Nezahualcóyotl saw the young girl Azcalxochitzin in her seventeenth year, and of noble Mexica origin, he forgot his sorrows. His tired soul was injected with a rushing passion that made him feel young again. The girl had to be his.
However, the girl was married to the lord of the house, the elder Cuacuahtzin, who, until then, had treated her as a daughter rather than as a wife. The girl was still a virgin. Oh! This passion was so blind that in his intense desire for her, Nezahualcóyotl devised a cruel but effective way to get rid of the elder husband.
Cuacuahtzin was put in charged to lead a troop of soldiers in an expedition against the people of Tlaxcala. Undoubtedly, the old man would not return from that fight. Cuacuahtzin suspecting the evil deed accepted his fate, his death would at least be honorable.
On the last meeting with all his friends, where the King was part of the guest's list, Cuacuahtzin sang his songs of farewell. The faithful subject marched head on to face his imminent death.
Where will we truly go
where we do not have to die?
Even if I were a precious stone,
if were of gold,
I would be melted
there in the crucible, I will be pierced.
All I got is my life,
I, Cuacuahtzin, I am unfortunate
Many cried over the valiant death of Cuacuahtzin. Next, Nezahualcóyotl created for the widow, a set of theatrics that would eventually put her in the palace as a guest. Later he consulted with his advisors over the possibility of making her, his Queen. Upon seeing her noble origins the union was approved.
The wedding was magnificent, and the festivities were celebrated for nearly four months. The recently appointed king of the Tenochtitlan, Motecuhzoma I, who succeeded Izcóatl, was present, as well as the king of Tlacopan and all the Texcocan nobility.
After Nezahualcóyotl had consummated his passion with his new Queen, for a while, he tried to forget how he had orchestrated such happiness. His remorse caused him to consider that the tables could turn on him. It would take nearly 20 years for what goes around to come around.
A year after his splendid wedding, Queen Azcalxochitzin gave birth to the legitimate heir to the throne of Texcoco, the prince Tetzauhpiltzintli. The boy was born in the same year when the 52-year cycle of the Aztec calendar ended, in 1445. Despite how graceful, smart, and skillful the boy came to be in all the arts, his birth came along at the same time the bloody war against the Chalco kingdom started. A nasty conflict cheerfully instigated by the new king of the Aztecs, the ambitious Motecuhzoma I.
Nezahualcóyotl would have rather had a decade of peace. As an engineer and architect, he knew that wars take away labor, destroy what had been built, and are almost never ending. He was right, this vicious conflict lasted almost until the death of his own son.
Yet the war was not the only evil that came along with the beginning of the new cycle. In 1445, a plague of locusts devoured the fields and harvests, causing many people to go hungry. Then in 1449, the heavy rains flooded Tenochtitlan. King Motecuhzoma called for Nezahualcóyotl's aid. The Texcocan architect built a dike that helped contain the waters.
A year later, in 1450, the valley of Mexico was struck by a six-day heavy snowfall that destroyed houses, forests, and crops and set off a fatal epidemic of colds. The next two years freezing temperatures ruined the crops. Vultures and other birds of prey were being seen more often in the land.
Then, in 1453 came fire. Excessive heat burned the grass. The water from rivers and lakes dried out, and there were several wildfires. The people were so hungry that even the young ones looked like elders, with their skins hanging and dry. Those who had managed to survive the previous years began to give up, feeling hopeless many left the cities.
Then in 1454, a total solar eclipse confirmed to the priests and people, that a dark omen was hanging over the region. To the relief of their subjects, the three kings suspended for six years all tribute payments, opened the granaries, and began to hand out rations to the people.
But still many continued fleeing the curse that had fallen upon the land. Many died on the road while others sought the opportunity to make slaves out of these wretched and desperate migrating souls.
At last, unwilling to yield to despair, the three kings met with the lords of Tlaxcala to discuss how they could appease the anger of the gods. Several priests suggested human sacrifices be carried out every day until further notice.
Nezahualcóyotl opposed this. How could they run their kingdoms with dead bodies? It would be best to sacrifice people captured in battle as it had been done before. It was more honorable and efficient.
The priests disagreed. They argued that due to recent calamities, war conflicts were not happening as often as needed. Then, an idea came from one of the lords of Tlaxcala, to establish from then on, arranged wars. Those who fell prisoners on each side could be sacrificed. At the same time, the combats would provide training for the sons of the lords who eventually would become captains.
They all found the idea acceptable, and Nezahualcóyotl suggested the ground for the first fight. And so, from then on, on the early days of each month, a battle was fought between the allied kingdoms of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan and the so-called enemy houses of Tlaxcala, Cholollan Huexotzinco, Atlixco, Tliliuhquitepec, and Tecoac. In this way, all the gods worshiped in all the different lands and all were having their fair share of souls.
do we live on earth
Only what gives us joy
Will be the place of Mystery
be like earth?
Will we have life there?
Will we know one another?
Like precious gems, flower buds part mid emerald leaves. O princes, we hold fragrant flowers in our hands: they are our jewels. They are merely loaned to us on earth.
Eight years have passed since that joyful afternoon when Nezahualcóyotl told the story to his curious son Tetzauhpiltzintli, the tale of those perilous years in which he had been persecuted. But he omitted the part of how his son was conceived. The King was now 62 years old, and he blamed his age for the unrestful night he had.
It is not yet dawn. An anxious servant awaits by the side of the bed. The King is not going to like what he has to say. Nezahualcóyotl pretends he hasn't seen the man, so he asks.
Nezahualcóyotl: what is it? How long have you been there?
Servant: Master, I have distressful news to share.
Nezahualcóyotl tiredly asks: Could that news wait?
Servant: I am afraid not sire.
Bored Nezahualcóyotl asks: What is it?
The servant knows the walls have ears. He leans and whispers to the King.
Servant: Master, there is a rumor running around the palace.
Annoyed by how long the servant is taking to deliver the information, Nezahualcóyotl exclaims: Oh! For heavens sake! Spill it out, the suspense is going to kill me!
Servant: My dear Lord, some are saying that prince Tetzauhpiltzintli wants to dethrone you!
Nezahualcóyotl does not need to hear more.
The sun is already above their heads. Since he woke up, the King has heard aspects of that atrocious rumor. Now he sees the faces of servants, concubines, poets, they all seem to have taken pity on him, or perhaps the fear what his reaction will be. Yet, no one else has dared to come and talk to him. Not even his son.
At last, while the King is in his room of books, pretending to work on a construction project, he notices that someone else is in the chamber. He does not turn around, he knows who it is.
Concubine: I wonder if your majesty can ever be surprised? My beloved always seems to know that I am here.
Annoyed Nezahualcóyotl said: I suppose I'll die vigilant.
Concubine: No, my master, you will live forever. I cannot conceive life without you. You are our god.
Nezahualcóyotl thinks, no matter how many times he has explained that he is only a mortal, some revere him as the maker of their world.
On the other hand, the woman knows that he has already heard the rumors, and a king under threat of being dethroned cannot be a god for too long. So, as to continue with her plan, she gently changes the subject.
Concubine: Dear master, I have come to be of help. People in the palace are spreading words about the son of our god. I have come to clarify to your graciousness what had really happened since two of your sons were witnesses.
The King is tired of having to be vigilant. Still, he needs to listen to this rumor before it turns into a nasty an unmanageable conspiracy. Surely, his favorite concubine will be able to explain better what is truly going on. Two of the sons she gave him were present at the moment when the heir of the Texcoco throne spoke those apparent treasonous words.
So the Concubine concubine: well, I am sure you remembered the jewel that your faithful son Huetzin made for you, the son that adores your grace so much that would die for you without hesitation.
Nezahualcóyotl: I remembered, Huetzin [ju-eht -zeen] is a true artist, his gift was most appreciated. But I consider that such a magnificent piece would be better worn by the prince.
Concubine: I agree with the humble and generous gesture of your graciousness. And so did your other son Heyahuc. Without hesitation, he rushed to deliver to his beloved brother, the prince Tetzauhpiltzintli your generous gift. But Heyahuc was immensely troubled by the words he heard coming out of the heir's mouth.
The woman pauses and looks down in contrition but Nezahualcóyotl is losing his patience: go on! Speak the words!
Concubine: Oh, dear light of my life! I do not dare to speak them, for I am afraid I could misinterpret them. But it pains me so much the mere thought of losing you. Heyahuc, your son that idolizes you would be better suited to repeat them back to you.
The brothers Heyahuc and Huetzin were called. They knew the part their mother had instructed them to play. The illegitimate sons of the King prostrated themselves in front of their father.
Heyahuc: Father! My beloved King, the most honorable man in our Kingdom. I did what you asked me to deliver a gift to my beloved brother, but not even in my wildest dreams, I thought anyone, most of all him, our prince could say something like that. But well, he is young still, only 20, and foolish things are said when someone is that young.
Tired of the long preambles Nezahualcóyotl says: I understand. But you do not need to defend someone that is not yet on trial. Just tell me what did he say.
Heyahuc: the prince said, "beautiful the jewel is indeed, yet the artisan would do better to serve the affairs of war. For in that manner, this King and realm would be best served."
Calmly Nezahualcóyotl says: I fail to see the sin in those words.
Heyahuc looked at his mother, who quickly intervened.
Concubine: Our mighty lord, I am afraid you missed the part when the prince referred to himself as "This King."
From then on, the series of events unfolded like a sinister nightmare. Other witnesses appeared. They all suggested how ready the prince felt to begin his rule. Confused but hopeful, Nezahualcóyotl resolved to call a trial, undoubtedly, his peers and allies of so many years would see the charade in this baseless conspiracy.
Motecuhzoma king of Tenochtitlan and Totoquihuatzin King of Tlaqueloco came as required. While Nezahualcóyotl withdrew from the situation awaiting for a wise resolution to come out of this unexpected ordeal.
But the hand of justice ruled: Guilty!
For a while, Nezahualcóyotl blamed himself for the wrongful end that had befallen upon his dear son. All his hopes had been strangled. If only he had stayed to oversee the legal proceedings. If only he hadn't called a trial. But he had to, his reputation of fairness preceded him. Yet, now there was no heir, many could benefit from this chaos.
During those days and nights were remorse and shame consumed him, the King allowed others to again fill his ears with ire. The gods must have been angered, sacrifices were surely needed.
When the blood of others did not suffice his rage, when the screams did not ease his pain into a restful sleep, Nezahualcóyotl left his palace.
For 40 days, the King fasted, prayed, and composed songs to the only entity that seemed to have answered his questions.
Alone, deep in the sky, God is inventing words. Who has seen him on earth? He is bored here, he grows vexed, he is no one's friend. Now I understand: power and glory are naught. Like god and jade we shall descend to the place of the dead.
Twelve years have passed since the death of his beloved son Tetzauhpiltzintli. It is the year of 1472, the King Nezahualcóyotl, who outlived two Tenocha kings, Izcóatl and Motecuhzoma I, knows his turn has come. This man of 70 years has fallen ill and lies on his deathbed.
The endless war against the Chalcas had been won at a high and tiring cost. The Chapultepec aqueduct was finished, and a monumental temple was built for the unknown god Nezahualcóyotl met during his 40 days of fasting. Much has happened since that sad moment when a father could not prevent the death of his beloved son.
The realm has a new prince. Seven years ago, in 1465, Queen Azcalxochitzin gave the throne a second heir, a beautiful child named Nezahualpilli.
King Nezahualcóyotl wishes things would have been different. His second legitimate son is too young to inherit the vastness of his legacy. A lot of things could go wrong. But the king has to trust that all debts are at last settled. Nezahualpilli would have to walk his own road of trials and cunningly survive them as his father did.
Still, those around his deathbed know that the king departs with a heavy heart. They know it from his latest songs that have repeated the predictions foretold a while back:
"Hear what the king Nezahualcoyotzin says in his lamentations about the calamities and persecutions the kingdoms and lords will suffer. Oh! King Yoyontzin, the times will come when your vassals will be destroyed, where all your creations will fall into oblivion. Then the fate of the kingdom will no longer be in your hands, but in god's hands."
Feeling exhausted as he had lived more than one life, the king gathered up his last strength and said to those in the room:
Nezahualcóyotl: listen to me one more time. Peace and tolerance must remain. I order to all of you nobility of Texcoco to obey the child king, your new lord, or death should befall upon you.
Then, firmly Nezahualcóyotl talked to the future tutor of the young prince.
Nezahualcóyotl: From now on, you will serve as the father of the prince to whom you will instruct to live under the law and, under your advice, he should rule our empire, until he can rule on his own.
Upon saying this Nezahualcóyotl asked to be left alone with his death.
My flowers will not perish.
My songs will never cease.
I, the poet, raise them up.
Fragrant golden blooms,
they will scatter, they will spread.
But one day, nonetheless,
they will wither
and ascend to the heart of God.
A few hours after the beloved ruler of Texcoco expired, after 41 years of reign, on the year Chicuace técpatl, 6 flint, in 1472, many said he had gone to live among the gods.
“There is the Flowery Tree, by the drums: in it lives quetzaltótotl in which Nezahualcóyotl became, he lives singing flowery songs, so the flowers rejoice.”
Very well, dear listeners, as customary, it is time the story. But in this opportunity we will focus on our protagonist. Since the story covered most of Nezahualcóyotl's life, we will take a less romantic look at his accomplishments.
In the article Reexamining Nezahualcóyotl's Texcoco: Politics, Conquests and Law, Jongsoo Lee tells that "Fernando de Alva Ixtlixóchitl played a decisive role in creating this image of Nezahualcóyotl by recording his councils, his tribute collection system, his efficient and egalitarian legal system, his love of artisans and poets, and his rejection of human sacrifice."
Ixtlixóchitl tried to prove that Nezahualcóyotl was a civilized ruler because he had led Texcoco to a high cultural stage. Nonetheless, we should ask ourselves, what aspects were real and which were part of someone else's agenda?
I propose to explore two aspects: the apparent cultural and legislative superiority of the city of Texcoco, and the peaceful figure of Nezahualcóyotl.
Overtime, Nezahualcóyotl's halo grew more prominent. He was compared to Bible characters such as Solomon and also David. Lee says that "In the eighteenth century, Francisco Javier Clavijero described Texcoco as the Athens of Anáhuac because he believed that under Nezahualcóyotl and his successor, Nezahualpilli, Texcoco maintained a more advanced culture than any other nation in the valley."
I will not deny that Nezahualcóyotl lived a thrilling and, for the most part, quite legendary life. Still, consider had he been born 500 years before the conquest, literature would likely have treated him as a god – as had happened to the King-priest Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.
Instead, due to timing, chroniclers, and the royal descendants -among those Pedro de Alva Ixtlixóchitl- in their crusade for new Christian souls and to legitimize their right over the lands, managed to exalt Nezahualcóyotl as the wisest of all kings.
Lee argues that "all these images are based on the prefabricated contrast between the civilized and peaceful Nezahualcóyotl of Texcoco and the more powerful but barbarous Mexicas of Tenochtitlan." Some comparisons saw Texcoco as the Greek city of Athens from where democracy and high arts came. In contrast, Tenochtitlan was equal to brutal Rome.
However, since Nezahualcóyotl was a diplomat, he knew the importance of alliances. He would have never dared to state out loud that he or his Texcoco culture was better than his allies. The guy seemed to be grateful to those who, throughout his life, helped him. Then, where is all this talking coming from?
Lee indicates that the marked contrast of the narratives about Texcoco and Tenochtitlan was first noted in "the works of indigenous, colonial chroniclers from Texcoco." These chroniclers insisted that their information came from old pictorial and alphabetic texts.
Yet, Lee says that after reviewing such texts, the apparent competition is baseless. Instead, the documents show the existing good relationship between both cities. Moreover, why wouldn't they be? Nezahualcóyotl lived in Tenochtitlan for about ten years before he was able to retake his throne. After all, in the Aztec capital he was exposed to the Mexica education system. So, that must have mattered.
There is an episode when the Tenochca or Mexica King Izcóatl nearly surrendered to the Tepanecs. In need of allies, Izcóatl sent messengers requesting aid from Huexotzinco and Tlaxcala, and of course, the Tepanecs had had the same idea. And guess who broke the tie? Nezahualcóyotl. He convinced Huexotzinco and Tlaxcala to fight with Izcóatl against the Tepanecs. Let's remember, the Mexica King was his maternal uncle.
Also, after the Tepanec Empire fell, Nezahualcóyotl's city, Texcoco, was in ruins. And guess who returned the favor? From the Anales de Tlatelolco, we learn that after the Texcocan king was sworn, the Mexicas helped him reconstructing the city. Later, Nezahualcóyotl asked his uncle King Izcóatl to send him government officials, priests, and mechanical arts experts.
In summary, Lee says, "Nezahualcóyotl restores a political and religious system in Texcoco with the help of the Mexicas […] Nezahualcóyotl himself voluntarily tried to introduce Mexican traditions in his city."
All this comes in opposition to the general assumption that Nezahualcóyotl alone came up with the idea of a unique and complex ruling system. His method of government was so efficient that the Mexicas ended up coping with it. Even more, Jongsoo Lee clarifies that "this system seems to have also existed in Tenochtitlan, though earlier than in Texcoco."
Evidence indicates that the ruling system came from the Mexica's former master. That is the Tepanec Empire, specifically from Tezozomoc, the one who sent to kill Nezahualcóyotl's father.
In conclusion, Nezahualcóyotl did not come up with a new set of laws. Lee says that "rather, the king seems to have re-established the laws that Texcoco had lost as a result of the interruption of the Tepanec invasion." And why would he try to scratch it all and start from zero? Remember, there was a reconstruction pending. In summary, the smart ruler brought back what had worked before and built upon it.
Some listeners may be asking and what gave these Texcocan chroniclers the right to feel so superior? José Luis Martínez, in his book Nezahualcóyotl, Vida y Obra, says that the city of Texcoco was known in the Nahua world for being a cultural center and for its extensive archive of indigenous documents. This library was started by Nezahualcóyotl and his son Nezahualpilli and it was sure to grow. The library contained painted books on history, chronologies, genealogies, laws, rituals, religious ceremonies, prayers, magic formulas, divination calendars, and descriptions of tributes and the realm.
Since Nezahualcóyotl was a patron of the arts, especially poetry, over time the Nahuatl language spoken in Texcoco had its own reputation. It was considered of being the most stylish and polished of all its variants. So, that sense of cultural superiority could have come from those times. However, such splendor would have never been reached without the Mexicas and other nations who chose to help the persecuted prince in his darkest hours. This was a favor that he made sure to return throughout his life.
Finally, let's not forget that Nezahualcóyotl was a conqueror too. Alone and in alliance with the nations of Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan, he conquered other cities. Lee cites that the Mexican chronicler Alvarado Tezozómoc stated that "Nezahualcóyotl was the Mexican king's favorite among the kings of the neighboring cities. Every time the Mexicas planned a military expedition, royal funeral, or inauguration, it was Nezahualcóyotl who was notified first and who gladly participated in these events."
But of course, a king so well known for being a creator cannot escape becoming a destroyer too. Do you remember that, in the story, we mentioned that the new king of Tenochtitlan, Montezuma I, dragged his allies into a 20-year war against the Chalco nation? Well, here is a song by the defeated Chalcas referring to the brutality of such conquest "Among the rushes you sing, O Montezuma, O Nezahualcóyotl, Alas! You destroy the realm: you ruin Chalco here on earth. Alas, may your hearts be grieving!"
So, it looks like even a saint can be a tormentor. The evidence proves that during Nezahualcóyotl's reign, the Texcocan borders were expanded, from the inside of the valley to the gulf coast.
Lee concludes, saying that "the peaceful image of Nezahualcóyotl in contrast to the Mexican warrior kings was a clear invention of Texcocan chroniclers."
I doubt Nezahualcóyotl was as bloodthirsty as his counterparts. But he certainly saw the appeal of expanding his realm. He was a man of his time. A man that excelled in the immense challenge that is to rebuild a culture from its ruins. And for that, he should be recognized. Did he take a few shortcuts? Surely, and some were not honorable, but to accomplish what he did in only 41 years shows that he knew how to invest his time and resources wisely.
And this is all for now before we finalize today's program, I will leave you with one last of Nezahualcóyotl's songs.
Until the next cuento, adiós, adiós.
Dissappointment, Laid_Back_Guitars, Discovery_Hit, Machinations, A_Singular_Perversion_Darkness, Eyes_Gone_Wrong, – Kevin McLeod
Camaguey – Silent Partner
Houston_Vibes_Score, Waking_to_Reality – Unicorn Heads
Passage, End_of_Time - Ugonna Onyekwe
Air_to_the_Throne, Wild_Fires - Doug Maxwell
Foreign_Land_Sting – Jingle Punks
Perihelion - Cooper Cannell
Forest_of_Fear - Aakash Gandhi
A_Dream_Within_a_Dream, Not_Without_the_Rest – Twin Musicom
Earthly_Destiny - Sir Cubworth
Down - Joey Pecoraro
Fall_Colors - ann annie
Sneaking_Up – Audionautix
Hero_Theme_Sting – MK2