Starlight Pavilion


I read this passage maybe two years ago, and it still strikes me—how quietly violent it is when two worldviews collide. The Aztec capital falls; Cuauhtémoc, its last ruler, is brought before Hernán Cortés:

The final moment arrived. Cuauhtémoc, upon seeing that he could do nothing more, boards the ship with his family and some of his captains and sets out to escape via the lake. He is soon reached by the brigantine commanded by García Holguín, who makes him prisoner and brings him before Cortés. Accustomed to talk such that others would listen, the tlatoani goes before the Spanish captain and speaks to him these words that have remained written for history: ‘Señor Malinche, I have done what I am obliged to do in defense of my city, and cannot do more, and since I come perforce and as prisoner before your person and power, take that dagger that you have in your belt and kill me with it.’

Thus are these words translated to Cortés. We said already how this was achieved: Cuauhtémoc spoke in the Nahuan tongue, the Malinche or Marina translated it to Mayan, and Jerónimo de Aguilar to Spanish. In this triangulation of tongues, it is evident that the true intention of what the young ruler wants to say is lost. For the Mexicas, to be prisoner of war implied death and sacrifice before their gods. That is what the young warrior requests: to die in sacrifice to accompany the sun from the orient to midday. Cortés does not understand him thus… and pardons him. Sad is the fate offered to the Mexica captain, who will encounter death far from his land and be vilely and unjustly hung by Cortés.

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, Tenochtitlan (2010), p. 183, translation mine

November 2018