History Of The Conquest Of Mexico, The Aztecs (part seven)
The Postclassical Era
Book: Chapter 17: The Americas On The Eve Of Invasion
Author: Prescott, William H
Document: Aztec Women And Men
In the mid-16th century, Bernardino de Sahagun, a Spanish missionary,
prepared an extraordinary encyclopedia of Aztec culture. His purpose was to
gather this information to learn the customs and beliefs of the Indians and
their language in order to better convert them. While Sahagun hated the Indian
religion, he came to admire many aspects of their culture. His work, The
General History of the Things of New Spain, is one of the first ethnographies
and a remarkable compendium of Aztec culture. Sahagun used numerous Indian
informants to tell him about the days before the European arrival and so, even
though this work dates from the postconquest era, it contains much useful
information about earlier Aztec life.
In the following excerpts, the proper behavior for different roles of
both women and men in Aztec society are described by the Aztecs themselves.
One's father is the source of lineage. He is the sincere one. One's
father is diligent, solicitous, compassionate, sympathetic; a careful
administrator of his household. He rears, he teaches others, he advises, he
admonishes one. He is exemplary; he leads a model life. He stores up for
himself; he stores up for others. He cares for his assets; he saves for
others. He is thrifty; he saves for the future, teaches thrift. He regulates,
distributes with care, establishes order.
The bad father is incompassionate, negligent, unreliable. He is unfeeling
... a shirker, a loafer, a sullen worker.
One's mother has children; she suckles them. Sincere, vigilant, agile,
she is an energetic worker - diligent, watchful, solicitous, full of anxiety.
She teaches people; she is attentive to them. She caresses, she serves others;
she is apprehensive for their welfare; she is careful, thrifty - constantly at
The bad mother is evil, dull, stupid, sleepy, lazy. She is a squanderer,
a petty thief, a deceiver, a fraud. Unreliable, she is one who loses things
through neglect or anger, who heeds no one. She is disrespectful,
inconsiderate, disregarding, careless. She shows the way to disobedience; she
The ruler is a shelter - fierce, revered, famous, esteemed; well-reputed,
The good ruler is a protector; one who carries his subjects in his arms,
who unites them, who brings them together. He rules, he takes
responsibilities, assumes burdens. He carries his subjects in his cape; he
bears them in his arms. He governs; he is obeyed. To him as a shelter, as
refuge, there is recourse. . . .
The bad ruler is a wild beast, a demon of the air, an ocelot, a wolf -
infamous, avoided, detested as a respecter of nothing. He terrifies with his
gaze; he makes the earth rumble; he implants, he spreads fear. He is wished
The noble has a mother, a father. He resembles his parents. The good
noble is obedient, cooperative, a follower of his parents' ways, a discreet
worker; attentive, willing. He follows the ways of his parents; he resembles
his father; he becomes his father's successor, he assumes his lot.
One of noble lineage is a follower of the exemplary life, a taker of the
good example of others; a seeker, a follower of the exemplary life. He speaks
eloquently, he is soft-spoken, virtuous, deserving of gratitude. He is noble
of heart, gentle of word, discreet, well-reared, well-taught. He is moderate,
energetic, inquiring, inquisitive. He scratches the earth with a thorn. He is
one who fasts, who starves his entrails, who parches his lips. He provides
nourishment to others. He sustains one, he serves food, he provides comfort.
He is a concealer [of himself], a belittler of himself. He magnifies and
praises others. He is a mourner for the dead, a doer of penances, a gracious
speaker; devout, godly, desirable, wanted, memorable.
The bad noble is ungrateful and forgetful; a debaser, a disparager of
things, contemptuous of others, arrogant, bragging. He creates disorder,
glories over his lineage, exdols his own virtues.
The Mature Common Woman
The good mature woman is candid. She is resolute, firm of heart, constant
- not to be dismayed; brave like a man; vigorous, resolute, persevering - not
one to falter. She is long-suffering; she accepts reprimands calmly - endures
things like a man. She becomes firm - takes courage. She is intent. She gives
of herself. She goes in humility. She exerts herself.
The bad woman is thin, tottering, weak - an inconstant companion,
unfriendly. She annoys others, chagrins them, shames, oppresses one. She
becomes impatient, she loses hope, becomes embarrassed - chagrined. Evil is
her life, she lives in shame.
The Weaver Of Designs
She concerns herself with using thread, works with thread. The good
weaver of designs is skilled - a maker of varicolored capes, an outliner of
designs, a blender of colors, a joiner of pieces, a matcher of pieces, a
person of good memory. She does things dexterously. She weaves designs. She
selects. She weaves tightly. She forms borders. She forms the neck. . . .
The bad weaver of designs is untrained - silly, foolish, unobservant,
unskilled of hand, ignorant, stupid. She tangles the thread, she harms her
work - she spoils it.
The physician is a knower of herbs, of roots, of trees, of stones; she is
experienced in these. She is one who conducts examinations; she is a woman of
experience, of trust, of professional skill: a counselor.
The good physician is a restorer, a provider of health, a relaxer - one
who makes people feel well, who envelops one in ashes. She cures people; she
provides them health, she lances them, she bleeds them . . . pierces them with
an obsidian lancet.