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January 24, 2005 3:31 PM   Subscribe

The Aztecs at the Guggenheim. The hypercivilized, unimaginably savage Aztecs perceived the stability and very survival of the world in the view of their religion. The key belief was that certain gods, having sacrificed themselves to make human existence possible, demanded incessant repayment in kind. It seems that one of the reasons they could not resist Cortes was that they could not think outside the terms of a faith that they believed to account for all eventualities.
posted by semmi (24 comments total)

 
I thought the Guggenheim was a modern art museum.
posted by smackfu at 3:34 PM on January 24, 2005


Past is the new Modern?
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:41 PM on January 24, 2005


Double post.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 3:42 PM on January 24, 2005


The key belief was that certain gods, having sacrificed themselves to make human existence possible, demanded incessant repayment in kind.

Hmmm.
posted by gimonca at 4:02 PM on January 24, 2005


Oops on the double, but one of my favorite subjects. I've always believed that the constant warfare and human sacrifice was a means of culling which allowed them to exist within their environmental means.
posted by snsranch at 4:04 PM on January 24, 2005


snsranch: interesting theory. So. If THAT is how a barbaric civilization evolves... how come it ain't working so well for us?
posted by tkchrist at 4:07 PM on January 24, 2005


tkchrist - I don't think he was saying how it evolves, but how it survives, in the context of limited resources to meet necessities.

Having said that, a fascinating, well-written read. I was just trying to explain Cortez to some Russians, and regale them with the tales of Tenochtitlán.

Anyone got some links to the art?
posted by cosmonik at 4:19 PM on January 24, 2005


Well, tkchrist, it did kinda work during the World Wars and in Vietnam. Like in 1984, I think that is what Bush is trying to do. Long-term warfare culling and profitting. Mmm. I feel sick.
posted by snsranch at 4:21 PM on January 24, 2005


cosmonik, here is a link for central and south american sites. Not exactly the objects 'd art but still cool. sacred sites
posted by snsranch at 4:26 PM on January 24, 2005


Cortez was a fascinating figure. I do love reading this history.

There was a big controversy a few years back over the romanticizing of the Aztecs after that Disney cartoon movie came out. Anybody remember? It was a serious movement to "revise" and justify the historical record of cannibalism and warfare to make the Aztecs much more sympathetic. Jared Diamond got dragged into it.
posted by tkchrist at 4:44 PM on January 24, 2005


My kids have that movie. Although, I admit, I've never watched it. Please tell more.
posted by snsranch at 5:08 PM on January 24, 2005


snsranch - thanks for the maps

I seem to remember that controversy over Pocohontas. It was around that time I got into a near-violent altercation with a friend who tried to justify the Spanish conquest because 'the savages were practicing human sacrifice!'. Didn't know about Jared Diamond getting dragged into it, although from what I read about his latest efforts, he's not exactly reluctant to foray into the public spotlight :)

Ah, that white man's burden sure weighs heavy on some people.
posted by cosmonik at 5:16 PM on January 24, 2005


The real question is:
Will this exhibit have any of that Aztec gold[swf] ?

or possibly some of that techno-chocolate[swf] ?
posted by toftflin at 5:25 PM on January 24, 2005


cosmonik; I can't believe I sent you maps!!! A few weeks ago there were hundreds of photos of buildings and artwork posted on that site.
posted by snsranch at 5:33 PM on January 24, 2005


snsranch...no problem, this has rekindled my interest in the subject anyway, and those are some useful starting points for research.
posted by cosmonik at 6:45 PM on January 24, 2005


tkchrist: the only Disney animated movie set in an ancient New World empire south of the border would be the Emperor's New Groove, which takes place in the Inca empire. A quick google search couldn't find any stories related to a controversy about the movie.
posted by clockworkjoe at 9:24 PM on January 24, 2005


It seems that one of the reasons they could not resist Cortes was that they could not think outside the terms of a faith that they believed to account for all eventualities.

Yes, it could have been a society wide inability to handle new ideas...or it could have been the catastrophic epidemic Cortes brought with him. But I bet it was their limiting cognitive model, you're right.
posted by freebird at 12:03 AM on January 25, 2005


I am thinking that maybe those who await the rapture might go the same way as these guys. Just standing their waiting for deliverance at the hands of an invading army, or similar.
freebird - the catastrophic epidemic was accompanied by wholesale killing on the battlefield, the numbers are astonishing, given that each murder had to be crafted by hand. The only way such numbers were possible at the time would be due to compliant victims.
They believed it was the end of the world (ish) and, lo for it was so.
posted by asok at 3:53 AM on January 25, 2005


I saw the exhibit over the weekend. It was quite good, but like most exhibits of the sort it lacked sufficient context. Not knowing that much about Aztec and Mezoamerican culture I felt more information about their history and religion would have made looking at all the statues and vessels more meaningful. Oh well, good non-the-less.
posted by Bag Man at 8:05 AM on January 25, 2005


A good read is Aztec, by Gary Jennings. It is a novel, but it explains the Aztec culture and the Spanish conquest.
posted by Penks at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2005


It seems that one of the reasons they could not resist Cortes was that they could not think outside the terms of a faith that they believed to account for all eventualities.

Yes, it could have been a society wide inability to handle new ideas...or it could have been the catastrophic epidemic Cortes brought with him. But I bet it was their limiting cognitive model, you're right.


Yes, it seems that one of the reasons they could not resist Cortes was that they all died of smallpox.

Smallpox aside, Cortes's invasion of Tenochtitlan is usually presented as inevitable. The story goes: Cortes arrived with guns, germs and steel, and made short work of the technologically inferior Aztecs. The actual events are more nuanced.

When Cortes marched on Tenochtitlan he did so illegally, and the Governor of Cuba later sent an army to stop him. Keep in mind that on "la noche triste", the Spanish had to retreat from Tenochtitlan under Aztec assault, and there's a strong possibility that the only reason any of them survived was their use of large numbers of Tlascans and other American Indian tribes who hated the Aztecs. Also, it should be pointed out that Cortez didn't show up with a random assembly of Europeans. If you were to travel back to the 16th century and select soldiers for an expedition in Mexico, you might very well pick Cortes's crew. Most were veterans, probably of the Italian wars (among others).

So here you have a man invading Mexico illegally, with a highly trained army, and with the help of thousands of locals at his side. Their guns kept Cortez's men from being slaughtered, and when he returned with artillery, etc. plagues had decimated the Aztecs, killing 90% of the population.

A final note. Try to imagine what a 16th century Spaniard would have thought of the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. To the Spanish, this was clearly devil worship (the Aztecs had plenty of images of scary gods to compliment the severed hearts). The Aztecs, in many ways, were just as brutal as the Spanish. They just didn't have a resistance to smallpox.

This show was huge in Paris, I haven't had a chance to see it at the Guggenheim yet.
posted by schambers at 10:56 AM on January 25, 2005


Great article. Here's the exhibit's site.
posted by Tlogmer at 2:25 PM on January 25, 2005


For an interesting take on the march on Tenochtitlan, check out Bernal Diaz del Castillo's account "Verdadera Historia de la Conquista de Nueva Espa├▒a"... his position was that Cortes got more "credit" than he deserved for the conquest. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04776b.htm is one account of Diaz's life; this is another. It was really the smallpoxx and artillery that the Nahua couldn't prevail against...they wore quilted armor and Diaz has an account of the extraordinary deadly efficiency of the obsidian-bladed macahuitl against the horse-mounted soldiers...

And at least one report says that the smallpox actually came form a slave with Narvaez' troops (who'd been sent by Diego Velazquez to arrest Cortes)...
posted by aldus_manutius at 12:25 PM on January 27, 2005


I was always fond of Aztex Camera's cover of Van Halen's Jump.
posted by nanojath at 8:43 PM on February 23, 2005


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