another history


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another history



INTRODUCTION. As in a previous number of the Library of Aboriginal American Literature I have discussed in detail the character of the ancient Mexican poetry, I shall confine myself at present to the history of the present collection. We owe its preservation to the untiring industry of Father Bernardino de Sahagun, one of the earliest missionaries to Mexico, and the author of by far the most important work on the religion, manners and customs of the ancient Mexicans. By long residence and close application Sahagun acquired a complete mastery of the Nahuatl tongue. He composed his celebrated Historia de las Casas de la Nueva España primarily in the native language, and from this original wrote out a Spanish translation, in some parts considerably abbreviated. This incomplete reproduction is that which was published in Spanish by Lord Kingsborough and Bustamente, and in a French rendering with useful notes by Dr. Jourdanet and M. Rémi Simeon. So far as I know, the only complete copy of the Nahuatl original now in existence is that preserved in the Bibliotheca Laurentio-Mediceana in Florence, where I examined it in April, 1889. It is a most elaborate and beautiful MS., in three large volumes, containing thirteen hundred and seventy eight illustrations, carefully drawn by hand, mostly colored, illustrative of the native mythology, history, arts and usages, besides many elaborate head and tail pieces to the chapters. {p. x} There is another Nahuatl MS. of Sahagun's history in the private library of the King of Spain at Madrid, which I examined in May, 1888, and of which I published a collation in the Mémoires de la Sociètè Internationale des Américanistes, for that year. It is incomplete, embracing only the first. six books of the Historia, and should be considered merely as a borrador or preliminary sketch for the Florentine copy. It contains, however, a certain amount of material not included in the latter, and has been peculiarly useful to me in the preparation of the present volume, as not only affording another reading of the text, valuable for comparison, but as furnishing a gloss or Nahuatl paraphrase of most of the hymns, which does not appear in the Florentine MS. As evidently the older of the two, I have adopted the readings of the Madrid MS. as my text, and given the variants of the Florentine MS. at the end of each hymn. Neither MS. attempts any translation of the hymns. That at Madrid has no Spanish comment whatever, while that at Florence places opposite the hymns the following remarks, which are also found in the printed copies, near the close of the Appendix of the Second Book of the Historia:-- "It is an old trick of our enemy the Devil to try to conceal himself in order the better to compass his ends, in accordance with the words of the Gospel, 'He whose deeds are evil, shuns the light.' Also on earth this enemy of ours has provided himself with a dense wood and a ground, rough and filled with abysses, there to prepare his wiles and to escape pursuit, as do wild beasts and venomous serpents. This wood and these abysses are the songs which he has inspired for his service to be sung in his honor within the temples and outside {p. xi} of them; for they are so artfully composed that they say what they will, but disclose only what the Devil commands, not being rightly understood except by those to whom they are addressed. It is, in fact, well recognized that the cave, wood or abysses in which this cursed enemy hides himself, are these songs or chants which he himself composed, and which are sung to him without being understood except by those who are acquainted with this sort of language. The consequence is that they sing what they please, war or peace, praise to the Devil or contempt for Christ, and they cannot in the least be understood by other men." Lord Kingsborough says in a note in his voluminous work on the Antiquities of Mexico that this portion of Sahagun's text was destroyed by order of the Inquisition, and that there was a memorandum to that effect in the Spanish original in the noble writer's possession. This could scarcely have referred to a translation of the hymns, for none such exists in any MS. I have consulted, or heard of; and Sahagun intimates in the passage quoted above that he had made none, on account of the obscurity of the diction. Neither does any appear in the Florentine MS., where the text of the hymns is given in full, although the explanatory Gloss is omitted. This last-mentioned fact has prevented me from correcting the text of the Gloss, which in some passages is manifestly erroneous; but I have confined myself to reproducing it strictly according to the original MS., leaving its correction to those who will make use of it. The Florentine MS. has five colored illustrations of the divinities, or their symbols, which are spoken of in the chants. These are probably copied from the native hieroglyphic books {p. xii} in which, as we learn from Sahagun, such ancient songs were preserved and transmitted. These illustrations I had copied with scrupulous fidelity and reproduced by one of the photographic processes, for the present work. Such is the history of this curious document, and with this brief introduction I submit it to those who will have the patience and skill to unravel its manifold difficulties.