Hernando Cortés: letter recounting greeting by Montezuma II (1520)

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Hernando Cortés: letter recounting greeting by Montezuma II (1520)

Moctezuma came down the middle of this street with two chiefs, one on his right hand and the other on his left. When we met I dismounted and stepped forward to embrace him, but the two lords who were with him stopped me with their hands so that I should not touch him; and they likewise all performed the ceremony of kissing the earth. When at last I came to speak to Moctezuma himself I took off a necklace of pearls and cut glass that I was wearing and placed it round his neck; after we had walked a little way up the street a servant of his came with two necklaces, wrapped in a cloth, made from red snails' shells, which they hold in great esteem; and from each necklace hung eight shrimps of refined gold almost a span in length. And after he had given me these things he sat on another throne which they placed there next to the one on which I was sitting….

Then he raised his clothes and showed me his body, saying, as he grasped his arms and trunk with his hands, "See that I am of flesh and blood like you and all other men, and I am mortal and substantial. See how they have lied to you? It is true that I have some pieces of gold left to me by my ancestors; anything I might have shall be given to you whenever you ask. Now I shall go to other houses where I live, but here you shall be provided with all that you and your people require, and you shall receive no hurt, for you are in your own land and your own house."


The Myth of Quetzalcoatl
"He has appeared! He has come back! He will come here to the place of his throne and canopy, for that is what he said he would do when he departed." - Montezuma, on hearing Cortés' description.

Were the Spaniards long-lost rulers or deities of the Aztec pantheon? An unnerving series of coincidences led Montezuma to believe that perhaps Cortés was the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, who had promised to return one day to reclaim his kingdom.

Quetzalcoatl, "the feathered serpent," stood for the solar light, the morning star. He symbolized knowledge, arts, and religion. In his time, he had been a rich, powerful man, but he had been expelled and vanished across the sea eastwards, near Veracruz, where Cortés had landed. Legend had it that Quetzalcoatl was white-skinned, bearded and he was opposed to human sacrifice. Unnerving as were these similarites to Cortés, there was one factor that was positively spine-chilling: for the year in which Quetzalcoatl was born and died, and the year in which Montezuma's astrologers expected him to "strike at Kings," was 1-Reed. By a 52-1 chance, 1519, the year that Cortés arrived, was 1-Reed.
The American Holocaust
“But finally, it’s the microbes, it’s the germs, that will reek havoc in the Americas. Smallpox, influenza, measles, typhus, plague, malaria, yellow fever, do not exist in the Americas before October 1942. Standard estimate of the decimation of the American peoples in the aftermath of Columbus is 85-90% decline within 50 years….This is the largest demographic catastrophe in human history. This is an American holocaust. The usual estimate of the size of the American population [at the time] range anywhere from 35 to about 100 million people. So what we are talking about in the range of 50 years is the destruction of somewhere between 25 and 90 million people. The most destructive impact of the Columbian moment, in fact, is for the Native American people.”

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