Mesoamerica's Classic Heritage: From Teotihuacan to the Aztecs

By David Carrasco; Lindsay Jones et al. | Go to book overview

5

FROM TEOTIHUACAN TO TENOCHTITLAN
CITY PLANNING, CAVES, AND STREAMS OF
RED AND BLUE WATERS

DORIS HEYDEN


THE SOURCES

The world of the people of ancient Mexico was part of nature itself, where the celestial bodies, fire and water, trees, caves, and mountains were deified; they were often considered sacred ancestors. But other sacred ancestors were real people, real places. One of these places was Teotihuacan, whose prestige as the axis mundi, the center of the world, was adopted and adapted centuries after Teotihuacan's efflorescence, by Tenochtitlan. I suggest that this continuity, with some changes, was carried out through oral tradition in the form of myth, by possible contact with material remains such as architecture and painted murals, and by relations with other ethnic groups. After their long migration from Aztlan- Chicomoztoc-Colhuacan to the Basin of Mexico, the Aztecs aligned themselves (for a time) with the Toltecs of Colhuacan, thereby acquiring instant and prestigious ancestors whose roots went back to Teotihuacan. I will deal with this heritage later. Meanwhile, in order to indicate that oral, written, painted, and sung references to ancestors and past glories claimed by the Aztecs were present in the formation of the history of these people—real or imagined—I cite some historical chronicles. Well-known sources are Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Diego Durán, Fray Toribio de Benavente (known as Motolinía), Francisco de las Navas, Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, the Historia de México, and the Historia de los mexicanos por sus pinturas, to name a few.

We'll start with a modern historian, Jan Vansina, author of La tradición oral (1968), who claims that part of history has been preserved in verbal transmission, either spoken or sung; such transmissions are usually passed from generation to generation and become aids in the reconstruction of the past. Among peoples called literate, states Vansina, many historical sources, especially those

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