Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs

Synopsis

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs is the most comprehensive survey and discussion of primary documentary sources and relevant archaeological evidence available about the most enigmatic figure of ancient Mesoamerica. Probably no indigenous New World personage has aroused more interest or more controversy than this Lord of Tollan, capital of the Toltec Empire, who was merged with the prominent Feathered Serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. Speculation began soon after the Spanish Conquest brought Europeans in contact with this ambiguous figure, and scholarly inquiry has continued unabated to the present. The extant literature on this famous man/god is enormous and steadily growing.

Professor Nicholson sorts through this wealth of material, classifying, summarizing, and analyzing all known primary accounts of the career of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, in the Spanish, Nahuatl, and Mayan languages, which Spanish missionaries and Spanish-educated natives recorded after the Conquest. In a new introduction, he updates the original source material presently available to scholars interested in this figure. After careful consideration of the evidence, he concludes that, in spite of the obvious myth surrounding this renowned Toltec priest-ruler, at least some of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl's recorded life and deeds are drawn from historical fact. Nicholson also contends that the tradition of his expected return probably played a role in the peaceable reception of Cortés by Moctezuma II in Mexico's Tenochtitlan in the fall of 1519.

Including new illustrations and an index, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs constitutes a major contribution to Mesoamerican ethnohistory and archaeology.

Excerpt

Henry Nicholson's Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs first came to my attention when he submitted it as a doctoral dissertation at Harvard in 1957 under the title “Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl of Tollan: A Problem in Mesoamerican Ethnohistory.” Henry was one of my best graduate students at the time; however, let me state right at the beginning that when it came to Mesoamerican ethnohistory Henry was—and still is—miles ahead of me. After he left Harvard, Nicholson obtained a post at UCLA in which he has served with great distinction ever since.

While Henry and I remained in touch through the years, I don't think Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl would ever have come into our discourse again if it hadn't been for an 1975 issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This particular number of Daedalus was devoted to the theme of “transcendence, ” especially as to how this historical process pertained to the ancient civilizations of the Old World, particularly those of the last millennium before and into the early Christian Era. Benjamin I. Schwartz, the historian who edited the volume and wrote its introductory essay (Schwartz 1975), defined his use of the term “transcendence” in this context as referring to those movements such as classical Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and to these we can add early Christianity. Such are manifest at a point in time when there is a critical and reflective questioning of the way things have been done and a vision of how they can be made better. All occur as civilization matures. One might think of them as expressions of the agony of civilization. Did such critiques . . .

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