Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Selected Bibliography

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Selected Bibliography

Article excerpt


Most of the surviving Nahuatl songs can be found in two major codices, Romances de los senores de la Nueva Espana and Cantares mexicanos. Both were compiled between 1560 and 1582. A few songs are duplicated in both the Romances and the Cantares, attesting to their authenticity and popularity. Neither manuscript has a compiler's name attached, though there is solid evidence of the identities of both.

The Romances, containing ten flower songs attributed to Nezahualcoyotl (or eleven, depending on how one counts), were probably collected by Juan Bautista Pomar, a great-grandson of Hungry Coyote. Although no scribe's name or date is on the only existing Romances manuscript, that manuscript was discovered bound together with Pomar's history of Texcoco, Geographical Relation of Texcoco, dated 1582. The two manuscripts are of the same vintage. Pomar wrote in his own language and for his own people to conserve their history, traditions, and culture.

The Cantares mexicanos, with twenty-four to twenty-eight flower songs attributed to Nezahualcoyotl, was probably collected by the indigenous informants of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun as part of his great work known as the Florentine codex.

Since the Nahuas already had a written literary tradition before the Spaniards arrived, they learned the alphabet from the friars very quickly after their own ancient books were banned and burned. Soon many Nahuas could read and write in their own language, using the Spanish alphabet. Almost every Amerindian town appointed a notary to keep local records.

Two more of Hungry Coyote's songs are found in Spanish translation in Historia chichimeca, a history written in Spanish by Alva Ixtlilxochitl, another descendant of Hungry Coyote and surely an associate of Pomar. This book and Relation of Texcoco are the primary sources for Hungry Coyote's life and the history of his city-state, Texcoco. More of this history and a paraphrase of a Hungry Coyote poem have been passed down in Monarquia indiana, another contemporary codex by Fray Juan de Torquemada. The sacred hymns can be found in the Florentine codex, Historia tolteca-chichimeca, and Anales de Cuauhtitlan.

The quotes from Fray Diego Duran can be found in Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espana (1581), the first part translated into English as The Aztecs: History of the Indies, and the subsequent parts as Book of the Gods and the Rites and the Ancient Calendar.

There is no complete translation into English of the Romances. The best Spanish translations to date are still those by Garibay and Leon-Portilla. Leon-Portilla's beautiful English renderings of some of his Spanish translations are also excellent. Bierhorst's complete translation of the Cantares is precise and scholarly in many ways but also rife with interpretations of these poems as "ghost songs." In my own English translations I have used all of these works to try to find my way to understanding the originals.

Most of the songs in both the Cantares and the Romances have no titles, and in some instances several seem to be run together. For consistency and convenience in identifying the songs, I am retaining Garibay's song numbers for the Romances and Bierhorst's for the Cantares. The song numbers are followed by the manuscript pages where they can be found.

In the original manuscripts some of the songs contain stanzas apparently interjected by the singer at the time of compilation, usually addressed to Hungry Coyote. These have been omitted here. Also omitted are a few intrusions from Spanish.

Garibay's translations of most of the ancient songs into Spanish, along with commentaries, published over three decades beginning in 1937, changed the way ancient Nahuatl poetry was studied. His classic translations of the flower songs are still the standard against which all other translations must be judged. …

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