Ballads of the Lords of New Spain: The Codex Romances de los Señores de la Nueva España

By John Bierhorst | Go to book overview

Preface

Comprising thirty-six song-texts apparently dating from the early fourth quarter of the sixteenth century, the so-called Romances, or “ballads,” stands as one of the two principal sources of Nahuatl song. Unlike its sister compilation, the more voluminous Cantares Mexicanos, the Romances, whether by design or accident, takes the form of an organized anthology—an Aztec cancionero—that may be read with a sense of unity from start to finish.

Although it can be agreed, at least, that Aztec songs are richly figurative and carry an aura of mystery, the underlying question is whether they are inscrutable. Is it profitable to consider them at all? In my view, now as previously, the answer is yes, both for the sake of history and for the sake of art. Yet as early as the 1580s, when the songs were being performed in public, the redoubtable missionary-ethnographer Bernardino de Sahagún seemingly took a stand against translation, warning that “no one knows what [the singers] say except themselves alone,” thus hinting at a position still widely, if tacitly, respected. That is, by cautiously steering away from the topic, many Mexicanists have treated Aztec “poetry” as something akin to what the late Franz Boas—the father of American anthropology and an occasional Mexicanist himself—used to call a Scheinproblem, or sham problem, to be avoided as insoluble.

A second view, developed by antiquaries and latter-day historians in the early 1600s, takes the songs to be poetic ruminations of old kings stationed in flowery gardens—like shepherds stepped out of the Eclogues—interlarded with firsthand reportage from pre-Cortésian battlefields. The method compartmentalizes the two aspects of the genre, the aesthetic and the martial, treating the texts as a mass of fragments to be examined for scraps of history, on one hand, and, on the other, bits of found poetry that seem to touch on classic themes of friendship and mortality. This kind of interpretation, which

-vii-

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Ballads of the Lords of New Spain: The Codex Romances de los Señores de la Nueva España
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • A Note on Orthography xi
  • Using the Online Edition xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • On the Translation of Aztec Poetry 24
  • Guide to the Vocabulary 71
  • Romances de Los Señores de la Nueva España Ballads of the Lords of New Spain 75
  • Guide to the Transcription 76
  • Part 1 80
  • I 81
  • II 85
  • III 87
  • IV 89
  • V 91
  • V 95
  • VII 97
  • VIII 99
  • IX 100
  • X 101
  • XII 108
  • XIII 109
  • XIV 111
  • Part 2 114
  • XV [Part 2, Song 1] 115
  • XVI [Part 2, Song 2] 117
  • XVI [Part 2, Song 3]30 119
  • XVIII [Part 2, Song 4]36 121
  • XIX [Part 2, Song 5]46 123
  • XX [Part 2, Song 6]59 126
  • XXI [Part 2, Song 7]67 128
  • XXII [Part 2, Song 8] 131
  • XXIII [Part 2, Song 9]82 133
  • XXIV [Part 2, Song 10]92 135
  • XXV [Part 2, Song 11] 137
  • XXVI [Part 2, Song 12] 139
  • XXVII [Part 2, Song 13]108 141
  • XXVIII [Part 2, Song 14]119 143
  • Part 3 146
  • XXIX [Part 3, Song 1]1 147
  • XXIX-a [Part 3, Song 1-a]10 149
  • XXX [Part 3, Song 2] 151
  • XXXI [Part 3, Song 3]21 152
  • XXXII [Part 3, Song 4]33 154
  • Part 4 156
  • XXXIII [Part 4, Song 1]1 157
  • XXXIV [Part 4, Song 2] 159
  • XXXV [Part 4, Song 3] 161
  • Commentary 163
  • Concordance to Proper Nouns 189
  • Verbs, Particles, and Common Nouns 204
  • Appendix I - Two Versions of the Myth of the Origin of Music 207
  • Appendix II - Corrections for the Cantares Edition 211
  • Bibliography 221
  • Index 233
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