- Series: The Civilization of the American Indian Series (Book 67)
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; Revised ed. edition (September 15, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0806122951
- ISBN-13: 978-0806122953
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind (The Civilization of the American Indian Series) Revised ed. Edition
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About the Author
Director of the Inter-American Indian Institute in Mexico City, Miguel León-Portilla is a significant young Mexican scholar. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees (summa cum laude) form Loyola University at Los Angeles and the Ph.D. from the National University of Mexico. La filosofía náhuatl: estudiada en sus fuentes, the Spanish version of this book, received high praise from both Mexican and American scholars.
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I felt, however, that this book is in effect only half of the book that should have been written, because of the way Leon-Portilla undervalues Nahua theology. His monotheizing reduction of the Nahua pantheon means that he removes the content of Nahua thought and leaves only the form, if that. It does not seem to occur to him that theological structures can provide the basis for philosophical reflection; instead, he assumes that philosophy and theology must be in opposition. This is clearly a projection of philosophy's situation in the Christian and Muslim world, but Leon-Portilla offers no evidence that a similar tension existed in Nahua society. This inability to question his own presuppositions is a serious defect in an otherwise bold, important book which does make a real contribution to the project of expanding the boundaries of philosophy beyond the European tradition. I'm rating it slightly higher than I otherwise might, because the effort to do this sort of thing is not made often enough.
This book does make a cursory reference to the perennial philosophy in inferring the Nahau culture was part of it. A claim which is somewhat speculative but probably correct. When one visits Teotihuacan, a primary Nahau/Toltec site, there is no doubt the complex was not built by savages. Probably because we have a Mexican and not a Spanish writer the Nahau are conveyed as a deep people extremely civilized and not a rapacious savages as was sold to the world by the conquistidors.
Recent linguist research as presented in Aztec Calendar Handbook makes a strong case that Nahautl originated in the Four Corners region of the US Southwest. Specifically there are linked to Chaco Canyon and it's complex of temples. It is a tenable hypothesis that the tlamatinime and Nahautl culture originated here and migrated down to Teotihuacan and their cultural/linguistic descendants finally to Tenochtitlan prior to the invasion of Cortez.
So I'd rate this as a respectable work from mainstream academia but not as a full depiction of Aztec thought and culture. That prize goes to Laurette Sejourne whos classic Burning Water has not been equaled in the study of things Aztec/Toltec/Nahuatl. While Portilla's book takes you to the edge of the regions cosmology Sejourne brings you backstage. When Portilla winks and mentions perennial philosophy it's Sejourne who convincingly and indisputably delivers the goods. Portilla's book may be required reading for an Mexican religion 101 class. But Sejourne's work is beyond Phd material. Sejournes work is more like being let into the secret mysticism yoga of the Nahuatl. In fact there are few books that see into mans true role and interaction with 'reality' as 'Burning Water.' Other books up to this level are the writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan The Heart of Sufism and Tiwa/Ute medicine person Joseph Rael Sound: Native Teachings and Visionary Art of Joseph Rael
If you are perceptive to energy and want to travel to Teotihuacan to experience the energy that is still there in the stones and great pyramids then lookup Cynthia Signet of AncientWisdomTeachings
The author: What might seem to be hyper-political-correctness is actually poignantly outrageous ancestor worship. The Aztecs can do no wrong, so get used to it. On p. 155 Leon-Portilla takes us through the "sagacity" of book burning! "The common folk were worshipping pictures of their ancient rulers as gods." (Sound familiar?) How, exactly, was this culture-destroying move sagacious? Well, it shows that the Mexica had "a strong awareness of history"!
(But when the Spanish burn books, poetry, art and music - beauty itself - leave the planet forever.)
This quaint attitude actually helps make a difficult topic entertaining. The translation is a more aggravating problem. "Deities of the Close Vicinity"? Why didn't our translator throw in some English, like "Lords of the Nearby"? And he gives us "tiger" in place of jaguar! (Spanish for jaguar is "tigre.")
Leon-Portilla goes to great lengths to explain a phenomenon common in Náhautl, difrasismo, which apparently is rare in Spanish. But the translation completely ignores that it's the bread and butter of English - difrasismo is the coupling of words, like "bread and butter"! The crucial Aztec phrase "face and heart," for example, is apparently untranslatable into Spanish, but English has "body and soul," or the plural "hearts and minds"! How beautifully Nahuatl must translate directly into English!
This is a must-read for the student of ancient America, and not just because there's nothing else out there. But oh for a new translation!