The Invented Speeches of Moctezuma, NTC+

Please note this seminar will be conducted in Spanish.

Nobody knows what Moctezuma II said to Hernán Cortés when they first met in Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519, even though early accounts of this meeting tend to include a welcome speech by the Mexica ruler, and often another speech of his given some days later. In these sixteenth-century narratives, Moctezuma usually abdicates in one way or another and recognizes the authority of Cortés or Charles V, but only because he mistakenly recognizes them as somehow connected to the Mexica.

This seminar will examine various versions of this encounter, especially the words that writers have put into Moctezuma’s mouth. We will consider Spanish accounts, beginning with that of Cortés, and the closest thing we have to an indigenous account, the Florentine Codex, a Franciscan project based on interviews with Nahua informants. We will also compare European and Mesoamerican illustrations, drawing on the Newberry’s rich collections in this area. Other sources will provide historical context and scholarly perspectives.

Some of the questions we will explore: How does each depiction attempt to justify or explain the conquest? What rhetorical strategies does each source use? How do they treat the problem of translation (the speech had to go through two interpreters, from Nahuatl to Yucatec Mayan to Spanish)? How might the representation or misrepresentation of this pivotal moment be emblematic of early modern imperialism? Where does it fit into the founding myths of the modern Mexican nation state? And what relevance does it have for us 500 years later?