Theses Doctoral

Taming Teotl: the Making of an Aztec Pantheon in Colonial Mexico

Colmenares Gonzalez, David Horacio

My dissertation investigates how an Aztec religious antiquity was defined and codified in colonial Mexico by focusing on the transformation of Aztec figures of power (Nahuatl: teteoh) into “pagan gods.” Through a wide range of texts, images and pictorial manuscripts produced in colonial Mexico as well as in Santo Domingo, Spain, Italy and the Low Countries, I argue that the dominant interpretation of the Aztec gods that arose in the sixteenth century was an instance of the “reception of reception”: the result of the creative deployment, by central Mexican native elites, of the interpretative strategies of the Conquerors. I eschew traditional ethnohistorical approaches by arguing that the figures that came to be known as the Aztec gods were in fact sixteenth- and seventeenth-century constructions that emerged from the convergence of three phenomena in Post-Conquest Mesoamerica: fifteenth-century Castilian historical culture, early modern antiquarian and humanist intellectual practices, and “native exegesis”—native interpretation and re-creation of tradition, often influenced by rivalries between central-Mexican indigenous elites. I contend that native and mestizo elites held a far greater degree of intellectual agency in creating an image of their own past than what is conveyed by their common characterization as “informants.” Under the epistemic conditions that obtained within a budding colonial society, central-Mexican elites managed to selectively present some of their ancient teteoh under a new light, as deified rulers, founders of political lineages, inventors of important arts and trades, or even as forerunners of an autochthonous monotheism. The Aztec pantheon emerged from an interplay between European and Native forms of exegesis, thus foreclosing clean-cut distinctions between “production” and “reception,” or between “social facts” and “interpretations.” At the same time, the pantheon codified an image of New Spain’s pagan past: a reflection of Classical Antiquity that manifested Mexico-Tenochtitlan’s political hegemony over and against other local traditions. A construction of unparalleled efficacy, the Aztec pantheon still shapes our understanding of Mesoamerican civilizations up to the present day.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Russo, Alessandra
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 28, 2019