|Tlatoani of Texcoco|
April 28, 1402Texcoco
June 4, 1472 (aged 70)Texcoco
Nezahualcoyotl (Classical Nahuatl: Nezahualcoyōtl, [nesawaɬˈkojoːtɬ] (help·info), meaning "Coyote in fast" or "Coyote who Fasts") (April 28, 1402 – June 4, 1472) was a philosopher, warrior, architect, poet and ruler (tlatoani) of the city-state of Texcoco in pre-Columbian era Mexico. Unlike other high-profile Mexican figures from the century preceding Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Nezahualcoyotl was not Mexica; his people were the Acolhua, another Nahuan people settled in the eastern part of the Valley of Mexico, settling on the eastern side of Lake Texcoco.
He is best remembered for his poetry, but according to accounts by his descendants and biographers, Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxóchitl and Juan Bautista Pomar, he had an experience of an "Unknown, Unknowable Lord of Everywhere" to whom he built an entirely empty temple in which no blood sacrifices of any kind were allowed — not even those of animals. However, he allowed human sacrifices to continue in his other temples.
Born as Nezahualcoyotly Acolmiztli (Fasted Coyote, Arm of a Lion),he was the son of Ixtlilxochitl I and Matlalcihuatzin, the daughter of Huitzilihuitl. Though born heir to a throne, his youth was not marked by princely luxury. His father had set Texcoco against the powerful city of Azcapotzalco, ruled by the Tepanec. In 1418, when the young prince was fifteen, his father was assassinated.
The Tepanecs of Azcapotzalco, led by Tezozomoc, conquered Texcoco and Nezahualcoyotl had to flee into exile in Huexotzinco, returning to stay in Tenochtitlan in 1422. His aunts bribed the Tepanec king and allowed for him to be partially educated as a Mexica. His exposure to Mexica culture and politics would influence how he later governed Texcoco. After Tezozomoc's son Maxtla became ruler of Azcapotzalco, Nezahualcoyotl returned to Texcoco, but had to go into exile a second time when he learned that Maxtla plotted against his life.
The reconquest of Texcoco
As the tlatoani Itzcoatl of Tenochtitlan requested help from the Huexotzincans against the Tepanecs, Nezahualcoyotl envisioned a single military force in order to fight the mighty kingdom of Atzcapotzalco. After being offered support from insurgents inside Acolhuacan and rebel Tepanecs from Coyohuacan, Nezahualcoyotl joined the war. He called for a coalition consisting of many of the most important pre-Hispanic cities of the time: Tenochtitlan, Tlacopan, Tlatelolco, Huexotzingo, Tlaxcala and Chalco.
The war was declared a shared and single effort, and the coalition army of more than 100,000 men under the command of Nezahualcoyotl and other important tlatoque headed towards Atzcapotzalco from the city of Calpulalpan. This began the military offensive that would reconquer Acolhuacan, capital city of the kingdom of Texcoco, in 1428.
The campaign was divided into three parts. One army attacked Acolman to the north and the second Coatlinchan to the south. A contingent led by Nezahualcoyotl himself was intended to attack Acolhuacan, only after providing support, upon request, to the first two armies. The coalition conquered Acolman and Otumba, sacking them only due to the sudden Tepanec siege of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco.
In a tactical move, the three armies united again and then divided into two. One of them, under Nezahualcoyotl, headed towards Texcoco laying siege to Acolhuacan on its way, while the other attacked and destroyed Atzcapotzalco. At the time the armies met again, Nezahualcoyotl reclaimed Texcoco and decided to conquer Acolhuacan, entering from the north while the Tenochca and Tlacopan allies coming from Azcapotzalco attacked from the south. The two armies simultaneously attacked Acolhuacan from two directions until they controlled the city's main square.
After their victory, the coalition began a series of attacks to isolated Tepanec posts throughout the territory of Texcoco. The defeat of the Tepanecs and the total destruction of the kingdom of Azcapotzalco gave rise to the Aztec Triple Alliance between Texcoco, Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan. Nezahualcoyotl, the wisest ruler that had ever ruled over Anahuac Valley - as it was known at that time - was finally crowned Tlatoani of Texcoco in 1431.
Legal system and punishments
According to Motolina, Nezahualcoyotl practiced his strict laws judiciously and imposed them on all his subjects. He killed four of his sons for their sexual relationships with his concubines. Conquered cities paid tribute that was distributed among three kings. Fourteen cities were under Nezahualcoyotl, including Otompan, Huexotla, Coatlichan, Chimalhuacan, Tepetlaoztoc, Chiauhtla, Tezoyucan, Teotihuacan, Acolman, Tepechpan, Chiconauhlt, Xicotepec, Cuauhchinanco, and Tulantzino.
Nezahualcoyotl adopted the Mexica legal system into his empire to help in the reconstruction of his city. There were eighty laws that he enacted; among them were laws about crime and punishment including treason, robbery, adultery, homicide, homosexuality, alcohol abuse, misuse of inheritances, and military misconduct. For example in the case for adultery, there were different punishments according to the levels of adultery and the status of those involved.
Adulterers were stoned, burned, or hanged if they had committed murder because of their extramarital affair. The Mapa Quinatzin depicts the hanging of a robber for stealing or breaking into a house. In cases of military misconduct, for example those soldiers who did not follow orders or killed captives, the condemned were hanged or beheaded. Nobles, too, were not immune to such punishments. Sons who stole from their father’s property were suffocated. Drunkards, incestuous men and women, and homosexuals were hanged as well.
The friars that documented his life thought he was a pious man, though he was skeptical towards the indigenous gods that required human sacrifices. He practiced his faith in a peaceful way; In lieu of human sacrifice, he offered incense and fasted. He built a temple and prohibited human sacrifice in his city after he had fasted and prayed for the victory Texcoco had over Chalca. He allowed human sacrifices to continue in his other temples.
He also tried to convert neighboring cities to his faith, most especially Tenochtitlan. He gathered priests from Tenochtitlan which he used to aid in reconstructing the religious system in Texcoco. He restored the existing gods and temples but also reformed and modified the existing ones. He placed a greater importance on the Mexica god and built a large temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.
Revered as a sage and poet-king, Nezahualcoyotl gathered a group of followers called the tlamatini, generally translated as "wise men". These men were philosophers, artists, musicians and sculptors who pursued their art in the court of Texcoco.
Nezahualcoyotl is credited with cultivating what came to be known as Texcoco's Golden Age, which brought the rule of law, scholarship and artistry to the city and set high standards that influenced surrounding cultures. Nezahualcoyotl designed a code of law based on the division of power, which created the councils of finance, war, justice and culture (the last actually called the "Council of Music"). Under his rule Texcoco flourished as the intellectual center of the Triple Alliance and was home to an extensive library that, tragically, did not survive the Spanish conquest. He also established an academy of music and welcomed worthy entrants from all regions of Mesoamerica.
Texcoco has been called "the Athens of the Western World"—to quote the historian Lorenzo Boturini Bernaducci. Indeed, the remains of hilltop gardens, sculptures and a massive aqueduct system show the impressive engineering skills and aesthetic appreciation of his reign.
Many believe, however, that of all the creative intellects nurtured by this Texcocan "Athens," by far the greatest belonged to the king himself. He is considered one of the great designers and architects of the pre-Hispanic era. He is said to have personally designed the "albarrada de Nezahualcoyotl" ("dike of Nezahualcoyotl") to separate the fresh and brackish waters of Lake Texcoco, a system that was still in use over a century after his death.
The date of Nezahualcoyotl's death is recorded as being June 4, 1472, survived by many concubines and an estimated 110 children. He was succeeded by his son Nezahualpilli as tlatoani of Texcoco.
His great-grandson Juan Bautista Pomar is credited with the compilations of a collection of Nahuatl poems. Romances de los señores de la Nueva España, and with a chronicle of the history of the Aztecs. The freshwater fish Xiphophorus nezahualcoyotl is named after Nezahualcoyotll. Nezahualcoyotll appears on the current 100 peso banknote of Mexico.
One of Nezahualcoyotl's historical legacies is as a poet and a number of works in the Classical Nahuatl language written in the 16th and 17th centuries have been ascribed to him. In fact this attribution is somewhat doubtful since Nezahualcoyotl died almost 50 years before the conquest and the poems were written down another fifty years after that. One of the writers who recorded Aztec poems, Juan Bautista de Pomar, was a grandson of Nezahualcoyotl and it is conceivable that he attributed his own poems to his grandfather.
Poems attributed to Nezahualcoyotl include:
- In chololiztli (The Flight)
- Ma zan moquetzacan (Stand Up!)
- Nitlacoya (I Am Sad)
- Xopan cuicatl (Song of Springtime)
- Ye nonocuiltonohua (I Am Wealthy)
- Zan yehuan (He Alone)
- Xon Ahuiyacan (Be Joyful)
One of his poems appears in tiny print on the face of the 100 peso note.
- Amo el canto del zenzontle
- Pájaro de cuatrocientas voces,
- Amo el color del jade
- Y el enervante perfume de las flores,
- Pero más amo a mi hermano, el hombre.
- I love the song of the mockingbird,
- Bird of four hundred voices,
- I love the color of the jadestone
- And the intoxicating scent of flowers,
- But more than all I love my brother, man.
A closer look at Nezahualcoyotl's poetry
Talpan temoc in xochitl tlalpan, quitemohuia yn ipalnemohuani zaniman-Yehua!-yectli ya xochitl zaniman-Yehua!-cozahuic xochitla. Ohuaya ohuaya.
In maic neapanalo o antepilhuan anteteuctin ayahue ychoquiz tlatelolotihuitza-Aya!-ca quitemohui yn ipalnemoani zaniman yehua yectli ya xochitl zaniman yehua cozahuic xochitla. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Ach tleon i quinequi in toyollo in tlalticpacqui huel teyol quima yn ipalnemoa moxochihuaya ma onnetlanehuilo cozahuic xochitla ca ycahuaca xochitl ayac quicentlamittaz ynic timiquizque. Ahuaye ohuaya.
Intlanel teocuitlatl ma xoyatlatiya intla mochalchiuh mocozqui moquetzal zan tictlanehuico ayac quicentlamittaz ynic timiquizque. Ahuaye ohuaya ohuaya.
Yecan tinemico xochipan tinemico. Ach in tocnihuan, oo, ma iuhcan quentetl ma on nemohua. Ohuaya ohuaya.
In ni Yoyo[tzin] ye nican paqui toyollo, tixco timatico yectli totlatol, antocnihuan yca nichico. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Huixahuee ye ninotolinia icnopilotl-Aya!-in anahuiya in ahuellamati, zan nontlatlcoxtinemi in tlalticpac ye nican. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Ca ya nihuizoc. In quinequi in noyollo yn imahuizon Tiox ho, ipalnemohuani ye oqui piltihua y nica mahuiztihua tlalticpacqui in teucyotl in tlatocayotl. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Cantares Mexicanos No. 82 (69r)
A Plain Spring Song
Flowers descend to earth, Life Giver sends them, sacred yellow flowers. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Let all be adorned, princes, lords. Life Giver sends them, these wailing piles of sacred flowers, these golden flowers. Ohuaya ohuaya.
What do our hearts want on this earth? Heart pleasure. Life Giver, let us borrow your flowers, these golden flowers, these wailing flowers. No one can enjoy them forever, for we must depart. Ahuaye ohuaya ohuaya.
Though they may be gold, you will hide them, though they may be your jades, your plumes. We only borrow them. No one can enjoy them forever, for we must depart. Ahuaye ohuaya ohuaya.
O friends, to a good place we've come to live, come in springtime! In that place a very brief moment! So brief is life!
I, Yoyontzin, say, Here our hearts are glad. Friends, we have come to know each other and each other's beautiful words. Yet they are also dark. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Yes, I suffer, grieve, I am joyless, inconsolable on Earth. Ohuaya ohuaya.
I am a hawk. My heart longs for Life Giver God's glory. Here on earth lords are born and they rule through his glory. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Cantares Mexicanos No. 82 (69r)
In “A Plain Spring Song,” Nezahualcoyotl expressed his feelings on the transience of life. He narrates how people hold onto life but warns that it is merely a fleeting pleasure. Although his poem does not count have a rigid structure of syllables or rhyme, it is strict in its own form. He uses couplets within couplets in the poem as well as difrasismo. Repetition of certain phrases just as one would in the chorus of a song conveys the message of reverence for the flowers and impending death on the reader’s mind. Through it all he is cognizant of the need to offer thanks to the Life Giver for giving him such gifts but acknowledge his sadness if the transience of it all.
His metonymy of flower in lieu of life’s pleasures illuminates the beauty to be found but also offers the bleak prediction of a life that will end. Like a flower, life blooms pretty and bright and in his words “golden”; but all flowers wilt and die just like life. His of the words “sacred” to describe the flowers enforce that these joys are to be revered for the pleasures they bring. The “Life Giver” sent them to earth, these pleasures that the heart yearns for. He equates them to gold, jades, and plumes. These objects would usually have been held in great value to anyone. The imagery he intones of the flowers descending to earth in the first line in piles shows how they are abundant in life but only in life. His personification of the “wailing piles of sacred flowers” might mean that these life pleasures are hard to ignore and blatantly apparent in life.
However, no matter how much joy and pleasure there is to be found in life, the author repeatedly emphasized that it is all short lived. In the third stanza, he asks that he and the rest of the people be allowed to borrow the Life Giver’s flowers. He never uses a possessive pronoun to claim the flowers for himself or the people of earth. Instead he specifically states that they belong to the Life Giver when he refers to the flowers as “yours” when talking to the Life Giver. The repetition of Ohuaya throughout the poem can signal the ending of one stanza and the beginning of another. But it can also act as a prayer or gratitude to the Life Giver. He directly states that “no one can enjoy them forever, for [they] must depart”.
The repetition of this phrase helps to remind the reader of this fact. Though he had found pleasure with the people in his life and the conversation he might have had with them, he states in stanza seven that they were tinged with darkness. In the end he realized that he suffers and grieves in a joyless and inconsolable existence on Earth because of the realization that all the pleasures be found on earth is nothing but smoke in his hands. The particular phrasing starting off with “Yes…” almost seems as if he is affirming that even he who had found so much pleasure can be so desolate.
He takes some time to savor the moments he and people have been given to live on earth. He calls it a “good place” to live in. He appreciates the connections he had made with his people and his friends. He directs the last few stanzas to the audience whom he calls friends. This connection he builds with the reader invites the reader to immerse themselves within the poem. He refers to himself as Yoyontizin, derived from yoyotli. It is a yellow plant that roughly translates to hawk’s rattle in Aztec. The plant was used to purge a person of various illnesses. In the last stanza he also states that he is a hawk. Given the context of the stanza that the lords born to earth on the Life Giver’s graces were given the right to rule could mean that he is trying to affirm his position as a rightful and great ruler. Imbued with the majestic demeanor and fighting prowess of a hawk, Nezhualcoyotl might be referring to his struggles in becoming a ruler and how he ruled.
- Texcoco (altepetl)
- History of the Aztecs
- Aztec Empire
- Mexican literature
- Ixtlilxochitl I
- Aztec mythology
- Martínez, José (1972). Nezahualcoyotl, Vida y Obra. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica. p. 11. ISBN 968-16-0509-8.
- Lee, Jongsoo; "A reinterpretation of Nahuatl poetics: Rejecting the image of Nezahualcoyotl as a peaceful poet" in Colonial Latin American Review, December 2003, Vol. 12 Issue 2,
- Curl, John; Ancient American PoetsThe Flower Songs of Nezahualcoyotl, Bilingual Press, 2005, ISBN 1-931010-21-8
- Leon-Portilla, Miguel; Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World University of Oklahoma Press, October 2000.
- Prescott, William; The History of the Conquest of Mexico, Book 1, Chapter 6.
- Lee, Jongsoo; "A reinterpretation of Nahuatl poetics: Rejecting the image of Nezahualcoyotl as a peaceful poet" in Colonial Latin American Review, December 2003, Vol. 12 Issue 2, p 233-249.
- Curl, John; Ancient American PoetsThe Flower Songs of Nezahualcoyotl, Bilingual Press, 2005, ISBN 1-931010-21-8
- Flower Songs of Nezahualcoyotl  YouTube
- "Netzahualcoyotl". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.
- Poems of Nezahualcoyotl read in Nahuatl YouTube
|Tlatoani of Texcoco