Thèse : On the lips of others: Fame and the transformation of Moctezuma’s image
- Hajovsky, Patrick Thomas
- Cummins, Thomas B. F. (dir.)
- The University of Chicago, 2007, 387 p.
- Ph.D. : Philosophy
This study compares the portraits and portrayals of the fame of the Aztec king Montezuma. European discourse about Montezuma distinguished Montezuma’s historical and political persona from his religious one, even though these were inseparable aspects of Aztec divine kingship. European portraits of him revolved around the political desire to portray an individual personality and situate that personality in a historical context, especially in contexts meant to justify Spain’s right to rule in the New World. In so doing, early colonial-period histories written about Montezuma from either side of the Atlantic efface how the divine king was portrayed in a series of Aztec stone sculptures during the eighteen years of his role (1502-20).
Montezuma’s name hieroglyph appears on no less than eight Aztec stone sculptures. This hieroglyph and the king’s portrait identified his body at the center of ritual transformations of his fame on a calendrical basis. Montezuma was depicted at the center of all fame, and he occupied the central role to mete out fame to others. Montezuma’s name hieroglyph innovated on traditional Aztec representations of power as invested in the Great Speaker (the Aztec term analogous to king). It also employed ancient symbols of Toltec nobility to center the legitimacy of that power. Montezuma controlled the speech and appearance of nobility in Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, and he orchestrated performances that highlighted the fame of socially mobile individuals—warriors and merchants—as part of divine service to the king and the sun.
The study concludes with a comparative analysis of a portrait of Montezuma that remains in situ (although badly damaged) in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. I compare the remains of the portrait with other Aztec portraits that were produced by indigenous kings and described in sixteenth century histories, and conclude that although these colonial-period sources are essential to our understanding of the Aztec past through the figures of famous men like Montezuma, the fame they cast is of a different order than that which existed in Montezuma’s time.