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Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind (The Civilization of the American Indian Series) [Kindle Edition]

Miguel Leon-Portilla , Jack Emory Davis
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

For at least two millennia before the advent of the Spaniards in 1519, there was a flourishing civilization in central Mexico. During that long span of time a cultural evolution took place which saw a high development of the arts and literature, the formulation of complex religious doctrines, systems of education, and diverse political and social organization.

The rich documentation concerning these people, commonly called Aztecs, includes, in addition to a few codices written before the Conquest, thousands of folios in the Nahuatl or Aztec language written by natives after the Conquest. Adapting the Latin alphabet, which they had been taught by the missionary friars, to their native tongue, they recorded poems, chronicles, and traditions.

The fundamental concepts of ancient Mexico presented and examined in this book have been taken from more than ninety original Aztec documents. They concern the origin of the universe and of life, conjectures on the mystery of God, the possibility of comprehending things beyond the realm of experience, life after death, and the meaning of education, history, and art. The philosophy of the Nahuatl wise men, which probably stemmed from the ancient doctrines and traditions of the Teotihuacans and Toltecs, quite often reveals profound intuition and in some instances is remarkably “modern.”

This English edition is not a direct translation of the original Spanish, but an adaptation and rewriting of the text for the English-speaking reader.

Product Description


Translations of ancient Aztec documents reveal their thoughts on the origin of the universe, the nature of God, and the significance of art.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1295 KB
  • Print Length: 276 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0806122951
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; Reprint edition (28 Nov. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #896,104 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable account of Aztec philosophy 7 Dec. 2009
This book examines whether such a thing as philosophy existed amongst the Aztecs. Philosophy it is argued, must be distinguished from mere mythology and beliefs. To qualify as philosophical thinking the author argues that Aztec thought needed to show evidence of being able to question the myths and beliefs of its own society. The author looks at evidence for this in a group of people amongst the Aztecs called the tlamatinime (Aztec wise men.)
It is revealed that these wise men were serious in trying to discover whether such a thing as truth could exist in a transitory world. A world where everything passes away including human life. They ask whether it is possible for man to contain truth which they see as eternal when a human life is not. The tlamatine write verses such as:

Although it be jade, it will be broken,
Although it be gold, it is crushed.

There is also a very good chapter on the Aztec attitude towards their own history and their art. Aztec attitudes to the Toltecs are also looked at and the indebtedness they felt for the cultural legacy the Toltecs had left behind.

I really enjoyed reading this book. An invaluable read for anyone interested in religious studies, philosophy, history and pre-Columbian culture.
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1 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Two Thumbs Down 17 May 1999
By A Customer
Whoever wrote this book wasted their time.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Aztec Thought and Culture 6 May 2002
By carolina - Published on
I first bought this book thirty years ago. I now use it as a text book for my Mexican American Culture and Society Class and for my Pre Hispanic life and Religion Class. This book is basic in understanding the depth of philosophical and religious thought of the ancient Mexican. Portilla is is primarily instruemental in all of his writings in intoducing the reader to the ancient civilizations of this hemisfaire....that was in exsisitance at the same time of the old world....and which we have been so ignorant of for too long.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important book, but has its limitations 18 Nov. 2008
By Edward Butler - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Leon-Portilla successfully demonstrates that there was a class of professional intellectuals in Nahua society appropriately described as "philosophers" (the tlamatinime), and sketches in broad terms the parameters of their thought.

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.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book! 18 Feb. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
I have read quite a few books on the Aztecs and this is one of my favorites. It provides great insight into the Aztecs thought, culture and language. I am also reading one of the authors other books, titled "Fifteen poets of the Aztec world" which I also recommend. These books are great for anyone who is interested in the Aztecs.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent window to the spiritual culture of the Mexicas 6 Oct. 1999
By Jorge Luis Jauregui ( - Published on
Just like India's Upanishadic teaching tradition unfolded the Knowledge of the true identity of the individual, the universe and God, the Náhuatl Tlamatinime (spiritual teachers) were the "phylosphers", as Sahagun called them, who, abiding in Spiritual wisdom, were able to guide their students to discover the nature of their True Self. Don Miguel Leoón-Portilla is the ideal commentator because, after introducing his readers to the Tlamatinime's recorded words, showing a deep personal insight of the Náhuatl language, he accurately and methodically expounds, word by word and verse by verse, in the content of their spiritual wisdom. My opinion is that he could be considered the Adi Shankaracharya (the Commentary Master of the Tradional Vedanta texts of India) of the Americas.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clearly Inferior to Sejournes 'Burning Water' 26 Sept. 2009
By MysticJaguar - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is largely a commentary on early Spanish writers in 'New Spain' and mainly for Sahagun. The book starts out by talking about the Aztec/Nahau philosophers the 'tlamatinime'. In fact it keeps repeating verse/poetry from the first section of the book throughout when referring to these wise men. It got to the point reading this that Sahagun and others works were included so much that I felt I should be reading Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain (Book 6, Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy) first hand (if it wasn't so unreasonably expensive, an affordable reprint is due).

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
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