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three pairs of lovers with space


The Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (The True History of the Conquest of New Spain) is a first-person narrative written in 1576 by military adventurer, conquistador, and colonist settler Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492–1581), who served in three of the Spanish expeditions to conquer Mexico, and says he was driven by an urge as an eye-witness to tell the truth distorted by others.

The following excerpts are taken from the translation by J. M. Cohen for the Penguin Classics, published in London in 1963. The division and naming of the chapters is his invention. Of the terms not translated by him, “cacique” meant “leader” and “papa” meant priest.

Every passage mentioning sodomy is presented here, since in the one case where Díaz specifies who was involved, it was pederastic in character.


The Expedition of Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba

On 5 March 1517, the expeditionary force to which Díaz belonged landed on what they supposed was an island hitherto undiscovered by Europeans, but was actually the coast of Yucatán, and drove off an attack by the inhabitants.

A little beyond the place where they attacked us was a small square with three houses built of masonry, which served as cues or prayer-houses. These contained many idols of baked clay, some with women’s, and others equally ugly which seemed to represent Indians committing sodomy with one another. [p. 19]

The March to Cingapacinga and Return to Cempoala

In mid 1519, the expedition led by Hernán Cortés to conquer the Aztec Empire reached the town of Cingapacinga, where Cortés addressed the Caciques (leaders) and papas (priests).

Aztec boys learning to fight, by Pierre Joubert

After hearing Cortés’ customary exposition of our holy faith, and his injunctions to give up human sacrifice and robbery and the foul practice of sodomy, and to cease worshipping their accursed idols, also much other good advice that he gave them, they at once called together the people of the neighbouring towns. These people then swore obedience to His Majesty, [… p. 120]

Just afterwards, marching back to Cempoala, they were met by the Caciques of that town, who had previously received them, and now offered them eight Indian girls to cement their friendship into a brotherhood. Cortés replied that they must first abandon their idols, stop their human sacrifices, and …

The girls, he added, must become Christians before we could receive them, and the people must give up sodomy, for they had boys dressed as women who practised that accursed vice for profit. […] The Caciques, papas and dignitaries all replied that it would be wrong for them to give up their idols and sacrifices, for these gods of theirs brought them health and good harvests and all that they needed; but as for sodomy, measures would be taken to see that the practice was stopped. [p. 122]

Describing the papas of Cempoala:

[…] As they told us, and we afterwards found out for ourselves, these papas were the sons of chiefs and had no wives, but indulged in the foul practice of sodomy. [p. 124]


Events at Vera Cruz: The Destruction of the Ships

After Cortés’s expedition arrived at Xocotlan (now Zautla), a town under Aztec rule, and had been fed by Olintecle, the Cacique, Cortés addressed him through interpreters:

“[…] And now I say this to you also, Olintecle, and to all the Caciques who are with you, that you must give up your sacrifices and cease to eat the flesh of your neighbours and practise sodomy and the other evil things you do. For such is the will of our lord God, in whom we believe and whom we worship, the giver of life and death, who will bear us up to heaven.” And he said much more about our holy religion, but they remained silent. [p. 137]

The Tlascalan Campaign

Hernán Cortés by an unknown artist

At the little town of Xalacingo in August 1519:

Cortes then addressed the chiefs of Xalacingo, repeating his usual exposition of our holy religion, and saying that we were vassals of the lord our King who had sent us to these parts to put an end to human sacrifices and the eating of human flesh, and the other beastlinesses that it was their custom to practise.” [p. 141]

The March to Mexico

At Cholula in October 1519, having just discovered a plot to kill the Spanish, Cortés addressed the assembled Caciques, papas and warriors:

Cortes then asked the Caciques why they had turned traitors and decided the night before that they would kill us, seeing that we had done them no harm but had merely warned them against certain things as we had warned every town through which we had passed: against wickedness and human sacrifice, and the worship of idols, and eating their neighbours’ flesh, and sodomy. [p. 198]

Having then killed many of the Cholulans, Cortés relented and granted peace:

He summoned the captains and papas and other dignitaries of the town and gave them a clear exposition of the principles of our holy faith. He told them to give up worshipping their idols, to stop sacrificing and eating human flesh, to give up robbery and their customary bestialities. [p. 201]

The Stay in Mexico

Having been received in “Mexico” (Tenochtitlan), the Aztec capital, by the Emperor Moctezuma on 8 November 1519, the next day Cortés went to see him, explained the creation of the world to him and that his own emperor …

The first meeting of Moctezuma and Cortés on 8 November 1519, by a Tlaxcalan artist, ca. 1550

grieving for the perdition of so many souls as their idols were leading to hell, where they burnt in living flame, had sent us to tell him this, so that he might put a stop to it, and so that they might give up the worship of idols and make no more human sacrifices – for all men are brothers – and commit no more robbery or sodomy. [p. 222]

Describing Moctezuma:

He was quite free from sodomy. [p. 225]




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