The City Of The Living God


The plates, bowls, cups, pitchers, and the rest of the service were of very good pottery, as good as that of Spain, and were never used for more than one of the king’s meals. He also had a large number of gold and silver vessels, which he seldom used, because to use them more than once would seem a low thing to do. Some have said that Moctezuma cooked and ate babies, but the only human flesh he ate was that of sacrificed men, and this not commonly. When the table linen was removed, the men and women, who were still standing, would approach to offer him water for his hands, which they did with equal respect, and then retired to their own chambers to eat with the others, as they all did, save only the gentlemen and pages who were on duty.

While Moctezuma was still seated and the table had been taken away and the people departed, the merchants entered, barefoot, for all removed their shoes upon entering the palace, save only great lords such as those of Texcoco and Tacuba, and a few of his kinsmen and friends. All came very poorly dressed: if they were lords or great men, and it was cold, they wore old blankets, coarse and tattered, over their fine new mantles. They bowed three times, but did not look him in the face, and spoke humbly, always facing him. He answered them with great dignity, in a low voice and few words. He did not always speak or answer them, whereupon they would leave, walking backward.

Then Moctezuma would amuse himself by listening to music and ballads, or to his jesters, as he was very fond of doing, or by watching certain jugglers who use their feet as ours do their hands. They hold between their feet a log as big as a girder, round, even, and smooth, which they toss into the air and catch, spinning it a couple of thousand times, so cleverly and quickly that the eye can hardly follow it. Besides this, they perform other tricks and comical acts with astonishing skill and art. … They also perform grotesque dances, in which three men mount one above the other, resting upon the shoulders of the bottom man, while the top man does extraordinary things …

The Ball Game

A T OTHER TIMES M OCTEZUMA went to the tlachtli , or ball court. The ball itself is called ullamalixtli , which is made of the gum of the ulli [hule] , a tree of the hot country. This tree, when slashed, oozes thick white drops that soon harden, and are gathered, mixed, and treated. The gum turns as black as pitch, but does not stain. It is rolled into balls which, although heavy and hard to the hand, bounce and jump very well, better than our inflated ones. The game is not played for points, but only for the final victory, which goes to the side that knocks the ball against the opponents’ wall, or over it. The players may hit the ball with any part of the body they please, although certain strokes [ e.g. , with the hands] are penalized by loss of the ball. Hitting it with the hips or thighs is the most approved play, for which reason they protect those parts with leather shields. The game lasts as long as the ball is kept bouncing, and it bounces for a long time. They play for stakes, wagering, say, a load of cotton mantles, more or less, according to the means of the players. They also wager articles of gold and featherwork, and at times even put up their own bodies. …

Moctezuma’s Women

M OCTEZUMA HAD MANY HOUSES in and out of Mexico, some for display and recreation, some for dwellings. I shall not describe them all, for it would take too long. The one where he had his permanent residence was called Tecpan, that is to say, palace. It had twenty doors opening on the square and public streets, and three large courtyards, in one of which was a beautiful fountain. It had many halls and a hundred rooms 25 to 30 feet square, and a hundred baths. It was constructed without nails, but very solidly. The walls were of stone, marble, jasper, porphyry, black stone shot with veins of ruby red, white stone, and a translucent stone [alabaster]; the ceilings, of wood, well finished and carved to represent cedars, palms, cypresses, pines, and other trees. The chambers were painted; the floors, covered with mats; the drapes, of cotton, rabbit fur, and feathers; the beds, poor and uncomfortable, being merely blankets laid over mats or straw, or mats alone.

Few men slept in these houses, but there were a thousand women—some say three thousand, counting the ladies and their servants and slaves. Of the ladies and their daughters, who were very numerous, Moctezuma took for himself those whose looks he liked; the others he gave to his servants for wives, or to other gentlemen and lords. Thus it happened, they say, that he had a hundred and fifty women with child at one time, who, persuaded by the devil, took exercises and medicines to get rid of the babies; or perhaps [they did so] because their children could not inherit. These women were guarded by many old ones, who would not permit a man even to look at them, for the king would have nothing but chastity in his palace.