Tenochtitlan was the center of the Aztec empire and was conquered by Spain and their Indian allies in 1521. Inga Clendinen’s book reveals the cultural practices of people just before the Spaniard rule. She focuses on the human sacrifice ceremony performed by the people, and wishes to justify how such a socially and religiously developed people as the Mexicans could participate in such a violent practice. The book reveals the common man’s understanding of the concept of human sacrifice through a study of the Mexican religious and cultural beliefs at the time, their emotional and moral effect and hence influence on the people’s actions (Joyce 433).
She uses a text written in the colonial period by Franciscan Sahagun known as the Florentine Codex as her source of information arguing that it is a true representation of the Mexica’s actions and values. This is because the information about the people was acquired before the Spaniards’ conquest of technotitlan (433).
The book is divided into four main parts each consisting of a number of essays. Part one is made up of two essays describing various aspects of the city of Technotitlan. Essay one describes the history of the city while the second explains the experiences, associations and activities that influenced the way of life of its people and unity in the community. She also explores the people’s feelings about human sacrifice by an analysis of the word Sacrificio used by people. It had several interpretations; one referred to those who were offered to the gods, another was in reference to sucking blood from one’s own body and the third indicated public shows and gift sharing (433).
Part 2 explains the duties of the different groups of people in Technotitlan including mothers, warriors, priests, children, wives and victims. The mexica referred to the victims of the human sacrifice “…as ‘other’: those who we are not” (Clendinnen 110). She also notes that there were clear definitions between what men and women did; men served in battle, religious ceremonies and participated in trade while women acted as wives and mothers. These distinctions helped to balance between the various roles and were not meant to divide the people (Joyce 434).
The third part offers explanations of the various sacred practices of the people. Essay one discusses the artistic sacred expressions which included symbolic things, songs and presentations. The different artistic expressions were a representation of the people’s understanding of the nature and organization of the world. Essay two studies the various aspects of the rituals performed by the people focusing on the concept of human sacrifice. According to Clendinnen, the ritual was a display of how vulnerable the human body is when she states “…acts of state-approved violence were at once part of the complex rhetoric of cosmically sanctioned human power, and, more profoundly, illustrative of the ferocious constraints on the merely human" (Clendinnen 262). Part 4 discusses the conquest of Technotitlan city in 1521 by the Spaniards and their Indian friends.
The book is aimed at promoting an understanding of the Mexica and why the practice of human of human sacrifice. Rather than display their cannibalistic and human sacrifice practices as primitive and evil, she helps the reader see the influences behind the culture. Their sacrifices at whatever capacity in society was a sign of appreciation to the earth and a sign of unity with the earth which they referred to as their mother. She helps us understand the Mexicas on an emotional and behavioral level through an analysis of their human sacrifice rituals (Joyce 434).
She departs from the usual discussion of themes displayed by cultural practices employed by earlier writers in an effort to understand the way of life of the Mexica. The book consists of four distinct sections each discussing different aspects of the Mexica influencing the practice of human sacrifice. She analyzes the different groups of people differently and cites their feelings and participation in the ritual. This analytical approach makes it easier to interpret the Mexican society and their beliefs. Rather than depict the Mexica as primitive and evil for participating for sacrificing their fellow human beings and their cannibalistic activities, she seeks to understand the influences underlying their actions. This helps the reader see the reasons for the people’s actions and hence judge them less harshly. However, there exist some biases that lead us to question Clendinnen’s work. She uses the Florentine Codex as her sole source of information on the Mexica’s way of life before the conquest.
One of the commentators argues that since the text was written after by the Indians after the Spaniard conquest, the lives of the Mexica had been influenced by the traumatic conquest. She also realizes the bias offered by the text and thereforeincorporates other elements such as archaeological evidence and the work of Dominican Duran. Clendinnen uses a distinct style of writing in her work. She appeals to the reader through the use of narration indicating that she has a deep understanding of the Mexica and their way of life. She gives detailed accounts of the actual rituals improving the reader’s imagination. She enhances understanding of the concept by comparing the Mexica’s culture to other American Indian Tribes (434).