Aztec Human Sacrifice - a Detached View

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 425
  • Published : November 27, 2011
Open Document
Text Preview
In searching for a thesis for this paper, I was faced with a singular problem. With the ghastly subject of human sacrifice, what could possibly be argued and defended? During my reading and research, the stark and horrible reality of a butchered, battered, or burned human being slain in some grisly, weird ceremony for some equally weird gargoyle-like idol nearly caused me to choose another subject. Yet, years ago, when I read Gary Jennings' novel Aztec, I was fascinated with his description of the Aztec's sacrifice of prisoners during the dedication of the great pyramid in Tenochítlan: "The hearts of ...perhaps the first two hundred of them, were ceremoniously ladled into the mouths of Tlaloc and Huitzilopóchtli until the statues' hollow insides could hold no more, and the stone lips of the two gods drooled and dribbled blood..." Those who have read Jennings' novel know that the foregoing is but a mild example of some of the graphic barbarism he describes. During my first reading of that novel, I would have never believed that I could come to the conclusion of my thesis. My thesis is this: There appears to be an intolerable paradox between the barbarous religious practices and the rather high state of civilization in the Central Valley of Mexico. This paradox undoubtedly led the early Spanish missionaries to regard the conquered Indians as devil worshipers. However, I believe that it is possible to regard the Aztecs as civilized people who also happened to perform human sacrifice. They performed human sacrifice in reaction to their view of the world and how they cope within it. Maintaining those two opposing viewpoints requires an understanding and a detached view which may have more to do with the study of history than the study of human sacrifice. The Aztecs, of course, had no monopoly on the practice of human sacrifice. Earlier cultures (the Maya, the Toltecs and others) provided the cultural base for human sacrifice upon which the Aztecs took to new heights. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, excavations in Egypt and elsewhere in the ancient Middle East have revealed that "numerous servants were at times interred with the rest of the funerary equipment of a member of the royal family in order to provide that person with a retinue in the next life. The burning of children seems to have occurred in Assyrian and Canaanite religions and at various times among the Israelites. Rites among the ancient Greeks and Romans that involved the killing of animals may have originally involved human victims." The Aztecs, as previously stated, took the practice to new heights. In 1487 (five years before Columbus arrived to the East and two years after Henry VII began the Tudor dynasty in England) the greatest orgy of bloodletting of human sacrifice occurred during the fierce rule of Ahuízotl. I have already quoted Gary Jennings' description of the carnage, and I will quote one more passage to illustrate how the Aztecs in a ceremony lasting four days sacrificed at least 20,000 prisoners to their insatiable god Huitzilopóchtli: "The prisoners endlessly ascended the right side of the pyramid's staircase, while the gashed bodies of their predecessors tumbled and rolled down the left side, kicked along by junior priests stationed at intervals, and while the gutter between the stairs carried a continuous stream of blood which puddled out among the feet of the crowd in the plaza..." Although Jennings' Aztec is, admittedly, a work of fiction, I have seen his descriptions corroborated elsewhere; for example, G.C. Vaillant's The Aztecs of Mexico describes the scene: "...At the start of the dedication, the captives stood in two rows, and (they) began the grisly work of tearing out the victim's hearts..." Returning to my thesis, how could the practice of human sacrifice be looked upon as anything less than barbaric, even to the point where Aztecs could be regarded as uncivilized? The answer, in my opinion, arises from their view of their...
tracking img