As a conquistador under the command of Hernán Cortes, Bernal Diaz witnessed some of Latin America’s most interesting and least chronicled history. He was fortunate enough to be one of a select few Europeans to experience the Aztec empire at its height and to visit Tenochtitlan prior to its downfall. In an era where personal accounts of the historical occurrences are almost nonexistent, Bernal Diaz’s The True History of the Conquest of New Spain provides virtually the only window into this period. As a result, his text has become the most significant historical document concerning the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Perhaps the most poignant excerpt from The True History of the Conquest of New Spain is Diaz’s detailed description of his first impressions of the Aztec capital and emperor Montezuma.
Before accepting Diaz’s text or any other primary document it is important to examine and understand the motivations of the author. Bernal Diaz’s motivations for writing are unusual for a few reasons. First of all, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain was written in response to Gómara’s Chronicles of the Conquest of New Spain. Gómara was Hernán Cortes’ personal secretary and scribe. He was commissioned by Cortes to write the history of the conquest. As a result, Gómara’s text had an obvious bias. In Chronicles of the Conquest of New Spain, Cortes was glorified and credited almost singularly with conquering the Aztecs. Being a lieutenant under Cortes, Bernal Diaz was angered by the complete lack of respect given to the other conquistadors and by the bias of Gómara’s text. He decided to write a history that would correct the numerous inaccuracies of Chronicles of the Conquest of New Spain. Of course, Diaz was no historian, nor was he an accomplished writer. He was merely a common soldier and had little formal education. Still, Bernal Diaz intended to write an accurate history of the conquest and many believe that is what he accomplished.
Despite being an...
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