When I first learned about Hernando Cortes and the Conquistadors, Cortes was always portrayed as a barbarian and savage who killed, raped, and plundered his way into the heart of the Aztec empire. He was merciless and ruthless, showing no compassion on his path to total annihilation of an ancient Mexican empire. After reading Bernal Diaz’s firsthand account of his conquest in The Conquest of New Spain, this could not have been further from the truth. In this memoir of an old soldier of Cortes, written in his dying years, Cortes is compassionate and moral, showing the qualities of a great leader while displaying a unique show of kindness toward his traitorous enemies. Throughout the story, the Aztecs attack Cortes’ armies, set traps, and spread lies and deceit. Cortes would much rather trade with the Aztecs than fight them, even with his fellow Spaniards’ lust for gold and riches. In The Conquest of New Spain, Bernal Diaz shows an atypical side of Cortes, one of compassion, piety, and cleverness while revealing the barbaric nature of the Aztecs who they conquered.
Cortes is seen as the voice of reason against the irrational actions of the natives, even in their first encounters, “we sent them offers of peace…but they had refused to trust us and tried to kill our ambassadors. Not content with that, they had attacked us three times…and had lain ambushes against us…We might have killed many of their vassals but had not wished to do so and grieved for those who had died though they alone were to blame” (165). Diaz states that “He [Cortes] ordered him [Alguilar] to beg them [the natives] not to start a war…and to speak to them about the advantages of remaining at peace…they said they would kill us all if we entered their town” (69). This unprovoked aggressiveness on the side of the natives is seen in the first two encounters Diaz has with them, under Fransisco Hernandez and Juan de Grijalva. In these two encounters, the natives hardly give the Spaniards a chance to...
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