Aztec: Babel and Deluge

An account of the Aztec great deluge myth, along with a parallel Tower of Babel legend by American historian Hubert Howe Bancroft.
— Orly


The following has been usually accepted as the ordinary Mexican version of this myth: In Atonatiuh, the Age of Water, a great flood covered all the face of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were turned into fishes. Only one man and one woman escaped, saving themselves in the hollow trunk of an ahahuete or bald cypress; the name of the man being Coxcox, and that of his wife Xochiquetzal. On the waters abating a little they grounded their ark on the Peak of Colhuacan, the Ararat of Mexico. Here they increased and multiplied, and children began to gather about them, children who were all born dumb. And a dove came and gave them tongues, innumerable languages. Only fifteen of the descendants of Coxcox, who afterward became heads of families, spake the same language or could at all understand each other; and from these fifteen are descended the Toltecs, the Aztecs, and the Acolhúas. This dove is not the only bird mentioned in these deluvial traditions, and must by no means be confounded with the birds of another palpably Christianized story. For in Michoacan a tradition was preserved, following which the name of the Mexican Noah was Tezpi. With better fortune than that ascribed to Coxcox, he was able to save, in a spacious vessel, not only himself and his wife, but also his children, several animals, and a quantity of grain for the common use. When the waters began to subside, he sent out a vulture that it might go to and fro on the earth and bring him word again when the dry land began to appear. But the vulture fed upon the carcasses that were strewed in every part, and never returned. Then Tezpi sent out other birds, and among these was a humming-bird. And when the sun began to cover the earth with a new verdure, the humming-bird returned to its old refuge bearing green leaves. And Tezpi saw that his vessel was aground near the mountain of Colhuacan and he landed there.

The Mexicans round Cholula had a special legend, connecting the escape of a remnant from the great deluge with the often-mentioned story of the origin of the people of Anáhuac from Chicomoztoc, or the Seven Caves. At the time of the cataclysm, the country, according to Pedro de los Rios, was inhabited by giants. Some of these perished utterly; others were changed into fishes; while seven brothers of them found safety by closing themselves into certain caves in a mountain called Tlaloc. When the waters were assuaged, one of the giants, Xelhua, surnamed the Architect, went to Cholula and began to build an artificial mountain, as a monument and a memorial of the Tlaloc that had sheltered him and his when the angry waters swept through all the land. The bricks were made in Tlamanalco, at the foot of the Sierra de Cocotl, and passed to Cholula from hand to hand along a file of men—whence these came is not said—stretching between the two places. Then were the jealousy and the anger of the gods aroused, as the huge pyramid rose slowly up, threatening to reach the clouds and the great heaven itself; and the gods launched their fire upon the builders and slew many, so that the work was stopped.[II-25] But the half-finished structure, afterwards dedicated by the Cholultecs to Quetzalcoatl, still remains to show how well Xelhua, the giant, deserved his surname of the Architect.



Yet another record remains to us of a traditional Mexican deluge, in the following extract from the Chimalpopoca Manuscript. Its words seem to have a familiar sound; but it would hardly be scientific to draw from such a fragment any very sweeping conclusion as to its relationship, whether that be Quiché or Christian:—

When the Sun, or Age, Nahui-Atl came, there had passed already four hundred years; then came two hundred years, then seventy and six, and then mankind were lost and drowned and turned into fishes. The waters and the sky drew near each other; in a single day all was lost; the day Four Flower consumed all that there was of our flesh. And this year was the year Ce-Calli; on the first day, Nahui-Atl, all was lost. The very mountains were swallowed up in the flood and the waters remained, lying tranquil during fifty and two spring-times. But before the flood began, Titlacahuan had warned the man Nata and his wife Nena, saying: take now no more pulque, but hollow out to yourselves a great cypress, into which you shall enter when, in the month Tozoztli, the waters shall near the sky. Then they entered into it, and when Titlacahuan had shut them in, he said to the man: Thou shalt eat but a single ear of maize, and thy wife but one also. And when they had finished eating, each an ear of maize, they prepared to set forth, for the waters remained tranquil and their log moved no longer; and opening it they began to see the fishes. Then they lit a fire, rubbing pieces of wood together, and they roasted fish. And behold the deities Citlallinicué and Citlallatonac looking down from above, cried out: O divine Lord! what is this fire that they make there? wherefore do they so fill the heaven with smoke? And immediately Titlacahuan Tetzcatlipoca came down, and set himself to grumble, saying: What does this fire here? Then he seized the fishes and fashioned them behind and before, and changed them into dogs.



Source: HHB [1]

Culture: Mexica (Aztec)

Language:  Classical Nahuatl was the language of the Aztec empire and was used as a lingua franca in much of Mesoamerica from the 7th century AD until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. The modern dialects of Nahuatl spoken in the Valley of Mexico are closest to Classical Nahuatl.

TheOrly | © 2017

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