THE STORY OF EXTINCT CIVILIZATIONS OF THE WEST
ROBERT E. ANDERSON, M.A., F.A.S.
Author of Extinct Civilizations of the East
Venient annis saecula seris Quibus Oceanus vincula rerum Laxet, et ingens pateat tellus Tethys que novos detegat orbes.
New York McClure, Phillips & Co. MCMIV
Copyright, 1903, by D. Appleton and Company
I. PRE-COLUMBIAN DISCOVERIES OF AMERICA 19
II. "DISCOVERY OF THE WORLD AND OF MAN" 36
III. THE EXTINCT CIVILIZATION OF THE AZTECS 54
IV. AMERICAN ARCHEOLOGY 71
V. MEXICO BEFORE THE SPANISH INVASION 88
VI. ARRIVAL OF THE SPANIARDS 106
VII. CORTES AND MONTEZUMA 135
VIII. BALBOA AND THE ISTHMUS 164
IX. EXTINCT CIVILIZATION OF PERU 172
X. PIZARRO AND THE INCAS 186
Prehistoric Structure, Uxmal (Yucatan) Frontispiece
Imaginary Continent, South of Africa and Asia 12
Remains of a Norse Church at Katortuk, Greenland 21
Map of Vinland 24
The Dighton Stone in the Taunton River, Massachusetts 27
The Dighton Stone. Fig. 2 28
Cipher Autograph of Columbus 46
Chulpa or Stone Tomb of the Peruvians 87
Ancient Bridge near Tezcuco 100
Teocalli, Aztec Temple for Human Sacrifices 105
Monolith Doorway. Near Lake Titicaca. Fig. 1 173
Image over the Doorway shown in Fig. 1. Near Lake Titicaca. Fig. 2 175
The Quipu 180
Gold Ornament (? Zodiac) from a Tomb at Cuzco 182
EXTINCT CIVILIZATIONS OF THE WEST
Throughout all the periods of European history, ancient or modern, no age has been more remarkable for events of first-rate importance than the latter half of the fifteenth century. The rise of the New Learning, the "discovery of the world and of man," the displacement of many outworn beliefs, these with other factors produced an awakening that startled kings and nations. Then felt they like Balboa, when
with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific, and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
It was at this historical juncture that the "middle ages" came to an end, and modern Europe had its beginning. (See Chapter II.)
Why was Europe so long in discovering the vast Continent which all the time lay beyond the Western Ocean? Simply because every skipper and every "Board of Admiralty" believed that this world on which we live and move is flat and level. They did not at all realize the fact that it is ball-shaped; and that when a ball is very large (say, as large as a balloon), then any small portion of the surface must appear flat and level to a fly or "mite" traveling in that vicinity. Homer believed that our world is a flat and level plain, with a great river, Oceanus, flowing round it; and for many ages that seemed a very natural and sufficient theory. The Pythagoreans, it is true, argued that our earth must be spherical, but why? Oh, said they, because in geometry the sphere is the "most perfect" of all solid figures. Aristotle, being scientific, gave better reasons for believing that the earth is spherical or ball-shaped. He said the shadow of the earth is always round like the shadow of a ball; and the shadow of the earth can be seen during any eclipse of the moon; therefore, all who see that shadow on the moon's disk know, or ought to know, that the earth is ball-shaped. Another reason given by Aristotle is that the altitude of any star above the horizon changes when the observer travels north or south. For example, if at London a star appears to be 40 deg. above the northern horizon, and at York the same star at the same instant appears 42-1/2 deg., it is evident that 2-1/2 deg. is the difference (increase) of altitude at York compared with London. Such an observation shows that the road from London to York is not over a flat, level plane, but over the curved surface of a sphere, the arc of a circle, in fact.
Herodotus, the father of history, was a good geographer and an experienced traveler, yet his only conception of the world was as a flat, wide-extending surface. In Egypt he was told how Pharaoh Necho had sent a crew of Phenicians to explore the coast of Africa by setting out from the Red Sea, and how they sailed south till they had the sun on their right hand. "Absurd!" says Herodotus, in his naive manner, "this story I can not believe." In Egypt, as in Greece or Europe generally, the sun rises on the left hand, and at noon casts a shadow pointing north; whereas in South Africa the sun at noon casts a shadow pointing south, and sunrise is therefore on the right hand. The honest sailors had told the truth; they had merely "crossed the line," without knowing it. If Herodotus had known that the world was spherical or ball-shaped, he could easily have understood that by traveling due south the sun must at last appear at noon to the north instead of the south. A counterpart to the story of the Phenician sailors occurs in Pliny: he tells how some ambassadors came to the Roman Emperor Claudius from an island in the south of Asia, and when in Italy were much astonished to see the sun at noon to the south, casting shadows to the north. They also wondered, he says, to see the Great Bear and other groups of stars which had never been visible in their native land (Nat. Hist., vi, 22).
That there were islands or even a continent in the Western Ocean was a tradition not infrequent in classical and medieval times, as we shall presently see, but to place a continent in the Southern Ocean was a greater stretch of imagination. The great outstanding problem of the sources of the Nile probably suggested this Southern Continent to some. Ptolemy, the great Egyptian geographer, even formed the conjecture that the Southern Continent was joined to Africa by a broad isthmus, as indicated in certain maps. Such a connection of the two continents would at once dispose of the story that the Phenician sailors had "doubled the Cape." In several maps after the time of Columbus, Australia is extended westward in order to pass muster for the Southern Continent.
Beginning of the fifteenth century. The word Brumae = the winter solstices.]
It is with a Western Continent, however, that we are now mainly concerned. What lands were imagined by the ancients in the far West under the setting sun? The mighty ocean beyond Spain was to the Greeks and Latins a place of dread and mystery.
"Stout was his heart and girt with triple brass," says the Roman poet, "who first hazarded his weak vessel on the pitiless ocean."
Even the western parts of the Mediterranean were shrunk from, according to the Odyssey, without speaking of the horrors of the great ocean beyond. "Beyond Gades," i. e., scarcely outside of the Pillars of Hercules, the extreme limit of the ancient world, "no man," said Pindar, "however daring, could pass; only a god might voyage those waters!"
In spite of the dread which the ancient mariners felt for the great Western Ocean, their poets found it replete with charm and mystery. The imagination rested upon those golden sunsets, and the tales of marvel which, after long intervals, sea-borne sailors had told of distant lands in the West. The poets placed there the happy home destined for the souls of heroes. Thus (Odys. iv, 561):
No snow Is there, nor yet great storm nor any rain, But always ocean sendeth forth the breeze Of the shrill West, and bloweth cool on men.
So far Homer. His contemporary, Hesiod, thus describes the Elysian Fields as islands under the setting sun:
There on Earth's utmost limits Zeus assigned A life, a seat, distinct from human kind, Beside the deepening whirlpools of the Main, In those blest Isles where Saturn holds his reign, Apart from Heaven's immortals calm they share, A rest unsullied by the clouds of care: And yearly thrice with sweet luxuriance crown'd Springs the ripe harvest from the teeming Ground.
The poet Pindar places in the same mysterious West "the castle of Chronos" (i. e., "Old Time"), "where o'er the Isles of the Blest ocean breezes blow, and flowers gleam with gold, some from the land on glistening trees, while others the water feeds; and with bracelets of these they entwine their hands, and make crowns for their heads."
Vesper, the star of evening, was called Hesperus by the Greeks; and hence the Hesperides, daughters of the Western Star, had the task of watching the golden apples planted by the goddess Hera in the garden of the gods, on the other side of the river Oceanus. One of the labors of Hercules was to fetch three of those mystic apples for the king of Mycenae. The poet Euripides thus refers to the Gardens of the West, when the Chorus wish to fly "over the Adriatic wave":
Or to the famed Hesperian plains, Whose rich trees bloom with gold, To join the grief-attuned strains My winged progress hold; Beyond whose shores no passage gave The Ruler of the purple wave.
Of all the lands imagined to lie in the Western Ocean by the Greeks, the most important was "Atlantis." Some have thought it may possibly have been a prehistoric discovery of America. In any case it has exercised the ingenuity of a good many modern scientists. The tale of Atlantis we owe to Plato himself, who perhaps learned it in Egypt, just as Herodotus picked up there the account of the circumnavigation of Africa by the Phenician mariners.
"When Solon was in Egypt," says Plato, "he had talk with an aged priest of Sais who said, 'You Greeks are all children: you know but of one deluge, whereas there have been many destructions of mankind both by flood and fire.'... In the distant Western Ocean lay a continent larger than Libya and Asia together."...
In this Atlantis there had grown up a mighty state whose kings were descended from Poseidon and had extended their sway over many islands and over a portion of the great continent; even Libya up to the gates of Egypt, and Europe as far as Tyrrhenia, submitted to their sway.... Afterward came a day and night of great floods and earthquakes; Atlantis disappeared, swallowed by the waves.
Geologists and geographers have seriously tried to find evidence of Atlantis having existed in the Atlantic, whether as a portion of the American continent, or as a huge island in the ocean which could have served as a stepping-stone between the Western World and the Eastern. From a series of deep-sea soundings ordered by the British, American, and German Governments, it is now very well known that in the middle of the Atlantic basin there is a ridge, running north and south, whose depth is less than 1,000 fathoms, while the valleys east and west of it average 3,000 fathoms. At the Azores the North Atlantic ridge becomes broader. The theory is that a part of the ridge-plateau was the Atlantis of Plato that "disappeared swallowed by the waves." (Nature, xv, 158, 553, xxvii, 25; Science, June 29, 1883.)
Buffon, the naturalist, with reference to fauna and flora, dated the separation of the new and old world "from the catastrophe of Atlantis" (Epoques, ix, 570); and Sir Charles Lyell confessed a temptation to "accept the theory of an Atlantis island in the northern Atlantic." (Geology, p. 141.)
The following account "from an historian of the fourth century B. C." is another possible reference to a portion of America—from a translation "delivered in English," 1576.
Selenus told Midas that without this worlde there is a continent or percell of dry lande which in greatnesse (as hee reported) was unmeasureable; that it nourished and maintained, by the benifite of the greene meadowes and pasture plots, sundrye bigge and mighty beastes; that the men which inhabite the same climate exceede the stature of us twise, and yet the length of there life is not equale to ours.
The historian Plutarch, in his Morals, gives an account of Ogygia, with an illusion to a continent, possibly America:
An island, Ogygia, lies in the arms of the Ocean, about five days' sail west from Britain.... The adjacent sea is termed the Saturnian, and the continent by which the great sea is circularly environed is distant from Ogygia about 5,000 stadia, but from the other islands not so far.... One of the men paid a visit to the great island, as they called Europe. From him the narrator learned many things about the state of men after death—the conclusion being that the souls of men arrive at the Moon, wherein lie the Elysian Fields of Homer.
The Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, has a similar account with curious details of an "island" which might very well have been part of a continent. Columbus believed to the last that Cuba was a continent.
In the ocean, at the distance of several days' sailing to the west, there lies an island watered by several navigable rivers. Its soil is fertile, hilly, and of great beauty.... There are country houses handsomely constructed, with summer-houses and flower-beds. The hilly district is covered with dense woods and fruit-trees of every kind. The inhabitants spend much time in hunting and thus procure excellent food. They have naturally a good supply of fish, their shores being washed by the ocean.... In a word this island seems a happy home for gods rather than for men (v. 19).
Another Greek writer, Lucian, in one of his witty dialogues, refers to an island in the Atlantic, that lies eighty days' sail westward of the Pillars of Hercules—the extreme limit of the ancient world, as has already been seen. Readers of Henry Fielding and admirers of Squire Westers will remember how in the London of the eighteenth century the limits of Piccadilly westward was a tavern at Hyde Park corner called the Hercules' Pillars, on the site of the future Apsley House.
Although neither Greek nor Roman navigators were likely to attempt a voyage into the ocean beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, yet a trading vessel from Carthage or Phenicia might easily have been driven by an easterly gale into, or even across, the Atlantic. Some involuntary discoveries were no doubt due to this chance, and the reports brought to Europe were probably the germs of such tales as the poets invented about the fair regions of the West. In Celtic literature, moreover, "Avalon" was placed far under the setting sun beyond the ocean—Avalon or "Glas-Inis" being to the bards the Land of the Dead, marvelous and mysterious.
[Footnote 1: Tom Jones, xvi. chap. 2, 3, etc.]
In English literature of the middle ages there is a remarkable passage relating to our present subject, which was written long before that rise of the New Learning mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. It is a statement made by Roger Bacon, the greatest of Oxonian scholars of the thirteenth century, who, long before the Renascence, did much to restore the study of science, especially in geography, chronology, and optics. In his Opus Majus, the elder Bacon wrote:
More than the fourth part of the earth which we inhabit is still unknown to us.... It is evident therefore that between the extreme West and the confines of India, there must be a surface which comprises more than half the earth.
Though Roger Bacon, to use his own words, died "unheard, forgotten, buried," our recent historians place his name first in the great roll of modern science.
There now remains only one quotation to make from the ancients. We have been reserving it for two reasons—first, because it is a singularly happy anticipation of the discovery of the New World, so happy that it became a favorite stanza with the discoverer himself. This we learn from the life of the "Great Admiral," written by his son Ferdinand.
Secondly, because it adorns our title-page and has been characterized as "a lucky prophecy"—written in the first century A. D. The author, Seneca, was a dramatist as well as a philosopher, the lines occurring at the end of one of his choruses—Medea, 376. We may thus translate the prophetic stanza:
For at a distant date this ancient world Will westward stretch its bounds, and then disclose Beyond the Main a vast new Continent, With realms of wealth and might.
PRE-COLUMBIAN DISCOVERIES OF AMERICA
1 Norse Discovery.—By glancing at a map of the north Atlantic, the reader will at once see that the natural approach from Europe to the Western Continent was by Iceland and Greenland—especially in those early days when ocean navigation was unknown. Iceland is nearer to Greenland than to Norway; and Greenland is part of America. But in Iceland there were Celtic settlers in the early centuries; and even King Arthur, according to the history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, sailed north to that "Ultima Thule." During the ninth century a Christian community had been established there under certain Irish monks. This early civilization, however, was destined to become presently extinct.
It was in A. D. 875, i. e., during the reign of Alfred the Great in England, that the Norse earl, Ingolf, led a colony to Iceland. More strenuous and savage than the Christian Celts whom they found there, the latter with their preaching monks soon sailed to the south, and left the Northmen masters of the island. The Norse colony under Ingolf was strongly reenforced by Norwegians who took refuge there to avoid the tyranny of their king, Harold, the Fair-haired. Ingolf built the town Ingolfshof, named after him, and also Reikiavik, afterward the capital, named from the "reek" or steam of its hot springs. So important did this colony become that in the second generation the population amounted to 60,000.
Ingolf was admired by the poet James Montgomery (not to be confounded with Robert, whom Macaulay criticized so severely), who in 1819 thus wrote of him and his island:
There on a homeless soil his foot he placed, Framed his hut-palace, colonized the waste, And ruled his horde with patriarchal sway —Where Justice reigns, 'tis Freedom to obey.... And Iceland shone for generous lore renowned, A northern light when all was gloom around.
The next year after Ingolf had come to Iceland, Gunnbiorn, a hardy Norseman, driven in his ship westerly, sighted a strange land.... About half a century later, judging by the Icelandic sagas, we learn that a wind-tossed vessel was thrown upon a coast far away which was called "Mickle Ireland" (Irland it Mikla)—[Winsor's Hist. America, i, 61].
Gunnbiorn's discovery was utilized by Erik the Red, another sea-rover, in A. D. 980, who sailed to it and, after three years' stay, returned with a favorable account—giving it the fair name Greenland. The Norse established two centers of population on Greenland. It is now believed that after doubling Cape Farewell, they built their first town near that head and the second farther north. The former, Eystribygd (i. e., "Easter Bigging"), developed into a large colony, having in the fourteenth century 190 settlements, with a cathedral and eleven churches, and containing two cities and three or four monasteries. The second town, Westribygd (i. e., "Wester Bigging") had grown to ninety settlements and four churches in the same time.
The germ and root of that civilization (afterward extinct, as we shall see) was due to Leif the son of Red Erik, who visited Norway, the mother-country, at the very close of the tenth century.
He found that the king and people there had enthusiastically embraced the new religion, Christianity. Leif presently shared their fervor, and decided to reject Woden, Thor, and the other gods of old Scandinavia. A priest was told off to accompany Leif back to Greenland, and preach the new faith. It was thus that a Christian civilization first found footing in arctic America.
The ruins of those early Christian churches (see illustration above) form most interesting objects in modern Greenland; near the chief ruin is a curious circular group of large stones.
The poet of "Greenland," to whom we have already referred, quotes from a Danish chronicle to the effect that, in the golden age of the colony, there were a hundred parishes to form the bishopric; and that the see was ruled by seventeen bishops from A. D. 1120 to 1408. Bishop Andrew is the last mentioned, ordained in 1408 by the Archbishop of Drontheim.
From the same authority we learn that according to some of the annals "the best wheat grew to perfection in the valleys; the forests were extensive; flocks and herds were numerous and very large and fat." The Cloister of St. Thomas was heated by pipes from a warm spring, and attached to the cloister was a richly cultivated garden.
After Leif, son of Erik, had introduced Christianity into Greenland, his next step was to extend the Norse civilization still farther within the American continent. News had reached him of a new land, with a level coast, lying nine days' sailing southwest of Greenland. Picking thirty-five men, Leif started for further exploration. One part of the new country was barren and rocky, therefore Leif named it Helluland (i. e., "Stone Land"), which appears to have been Newfoundland. Farther south they found a sandy shore, backed by a level forest country, which Leif named Markland (i. e., "Wood Land"), identified with Nova Scotia. After two days' sail, according to the saga account, having landed and explored the new continent along the banks of a river, they resolved to winter there. In one of these explorations a German called Tyrker found some grapes on a wild vine, and brought a specimen for the admiration of Leif and his party. This country was therefore named Vinland (i. e., "Wine Land"), and is identified with New England, part of Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
[Footnote 2: Prof. R. B. Anderson says, "The basin of the Charles River should be selected as the most probable scene of the visits of Leif Erikson, etc." [v. map.]]
Our Greenland poet thus refers to Leif's landing:
Wineland the glad discoverers called that shore, And back the tidings of its riches bore; But soon return'd with colonizing bands.
The Norsemen founded a regular settlement in Vinland, establishing there a Christian community related to that of Greenland. Leif's brother, Korvald, explored the interior in all directions. With the natives, who are called "Skraelings" in the sagas, they traded in furs; these people, who seemed dwarfish to the Norsemen, used leathern boats and were no doubt Eskimos:
A stunted, stern, uncouth, amphibious stock.
The principal settler in Vinland was Thorfinn, an Icelander, who had married a daughter-in-law of Erik the Red. She persuaded Thorfinn to sail to the new country in order to make a permanent settlement there. In the year 1007 A. D. he sailed with 160 men, having live stock and other colonial equipments. After three years he returned to Greenland, his wife having given birth to a son during their first year in Vinland. From this son, Snorre, it is claimed by some Norwegian historians, that Thorwaldsen, the eminent Danish sculptor is descended. After the time of Thorfinn, the settlement in Vinland continued to flourish, having a good export trade in timber with Greenland. In 1121 A. D. according to the Icelandic saga, the bishop, Erik Upsi, visited Vinland, that country being, like Iceland and Greenland, included in his bishopric. The last voyage to Vinland for timber, according to the sagas, was in 1347.
Professor Horsford, of Cambridge, Mass., finds the site of Norumbega, mentioned in various old maps, on the River Charles, near Waltham, Mass., and maintains that town to be identical with Vinland of the Norsemen. To prove his belief in this theory, the professor built a tower commemorating the Norse discoveries. He argued that Norumbega was a corruption by the Indians of the word Norvegr a Norse form of "Norway."
The abandonment of Vinland by the Norse settlers may be compared with that of Gosnold's expedition to the same region near the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Gosnold was sent to plant an English colony in America, after the failure of Sir Walter Raleigh's settlement at Roanoke (North Carolina); and the coast explored corresponded exactly to that which the Norse settlers had named Vinland, lying between the sites of Boston and New York. He gave the name Cape Cod to that promontory, and also named the islands Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and the Elizabeth group. Selecting one of these for settling a colony, he built on it a storehouse and fort. The scheme, however, failed, owing to the threats of the natives and the scarcity of supplies, and all the colonists sailed from Massachusetts, just as the Norse settlers had done many generations previously.
The expedition of Gosnold to Vinland, however, bore good fruit, from the favorable report of the new country which he made at home. The merchants of Bristol fitted out two ships under Martin Pring, and in the first voyage a great part of Maine (lying north of Massachusetts) was explored, and the coast south to Martha's Vineyard, where Gosnold had been. This led to profitable traffic with the natives, and three years later Pring made a more complete survey of Maine.
Vinland was also the scene of the famous landing of the Mayflower, bringing its Puritans from England. It was in Cape Cod Bay that she was first moored. After exploring the new country, just as Leif Erikson had done so many generations previously, they chose a place on the west side of the bay and named the little settlement "Plymouth," after the last English port from which they had sailed. Farther north, still in Vinland, they soon founded two other towns, "Salem" and "Boston." Those three settlements have ever since been important centers of energy and intelligence in Massachusetts, as well as memorials of the Norse occupation of Vinland.
On the occasion of a public statue being erected in Boston, Mass., to the memory of Leif Erikson, a committee of the Massachusetts Historical Society formally decided thus: "It is antecedently probable that the Northmen discovered America in the early part of the eleventh century."
Prof. Daniel Wilson, in his learned work Prehistoric Man (ii, 83, 85), thus gives his opinion as to the Norse colony:
With all reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of details, there is the strongest probability in favor of the authenticity of the American Vinland.
Of the Norse colonies in Greenland there are some undoubted remains, one being a stone inscription in runes, proving that it was made before the Reformation, when that mode of writing was forbidden by law. The stone is four miles beyond Upernavik. The inscription, according to Professor Rask, runs thus:
Erling the son of Sigvat, and Enride Oddsoen, Had cleared the place and raised a mound On the Friday after Rogation-day;
—date either 1135 or 1170.
Rafn, the celebrated Danish archeologist, states as the result of many years' research, that America was repeatedly visited by the Icelanders in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries; that the estuary of the St. Lawrence was their chief station; that they had coasted southward to Carolina, everywhere introducing some Christian civilization among the natives.
A supposed rock memorial of the Norsemen is the Dighton Stone in the Taunton River, Massachusetts; one of its sentences, according to Professor Rafn, being:
"Thorfinn with 151 Norse seafaring men took possession of this land."
The figures and letters (whether runic or merely Indian) inscribed on the Dighton Rock have been copied by antiquaries at the following dates: 1680, 1712, 1730, 1768, 1788, 1807, 1812. The above illustration (Fig. 2) shows the last mentioned.
There have been many probable traces of ancient Norsemen found in America, besides those already given. At Cape Cod, in the last generation, a number of hearth-stones were found under a layer of peat. A more famous relic was the skeleton dug up in Fall River, Mass., with an ornamental belt of metal tubes made from fragments of flat brass; there were also some arrow-heads of the same material. Longfellow, the New England poet, naturally had his attention directed to this discovery (made, 1831), and founded on it his ballad The Skeleton in Armor, connecting it with the Round Tower at Newport. The latter, according to Professor Rafn, "was erected decidedly not later than the twelfth century."
I was a Viking old, My deeds, though manifold, No Skald in song has told No Saga taught thee!... Far in the Northern Land By the wild Baltic's strand I with my childish hand Tamed the ger-falcon. Oft to his frozen lair Tracked I the grisly bear, While from my path the hare Fled like a shadow.
* * * * *
Scarce had I put to sea Bearing the maid with me— Fairest of all was she Among the Norsemen! Three weeks we westward bore, And when the storm was o'er, Cloud-like we saw the shore Stretching to leeward; There for my lady's bower, Built I this lofty tower Which to this very hour Stands looking seaward!
Sir Clements Markham, of the Royal Geographical Society, believes that the Norse settlers in Greenland were driven from their settlements there by Eskimos coming, not from the interior of America, but from West Siberia along the polar regions, by Wrangell Land [v. Journal, R, G. S., 1865, and Arctic Geography, 1875].
There was much curiosity from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century as to the site of the lost colonies of Greenland which had so long flourished. In 1568 and 1579 the King of Denmark sent two expeditions, the latter in charge of an Englishman, but no traces were found. At the beginning of the eighteenth century some light was thrown upon the problem by a missionary called Egede, who first described the ruins and relics observable on the west coast. By the success of his preaching among the Greenlanders for fifteen years, assisted by other gospel missionaries, the Moravians were induced to found their settlements in the country, principally in the southwest.
It seems probable that in early times the climate of Iceland was milder than it now is. Columbus, some fifteen years before his great voyage across the Atlantic, sailed to this northern "Thule," and reports that there was no ice. If so, it is surely possible that Greenland also may have been greener and more attractive than during the recent centuries. Why should it not at one time have been fully deserving of the name by which we still know it? Some would explain the change in climatic conditions by the closing in of icepacks. At present Greenland is buried deep under a vast, solid ice-cap from which only a few of the highest peaks protrude to show the position of the submerged mountains, but at former periods, according to geologists, there were gardens and farms flourishing under a genial climate. Others suppose that, were the ice removed, we should see an archipelago of elevated islands.
2. Celtic Discovery of America.—We have already glanced at the fact that when the Norsemen first seized Iceland they found that island inhabited by Irish Celts. These Christianized Celts made way before the savage invaders, who did not accept the Catholic religion till about the close of the tenth century. Sailing south, those dispossessed Irish probably joined their brother Celts who had already long held a district on the eastern coast of North America, which some Norse skippers called "White Man's Land," and also Irland-it-Mikla (i. e., "Mickle Ireland"). Professor Rafn places this district on the coast of Carolina. A learned memoir, published 1851, attempts to prove that the mysterious "mound-builders" of the Ohio Valley were of the same race as the settlers on Mickle Ireland, and related to the "white-bearded men" who established an extinct civilization in Mexico. A French antiquary, 1875, identified Mickle Ireland with Ontario and Quebec. Beauvois, in his Elysee trans-atlantique, derives the name Labrador from the Innis Labrada, an island mentioned in an ancient Irish romance. Another Irish discoverer was St. Brandan, Abbot of Cluainfert, Ireland (died May 16, 577), who was told that far in the ocean lay an island which was the land promised to the saints. St. Brandan set sail in company with seventy-five monks, and spent seven years upon the ocean in two voyages, discovering this island and many others equally marvelous, including one which turned out to be the back of a huge fish, upon which they celebrated Easter.
[Footnote 3: As to the Irish claim for the pre-Columbian discovery of America, see also Humboldt (Cosmos, ii, 607), and Laing (Heimsk., i, 186).]
[Footnote 4: MS. Book of Lismore.]
[Footnote 5: The story is given by Humboldt and D'Avezac.]
Among the Celtic claimants for discovery we must also include the Welsh, who lay stress upon certain resemblances between their language and the dialects of the native Americans. A better argument is the historical account taken from their annals about the expedition of Prince Madoc, son of a Welsh chieftain, who sailed due west in the year 1170, after the rumor of the Norse discoveries had reached Britain. He landed on a vast and fertile continent where he settled 120 colonists. On his return to Wales he fitted out a second fleet of ten ships, but the annals give no report of the result. Several writers state that the place of landing was near the Gulf of Mexico: Hakluyt connecting the discovery with Mexico (1589) and again with the West Indies (edition of 1600). In the seventeenth century some authors wished to substantiate the story of Prince Madoc, in order that the British claim to America should antedate the Spanish claim through Columbus. Prince Madoc is, to most readers, only known by Southey's poem.
[Footnote 6: Some quotations from Southey's poem are given in Chapters V, VI.]
3. Basque Discovery of America.—Who are the Basque people? A curious race of Spanish mountaineers, who have been as great a puzzle to ethnologists and historians as their language has been to philologists and scholars. We know, however, that in former times they were nearly all seamen, making long voyages to the north for whale and Newfoundland cod fishing. They have produced excellent navigators; and possibly preceded Columbus in discovering America. Sebastian, the lieutenant of Magellan, was one of the Basque race. Magellan did not live to complete his famous voyage, therefore Sebastian was the first actual circumnavigator of our globe.
Francois Michel, in his work Le Pays Basque, says that the Basque sailors knew the coasts of Newfoundland a century before the time of Columbus; and that it was from one of these ocean mariners that he first learned the existence of a continent beyond the Atlantic. Other arguments are derived from comparing the peculiarities of the Basque tongue with those of the American dialects. Whitney, an American scholar, concludes that "No other dialect of the Old World so much resembles the American languages in structure as the Basque."
4. Jewish Discovery of America.—There is one claim for the discovery of America, which, though quite improbable, if not impossible, has been upheld and sanctioned by many scholarly works in several languages. It is argued that the red Indians represent the ten "Lost Tribes" of the Hebrew people who had been deported to Assyria and Media (v. Extinct Civilizations of the East, p. 109). The theory was first started by some Spanish priest-missionaries, and has since been defended by many learned divines both in England and America, one leading argument being certain similarities in the languages. Catlin (v. Smithsonian Report, 1885) enumerates many analogies which he found among the Western Indians. The most authoritative statement is that of Lord Kingsborough in the well-known Mexican Antiquities (1830-'48), chiefly in Vol. VII. Some writers actually quote a statement made in the Mormon Bible! Leading New England divines, like Mayhew and Cotton Mather, espoused the cause with similar faith, as well as Roger Williams and William Penn.
5. The Italian Discovery of America.—Not through Columbus the Genoese, or Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine, although they were certainly Italians, but by two Venetians, Nicolo and Antonio Zeno. In A. D. 1380 or 1390 these brothers Zeni were shipwrecked in the North Atlantic, and, when staying in Frislanda, made the acquaintance of a sailor who, after twenty-six years' absence, had returned, giving them the following report:
"Being driven west in a gale, he found an island with civilized inhabitants, who had Latin books, but could not speak Norse, and whose country was called Estotiland, while a region on the mainland, farther south, to which he had also gone, was called Drogeo. Here he had met with cannibals. Still farther south was a great country with towns and temples."
The two brothers Zeni finally conveyed this account to another brother in Venice, together with a map of those distant regions, but these documents remained neglected till 1558, when a descendant compiled a book to embody the information, accompanied by a map, now famous as "the Zeno map."
Humboldt, with reference to this map, remarks that it is singular that the name Frislanda should have been applied by Columbus to an island south of Iceland. Washington Irving (in his Life of Columbus) explains the book by a desire to appeal to the national pride of Italy, since, if true, the discovery of the brothers would antedate that of Columbus by a century.
Malte-Brun, the distinguished geographer, distinctly accepted the Zeni narrative as true, and believed that it was by colonists from Greenland that the Latin books had reached Estotiland. Another strong advocate afterward appeared in Mr. Major, an official in the map department of the British Museum, who believed that much of the map in question represented genuine information of the fourteenth century, mixed with some spurious parts inserted by the younger Zeno. Mr. Major's paper on The Site of the Lost Colony of Greenland Determined, and the pre-Columbian Discoveries of America Confirmed, appeared in R. Geog. Soc. Journal, 1873; v. also Proc. Mass. Hist. Soc., 1874. Nordenskjold also accepted the chief results of this Italian discovery, and as an arctic explorer of experience, his opinion carries weight. Mercator and Hugo Grotius were also believers in the Zeni account.
"DISCOVERY OF THE WORLD AND OF MAN"
At the beginning of this book a reference was made to the great upheaval in European history called the "Renascence" (Fr. renaissance) or Revival of Learning. In 1453 the Turks took Constantinople, driving the Greek scholars to take refuge in Italy, which at once became the most civilized nation in Europe. Poetry, philosophy, and art thence found their way to France, England, and Germany, being greatly assisted by the invention of printing, which just then was beginning to make books cheaper than they ever had been. At the same time feudalism was ruined, because the invention of gunpowder had previously been changing the art of war. For example, the King of France, Louis XI, as well as the King of England, Henry VII, had entire disposal of the national artillery; and therefore overawed the barons and armored knights. Neither moated fortresses nor mail-clad warriors, nor archers with bows and arrows, could prevail against powder and shot. The middle ages had come to an end; modern Europe was being born. France had become concentrated by the union of the south to the north on the conclusion of the "Hundred Years' War," the final expulsion of the English, and the abolition of all the great feudatories of the kingdom. England, at the same time, had entirely swept away the rule of the barons by the recent "Wars of the Roses," and Henry had strengthened his position by alliance with France, Spain, and Scotland. Spain, by the expulsion of the Moors from Granada in A. D. 1492, was for the first time concentrated into one great state by the union of Isabella's Kingdom of Castile-Leon to Ferdinand's Kingdom of Aragon-Sicily.
From the importance of the word renaissance as indicating the "movement of transition from the medieval to the modern world," Matthew Arnold gave it the English form "renascence"—adopted by J. R. Green, Coleridge, and others. In Germany, this great revival of letters and learning was contemporaneous with the Reformation, which had long been preparing (e. g., in England since John Wyclif) and was specially assisted by the invention of printing, which we have just mentioned. The minds of men everywhere were expanded: "whatever works of history, science, morality, or entertainment seemed likely to instruct or amuse were printed and distributed among the people at large by printers and booksellers."
Thus it was that, though the Turks never had any pretension to learning or culture, yet their action in the middle of the fifteenth century indirectly caused a marvelous tide of civilization to overflow all the western countries of Europe. Another result in the same age was the increase of navigation and exploration—the discovery of the world as well as of man. When the Turks became masters of the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the European merchants were prevented from going to India and the East by the overland route, as had been done for generations. Thus, since geography was at this very time improved by the science of Copernicus and others, the natural inquiry was how to reach India by sea instead of going overland. Columbus, therefore, sailed due west to reach Asia, and stumbled upon a "New World" without knowing what he did; then Cabot, sailing from Bristol, sailed northwest to reach India, and stumbled upon the continent of America; and during the same reign (Henry VII) the Atlantic coast of both North and South America was visited by English, Portuguese, or Spanish navigators. The third expedition to reach India by sea was under De Gama. He set out in the same year as Cabot, sailing into the South Atlantic, and ultimately did find the west coast of India at Calicut, after rounding the cape.
The mere enumeration of so many events, all of first-rate importance, proves that that half century (say from A. D. 1460 to 1520) must be called "an age of marvels," saeclum mirabile. The concurrence of so many epoch-making results gave a great impulse, not only to the study of literature, science, and art, but to the exploration of many unknown countries in America, Africa, and Asia, and the universal expansion of human knowledge generally.
I.—We shall now consider the first of these discoverers, who was also the greatest.
COLUMBUS, the Latinized form of the Italian Colombo, Spanish, Colon. This Genoese navigator must throughout all history be called the discoverer of America, notwithstanding all the work of smaller men. From his study of geographical books in several languages, Columbus had convinced himself that our planet is spherical or ball-shaped, not a flat, plane surface. Till then India had always been reached by traveling overland toward the rising sun. Why not sail westward from Europe over the ocean, and thus come to the eastern parts of Asia by traveling toward the setting sun? By doing so, since our world is ball-shaped, said Columbus, we must inevitably reach Zipango (i. e., "Japan") and Cathay (i. e., "China"), which are the most eastern parts of Asia. India then will be a mere detail. Judging from the accounts of Asia and its eastern islands given by Marco Polo, a Venetian, as well as from the maps sketched by Ptolemy, the Egyptian geographer, Columbus believed that the east coast of Asia was not so very far from the west coast of Europe. Columbus was confirmed in this opinion by a learned geographer of Florence, named Paul, and henceforward impatiently waited for an opportunity of testing the truth of his theory.
He convinced himself, but could not convince any one else, that a westerly route to India was quite feasible. First he laid his plans before the authorities at Genoa, who had for generations traded with Asia by the overland journey, and ought therefore to have been glad to learn of this new alternative route, since the Turks were now playing havoc with the other; but no, they told Columbus that his idea was chimerical! Next he applied to the court of France. "Ridiculous!" was the reply, accompanied with a polite sneer. Next Columbus sent his scheme to Henry VII of England, a prince full of projects, but miserly. "Too expensive!" was the Tudor's reply, though presently, after the Spanish success, he became eager to despatch expeditions from Bristol under the Cabots. Then Columbus, by the advice of his brother, who had settled in Lisbon as a map-maker, approached King John, seeking patronage and assistance, pleading the foremost position of Portugal among the maritime states. The Portuguese neglected the golden opportunity, ocean navigation not being in their way as yet; their skippers preferred "to hug the African shore."
At last Columbus gained the ear of Isabella, Queen of Castile; she believed in him and tried to get the assistance of her husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon, in providing an outfit for the great expedition. Owing to Ferdinand's war in expelling the Moors from Granada, Columbus had still to wait several years.
In a previous year, 1477, Columbus had sailed to the North Atlantic, perhaps in one of those Basque whalers already referred to, going "a hundred leagues beyond Thule." If that means Iceland, as is generally supposed, it seems most probable that, when conversing with the sailors there he must have heard how Leif, with his Norsemen, had discovered the American coasts of Newfoundland and Vinland some five centuries earlier, and how they had settled a colony on the new continent. Other writers have pointed out that Columbus could very well have heard of Vinland and the Northmen before leaving Genoa, since one of the Popes had sanctioned the appointment of a bishop over the new diocese. If so, the visit of Columbus to Iceland probably gave him confirmation as to the Norse discovery of the American continent.
When at last King Ferdinand had taken Granada from the Moors, Columbus was put in command of three ships, with 120 men. He set sail from the port of Palos, in Andalusia, on a Friday, August 3, 1492, first steering to the Canary Islands, and then standing due west. In September, to the amazement of all on board, the compass was seen to "vary": an important scientific discovery—viz., that the magnetic needle does not always point to the pole-star. Some writers have imagined that the compass was for the first time utilized for a long journey by Columbus, but the occult power of the magnetic needle or "lodestone" had been known for ages before the fifteenth century. The ancient Persians and other "wise men of the East" used the lodestone as a talisman. Both the Mongolian and Caucasian races used it as an infallible guide in traveling across the mighty plains of Asia. The Cynosure in the Great Bear was the "guiding star," whether by sea or land; but when the heavens were wrapped in clouds, the magic stone or needle served to point exactly the position of the unseen star. What Columbus and his terrified crews discovered was the "variation of the compass," due to the fact that the magnetic needle points, not to the North Star, but to the "magnetic pole," a point in Canada to the west of Baffin's Bay and north of Hudson Bay.
If Columbus had continued steering due west he would have landed on the continent of America in Florida; but before sighting that coast the course was changed to southwest, because some birds were seen flying in that direction. The first land reached was an island of the Bahama group, which he named San Salvador. As the Spanish boats rowed to shore they were welcomed by crowds of astonished natives, mostly naked, unless for a girdle of wrought cotton or plaited feathers. Hence the lines of Milton:
Such of late Columbus found the American, so girt With feathered cincture, naked else and wild, Among the trees on isles and woody shores.
The spot of landing was formerly identified by Washington Irving and Baron Humboldt with "Cat Island"; but from the latest investigation it is now believed to have been Watling's Island. Here he landed on a Friday, October 12, 1492.
So little was then known of the geography of the Atlantic or of true longitude, that Columbus attributed these islands to the east coast of Asia. He therefore named them "Indian Islands," as if close to Hindustan, a blunder that has now been perpetuated for four hundred and ten years. The natives were called "Indians" for the same reasons. As the knowledge of geography advanced it became necessary to say "West Indies" or "East Indies" respectively, to distinguish American from Asiatic—"Indian corn" means American, but "Indian ink" means Asiatic, etc. Even after his fourth and last voyage Columbus believed that the continent, as well as the islands, was a portion of eastern Asia, and he died in that belief, without any suspicion of having discovered a New World.
A curious confirmation of the opinion of Columbus has just been discovered (1894) in the Florence Library, by Dr. Wieser, of Innsbruck. It is the actual copy of a map by the Great Admiral, drawn roughly in a letter written from Jamaica, July, 1503. It shows that his belief as to the part of the world reached in his voyages was that it was the east coast of Asia.
The chief discovery made by Columbus in his first voyage was the great island of Cuba, which he imagined to be part of a continent. Some of the Spaniards went inland for sixty miles and reported that they had reached a village of more than a thousand inhabitants, and that the corn used for food was called maize—probably the first instance of Europeans using a term which was afterward to become as familiar as "wheat" or "barley." The natives told Columbus that their gold ornaments came from Cubakan, meaning the interior of Cuba; but he, on hearing the syllable kan, immediately thought of the "Khan" mentioned by Marco Polo, and therefore imagined that "Cathay" (the China of that famous traveler) was close at hand. The simple-minded Cubans were amazed that the Spaniards had such a love for gold, and pointed eastward to another island, which they called Hayti, saying it was more plentiful there than in Cuba. Thus Columbus discovered the second in size of all the West Indian islands, Cuba being the first; he, after landing on it, called it "Hispaniola," or Little Spain. Hayti in a few years became the headquarters of the Spanish establishments in the New World, after its capital, San Domingo, had been built by Bartholomew Columbus. It was in this island that the Spaniards saw the first of the "caziques," or native princes, afterward so familiar during the conquest of Mexico; he was carried on the shoulders of four men, and courteously presented Columbus with some plates of gold. In a letter to the monarchs of Spain the admiral thus refers to the natives of Hayti:
The people are so affectionate, so tractable, and so peaceable that I swear to your Highnesses there is not a better race of men, nor a better country in the world; ... their conversation is the sweetest and mildest in the world, and always accompanied with a smile. The king is served with great state, and his behavior is so decent that it is pleasant to see him.
The admiral had previously described the Indians of Cuba as equally simple and friendly, telling how they had "honored the strangers as sacred beings allied to heaven." The pity of it, and the shame, is that those frank, unsuspicious, islanders had no notion or foresight of the cruel desolation which their gallant guests were presently to bring upon the native races—death, and torture, and extermination!
A harbor in Cuba is thus described by Columbus in a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella:
I discovered a river which a galley might easily enter.... I found from five to eight fathoms of water. Having proceeded a considerable way up the river, everything invited me to settle there. The beauty of the river, the clearness of the water, the multitude of palm-trees and an infinite number of other large and flourishing trees, the birds and the verdure of the plains, ... I am so much amazed at the sight of such beauty, that I know not how to describe it.
Having lost his flag-ship, Columbus returned to Spain with the two small caravels that remained from his petty fleet of three, arriving in the port of Palos March 15, 1493. The reception of the successful explorer was a national event. He entered Barcelona to be presented at court with every circumstance of honor and triumph. Sitting in presence of the king and queen he related his wondrous tale, while his attendants showed the gold, the cotton, the parrots and other unknown birds, the curious arms and plants, and above all the nine "Indians" with their outlandish trappings—brought to be made Christians by baptism. Ferdinand and Isabella heaped honors upon the successful navigator; and in return he promised them the untold riches of Zipango and Cathay. A new fleet, larger and better equipped, was soon found for a second voyage.
With his new ships, in 1498, Columbus again stood due west from the Canaries; and at last discovering an island with three mountain summits he named it Trinidad (i. e., "Trinity") without knowing that he was then coasting the great continent of South America. A few days later he and the crew were amazed by a tumult of waves caused by the fresh water of a great river meeting the sea. It was the "Oronooko," afterward called Orinoco; and from its volume Columbus and his shipmates concluded that it must drain part of a continent or a very large island.
Where Orinoco in his pride, Rolls to the main no tribute tide, But 'gainst broad ocean urges far A rival sea of roaring war; While in ten thousand eddies driven The billows fling their foam to heaven, And the pale pilot seeks in vain, Where rolls the river, where the main.
That was the first glimpse which they had of America proper, still imagining it was only a part of eastern Asia. In the following voyage, his last, Columbus coasted part of the Isthmus of Darien. It was not, however, explored till the visit of Balboa.
It was during his third voyage that the "Great Admiral" suffered the indignity at San Domingo of being thrown into chains and sent back to Spain. This was done by Bobadilla, an officer of the royal household, who had been sent out with full power to put down misrule. The monarchs of Spain set Columbus free; and soon afterward he was provided with four ships for his fourth voyage. Stormy weather wrecked this final expedition, and at last he was glad to arrive in Spain, November 7, 1504. He now felt that his work on earth was done, and died at Valladolid, May 20, 1506. After temporary interment there his body was transferred to the cathedral of San Domingo—whence, 1796, some remains were removed with imposing ceremonies to Havana. From later investigations it appears that the ashes of the Genoese discoverer are still in the tomb of San Domingo.
It was in the cathedral of Seville, over his first tomb, that King Ferdinand is said to have honored the memory of the Great Admiral with a marble monument bearing the well-known epitaph:
A CASTILLA Y ARAGON NUEVO MUNDO DIO COLON.
or, "To the united Kingdom of Castile-Aragon Columbus gave a New World."
After the death of Columbus, it seemed as if fate intended his family to enjoy the honors and rewards of which he had been so unjustly deprived. His son, Diego, wasted two years trying to obtain from King Ferdinand the offices of viceroy and admiral, which he had a right to claim in accordance with the arrangement formerly made with his father. At last Diego began a suit against Ferdinand before the council which managed Indian affairs. That court decided in favor of Diego's claim; and as he soon greatly improved his social position by marrying the niece of the Duke of Alva, a high nobleman, Diego received the appointment of governor (not viceroy), and went to Hayti, attended by his brother and uncles, as well as his wife and a large retinue. There Diego Columbus and his family lived, "with a splendor hitherto unknown in the New World."
II.—Henry VII of England, after repenting that he had not secured the services of Columbus, commissioned John Cabot to sail from Bristol across the Atlantic in a northwesterly direction, with the hope of finding some passage there-abouts to India. In June, 1497, a new coast was sighted (probably Labrador or Newfoundland), and named Prima Vista. They coasted the continent southward, "ever with intent to find the passage to India," till they reached the peninsula now called Florida. On this important voyage was based the claim which the English kings afterward made for the possession of all the Atlantic coast of North America. King Henry wished colonists to settle in the new land, tam viri quam feminae, but since, in his usual miserly character, he refused to give a single "testoon," or "groat" toward the enterprise, no colonies were formed till the days of Walter Raleigh, more than a century later.
Sebastian Cabot, born in Bristol, 1477, was more renowned as a navigator than his father, John, and almost ranks with Columbus. After discovering Labrador or Newfoundland with his father, he sailed a second time with 300 men to form colonies, passing apparently into Hudson Bay. He wished to discover a channel leading to Hindustan, but the difficulties of icebergs and cold weather so frightened his crews that he was compelled to retrace his course. In another attempt at the northwest passage to Asia, he reached latitude 67-1/2 deg. north, and "gave English names to sundry places in Hudson Bay." In 1526, when commanding a Spanish expedition from Seville, he sailed to Brazil, which had already been annexed to Portugal by Cabrera, explored the River La Plata and ascended part of the Paraguay, returning to Spain in 1531. After his return to England, King Edward VI had some interviews with Cabot, one topic being the "variation of the compass." He received a royal pension of 250 marks, and did special work in relation to trade and navigation. The great honor of Cabot is that he saw the American continent before Columbus or Amerigo Vespucci.
III.—Of the great navigators of that unexampled age of discovery, as Spain was honored by Columbus and England by Cabot, so Portugal was honored by De Gama. Vasco de Gama, the greatest of Portuguese navigators, left Lisbon in 1497 to explore the unknown world lying east of the Cape of Good Hope, arriving at Calicut, May, 1498. Before that, Diaz had actually rounded the cape, but seems to have done so merely before a high gale. He named it "the stormy Cape." Cabrera, or Cabral, was another great explorer sent from Portugal to follow in the route of De Gama; but being forced into a southwesterly route by currents in the south Atlantic, he landed on the continent of America, and annexed the new country to Portugal under the name of Brazil. Cabrera afterward drew up the first commercial treaty between Portugal and India.
IV.—Magellan, scarcely inferior to Columbus, brought honor as a navigator both to Portugal and Spain. For the latter country, when in the service of Charles V, he revived the idea of Columbus that we may sail to Asia or the Spice Islands by sailing west. With a squadron of five ships, 236 men, he sailed, in 1519, to Brazil and convinced himself that the great estuary was not a strait. Sailing south along the American coast, he discovered the strait that bears his name, and through it entered the Pacific, then first sailed upon by Europeans, though already seen by Balboa and his men "upon a peak in Darien"—as Keats puts it in his famous sonnet. From the continuous fine weather enjoyed for some months, Magellan naturally named the new sea "the Pacific." After touching at the Ladrones and the Philippines, Magellan was killed in a fight with the inhabitants of Matan, a small island. Sebastian, his Basque lieutenant (mentioned in Chapter I) then successfully completed the circumnavigation of the world, sailing first to the Moluccas and thence to Spain.
[Footnote 7: The poet, however, makes the clerical blunder of writing Cortez for Balboa.]
V.—Of all the world-famous navigators contemporary with Colon, the Genoese, there remains only one deserving of our notice, and that because his name is for all time perpetuated in that of the New World. Amerigo (Latin Americus) Vespucci, born at Florence, 1451, had commercial occupation in Cadiz, and was employed by the Spanish Government. He has been charged with a fraudulent attempt to usurp the honor due to Columbus, but Humboldt and others have defended him, after a minute examination of the evidence. In a book published in 1507 by a German, Waldseemueller, the author happens to say:
And the fourth part of the world having been discovered by Americus, it may be called Amerige, that is the land of Americus, or America.
Vespucci never called himself the discoverer of the new continent; as a mere subordinate he could not think of such a thing. As a matter of fact, he and Columbus were always on friendly terms, attached, and trusted. Humboldt explains the blunder of Waldseemueller and others by the general ignorance of the history of how America was discovered, since for some years it was jealously guarded as a "state secret." Humboldt curiously adds that the "musical sound of the name caught the public ear," and thus the blunder has been universally perpetuated:
statque stabitque in omne volubilis aevum.
Another reason for the universal renown of Amerigo was that his book was the first that told of the new "Western World"; and was therefore eagerly read in all parts of Europe.
Cuba, though the largest of the West Indian islands, and second to be discovered, was not colonized till after the death of Columbus. Thus for more than three centuries and a half, as "Queen of the Antilles" and "Pearl of the Antilles," Cuba has been noted as a chief colonial possession of Spain, till recent events brought it under the power of the United States. The conquest of the island was undertaken by Velasquez, who, after accompanying the great admiral in his second voyage, had settled in Hispaniola (or Hayti) and acquired a large fortune there. He had little difficulty in the annexation of Cuba, because the natives, like those of Hispaniola, were of a peaceful character, easily imposed upon by the invaders. The only difficulty Velasquez had was in the eastern part of the island, where Hatuey, a cazique or native chief, who had fled there from Hispaniola, made preparations to resist the Spaniards. When defeated, he was cruelly condemned by Velasquez to be burned to death, as a "slave who had taken arms against his master." The scene at Hatuey's execution is well known:
When fastened to the stake, a Franciscan friar promised him immediate admittance into the joys of heaven, if he would embrace the Christian faith. "Are there any Spaniards," says he, after some pause, "in that region of bliss which you describe?" "Yes," replied the monk, "but only such as are worthy and good." "The best of them have neither worth nor goodness: I will not go to a place where I may meet with one of that accursed race."
Being thus annexed in 1511, by the middle of the century all the native Indians of Cuba had become extinct. In the following century this large and fertile island suffered severely by the buccaneers, but during the eighteenth century it prospered. During the nineteenth century, the United States Government had often been urged to obtain possession of it; for example, the sum of one hundred million dollars was offered in 1848 by President Polk. Slavery was at last abolished absolutely in 1886. In recent years Spain, by ceding Cuba and the Philippines to the United States and the Carolines to Germany, has brought her colonial history to a close.
Two other important events occurred when Velasquez was Governor of Cuba: first, the escape of Balboa from Hispaniola, to become afterward Governor of Darien; and, second, the expedition under Cordova to explore that part of the continent of America which lies nearest to Cuba. This expedition of 110 men, in three small ships, led to the discovery of that large peninsula now known as Yucatan. Cordova imagined it to be an island. The natives were not naked, like those of the West Indian islands, but wore cotton clothes, and some had ornaments of gold. In the towns, which contained large stone houses, and country generally, there were many proofs of a somewhat advanced civilization. The natives, however, were much more warlike than the simple islanders of Cuba and Hispaniola; and Cordova, in fact, was glad to return from Yucatan.
Velasquez, on hearing the report of Cordova, at once fitted out four vessels to explore the newly discovered country, and despatched them under command of his nephew, Grijalva. Everywhere were found proofs of civilization, especially in architecture. The whole district, in fact, abounds in prehistoric remains. From a friendly chief Grijalva received a sort of coat of mail covered with gold plates; and on meeting the ruler of the province he exchanged some toys and trinkets, such as glass beads, pins, scissors, for a rich treasure of jewels, gold ornaments and vessels.
Grijalva was therefore the first European to step on the Aztec soil and open an intercourse with the natives. Velasquez, the Governor, at once prepared a larger expedition, choosing as leader or commander an officer who was destined henceforth to fill a much larger place in history than himself, one who presently appeared capable of becoming a general in the foremost rank, Hernando Cortes, greatest of all Spanish explorers.
THE EXTINCT CIVILIZATION OF THE AZTECS
In the Extinct Civilizations of the East it was shown that the cosmogony of the Chaldeans closely resembles that of the Hebrews and the Phenicians, and that the account of the deluge in Genesis exactly reproduces the much earlier one found on one of the Babylonian tablets.
Traces of a deluge legend also existed among the early Aztecs. They believed
that two persons survived the Deluge, a man named Koksoz and his wife. Their heads are represented in ancient paintings together with a boat floating on the waters at the foot of a mountain. A dove is also depicted, with a hieroglyphical emblem of languages in his mouth.... Tezpi, the Noah of a neighboring people, also escaped in a boat, which was filled with various kinds of animals and birds. After some time a vulture was sent out from it, but remained feeding on the dead bodies of the giants, which had been left on the earth as the waters subsided. The little humming-bird was then sent forth and returned with the branch of a tree in its mouth.
Another Aztec tradition of the deluge is that the pyramidal mound, the temple of Cholula (a sacred city on the way between the capital and the seaport), was built by the giants to escape drowning. Like the tower of Babel, it was intended to reach the clouds, till the gods looked down and, by destroying the pyramid by fires from heaven, compelled the builders to abandon the attempt.
The hieroglyphics used in the Aztec calendar correspond curiously with the zodiacal signs of the Mongols of eastern Asia. "The symbols in the Mongolian calendar are borrowed from animals, and four of the twelve are the same as the Aztec."
The antiquity of most of the monuments is proved—e. g., by the growth of trees in the midst of the buildings in Yucatan. Many have had time to attain a diameter of from six to nine feet. In a courtyard at Uxmal, the figures of tortoises sculptured in relief upon the granite pavement are so worn away by the feet of countless generations of the natives that the design of the artist is scarcely recognizable.
The Spanish invaders demolished every vestige of the Aztec religious monuments, just as Roman Catholic images and paraphernalia were once treated by the "straitest sects" of Protestants, or even Mohammedans.
The beautiful plateau around the lakes of Mexico, as well as other central portions of America, were without any doubt occupied from the earliest ages by peoples who gradually advanced in civilization from generation to generation and passed through cycles of revolutions—in one century relapsing, in another advancing by leaps and bounds by an infusion of new blood or a change of environment—exactly similar to the checkered annals of the successive dynasties in the Nile Valley and the plains of Babylonia. In the New World, as in the Old World, from prehistoric times wealth was accumulated at such centers, bringing additional comfort and refinement, and implying the practise of the useful arts and some applications of science. As to the legendary migrations or even those extinct races whose names still remain, Max Mueller said:
[Footnote 8: Chips from a German Workshop, i, 327.]
The traditions are no better than the Greek traditions about Pelasgians, Aeolians, and Ionians, and it would be a mere waste of time to construct out of such elements a systematic history, only to be destroyed again sooner or later, by some Niebuhr, Grote, or Lewis.
Anahuac (i. e., "waterside" or "the lake-country"), in the early centuries of our era, was a name of the country round the lakes and town afterward called Mexico. To this center, as a place for settlement, there came from the north or northwest a succession of tribes more or less allied in race and language—especially (according to one theory) the Toltecs from Tula, and the Aztecs from Aztlan. Tula, north of the Mexican Valley, had been the first capital of the Toltecs, and at the time of the Spanish conquest there were remains of large buildings there. Most of the extensive temples and other edifices found throughout "New Spain" were attributed to this race and the word "toltek" became synonymous with "architect."
Some five centuries after the Toltecs had abandoned Tula, the Aztecs or early Mexicans arrived to settle in the Valley of Anahuac. With the Aztecs came the Tezcucans, whose capital, Tezcuco, on the eastern border of the Mexican lake, has given it its still surviving name.
The Aztecs, again, after long migrations from place to place, finally, in A. D. 1325, halted on the southwestern shores of the great lake. According to tradition, a heavenly vision thus announced the site of their future capital:
They beheld perched on the stem of a prickly-pear, which shot out from the crevice of a rock washed by the waves, a royal eagle of extraordinary size and beauty, with a serpent in its talons, and its broad wings opened to the rising sun. They hailed the auspicious omen, announced by an oracle as indicating the sight of their future city, and laid its foundations by sinking piles into the shallows; for the low marshes were half buried under water.... The place was called Tenochtitlan (i. e. "the cactus on a rock") in token of its miraculous origin. [Such were the humble beginnings of the Venice of the Western World.]
[Footnote 9: Prescott, i, I, pp. 8, 9.]
To this day the arms of the Mexican republic show the device of the eagle and the cactus—to commemorate the legend of the foundation of the capital—afterward called Mexico from the name of their war-god. Fiercer and more warlike than their brethren of Tezcuco, the men of the latter town were glad of their assistance, when invaded and defeated by a hostile tribe. Thus Mexico and Tezcuco became close allies, and by the time of Montezuma I, in the middle of the fifteenth century, their sovereignty had extended beyond their native plateau to the coast country along the Gulf of Mexico. The capital rapidly increased in population, the original houses being replaced by substantial stone buildings. There are documents showing that Tenochtitlan was of much larger dimensions than the modern capital of Mexico, on the same site. Just before the arrival of the Spaniards, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the kingdom extended from the gulf across to the Pacific; and southward under the ruthless Ahuitzotl over the whole of Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The Aztecs resembled the ancient Peruvians in very few respects, one being the use of knots on strings of different colors to record events and numbers. Compare our account of "the quipu" in Chapter X. The Aztecs seem to have replaced that rude method of making memoranda during the seventh century by picture-writing. Before the Spanish invasion, thousands of native clerks or chroniclers were employed in painting on vegetable paper and canvas. Examples of such manuscripts may still be seen in all the great museums. Their contents chiefly refer to ritual, astrology, the calendar, annals of the kings, etc.
Most of the literary productions of the ancient Mexicans were stupidly destroyed by the Spanish under Cortes. The first Archbishop of Mexico founded a professorship in 1553 for expounding the hieroglyphs of the Aztecs, but in the following century the study was abandoned. Even the native-born scholars confessed that they were unable to decipher the ancient writing. One of the most ancient books (assigned to Tula, the "Toltec" capital, A. D. 660, and written by Huetmatzin, an astrologer), describes the heavens and the earth, the stars in their constellations, the arrangement of time in the official calendar, with some geography, mythology, and cosmogony. In the fifteenth century the King of Tezcuco published sixty hymns in honor of the Supreme Being, with an elegy on the destruction of a town, and another on the instability of human greatness.
In the same century the three Anahuac states (Acolhua, Mexico, and Tlacopan) formed a confederacy with a constant tendency to give Mexico the supremacy. The two capitals looking at each other across the lake were steadily growing in importance, with all the adjuncts of public works—causeways, canals, aqueducts, temples, palaces, gardens, and other evidences of wealth.
The horror and disgust caused by the Aztec sacrificial bloodshed are greatly increased by considering the number of the victims. The kings actually made war in order to provide as many victims as possible for the public sacrifices—especially on such an occasion as a coronation or the consecration of a new temple. Captives were sometimes reserved a considerable time for the purpose of immolation. It was the regular method of the Aztec warrior in battle not to kill one's opponent if he could be made a captive; to take him alive was a meritorious act in religion. In fact, the Spaniards in this way frequently escaped death at the hands of their Mexican opponents. When King Montezuma was asked by a European general why he had permitted the republic of Tlascala to remain independent on the borders of his kingdom, his reply was, "That she might furnish me with victims for my gods."
In reckoning the number of victims Prescott seems to have trusted too implicitly to the almost incredible accounts of the Spanish. Zumurraga, the first Bishop of Mexico, asserts that 20,000 were sacrificed annually, but Casas points out that with such a "waste of the human species," as is implied in some histories, the country could not have been so populous as Cortes found it. The estimate of Casas is "that the Mexicans never sacrificed more than fifty or a hundred persons in a year."
Notwithstanding the wholesale bloodshed before the shrines of their gory gods, we can still assign to the Aztecs a high degree of civilization. The history of even modern Europe will illustrate this statement, although apparently paradoxical.
Consider "the condition of some of the most polished countries in the sixteenth century after the establishment of the modern Inquisition—an institution which yearly destroyed its thousands by a death more painful than the Aztec sacrifices, ... which did more to stay the march of improvement than any other scheme ever devised by human cunning.... Human sacrifice was sometimes voluntarily embraced by the Aztecs as the most glorious death, and one that opened a sure passage into paradise. The Inquisition, on the other hand, branded its victims with infamy in this world, and consigned them to everlasting perdition in the next."
The difficulty with the Aztecs is how to reconcile such refinement as their extinct civilization showed with their savage enjoyment of bloodshed. "No captive was ever ransomed or spared; all were sacrificed without mercy, and their flesh devoured." The first of the four chief counselors of the empire was called the "Prince of the Deadly Lance," the second "Divider of Men," the third "Shedder of Blood," the fourth "the Lord of the Dark House."
The temples were very numerous, generally merely pyramidal masses of clay faced with brick or stone. The roof was a broad area on which stood one or two towers, from forty to fifty feet in height, forming the sanctuaries of the presiding deities, and therefore containing their images. Before these sanctuaries stood the dreadful stone of sacrifice. There were also two altars with sacred fires kept ever burning.
All the religious services were public, and the pyramidal temples, with stairs round their massive sides, allowed the long procession of priests to be visible as they ceremoniously ascended to perform the dread office of slaughtering the human victims.
Human sacrifices had not originally been a feature of the Aztec worship. But about 200 years before the arrival of the Spanish invaders was the beginning of this religious atrocity, and at last no public festival was considered complete without some human bloodshed.
Prescott takes as an example the great festival in honor of Tezcatlipoca, a handsome god of the second rank, called "the soul of the world," and endowed with perpetual youth.
A year before the intended sacrifice, a captive, distinguished for his personal beauty and without a blemish on his body, was selected.... Tutors took charge of him and instructed him how to perform his new part with becoming grace and dignity. He was arrayed in a splendid dress, regaled with incense and with a profusion of sweet-scented flowers.... When he went abroad he was attended by a train of the royal pages, and as he halted in the streets to play some favorite melody, the crowd prostrated themselves before him, and did him homage as the representative of their good deity.... Four beautiful girls, bearing the names of the principal goddesses, were selected, and with them he continued to live idly, feasted at the banquets of the principal nobles, who paid him all the honors of a divinity. When at length the fatal day of sacrifice arrived, ... stripped of his gaudy apparel, one of the royal barges transported him across a lake to a temple which rose on its margin.... Hither the inhabitants of the capital flocked to witness the consummation of the ceremony. As the sad procession wound up the sides of the pyramid, the unhappy victim threw away his gay chaplets of flowers and broke in pieces his musical instruments. ... On the summit he was received by six priests, whose long and matted locks flowed in disorder over their sable robes, covered with hieroglyphic scrolls of mystic import. They led him to the sacrificial stone, a huge block of jasper, with its upper surface somewhat convex. On this the victim was stretched. Five priests secured his head and limbs, while the sixth, clad in a scarlet mantle, emblematic of his bloody office, dexterously opened the breast of the wretched victim with a sharp razor of itzli, and inserting his hand in the wound, tore out the palpitating heart, and after holding it up to the sun (as representing the supreme God), cast it at the feet of the deity to whom the temple was devoted, while the multitudes below prostrated themselves in humble adoration.
Such was an instance of the human sacrifices for which ancient Mexico became infamous to the whole civilized world.
One instance of a sacrifice differing from the ordinary sort is thus given by a Spanish historian:
A captive of distinction was sometimes furnished with arms for single combat against a number of Mexicans in succession. If he defeated them all, as did occasionally happen, he was allowed to escape. If vanquished he was dragged to the block and sacrificed in the usual manner. The combat was fought on a huge circular stone before the population of the capital.
Women captives were occasionally sacrificed before those bloodthirsty gods, and in a season of drought even children were sometimes slaughtered to propitiate Tlaloc, the god of rain.
Borne along in open litters, dressed in their festal robes and decked with the fresh blossoms of spring, they moved the hardest hearts to pity, though their cries were drowned in the wild chant of the priests who read in their tears a favorable augury for the rain prayer.
One Spanish historian informs us that these innocent victims of this repulsive religion were generally bought by the priests from parents who were poor.
We may now resume the traditional settlement of the ancient Mexicans on the region called Anahuac, including all the fertile plateau and extending south to the lake of Nicaragua. The chief tribes of the race were said to have come from California, and after being subject to the Colhua people asserted their independence about A. D. 1325. Soon afterward, their first capital, Tenochtitlan, was built on the site of Mexico, their permanent center. For several generations they lived, like their remote ancestors, the Red Men of the Woods, as hunters, fishers, and trappers, but at last their prince or chief cazique was powerful enough to be called king. The rule of this Aztec prince, beginning A. D. 1440, marked the beginning of their greatness as a race. It became a rule of their kingdom that every new king must gain a victory before being crowned; and thus by the conquest of a new nation furnish a supply of captives to gratify their tutelary deity by the necessary human sacrifices. In 1502 the younger Montezuma ascended the throne. He is better known to us than the previous kings, because it was in his reign that the Spanish conquerors appeared on the scene. From the time of Cortes the history of the Aztecs becomes part of that of the Mexicans. They were easily conquered by the European troops, partly because of their betrayal by various of the neighboring nations whom they had formerly conquered. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, according to Prescott, the Aztec king ruled the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
From the scientific side of their extinct civilization it is their knowledge of astronomy that chiefly causes astonishment (see also p. 85). As in the case of the Chaldeans and Babylonians, a motive for the study of the stars and planets was the priestly one of accurately fixing the religious festivals. The tropical year being thus ascertained, their tables showed the exact time of the equinox or sun's transit across the equatorial, and of the solstice. From a very early period they had practised agriculture, growing Indian corn and "Mexican aloe." Having no animals of draft, such as the horse, or ox, their farming was naturally of a rude and imperfect sort.
"The degree of civilization," says Prescott, "which the Aztecs reached, as inferred by their political institutions, may be considered, perhaps, not much short of that enjoyed by our Saxon ancestors under Alfred."
In a passage comparing the Aztecs to the American Indians, we read:
The latter has something peculiarly sensitive in his nature. He shrinks instinctively from the rude touch of a foreign hand. Even when this foreign influence comes in the form of civilization he seems to sink and pine away beneath it. It has been so with the Mexicans. Under the Spanish domination their numbers have silently melted away. Their energies are broken. They no longer tread their mountain plains with the conscious independence of their ancestors. In their faltering step and meek and melancholy aspect we read the sad characters of the conquered race.... Their civilization was of the hardy character which belongs to the wilderness. The fierce virtues of the Aztec were all his own.
Humboldt found some analogy between the Aztec theory of the universe, as taught by the priests, and the Asiatic "cosmogonies." The Aztecs, in explaining the great mystery of man's existence after death, believed that future time would revolve in great periods or cycles, each embracing thousands of years. At the end of each of the four cycles of future time in the present world, "the human family will be swept from the earth by the agency of one of the elements, and the sun blotted out from the heavens to be again rekindled."
The priesthood comprised a large number who were skilled in astrology and divination. The great temple of Mexico, alone, had 5,000 priests in attendance, of whom the chief dignitaries superintended the dreadful rites of human sacrifice. Others had management of the singing choirs with their musical accompaniment of drums and other instruments; others arranged the public festivals according to the calendar, and had charge of the hieroglyphical word-painting and oral traditions. One important section of the priesthood were teachers, responsible for the education of the children and instruction in religion and morality. The head management of the hierarchy or whole ecclesiastical system, was under two high priests—the more dignified that they were chosen by the king and principal nobles without reference to birth or social station. These high priests were consulted on any national emergency, and in precedency of rank were superior to every man except the king. Montezuma is said to have been a priest.
The priestly power was more absolute than any ever experienced in Europe. Two remarkable peculiarities were that when a sinner was pardoned by a priest, the certificate afterward saved the culprit from being legally punished for any offense; secondly, there could be no pardon for an offense once atoned for if the offense were repeated. "Long after the conquest, the simple natives when they came under the arm of the law, sought to escape by producing the certificate of their former confession." (Prescott, i, 33.)
The prayer of the priest-confessor, as reported by a Spanish historian, is very remarkable:
"O, merciful Lord, thou who knowest the secrets of all hearts, let thy forgiveness and favor descend, like the pure waters of heaven, to wash away the stains from the soul. Thou knowest that this poor man has sinned, not from his own free will, but from the influence of the sign under which he was born...."
After enjoining on the penitent a variety of minute ceremonies by way of penance, the confessor urges the necessity of instantly procuring a slave for sacrifice to the Deity.
In the schools under the clergy the boys were taught by priests and the girls by priestesses. There was a higher school for instruction in tradition and history, the mysteries of hieroglyphs, the principles of government, and certain branches of astronomical and natural science.
In the education of their children the Mexican community were very strict, but from a letter preserved by one of the Spanish historians, we can not doubt the womanly affection of a mother who thus wrote to her daughter:
My beloved daughter, very dear little dove, you have already heard and attended to the words which your father has told you. They are precious words, which have proceeded from the bowels and heart in which they were treasured up; and your beloved father well knows that you, his daughter, begotten of him, are his blood and his flesh; and God our Lord knows that it is so. Although you are a woman, and are the image of your father, what more can I say to you than has already been said?... My dear daughter, whom I tenderly love, see that you live in the world in peace, tranquillity, and contentment—see that you disgrace not yourself, that you stain not your honor, nor pollute the luster and fame of your ancestors.... May God prosper you, my first-born, and may you come to God, who is in every place.
[Footnote 10: Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, vi, 19.]
Some trace of a "natural piety," which will probably surprise our readers, is also found in the ceremony of Aztec baptism, as described by the same writer. After the head and lips of the infant were touched with water and a name given to it, the goddess Cioacoatl was implored "that the sin which was given to us before the beginning of the world might not visit the child, but that, cleansed by these waters, it might live and be born anew." In Sahagun's account we read:
When all the relations of the child were assembled, the midwife, who was the person that performed the rite of baptism, was summoned. When the sun had risen, the midwife, taking the child in her arms, called for a little earthen vessel of water.... To perform the rite, she placed herself with her face toward the west, and began to go through certain ceremonies.... After this she sprinkled water on the head of the infant, saying, "O my child! receive the water of the Lord of the world, which is our life, and is given for the increasing and renewing of our body. It is to wash and to purify." ... [After a prayer] she took the child in both hands, and lifting him toward heaven said, "O Lord, thou seest here thy creature whom thou hast sent into this world, this place of sorrow, suffering, and penitence. Grant him, O Lord, thy gifts and thine inspiration."
The science of the Aztecs has excited the wonder of all competent judges, such as Humboldt (already quoted) and the astronomer La Place. Lord Kingsborough remarks in his great work:
It can hardly be doubted that the Mexicans were acquainted with many scientifical instruments of strange invention;... whether the telescope may not have been of the number is uncertain; but the thirteenth plate of M. Dupaix's Monuments, which represents a man holding something of a similar nature to his eye, affords reason to suppose that they knew how to improve the powers of vision.
References to the calendar of the Aztecs should not omit the secular festival occurring at the end of their great cycle of fifty-two years. From the length of the period, two generations, one might compare it with the "jubilee" of ancient Israel—a word made familiar toward the close of Queen Victoria's reign. The great event always took place at midwinter, the most dreary period of the year, and when the five intercalary days arrived they "abandoned themselves to despair," breaking up the images of the gods, allowing the holy fires of the temples to go out, lighting none in their homes, destroying their furniture and domestic utensils, and tearing their clothes to rags. This disorder and gloom signified that figuratively the end of the world was at hand.
On the evening of the last day, a procession of priests, assuming the dress and ornaments of their gods, moved from the capital toward a lofty mountain, about two leagues distant. They carried with them a noble victim, the flower of their captives, and an apparatus for kindling the new fire, the success of which was an augury of the renewal of the cycle. On the summit of the mountain, the procession paused till midnight, when, as the constellation of the Pleiades approached the zenith, the new fire was kindled by the friction of some sticks placed on the breast of the victim. The flame was soon communicated to a funeral-pyre on which the body of the slaughtered captive was thrown. As the light streamed up toward heaven, shouts of joy and triumph burst forth from the countless multitudes who covered the hills, the terraces of the temples, and the housetops.... Couriers, with torches lighted at the blazing beacon, rapidly bore them over every part of the country.... A new cycle had commenced its march.
The following thirteen days were given up to festivity. ... The people, dressed in their gayest apparel, and crowned with garlands and chaplets of flowers, thronged in joyous procession to offer up their oblations and thanksgivings in the temples. Dances and games were instituted emblematical of the regeneration of the world.
[Footnote 11: A famous group of seven small stars in the Bull constellation. The "seven sisters" appear as only six to ordinary eyesight: to make out the seventh is a test of a practised eye and excellent vision.]
Prescott compares this carnival of the Aztecs to the great secular festival of the Romans or ancient Etruscans, which (as Suetonius remarked) "few alive had witnessed before, or could expect to witness again." The ludi saeculares or secular games of Rome were held only at very long intervals and lasted for three days and nights.
The poet Southey thus refers to the ceremony of opening the new Aztec cycle, or Circle of the Years.
On his bare breast the cedar boughs are laid, On his bare breast, dry sedge and odorous gums, Laid ready to receive the sacred spark, And blaze, to herald the ascending sun, Upon his living altar. Round the wretch The inhuman ministers of rites accurst Stand, and expect the signal when to strike The seed of fire. Their Chief, apart from all, ... eastward turns his eyes; For now the hour draws nigh, and speedily He look's to see the first faint dawn of day Break through the orient sky.
Madoc, ii, 26.
Long before the time of Columbus and the Spanish conquest there existed on the table-land of Mexico two great races or nations, as has already been shown, both highly civilized, and both akin in language, art, and religion. Ethnologists and antiquaries are not agreed as to their origin or the development of their civilization. Many recent critics have held the theory that there had been a previous people from whom both races inherited their extinct civilization, this previous race being the "Toltecs," whom we have repeatedly mentioned in the preceding chapter. To that previous race some attribute the colossal stonework around Lake Titicaca, as well as other survivals of long-forgotten culture. Some would even class them with the "mound-builders" of the Ohio Valley. Other recent antiquaries, however, while fully admitting the Aztec-Tescucan civilization to be real and historical, treat the Toltec theory as partly or entirely mythical. One writer alleges, after the manner of Max Mueller, that the Toltecs are "simply a personification of the rays of light" radiating from the Aztec sun-god.