Notes on the Life and Works of Augustine
A brief Analysis of the work of Father Bernardino Sahagun
[ 1499 –1590 ]
The History of New Spain by Father Bernardino Sahagun was divided into 12 books.
The first was dedicated to Mexican Theology and is divided into 22 chapters. Torquemada, Botturnin Bernaducci and Clavigero have each intensively discussed [ treated ] this important subject and it is interesting to compare the explanations of the Aztec Mythology with that of the priests of the 16th Century with those of this time and his successors. The spelling of the names differ but the great care Sahagun took to procure [ copies ] of the Mexican text is a guarantee of its correctness.
In the appendix of this book is added a confection of the Mexican Idolatry.
The 2nd book consists of 36 chapters and in this the author devotes himself to the calendar, to the feasts, the sacrifices and the solemn rites in honour of their Gods. Great care is taken in the calculations of the year. The Mexican Year and the Julian Year approximate and as we have already said the Aztec were understood to distinguish the Bisextile. [ a leap year ] . Every 4 years they added one day for our 5 superfluous days. In the appendix to the book the learned monk gives a description of the grand temple of Mexico with details of the various special feasts at which they always sang.
The 3rd book has 14 chapters, Father Sahagun discourses on the origin of the Gods of the belief as to the destiny of the souls, the dignity of priests etc. This book is of the most important Gods but unhappily says the editor it will be necessary in a new edition to substitute many grave alterations.
There is a most interesting appendix which treats of funeral rites, the fear of hell, of our earthly paradise, of heaven. Of three houses or temples, where they make offerings and call upon their Gods for propitiation [ and endear themselves to their Gods ] , of the offering of children in the temple of Telpuchcalli and Talmecac, of the customs of the priests in Calmecac.
The 4th book has 40 chapters on Astrology, the Mexican guide imparting a knowledge of their days of feasting and non-feasting. The life of those born under certain stars etc.etc.
Under the prejudice of this time in which they connected astrology with astronomy Father Sahagun returns again in this book to the calendar of the Aztecs then in use. The title of this book is not the least important and merits the attention of the learned. In the appendix is a discourse of the calendar of the Anaoac Indians ( of Anahuac) respecting a discussion of certain additions of the divisions of the Temple.
The 5th book in 13 chapters is on the omens and prognostications which the natives discern in the entrails of certain animals and the flight of birds from which they divine the future (the roaring and howling of wolves and other ferocious beasts, the bark of the dog, the cry of the cat, the croak of the frog, the flight of the bat, the abundance of mice – ants etc) nocturnal apparitions, phantoms etc. In the appendix is given 37 different ways of omens and divination.
The 6th book treats of Rhetoric and Theology of the Mexican Nation in which is found many curious things described in the most beautiful language and delicacy of morals. The book is in 42 chapters and is incontestably the most precious because it reveals an entire sacred literature completely unknown to the old world. The book preserves with the most minute exactness the religious faith practised in the temple; the expressions are in a manner heavy with numberless unvarying ideas and the religious dogma in all its purity [and the hymns contain religious dogma in all its purity]. In the appendix Sahagun speaks of the metaphors, proverbs and the games of children.
The 7th book is devoted to meteorology and contains very curious things as to the divisions of time and the feasts recurring in each division. It consists of 13 chapters.
The 8th book has 21 chapters and describes the hierarchy of the Kings another mode of their election. We find most interesting details concerning political organisation of the Mexicans, their legislature and their history chronologically arranged.
Sagahun finishes the book with a description of the Palaces, the Royal Ornaments, robes and dresses, the banquets and the feasts given by the chiefs etc.
The 9th book in 21 chapters of industry commerce and workers [ it discusses industry of dealers and workers } in gold, precious stones, rich plums of feathers etc. He makes known to us how these people live and gives details of their feasts and banquets. In time this industry was suppressed which was originated by the Aztecs. [ It is really surprising the high degree of industry the Aztecs reached ]
The 10th book is divided into 29 chapters and is entitled the vice and virtue of the Indians, of the parts of the body, (internal and external) of diseases , of medicines and of the Nation *** this part of the Earth [ Nations inhabiting this land ]. Here we have a clear description of the intellectual attainment of all classes and particularly the artisans. Sahagun gives details of the industry of the city of the liberal arts and mechanisation. Here we find a materia pharmacopoeia medica [ a medical subject ], altogether new and possessing great interest. The traditions of the Nations occupying Mexico is the same that he obtained from the mouths of many (natives) aborigines when he interrogated the various provinces.
The 11th book in 13 chapters contains a description of the country, the quadrupeds, birds, fish, trees, herbs, flora, metals, stones, colours waters, rivers, land ,etc. and our author has furnished us well with a notion of its geography; he has described the mountains, volcanoes, roads etc.
The 12th and last book in 41 chapters treats on the conquest of New Spain and is of great interest. [ This and the related sixth book are of the greatest interest ] He recounts all this under a new aspect quite diversified in a word a Mexican Chronicle which leaves the stamp of truthfulness and furnishes a marvellous account of the Aborigines which Europe never divined.
[ and furnishes the marvellous idea of the Aborigines that the Europeans were divine ]