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2.3 "Segunda carta de relación" – Hernán Cortes

11 min readjune 15, 2023

Sylvia Rodriguez

Sylvia Rodriguez

A

Alejandra Ramos


AP Spanish Literature 💃🏽

24 resources
See Units

En esta carta al Rey Carlos V, Cortes demuestra sumo respeto al emperador de Espana al dirigirse en su carta reverentemente al rey. Se disculpa al rey por no haber escrito nuevamente y le dice que “estaba ocupando en la conquista y pacificacion de esta tierra.” En esta carta Cortes le dice al rey que peleo y se libero de los aztecas, pero describe a Moctezuma y su pueblo como gran gente por sus instituciones y edificios. Finalmente, “expresa mucha admiracion por el alto grado de la civilizacion azteca.”

Context Behind "Segunda carta de relación"

Author Background

Hernán Cortés was a Spanish conquistador who played a major role in the conquest of Mexico and the defeat of the Aztec Empire in the early 16th century. Born in Medellin, Spain in 1485, Cortés first arrived in the New World in 1504 as a young man and quickly became involved in the exploration and conquest of the Caribbean and Central America. In 1519, he led an expedition to Mexico with the goal of subjugating the Aztec people and claiming their empire for Spain.

Time and Place

📜Historical: Hernán Cortés penned the "Segunda carta de relación" in 1520, at the start of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Cortés and his invading force, under the command of Montezuma II, had already established themselves in the Aztec Empire. European colonization and exploration during the Age of Discovery is reflected in Cortés' letter. European nations, motivated by the quest for riches, glory, and the propagation of Christianity, launched risky expeditions to build vast empires abroad. Cortés himself was a part of Spain's imperial project, looking to conquer new territories and take advantage of their resources for the Spanish Crown.
🗺️Geographic: The "Segunda carta de relación" is mostly concerned with the geographical setting of the Aztec Empire. Cortés gives descriptions of the towns, regions, and natural resources he came acros. Tenochtitlán which was the Aztec capital is very well described. Cortés described the region's varied landscapes, which included mountains, valleys, rich plains, and huge streams. He talks about the indigenous peoples' methods of growing crops like maize (corn), beans, and other things. He also mentions the existence of different natural resources, such as precious metals like gold and silver, which would later serve as major drivers for Spanish colonization.

Societal Context

👑Political: The power relationships between the Spanish conquistadors and the native Aztec Empire define the political background of this text. Cortés and his men wanted to spread Spanish rule over the recently acquired lands and establish Spanish dominance. They also ran into opposition from Montezuma II, the king of the Aztecs, and his people, who at first thought of the Spaniards as messengers from Gods.
🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏻Socio-economic: There are large differences between the indigenous people of Mexico and the Spanish conquistadors. According to Cortés, the Aztec society was highly structured, flourishing, and had a complex agricultural system and skilled artisans. Cortés narrates the purchase of gold, silver, and other priceless things that were then sent back to Spain. This socioeconomic dynamic served as a major reason for the invasion as the Spanish attempted to take the Aztec's wealth and take control over the local economy.
🎭 Cultural: The cultural background of this text illustrates the meeting of two different civilizations. Cortés emphasizes religions and social groups of the Aztec civilization. He talks about the enormous temples, artwork, and human sacrifices, which were all very different from European customs. As he describes his attempts to spread Catholicism, Cortés also highlights the Spanish goal to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity.

Need to Know About "Segunda carta de relación"

Characters

Since it was composed by Hernán Cortés himself, the "Segunda carta de relación" doesn't really have a solid list of characters as it was through Cortes' point of view. These are some of the characters that were in the letter.
Hernán Cortés
He is both the letter's writer and the main character. Spanish conquistador Cortés was in charge of the Mexican expedition and was instrumental in bringing down the Aztec Empire.
Montezuma II
Montezuma was the head of the Aztec Empire at the time of Cortés' arrival. At first, Montezuma welcomed Cortés and his troops because he thought they were godly messengers. Eventually, however, hostilities grew more intense and there was fighting between the Aztecs and the Spanish.
Indigenous Leaders
During his exploration, Cortés meets leaders and allies among the native people. These people from various indigenous communities either supported or opposed the Spanish conquest.
Spanish Conquistadors
The letter from Cortés details the other Spanish conquistadors he traveled with. The letter refers to the combined operations and efforts of the Spanish army, but it does not name any particular individuals.

Literary Terms and Devices

Some literary terms and devices you should be familiar with are:
  • Narrador testigo (Witness Narrator): Hernán Cortés is the witness narrator in the "Segunda carta de relación," describing the experiences and incidents he saw during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. He offers his perspective as an active participant in the events, giving a first-person description of the interactions and discussions that took place.
  • Narratorio: This literature piece can be categorized as a narratorio, a kind of narrative that combines aspects of a letter with a historical account. The letter is written by Cortés with the intention of updating the Spanish authorities on the status and accomplishments of the mission. The letter also serves as a historical record, offering important details about the early days of the Spanish invasion.
  • Enumeración (Enumeration): In the "Segunda carta de relación," Cortés uses the literary device of enumeration to give a thorough account of the resources, places, and events he experiences. The various indigenous communities are listed, the sceneries are described, and the items and treasures found during the journey are listed. This method enables a thorough and detailed portrayal of the conquest and its surroundings.
  • Polisíndeton: Cortés' work exhibits the rhetorical technique known as polisindeton, which is marked by conjunction repetition. He frequently uses several conjunctions to stress the accumulation of individuals, locations, and events, such as "y" (and). This strategy highlights the size and scope of the conquest by giving his descriptions a sense of fullness and richness.
  • Asíndeton: As an alternative to polisíndeton, Cortés also employs asíndeton, which entails the purposeful removal of conjunctions. Conjunctions slow down the speed of Cortés' story and by taking them out, there is a sense of urgency. His use of shorter, fragmented words to express the quick flow of events is particularly noticeable when describing wars and other dramatic situations.

Summary of "Segunda carta de relación"

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Image Courtesy of TimeToast

This summary references line numbers from the textbook Azulejo.

Lineas 33-44

En este párrafo de la segunda carta de Hernán Cortez, expresa todo lo que sus antepasados ocultaban de ellos, Hernán descubrió que ni él ni los habitantes de la tierra eran personas naturales de ella, los antepasados los consideraban como extranjeros raros. Sin embargo, Hernán no contaba con una visita, la visita de los vasallos (monarca: una persona que se considera que tiene una obligación mutua) estas personas si fueron consideradas como personas naturales, que se casaron con las mujeres naturales de la tierra, los vasallos tenían muchas generaciones, querían llevarse a las mujeres naturales, pero ellas no deseaban ir. Los vasallos querían llevarse a los habitantes naturales de la tierra a su pueblo donde sale el sol, querían que ellos fueran también vasallos para servir al rey de los VASALLOS.

Lineas 45-60

En estas líneas Moctezuma le está diciendo a Cortez cómo les dará regalos, comida, y que se siente honrado de haber conocido a Cortez (Moctezuma pensaba que el ejército español eran dioses). Moctezuma sigue dando la bienvenida a los españoles a la ciudad.

Lineas 61-77

Hernán Cortes se muestra ante la gente de Temixtitan como es en verdad, una persona de carne y hueso, pues debido a varios comentarios se decía que de donde el provenía estaba todo lleno de oro y que así era como él vivía, después de esto enfatizo con las personas de la ciudad diciéndoles que todo el oro que él ha tenido y llegara a tener también es de las personas, esto con el fin de hacer una confianza entre ambas partes. Por último, se nos habla de la ciudad de Temixtitan donde se nos dan detalles de esta, como que fue fundada en una laguna, una ciudad con cuatro entradas y así pues.

Lineas 78-99

En estás líneas Cortes explica de cómo era la ciudad lado a lado están cubiertas con agua, pero también con puentes de vigas muy grandes y resistentes por donde podían pasar hasta 10 caballos sin ningún problema, también después de esto Cortes decía en el texto que había muchos mercados demasiados grandes donde había todo género de mercaderías.

Lineas 100-116

En estas líneas, explica que los Aztecas tenía una sociedad rica. Los Aztecas tenían casa para medicinas, casas de barbero, y casas para comer y beber. Los Aztecas tenían hombres que se llamaban Castilla ganapanes y trajeron cargas. Trajeron cosas como lena, carbón, braseros de barro y esteras. Gente vendía cosas por cuenta y medida. Hubo mercados que vendían muchas cosas que hallan en la tierra. Tienen una casa que adentro hay jueces que libran todos los casos y cosas que en el dicho mercado acaecen. El tono de este párrafo es sorprendido porque hay muchas cosas que los Aztecas tienen que Cortes no puede creer.

Lineas 117-142

En las primeras líneas de esta sección, Hernán Cortes está describiendo el oro y la plata que Moctezuma tenía en su estado. Había mucho oro y mucha plata, algo de lo cual Cortes describía mucho y que este oro y esta plata eran los mejores. También describía que la gente del estado de Moctezuma había maneras diferentes de hacer las cosas, como, por ejemplo, usando instrumentos para subir las piedras y también que como con cosas con la pluma, el broslado salía perfecto. Cortez empezó a comprender que Moctezuma también tenía otros lugares en donde pasaba tiempo y todas igual de maravillosas como las otras cosas. El tono de Cortez es admirador.

Lineas 143-159

En estas líneas habla de que a cada genero de ave se le daba su correspondida alimentación a su natural eran muy bien cuidadas y estaban ubicadas sobre albercas que tenían corredores y miradores muy gentilmente elaborados, era allí donde Moctezuma se iba recrear y verlas. Las casas que habían ahí eran muy variadas y decoradas extravagante, unas eran hondas otras anchas median de a seis pies cuadrados cada una, con techos con diseños de ajedrez, cubiertas de losas y otras cosas, cada casa tenía un ave de rapiña, cernícalo hasta águilas que en España no se han visto.

Lineas 160-172

En estas líneas Se expresa en cómo se alimentaban las gallinas para poder ser el alimento de otros animales y había trescientos hombres que tenían cargos sobre ellos, y sobre en otra casa tenían hombre y mujeres monstruos y enanos y otras deformidades cada uno de estos monstruos dormía en cuarto por si quiere decir que solo unas personas tienen cargos sobre ellos. Cada casa tenía como su cuidad y tenían muchas cualidades en los cargos.

Lineas 173-192

En estas líneas de la segunda carta, Cortes redacta la manera en la que se alimentaba a los altos rangos de los Aztecas, Cortes expresa detalladamente la forma en la que se les servían los manjares tanto a Moctezuma como todas las otras figuras presentes en la sala. Los alimentos que les eran servidos eran todo tipo de manjares exquisitos que eran recolectados con mucha cautela para satisfacer a el emperador y sus acompañantes. Durante la comida, Moctezuma y las demás figuras presentes que se sentaban alrededor de él eran atendidos por sus servidores brindando un gran ambiente en la sala.

Lineas 193-212

En estas líneas de la segunda carta, Cortes redacta más sobre cómo se alimentaban los altos rangos de los aztecas. Habla de cómo los hombres probaban la comida para ellos y cómo siempre estaban atentos a su servicio. Dándole agua y platos limpios y nuevos. Se ve el lujo en el que vivían estas personas. Llevaban varias ropas de vestir. Además, se habla de la manera en que la gente tenía mucho respecto para Montezuma, y tenían muchas ceremonias en su servicio

Themes in "Segunda carta de relación"

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Image Courtesy of Timetoast

Las sociedades en contacto (Societies in Contact)
In his "Segunda carta de relación," Hernán Cortés examines the relationships and dynamics between the Spanish conquistadors and the indigenous communities they met in Mexico. He describes the interactions with various indigenous communities, their practices, and the bonds that formed. Cortés sheds light on the social, political, and cultural exchanges that took place during the early stages of European colonialism in the area by describing both alliances and disputes.
La naturaleza y el ambiente (Nature and the Environment)
The "Segunda carta de relación" offers information on the geography and natural world of the recently found areas. Cortés highlights the region's abundance and fertility by describing the many landscapes, which include mountains, valleys, plains, and streams. In addition, he underlines how the existence of rare materials like gold, silver, and precious stones adds to the attractiveness and potential prosperity of the conquered territory.
La construcción de la realidad (Construction of Reality)
Cortés actively participates in creating and sculpting the reality he shows in the "Segunda carta de relación." His account reflects his individual viewpoints, prejudices, and conquistador-related motives. The religious practices and human sacrifices of the Aztec civilization are highlighted by Cortés in order to defend the Spanish conquest and paint the native peoples as barbaric creatures in need of rescuing. He creates a reality through his writing that supports his agenda of exalting the Spanish Empire and defending the conquest.
La creación literaria (Literary Creation)
The "Segunda carta de relación" has literary devices even though it. In order to make the events and surroundings come to life for his intended audience, Cortés uses vivid and detailed language. His use of rhetorical tropes like enumeration, polysyndeton, and asyndeton gives his story more depth and intensity. Cortés also strategically employs literary devices to influence and form the opinions of his readers, strengthening the persuasiveness of his report.

Literary Analysis of "Segunda carta de relación"

In "Segunda carta de relación," Hernán Cortés examines topics of cultural contrasts, exploration and discovery, and the power relationships between the native people and the Spanish conquistadors.
Hernán Cortés draws attention to the large differences between Aztec and Spanish civilization. Tenochtitlan is a sophisticated city built by the Aztecs and is described by him as having imposing temples, canals, and thriving markets. Cortés draws attention to their religious traditions, like as human sacrifices, which strike the Spanish as strange and barbarous. The conquistadors are awed and intrigued by these cultural distinctions, which fuels their drive to discover and comprehend this new world.
The spirit of exploration and discovery that defined the Age of travel are evident in Cortés' letter. He talks about coming across unfamiliar topography, wildlife, and treasures like gold and gems. The joy and awe the Spanish felt as they visited new areas is depicted in Cortés' tale, which increased their understanding of the globe and stoked their desire for future exploration.
Cortés illustrates the Spanish ambition for domination and control when he talks about his meetings with Moctezuma, the head of the Aztec people. Cortés presents the Spanish as superior in his writing by highlighting their military strategies, cutting-edge weapons, and capacity to conquer the Aztec Empire. The Aztec civilization eventually collapses due to this power dynamic.
"La Segunda Carta de Relación" is a crucial text for understanding the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the impact that this event had on the indigenous peoples and cultures of Mexico. The text provides insights into the Spanish perspective on the conquest and the use of power, as well as the cultural exchange that took place between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples.

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