Originally Posted by Sicknero
Do people believe that Cortes, when he arrived in South America, was really mistaken by the Aztecs for the god Quetzalcoatl, or is this perhaps another historical myth?
There are two distinct views on the credibility of the Cortez-Quetzacoatl mythology.
One is that it was a construct of post conquest Spanish invention or misinterpretation. No records of the mythos surrounding Quetzalcoatl and applied to Cortez appear to exist before the Spanish conquest.
The other is based on the legend of a native king who left and promised to return in the year ce acatl or " reed one." A man referred to as Quetzalcoatl Tolpiltzin. Ce acatl is the designation for a specific year in the Aztec calender.
Quetzalcoatl was also a deity associated with knowledge and reputedly described as a white man with a beard. So it would seem natural for the Aztecs to associate Cortez with a white bearded god who promised to return in the very year Cortez had arrived.
Cortez arrived at Vera Cruz in 1519, the precise year referred to as Ce Acatl. This may have caused the Aztecs to view Cortez's arrival as fortuitous. Fulfilling what was believed to be an ancient prophecy.
There is even a famous speech reputedly given by Moctezoma offering Cortez his thrown and that he, Moctezoma, was merely acting as a custodian for it until Cortez/Quetzacoatl's arrival.
This speech is believed to have been misinterpreted and may not have even taken place. It could have been a post conquest invention to legitimize Spanish control over the Aztecs.
However, the saddest part is that most of the Aztec records and codices were destroyed along with the vast majority of those created by the Maya as well. So establishing the veracity of this mythos is particularly difficult.
However, it does seem apparent that Cortez was treated with exceptional deference by Moctezoma. Even to being allowed to safely enter into the very center of Tenochtitlan itself. Something no political leader would ever do without some very important reason. This suggests that Moctezoma saw Cortez as someone either uniquely powerful or very sacred. Moctezoma was very superstitious and may have believed in the Quetzalcoatl prophecy. Cortez even remarked in letters to King Philip of Spain "how gullible and stupid the Aztecs actually were." This attitude may have been imbued by Dona Marina, the native interpreter, who spoke nahuatl, mayan and another tribal language. She quickly learned spanish as well. A natural linguist. Dona Marina basically interpreted the Aztec language and told Cortez what he wanted to hear. Often reporting plots and conspracies to Cortez as well. Dona Marina was no friend to the Aztecs and because of this acquired another name "Malinche." Cortez also would have taken advantage of this Quetzacoatl connection like a duck to water.
So it is a matter of whatever viewpoint you choose to accept. However one of the titles given to high priests of the temple to Quetzalcoatl was Quetzalcoatel Ce Acatl. The feathered serpent of reed one. The year Cortez arrived in Mexico.