Friday, January 04, 2019


The Perfect Sacrificial Victim

Bernardino de Sahagún (1499-1590), General History of the Things of New Spain, Book 2: The Ceremonies, tr. Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble (Santa Fe: The School of American Research, 1951), pp. 64-65 (brackets in original):
For he who was chosen was of fair countenance, of good understanding and quick, of clean body—slender like a reed; long and thin like a stout cane; well-built; not of overfed body, not corpulent, and neither very small nor exceedingly tall.

For anyone who was formed [thus] defective, who was too tall, to him the women said: "Tall one; head-nodder; handful of stars!" He who was chosen impersonator was without defects.

[He was] like something smoothed, like a tomato, or like a pebble, as if hewn of wood. [He did] not [have] curly hair, [but] straight, long hair; [he had] no scabs, pustules, or boils on the forehead, nor skin growths on the forehead, nor [was he] large-headed, nor with the back of the head prominent; nor of a head shaped like a carrying-net, nor with the sutures of the crown yet soft; not broad-headed, nor with a square head; not bald, nor with a bulbous forehead; not of swollen eyelids, nor enlarged ones; not with swollen cheeks; not of disfigured eyes or cheeks, nor with swollen face; not with cleft chin; not with a gross face, nor a downcast one; not flat-nosed nor with wide nostrils, nor with an arched, Roman nose nor a bulbous nose, nor bent nor twisted nor crooked—but his nose should be well-placed, straight; not thick-lipped nor gross- nor big-lipped, nor with bowl-like ones, nor enlarged; neither one who stammered, nor [one who talked] as if his tongue were pierced for a ring; nor one with welts on his tongue; nor one who spoke a barbarous language, or spoke thickly, or lisped, or was dumb; nor buck-toothed, nor large-toothed or fang-toothed, nor of yellowed teeth, nor darkened, nor decayed—but his teeth were like seashells, well arrayed in order; his teeth were not shaped like bowls. Neither had he scarred eyes, nor poor vision, nor squinting eyes, nor scarified; not blinded, nor of small, seedlike eyes, nor angry-eyed, nor sunken, nor hollow, nor cuplike, nor stupid-looking, nor gouged, pierced, or wounded; nor had he a scarred neck, [like one which hath been] choked, nor one with lacerations, nor with double chin, nor with pocks on the neck. Not with protruding or long ears, nor with torpid neck, nor hunch-backed, nor stiff-necked, nor with neck elongated, much elongated, nor twisted, nor kinked; neither with unduly long hands, nor lacking one hand, nor wanting both hands, nor fat-fingered; not emaciated, nor fat, nor big-bellied, nor of prominent, hatchet-shaped navel, nor of wrinkled stomach, nor shrunken stomach; not cringing; not of hatchet-shaped buttocks; nor of flabby buttocks or thighs.

He who was thus, without flaw, who had no [bodily] defects, who had no blemishes, no moles, who had no lacerations or wrinkles on his body, they then looked well that he be taught to blow the flute; that he might pipe and play his flute well; and that with it he hold his flowers and his smoking tube and blow and suck upon it, and smell [the flowers].

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