Norton Publishers
Published by
Norton (2023-08-29)
Current material
1st Pass Pages
Original language


The Aztec Huehuetlatolli - A First English Translation

by Purcell, Sebastian

The Aztecs of central Mexico had a rich philosophical tradition, recorded in Latin script by Spanish clergymen - one of the earliest transcripts being Huehuetlatolli, or Discourses of the Elders, compiled by Friar Andres de Olmos circa 1535.

Novel in its form, the Discourses consists of short conversations between elders and young people on how to achieve a meaningful and morally sound life. These conversations bring to light the Aztec ethical landscape in brilliant clarity. Their core values relied on collective responsibility and group wisdom, not individual thought and action, focused on a person's actions in this realm rather than expectations of an afterlife.

Never before translated into English in its entirety, and one of the first works to be translated from the original Nahuatl, the Discourses proves that philosophy can be active, communal, and grounded not in a "pursuit of happiness" but rather pursuit of a meaningful life.

Sebastian Purcell is an associate professor of philosophy at SUNY-Cortland, where he researches mathematical logic, ethics, and Latin American philosophy. He lives in Binghamton, New York.

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Prepare to have your philosophical imagination rocked. Purcell is a magnificent guide and beautiful translator of these profound and long-silenced texts. Purcell shares a dazzlingly fresh take on universal themes of the human condition which feel surprisingly modern. The book is bursting with practical wisdom about looking for meaning and beauty in life, living virtuously, being happy, finding a sense of rootedness amidst entropy, with applications from raising children to leading excellently to aesthetics and urban planning, and so much more.

Quote: Skye Cleary, author of How to be Authentic

The recent rehabilitation of the reputation of the Aztecs, long overdue and far from complete, here gets a spirited and stimulating boost. Purcell's rare skill set as a scholar of both philosophy and the Aztec language of Nahuatl allows him to make a dramatically original contribution to our grasp of how the Aztecs viewed self, life, and the world - the big questions. Purcell and the Aztecs alike thereby challenge our own philosophical imaginations. This book will not only change how you see Aztec culture: it may also change how you see our culture.

Quote: Matthew Restall, author of When Montezuma Met Cortés

The goal of integrating Mesoamerican thought into the history of philosophy is brought much closer thanks to this new translation. The English version is readable and makes the general philosophical interest of the text clear, while preserving such culturally specific features as the evocative metaphors used to express ethical concepts. Detailed notes and a useful introduction help to make the work accessible and comprehensible to a wide audience.

Quote: Peter Adamson, author of Don't Think For Yourself

Effectively explaining the highly abstract and metaphorical writing of the Nahuatl language, Sebastian Purcell handles very well the interpretation of the difrasismos that is fundamental to understanding the philosophy and poetry of the Aztecs. This book allows the Aztecs to speak for themselves.

Quote: Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, author of Handbook to Life in the Aztec World

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