The English translation of Sahagún’s Florentine Codex by Dibble and Anderson approaches completion now, and the present portion, Book XI, maintains the standard of its predecessors. This is the section in which Sahagún deals with “Earthly Things,” by which is meant the animals, plants, minerals, waters, and soils of the Aztec world. Many chroniclers of Mexico in the colonial period dealt with these subjects, for the exotic flora and fauna and other features of the Mexican landscape offered interesting comparisons with the more familiar environment of Europe. But Sahagún’s treatment surpasses all others. His list is longer, his commentary is more detailed, and the work has the additional distinction that it directly reflects Indian interpretations.
Because Aztec economy depended so extensively on the materials surveyed in this book, a large attention is given to the activities of Indians in connection with them. The descriptions of animals include notes on hunting and on medicinal or dietary applications in human life. Sahagún catalogues birds with prodigious care, reflecting the Aztecs’ sharp-eyed appreciation of form, color, and feathers. Animals, birds, and fish are frequently classified as edible or inedible. Reptiles and insects receive similar attention. Forests and forest products are classified and meticulously described.
Indian evaluation appears especially in the accounts of precious stones, dyes, and soils, and in the two final sections on houses and sustenance. The last is as full an inventory of Aztec agricultural produce and as informative an account of Aztec cultivation as Mexican documentation anywhere contains. Cultivated plants are the maize, chía, and amaranth of pre-Spanish agriculture. In general, what is recorded is the Indian experience unaffected by Spanish influence.
The translators have been at pains to identify the exact item in each case and to provide a translation that is both literal and smooth. Paso y Troncoso’s numbered illustrations, of which there are nearly 1,000, are included. This is one of the most interesting and successful volumes of the series.