Once more this Portrait of Nezahualcoyotl becomes available, now thanks to the University of Utah Press. It is true that, since the first appearance of this book in 1949, several other works on the life, thought, and poetry of the sage and ruler Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco (1402-72), have been published. In particular, Angel María Garibay K. (Poesía Náhuatl, 1964-68) and Miguel León-Portilla (Nezahualcoyotl, poesía y pensamiento, 1972) have offered compilations and translations into Spanish of the extant compositions that can be attributed to Nezahualcoyotl. Yet, the Flute of the Smoking Mirror by Frances Gillmor, keeps its place of distinction among the not very abundant contributions on the deeds of this pre-Columbian statesman of Mesoamerica.
To write this biography, Frances Gillmor consulted the primary sources that were available to her. Having as her main purpose to re-create in vivid form the adventurous life of Nezahualcoyotl, she produced a beautiful book. But what she wrote is by no means literary fiction. Dozens of notes provide the precise references to the sources. She brings in the testimonies of indigenous codices, the Tlotzin, Quinatzin, Xolotl, Tepechpan, Telleriano-Remensis, Florentine, and others. In addition to these pictographic and ideographic sources (from which numerous images are included in her book), other manuscripts originally in Nahuatl, the language spoken by Nezahualcoyotl, are also taken into account. One of the most important, and constantly quoted, is that known as the Annals of Cuauhtitlan. It is almost superfluous to add that Frances Gillmor did not disregard the testimonies of chroniclers like Juan Bautista Pomar and Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl.
For those who love historical writing in a literary form, this portrait of Nezahualcoyotl will be extremely attractive. Instead of describing in this review the episodes the author so vividly re-creates of the life of Nezahualcoyotl, I prefer to insist upon the permanent valor of this brief biography, which, happily, is available again. As distinguished scholar Charles E. Dibble writes in his foreword to this new printing, “The thoroughness with which Gillmor utilized the primary sources to document her story lends it an enduring quality. She faithfully depicts native life in Texcoco in fifteenth-century Mexico. . ..” And it is true indeed that Nezahualcoyotl “reflected and magnified the splendor and renown of his native city through his wise governing and literary skill.” We congratulate the University of Utah Press for publishing again this small book, already a classic.