This new edition of the Codex Chimalpopoca, translated into English and edited by John Bierhorst, is especially welcome. All the previous editions have been Spanish translations of varying quality. The manuscript that has come to be known as the Codex Chimalpopoca actually contains three different parts. The first and third parts are famous among students of Nahuatl, being the “Anales de Cuauhtitlan” and the “Leyenda de los Soles.” The second section, which is not included in this edition, is a work in Spanish titled “Breve relación de los dioses y ritos de la gentilidad,” by Pedro Ponce de León, a seventeenth-century cleric. The most accessible previous edition was printed in Mexico in 1945 and included a facsimile of the original manuscript. This is important, because the manuscript, then held in the Archivo Histórico of the Museo Nacional de Antropología of Mexico, has since been lost. Consequently, Bierhorst’s edition relies on the 1945 facsimile and a parallel manuscript copy, made in the nineteenth century by Leóny Gama and held in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

The current work received its name from the French Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, who dedicated the work to the Mexican academician Faustino Galicia Chimalpopoca. Internal evidence, however, ties the work to the family of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, the famous native historian of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The manuscript, according to Bierhorst, is written in a hand that indicates it to be a seventeenth-century copy of an earlier manuscript. Bierhorst bases this assumption on the occasional use of a system of diacritics proposed by the Jesuit Antonio del Rincón in 1595 but further elaborated by another Jesuit, Horacio Carochi, in 1645. Bierhorst notes that although it shows clear ties to the Alva Ixtlilxochitl family, the manuscript was not one of the resources Fernando used in his Relaciones or Historia de la nación Chichimeca. However, Bierhorst does not mention that Fernando’s brother, Bartolomé, was also active in literary circles at the time, and is associated with at least one other Nahuatl-language manuscript, held in the Bancroft Library, that uses the Carochi system of diacritics. Consequently the Codex Chimalpopoca might well form part of the literary legacy of Bartolomé de Alva, if not Fernando.

The first section of the codex, the “Anales de Cuauhtitlan,” narrates the history of the groups that would eventually populate that town, located in the northwestern part of the Valley of Mexico. It is no simple tale, and it includes much additional material drawing on the traditions of Texcoco, Cuitlahuac, and Culhuacan. The third section, the “Leyenda de los Soles,” tells of the Mexica belief that the world has gone through four previous epochs, each of which ended in disaster. We are currently living in the fifth epoch, Orsun, which will end with terrible earthquakes. The latter part of the narration also includes the Mexica peregrination myths, taking them from the legendary Aztlan to the Valley of Mexico.

Bierhorst has done a very thorough job of transcribing the often difficult handwriting. For this alone the work will be an important part of the library of Nahuatl source materials. But beyond that, he has done a solid translation of the text. He has attempted to maintain as much of the flavor of the original Nahuatl as possible without ending up with a very stilted English. Moreover, he has provided the scholar of Nahuatl with a glossary of the terms and words used in the manuscript. Terms that differ little from their definitions in Molina’s dictionary, however, are not included. While Bierhorst’s translation undoubtedly will spark debate among scholars of Nahuatl, for the general reader his English rendering makes a very interesting and important work more accessible. By bringing his whole study out in two volumes, Bierhorst has provided most scholars with one volume, History and Mythology of the Aztecs, which can be readily used; it contains the introduction, the English translation, a concordance to proper names and places, notes, and the bibliography. The companion piece, the Codex Chimalpopoca, is geared more to scholars of Nahuatl, containing the text in Nahuatl and the glossary.

Bierhorst has done much to make works written in Nahuatl accessible to the scholarly public. His effort with the Cantares mexicanos was a mixed success; his hypothesis about the nature of the manuscript as an art form colored his translation. In these volumes on the Codex Chimalpopoca, however, Bierhorst has acquitted himself well.