Elizabeth Hill Boone
In tlamatini tlauilli ocutl, tomaoac ocutl apocio, tezteatl, coiaoac
tezcatl, necoc xapo, tlile, tlapale, amuxoa, amoxe, tlilli, tlapalli,
utli, teiacanqui, tlanelo, teuicani, tlauicani, tlaiacanqui
The Wise Man
The wise man [is] exemplary. He possesses writings; he owns books. [He is] the tradition,
the road; a leader of men, a rower, a companion, a bearer of responsibility, a guide.
Thus begins the description of the position of sage in the Preconquest so-
ciety of the Mexica Aztecs, according to the Franciscan friar Bernardino de
Sahagún in Book 10 of his Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New
Spain.1 Sahagún included the sage among the male occupations of the indige-
nous people. Although tlamatini is usually translated into Spanish as “sabio”
and into English as “wise man,” the Nahuatl tlamatini is gendered neutral,
and there are accounts of accomplished female poets, so we should also rec-
ognize women among the tlamatinime.2 These Mexica tlamatinime were intel-
lectuals, readers, and implicitly also writers of books using the indigenous
pictographic script, persons who had personal libraries of such books, and
likely had access to larger libraries attached to temple complexes and noble
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