Friday, May 16, 2014

Gomara’s account of Cortes’s first battle

Even Bernal Diaz’s literary criticism is entertaining:

Francisco Lopez de Gomara, in his account of this battle, says, that previous to the arrival of Cortes with the cavalry, the holy apostle St. Jacob or St. Peter in person had galloped up on a gray-coloured horse to our assistance. I can only say, that for the exertion of our arms and this victory, we stand indebted to our Lord Jesus Christ; and that in this battle every individual man among us was set upon by such numbers of the enemy, that if each of them had merely thrown a handful of earth upon us we should have been buried beneath it. Certain it is, therefore, that God showed his mercy to us here, and it may, indeed, have been one of the two glorious apostles St. Jacob or St. Peter who thus came to our assistance. Perhaps on account of my sins I was not considered worthy of the good fortune to behold them; for I could only see Francisco de Morla on his brown horse galloping up with Cortes, and even at this very moment, while I am writing this, I can fancy I see all passing before my eyes just as I have related it; although I, an unworthy sinner, was not considered worthy of beholding one of the glorious apostles face to face: yet again I never heard any of the four hundred soldiers, nor ever Cortes himself, nor any of the many cavaliers, mention this wonder, or confirm its truth. We should certainly have built a church, and have called the town Santiago, or San Pedro de la Vitoria, and not Santa Maria de la Vitoria. If, therefore, what Gomara relates is true, then we must indeed have been bad Christians not to have paid greater respect to the assistance which God sent us in the person of his holy apostles, and for having omitted to thank him daily for it in his own church. Nevertheless, I should feel delighted if this historian has spoken the truth, although I must confess that I never heard this wonder mentioned before reading his book, nor have I ever heard any of the conquistadores speak of it who were present at the battle.  [Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 1840-1854). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.]

As to the history of Bernal Diaz’s book, Wikipedia tells us, “As a reward for his service, Díaz was awarded an encomienda by Cortés in 1522. This was confirmed and supplemented by similar awards in 1527 and 1528, according to documents cited by Carmelo Saenz de Santa María (pp. 89–90). In 1541 he settled in Guatemala and, during the course of a trip to Spain, was appointed regidor (governor) of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, present-day Antigua Guatemala in 1551. His Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, finished in 1568, almost fifty years after the events it described, was begun around the same time as his appointment as regidor and was well in progress by the mid-1550s when he wrote to the emperor, describing his services and seeking benefits; it was then expanded in response to what he later found in an alternative history published in 1552 by Francisco López de Gómara. The title Historia verdadera (True History) is in part a response to the claims made by Gómara, Bartolomé de las Casas, Gonzalo de Illescas and others who had not participated in the campaign. Despite Bernal Díaz's lack of formal education and the self-interest that gave birth to his volume, the Historia verdadera evokes, like no other source, the often tragic and painful yet fascinating process through which one empire ended and another began to take shape.”

“Bernal Díaz died in January 1584, without seeing his book published. An expanded and corrected copy of the manuscript kept in Guatemala was sent to Spain and published, with revisions, in 1632.”

Lopez de Gomara died in 1566; so he didn’t see its publication either.

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