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Miguel León-Portilla (born in Mexico City, 22 February 1926) is a Mexican anthropologist and historian, and the prime authority on Nahuatl thought and literature.

He wrote a doctoral thesis on "Nahuatl philosophy" under the guidance of a notable Nahuatl speaker (nahuatlato), Fr. Ángel María Garibay. He has also acquired renown through translating, interpreting and publishing several recompilations of Nahuatl works.

León-Portilla has spearheaded a movement to understand and reevaluate Nahuatl literature, not only from the pre-Columbian era, but also that of the present day, since Nahuatl is still the primary language of millions of people. He has contributed to establishing bilingual education in rural Mexico.

León-Portilla also has helped to uncover the works of Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún, the primary source on Aztec civilization, whom he controversially declared to be the first anthropologist because his work methodology was ahead of his times. Sahagún recorded the knowledge of three independient groups of Nahuatl elders (tlatimini), in their own language, he compared the different versions and then he questioned again to resolve the differences, then he arranged, so the Aztec Tlacuilos (codex painters) made the ilustrations of his work. At the request of Spanish authorities, he wrote a bowdlerized version in Spanish (the Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España), but his original work, the Florentine Codex, was never published. Before León-Portilla, it had only been translated once (into German), and even that was incomplete.

As a historian, León-Portilla gives us an understanding of the figure of Tlacaelel. Originally an obscure name in some chronicles, Tlacaelel is now seen as the architect of the Aztec empire.

Through his work, León-Portilla has obtained several academic degrees and decorations.

Best-known works

  • Nahuatl Philosophy (La filosofia nahuatl estudiada en sus fuentes). León-Portilla explains that while the Aztec had no philosophy in the contemporary point of view, their tlatimines tried to understand the world, questioning and inquiring about it. León-Portilla declares that what the Europeans interpreted as gods, the Aztecs perceived as the different manifestations of the dual god Ometeotl/Omecihual (Our lord/lady of the duality). This thesis was expanded upon in "Aztec Thought & Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind"
  • The Vision of the Vanquished. This is his most popular and famous work, already translated into a dozen languages. In this short book, León-Portilla compiles several fragments of the Nahuatl vision of the Spanish conquest, from the premonitions of Moctezuma to the "sad chants" after the conquest. This book was followed by other ccompilations of Inca and Maya sources.

External link

nl:Miguel León Portilla


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