Moctezuma show examines man behind Mexica myths

Wed Sep 23, 2009 11:11am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A new exhibition at London's British Museum attempts to get to the truth about Moctezuma II, the last elected ruler of the Aztecs, and explain why his legacy is still so divided.

To many Europeans, the man who successfully led a sizeable civilization in what is Mexico today is an idealized, semi-mythical figure who combined military and political prowess with the primitive savagery of ritual human sacrifice.

Mexicans, the show argues, tend to be more ambivalent toward Moctezuma, largely because he opened his arms to Spanish adventurer Hernan Cortes and so set in motion a bizarre series of events that would lead to the downfall of the Mexica empire.

"Moctezuma is a very ambivalent figure in Mexico," said Colin McEwan, the exhibition's curator, at a press preview on Wednesday. "He is seen as a tragic figure who ceded his empire to Europe."

"Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler," which runs from September 24 - January 24, 2010, seeks to demonstrate how Europeans' exposure to Spanish accounts of his reign and eventual defeat have shaped our view.

It also attempts to balance that view by building a biographical narrative of Moctezuma, introducing him through his coronation stone and examining his rule and relationship with the gods and his subjects.

The show is the fourth and final installment in the British Museum's series of crowd-pulling exhibitions about great nation-builders. The others focused on China's first emperor, Roman emperor Hadrian and Persian ruler Shah Abbas.