Tlilli tlapalli: weighing the evidence

David Wright dcwright at
Sun Jun 3 19:17:22 UTC 2001

Following an off-list tip from Mark David Morris and a reference in Boone's Stories in Red and Black, I saw that the tlacuilos depicted in Codex Mendoza (70r), Codex Vienna (48b) and Codex Telleriano-Remensis (30r) are shown painting, effectively, with red and black paint. These examples would tend to support the "red and black" translation of "tlilli tlapalli."

The Nahuatl metaphor "tlilli tlapalli nictlalia", translated by Molina (II, 147v) as "dar buen ejemplo", was expressed in classical Otomi with the juxtaposition of the word for drawing plus the generic term for color. The interlinguistic use of metaphors in the multilinguistic communities of central Mexico is not unusual; a similar example is the metaphorical concept altepetl, which has a literal equivalent in Otomi. (Sorry, the need for abundant diacritics precludes giving the Otomi examples by e-mail; both can be found in Urbano's trilingual --Castillian / Nahuatl / Otomi-- dictionary, under "Dar buen exemplo" and "Pueblo de todos juntamente". The Otomi equivalent of altepetl is found in alphabetically written colonial Otomi manuscripts, not just in Urbano's lexicon; I haven't yet checked the mss. for the Otomi equivalent of "tlilli tlapalli".) This would tend to support the "ink and paint" translation of "tlilli tlapalli".

At this point the balance seems inclined in favor of "ink and paint", especially considering Molina's and Sahagun's translations of "tlapalli" as pigments in general.
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