Creating a Model
The founding of Veracruz was a bold and audacious move for Cortés. His thirst for power and prestige are obvious to even the most objective of historians. His drive and ambition were symptoms of the burgeoning humanist ideals that were reverberating throughout the European continent. What followed this bold move was one of the most consequential military andpolitical conquests in written history. Cortés, however, would need more than ambition in order to survive. He now found himself in a legal predicament that was tantamount to treason. He had defied his superior officer, Diego Velázquez. He was officially an outlaw on the run. Knowing his rebellion could have serious consequences, he needed to twist reality a bit. Somehow he needed to convince the Kingthat his rebellion was not an act against the Crown but an act of faithful service to it.
Cortés found the perfect vehicle for his fictionalization of reality in the required legal correspondence to the Emperor known as a Carta de Relación. These letters were used by the Spanish Crown in order to stay informed and control an ever expanding empire. Within each letter, the conquistador was expectedto testify as a witness to the events that took place during the conquest. Because it was considered a legal document, its contents were considered to be true and accurate accounts of events as they unfolded (Merrim, 59). However, Cortés would use this informative legal document as a vehicle of persuasion that would make his rebellion appear to be an act of service. Within his correspondence Cortéstwisted reality, and according to Beatriz Pastor created a “fictional model” (72) of a conquistador.
The purpose of this chapter is to define the process of fictionalization within Cortés’ Segunda Carta de Relación into various textual tactics. These tactics, when examined collectively, make up the complex façade of Cortés’s model conquistador. This chapter will be broken down into fiveseparate sections. Each section will be dedicated to dissecting and properly defining said tactics as separate parts that form the sum total of Cortés’ fictionalized persona. The first section will be dedicated to defining the formal façade of Cortes’ letter. How Cortés used certain forms of medieval rhetoric to give his argument credibility will be examined. Section two will define the medieval code ofvassalage and the concept of the medieval Christian knight. Section three seeks to demonstrate how Cortés used these concepts to discredit his rival Velázquez, and at the same time characterize himself as the embodiment of the ideal vassal and Christian knight.
The fourth section discusses two concepts by Wayne C. Booth known as the variations of distance and the unreliable narrator. Thesetheories will be defined and (through direct examples from Cortés’ correspondence) we will see how he appropriately alternated between first and third person narration in order to distance himself from undesired outcomes and at the same time place himself at the forefront of all the campaign’s successes. Section five examines the concept of authorial silence, as defined by Booth in his book titledThe Rhetoric of Fiction. This section seeks to draw a direct link between Cortés’s silences and the careful crafting of his model. The conclusion of this chapter will be dedicated to exposing the agenda behind the model. This section will focus on the similarity between Machiavelli’s Renaissance masterpiece The Prince and Cortés’s model conquistador. Special attention will be given to the effectCortés’ fictional model had on the interpretation of Latin America by the Europeans.
The Use of Formality in Order to Establish Legitimacy
The time Cortés spent as an assistant to Velázquez in Cuba and as a notary in Hispaniola served him well in many regards. In his article The Mental State of Cortés John Elliot explains why. He relates that, “there is no doubt that Cortés’s two...
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