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Idols in Sixteenth Century Mexico

Nancy Farriss
Department of History, University of Pennsylvania


The category of idol (ídolo), as depicted in the Spanish missionary literature of the 16th and 17th centuries, is far more ample than our usual definition. In addition to three-dimensional images of clay, wood, or stone, the term "idol" was applied to such diverse objects as bones, stalactites, and live parrots. I have three questions, for a start: -- What were the criteria for inclusion in this category? -- How closely do they reflect contemporary indigenous conceptions? -- How much can the available material and textual sources actually tell us about these conceptions? Any help in answering these questions, and in formulating a better set, would be most welcome.

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