What is barbarism? What are the traits of a barbarian (what do they look like? how do they act? how do they smell, etc.)?
What does it mean to be civilized? What are the traits of a civilized person?
[NOTE: The objective of these first prompts is to probe our assumptions and the inherited connotations that go along with these terms. There is no need to consult a dictionary, nor is it necessary to define “barbarian” as “uncivilized” (since this point is made explicit in the next prompt).]
These two categories emerged as opposites, a binary, as civilized writers defined themselves against the barbarian “other.” Consider the civilized authors of your readings – who were the barbarians in Cortes‘ letter? who were the barbarians described by Las Casas?
What were the behaviors that classified these particular groups as barbarian? Expand this into a more generalobservation:
- When you label someone a barbarian, what are you saying? To what are you comparing them?
Think about this moment in history – why would it benefit Cortes to call the Aztecs barbarians? How was a Spanish Christian like Cortes obligated to approach a ‘barbarian’ people? What would he get out of this relationship?