Dwarf-jesters at the Aztec court

The Aztec king Montezuma II (1466-1520) had jesters and every mention we have of them points to their having been deformed in some way.  Bernal Diaz de Castillo (1492-1591) who visited Montezuma’s court, tells us that:

Sometimes some little humpbacked dwarfs would be present at his meals, whose bodies seemed almost to be broken in the middle.  These were his jesters.


Source: Bernal Diaz de Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. by J.M. Cohen (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1963), p. 227

Image credit: portrait of Montezuma II, Pierre Duflos (1742-1816), public domain – given this was done a few hundred years after Montezuma lived, it isn’t clear how accurate this portrait could be. 

  1. Daniella

    The Aztec god Xolotl (pronounced Sho-lo-t with an L sound at the end not existing in English) was sometimes depicted as a jester. My guess as to why is that Xolotl was a god of monsters (among his other duties as a guide of the dead and god of fire and lightning), which broadly included things like disease and deformity, probably since the Aztecs used the word ‘xolo’ to describe both mythological monsters and those with physical abnormalities (similar to the Romans with the word ‘monstrum’). Since those with physical abnormalities have often become jesters around the world, Xolotl would have been a jester too as their god.

    Also, does anyone know what the Aztec clothing for jesters would have looked like?

    • beatriceotto

      Dear Daniella,

      Warm thanks for this insight, new to me and providing another thread to pursue. And for now, not sure I have much to share regarding clothing for Aztec jesters, but will surely feature it if I find it. Again, thank you for getting in touch.

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