Monday, September 15, 2014

Mythology Monday: Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl

Flickr Credit: Mindaugas Danys
I thought we could have a fairy tale.

It’s not the happiest of fairy tales. I don’t even know if I should call it a fairy tale—it also seems a little bit like a myth. We know how Persephone’s rebellious attitude landed us with winter, and how the camel got its hump—and this story isn’t so different.

But it also sounds like a fairy tale. Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl may not be names you’re familiar with, but allow me to tell you a little bit about their world. The Aztec world. Cue the screaming.

The Dynamics of Itza and Popo for Short
as interpreted by Heather

  • So there was this chick. Itza. Beautiful, of course, and a princess on top of that, and Popo was completely smitten with her.
  • Popo went to the chief of their clan to ask for her hand, and like most fathers, this chief was protective of his daughter, but not unreasonable. He asks (demands, insists, etc.) that Popo must first prove his valor in battle, and then they can marry.
    • Side note, battle was importantísima back then. It wasn’t killing people that was the big deal, but capture. The people you captured would be sacrificed to the gods (which I’m pretty sure was more honorable than it sounds) and the more people you captured, the more fancy armor you got to wear. It was super-dee-duper.
  • Itza stays home and waits for her beloved to come back, and for one reason or another, she dies. Some say she thought Popo died and then died of sadness, other times it says she got sick. Take your pick.
  • Popo, who was successful in battle, returns home, but is distraught when he learns Itza has died.
  • For some reason (familial pity, divine intervention, theft) Popo is able to take Itza’s body away with him into the mountains, where he builds a pyre and plans to burn their bodies together. So he does, and lays himself on the burning pyre next to her body.
  • The gods, however, are watching, and they take pity on the lovers. Instead of letting Itza and Popo die, they turn them into mountains so they will always be together. The volcanoes Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl are still standing today.


I imagine that was not the most glorious story you’ve ever heard. I understand. It took me eight hours to decide how I wanted this post, and at the time I am finishing it, it is 11:50 PM and I am hearing things.

For your benefit, I’m including my sources at the bottom, but what I’ll also say is this. Princess stories are everywhere. This is an Aztec tale, and it’s lasted the ages. There is so much more out there than Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. And if you ever can, you should listen to people tell stories. I have heard some amazing stories from my teachers, seen dioramas and seen presentations—they will always be more valuable to me than differential calculus.

Have you read of Itza and Popo before? What do you think of their story? Do you have another favorite myth that explains how something came to be?

My Sources:

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