León-Portilla, Miguel (1926–)

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León-Portilla, Miguel (1926–)

Miguel León-Portilla is a leading Mexican scholar of ancient Mexican literature, philosophy, and culture. Born on February 22, 1926, in Mexico City, Léon-Portilla received B.A. degrees at the Instituto de Ciencias in Guadalajara (1944) and Loyola University in Los Angeles (1948). In 1951 he graduated with an M.A. from Loyola and received a Ph.D. from the National University of Mexico in 1956. León-Portilla has held several positions since then, including professor in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the National University of Mexico; director of the Inter-American Indigenist Institute (1960–1963); director of the Institute of Historical Research of the National University of Mexico (1963–1975); and delegate of Mexico to UNESCO. His honors include Mexico's 1981 National Prize in the Social Sciences, History, and Philosophy. León-Portilla's revised Ph.D. dissertation, La filosofía Nahuatl estudiada en sus fuentes, first published in 1959, set the stage for his lifelong scholarly endeavors. His more than 40 monographs, over 200 professional articles, instrumental involvement in the publication of numerous primary sources, and his editorships of Estudios de cultura Nahuatl and Tlalocan demonstrate his pivotal role in developing and furthering Aztec studies.

Among León-Portilla's major contributions has been his willingness to grapple with questions of Aztec worldview and philosophy, based on documentary sources that are incomplete and subject to interpretation. His translations of primary Aztec documentation have made a large and complicated corpus accessible to intensive study; his interpretations and analyses have stimulated scholarly research and debate; and his numerous syntheses of Aztec literature and culture have extended an understanding of ancient Mexico to a worldwide audience. Having translated and interpreted several compilations of Nahuatl works, he is regarded as one of the primary scholars of Nahuatl literature and thought. His work in this field has contributed to the push for establishing bilingual education in rural Mexico in part to support the indigenous language.

See alsoAztecs; Literature: Spanish America; Nahuatl.


Among León-Portilla's many influential works are Visión de los vencidos (1950); Aztec Thought and Culture (1963); Trece poetas del mundo azteca (1967); Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico (1969); Pueblos originarios y globalización (1997); and Visión de los vencidos: Relaciones indígenas de la conquista (2003). For background, see the preface by Jorge Klor De Alva, "Nahua Studies, the Allure of the 'Aztecs,' and Miguel León-Portilla," in León-Portilla's The Aztec Image of Self and Society (1992), vii-xxiii.

Additional Bibliography

Moraña, Mabel, ed. Ideologies of Hispanism. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005.

                                  Frances F. Berdan