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Book History 7 (2004) 63-96

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"... To Collect and Abridge ... Without Changing Anything Essential"

Rewriting Incan History at the Parisian Jardin du Roi

My mother's uncle ... gave me a long account of the origin of [the Inca] Kings ... which I have attempted to translate faithfully from my native language, that of the Inca, to a foreign tongue, Castilian, although I have certainly not written it with the magnificence [majestad] with which the Inca spoke nor with all the meaning that the words of that language contain. ... Instead, I have shortened [his account] by taking out some of the things that would have made it tedious [odioso]. In the end, it will be enough to have conveyed the true meaning of [these words], which is what is most important for our story.
—Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Primera parte de los Comentarios reales

In the early years of the seventeenth century, a Cuzco native named Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616) set out to compose the history of the origins, customs, laws, and religion of the Inca empire. Boastfully asserting that he was the only person capable of reproducing "clearly and distinctively. ... what existed in that [Incan] republic prior to the Spaniards," he probably never imagined the extent to which what he called the "true meaning" (verdadero sentido) of his account was to change language, form, and content in the two centuries that followed its initial publication.1 [End Page 63] Garcilaso, commonly referred to as "the Inca" to distinguish him from the homonymous poet of the Spanish Golden Age, became one of the most renowned mestizo historians of post-conquest Peru, and his Comentarios reales de los Incas (1609) was lauded, when it was not being harshly criticized by official propagandists, as an insider's view of the Andean civilization that had been decimated by Spanish invaders in the sixteenth century. The son of a Spanish conquistador and an Incan "princess of the Sun," Garcilaso had sought to record accurately and unequivocally the traditions of his mother's ancestors by detailing the historical and cultural features of her royal Incan lineage.2 Aided in his comprehension of Incan tradition by the oral histories to which he had been privy as a child, and profiting from his bilingual upbringing in both "Peruvian" (we would say Quechua) and Castilian, Garcilaso hoped to compensate for earlier Spanish chroniclers who, despite having covered a wide range of topics, wrote about them "in such a terse fashion that I had difficulty understanding even those [customs] that were quite familiar to me."3 He proclaimed his intention not to attack or criticize historians such as José de Acosta, Francisco López de Gómara, and Pedro Cieza de León, but rather to "provide commentary [to them] and serve as an interpreter for many of the Indian terms which, as foreigners to that tongue, they interpreted outside their appropriate meaning [propriedad]."4 Garcilaso's bilingual abilities allowed him to write the history of his people with a confidence and authority that, as he saw it, were uniquely his own.5

Nearly one and a half centuries after Garcilaso staked his claim to having written the authoritative history of the Inca empire, and several editions of the Comentarios later, a revised translation of Garcilaso's text was produced in Paris under dramatically different editorial, typographical, and natural historical circumstances. It was at the Jardin du Roi, most probably during the seven-year intendancy of Charles-François de Cisternai du Fay (1732-39), that the project to publish a revised edition of Garcilaso's classic account was conceived and carried out. It was not until 1744, however, that two in-octavo volumes were published whose title pages heralded a text "newly translated from the Spanish" with "an improved organization": the Histoire des Incas, Rois du Pérou (Figure 1).6 The text included two detailed maps of the Andean region, produced in 1739 by Philippe Buache especially for this edition, that were based upon the most recent...


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