28th September 2009
Boris Johnson is not afraid to voice the unfashionable thought.
Well, if you want to see the other side of the story, and you want to meditate on at least one powerful argument for colonialism and imperialism, you must go to the British Museum, where they have just opened a magnificent exhibition of the life of Moctezuma. There, you are invited to imagine what it was like to attend the inauguration of the latest expansion of the Great Temple, in 1506, not long before the arrival of the white man.
First, you would file past the tzompantli, the huge racks of skulls, and then towards the reeking steps of the Templo Mayor. You would be led up the steps, slippery with blood, and at the top one priest would grab you by the hair, and four others would grab each limb. Then in an instant they would flip you expertly backwards on to the sacrificial block, and though your back would be very likely broken by the impact, the last sight to delight your eyes, before you lost all brain-stem function, would have been your own still beating heart, held aloft by the priest as the snows of Popocatepetl turned pink in the evening sun.