Query re Juan de Gaona's "Colloquios de la paz y tranquilidad"

Frank Trechsel's picture

I am writing today to see if anyone in this group has, or is aware of, a transcription or translation of Juan de Gaona's "Colloquios de la paz y tranquilidad".  As you probably know, this text was originally written in Nahuatl and published, in Mexico, in 1582.  It was later translated into Otomí and, perhaps, other indigenous languages of Mexico as well.  For the past few months (while lying low during the pandemic), I have been working to identify and locate these translations and transcribe them, if possible, prior to analysis.  I currently have transcriptions of two different versions of the text in Otomí and hope to complete transcription of a third version in the coming months.  Unfortunately, my efforts to analyze and translate these transcriptions are stalled by the fact that I have no real conception of what the text actually says.  If anyone has a translation of the Colloquios, in either Spanish or English, or knows where I might look to secure one, I would be grateful for the info.  Any and all help in this direction would be appreciated.



Frank Trechsel 

Professor Emeritus 

Ball State University

Dear Frank:

Heréndira Téllez Nieto published a useful study of Gaona's Colloquios two years ago. She provides transcriptions of a few passages in a comparison of two versions in Nahuatl, the Toledo manuscript and the printed version from 1582:

Téllez Nieto, Heréndira, "Los Colloquios de la paz y tranquilidad christiana de fray Juan de gaona: el primer tratado teológico-filosófico del siglo XVI en lengua náhuatl (y otomí)," Aveum, Rassegna di Scienze Storiche Linguistiche e Filologiche (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore), vol. 93, no. 3, 2019 (https://www.vitaepensiero.it/scheda-articolo_digital/herendira-tellez-ni..., access: 20 June 2020).

I provide some biographical information about Gaona and comments on the various translations into Otomi in my thesis of 2005 and in a book about the Otomi manuscripts in the Newberry Library and the Library of the University of Princeton. Searchable PDF files of both studies can be downloaded from ResearchGate.




I hope this information will be of useful.

Best regards,


P. S. Following is a list of the versions of Gaona's Colloquios I've come across over the years:

Gaona, Juan de, "Colloquios de la paz y tranquilidad christiana en lengua mexicana", facsímil de la ed. náhuatl de 1582, en Obras clásicas sobre la lengua náhuatl, ed. digital, Ascensión Hernández de León-Portilla, compiladora, Madrid, Fundación Histórica Tavera/Mapfre Mutualidad/Digibis, 1998.

Gaona, Juan de, Coloquios de la paz y tranquilidad cristiana, en lengua mexicana, Ciudad de México, Casa de Pedro Ocharte, 1582 (ejemplar encuadernado junto con un manuscrito en otomí con una traducción completa del texto en náhuatl, intercalándose los folios de ambas obras). University of Texas at Austin, Benson Latin American Collection, GZZ IC88.

Gaona, Juan de, Coloquios de la paz y tranquilidad cristiana, interlocutores: un religioso y un colegial (traducción al otomí) y Juan de Santiago, Doctrina cristiana (traducción al otomí), c 1580-1629, Chicago, The Newberry Library, Ayer ms. 1648.

Gaona, Juan de, Coloquios de la paz y tranquilidad cristiana, interlocutores: un religioso y un colegial, traducción al otomí; reproducción fotográfica de un ms. de c 1860-1887 (original en Nueva Orleans, Tulane University, Latin American Library, Rare Books, 497.25 G211), Chicago, The Newberry Library, Ayer ms. 1623.

Mexicain 410 (Juan de Gaona, Coloquios de la paz y tranquilidad cristiana, interlocutores: un religioso y un colegial, traducción al otomí), facsímil digital de una copia del siglo XIX, en Gallica (Bibliothèque nationale de France) (https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10086449d, acceso: 20 jun. 2020).

Santiago, Juan de, Doctrina cristiana (traducción al otomí), c 1580-1629 y Juan de Gaona, Coloquios de la paz y tranquilidad cristiana, interlocutores: un religioso y un colegial (traducción al otomí), Chicago, The Newberry Library, Ayer ms. 1648.

Thanks to David Charles Wright for responding so quickly to my query and for supplying such an extraordinary list of references. These are indeed the sources that are most relevant to my search, and it's very helpful to have them listed all in one place. In this post, I merely wish to comment on some of his listings - and introduce one additional title to the mix. I also provide links, where possible, to some of the material that is mentioned.

Re Ayer MS 1648: This manuscript is mentioned twice in Wright's list, presumably because it consists of two distinct parts. One part is a translation into Otomí of Juan de Gaona's "Colloquios" (= the text of interest here); the other is a doctrina in Otomí written by Juan de Santiago. Both parts can be viewed here:


William E. Gates made photographic reproductions of this and several other Mesoamerican manuscripts that are currently at the Newberry Library. Gates' photographs of this MS [=Ayer 1648] can now be found at Brigham Young University Library in Provo, Utah; the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and Tozzer Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.. Images of the photographs at BYU can be viewed here:


Re Ayer MS 1623: As Wright notes, this "manuscript" is not really a manuscript, but a photographic reproduction by Gates of another manuscript which currently located at the Latin American Library at Tulane University in New Orleans (Call No. 497.25 G211). Gates owned the original MS and produced reproductions of it that can be found today at the Newberry Library, the Library of Congress, Brigham Young University and Tozzer Library at Harvard. Gates claimed (in the 1924 sale catalog of his collection) that the Tulane manuscript was a transcription of the Colloquios in Mazahua, and further that it was "in the handwriting of Father Fischer". We now know from work by David Wright and by Michael Knapp that the text is in Otomí, and not Mazahua as claimed. We also know, I believe, that it is not in the handwriting of Father Fischer, but (probably) in that of some scribe whom he (Fischer) hired for the task. This assessment is based on my own examination of the MS and comparison of the handwriting with that of other documents written by Fischer. There are several other MSS in the same handwriting at Tulane (all of which Gates believed were by Fischer). One of them includes a brief handwritten note signed by Fischer. None of them, however, were written (or copied) by the Padre himself.

My own investigation of the Tulane manuscript reveals that it is a copy of the Otomí portion of another MS mentioned by Wright. That is the version of the Colloquios at the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin (Call No. GZZ IC88), which can be viewed here:


The [UT] manuscript was formerly owned by Joaquín García Icazbalceta who apparently loaned it to Fischer for the purpose of making his [Fischer's] own copy. As stated, I do not believe that Fischer made the copy himself, but I do believe that he had it made from the Icazbalceta MS now at UT. The Otomí texts of the two manuscripts are identical.

Re Mexicain 410: This MS, at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, is a copy of the Colloquios in Otomí made by Theobert Maler. It too is a copy of the Otomí portion of the Icazbalceta MS now at UT. The text is identical to both the Otomí portion of the UT manuscript and the Tulane manuscript (attributed to Fischer). Either Icazbalceta was very generous with his MS - and loaned it out to both Maler and Fischer - or Maler or Fischer made his copy from the copy of the other. It may be impossible to tease out the exact relationship of these versions. Suffice to say, their texts are identical. We are not dealing, yet, with different and independent versions of the text in Otomí (but see below).

It should be noted that Doris Bartholomew published a transcription and preliminary translation of the Maler/BNF manuscript on the Amoxcalli website here:


Unfortunately, both the transcription and translation are marred by the fact that all letters with accents or other diacritics appear as blanks or little boxes with question marks inside. I believe that this is a problem with the Amoxcalli site itself - and not with Bartholomew's original transcription, wherever it may be. I am hopeful that the problem will someday be fixed.

Re UPenn MS 700: This manuscript, in the Berendt-Brinton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania is not included in Wright's list, but should be because it is one of the oldest and most beautiful of all the texts under consideration here. It was apparently purchased by Daniel Brinton (?) from Rev. Francis "Frank" Borton, sometime in the 1890s. Borton was a Methodist minister and bookdealer residing in Puebla, Mexico at the time. He obtained the manuscript (somehow?) from Nicolas León, whose bookplate appears along with Brinton's and his own. I have spent most of the last few months transcribing the Otomí portion of this text - and comparing it with that of the other versions of interest. I can affirm that it is different from all of those other versions - orthographically, lexically and stylistically - but I am still quite uncertain about what those differences mean. My original query to this site was motivated by the desire to analyze and translate this manuscript (and possibly gain some "peace and tranquility" in the process.). Images of the UPenn manuscript can be found here:


There is much more that can be said about these and other versions of the Colloquios, but I will stop here for now. I am very grateful to David Charles Wright for his response to my query and for his considerable contribution to the discussion here and elsewhere. Unfortunately, we still have not located an accurate and complete translation of the Colloquious in Spanish or English (although Otomí is well represented!). The hunt for a translation goes on.