The wisdom and wisecracks of Inca Pachacutec

The wisdom and wisecracks of Inca Pachacutec

Before your Cusco tour, here’s a quick quiz.

9th Inca Pachecutec, cracking wise with the best of them:

Who said this?
“Drunkenness, rage, and madness are similar, but the first two are voluntary and transformable, the third permanent.”

  • A. Inca Pachacutec
  • B. Groucho Marx
  • C. Winston Churchill

Ok, so the title of the post is a dead giveaway.

There are indeed many timeless, clever and apt sayings attributed to Pachacutec, the Inca Empire’s greatest ruler.

That’s not all…

You will see, his image is everywhere, cast in bronze and carved in stone around the Inca capital city of Cusco, throughout  the Sacred Valley and in Aguas Calientes, the bustling town below Machu Picchu. His name meant “He Who Changes the World.” And that’s precisely what he is credited with doing.

The sun glints off the golden colored statue of Inca Pachacutec in Cusco's main plaza

What’s the real story?

He was the 9th Inca, born when his people were still a regional tribe. When he was a young man, his brothers fled when faced with an assault by rival Chanca warriors from the north, but he stood his ground and defeated them. He tamed Cusco’s rivers into masterful stone channels, redefined his people’s religion and built the Sun Temple of Coricancha, Sacsayhuaman and the citadel of Machu Picchu.

Pachacutec laid the groundwork for a century-long expansion that united South American cultures along the spine of the Andes from modern day Ecuador and Colombia to Chile and Argentina. His vast network of Inca highways and storehouses rivaled that of the Roman Empire in scope and complexity.

The empire fell when his great grandson, Inca Atahualpa, underestimated Francisco Pizarro and his band of Spanish Conquistadors. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if Atahualpa had paid a little more attention to his great grandfather’s teachings.

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Aphorisms and Laws of Inca Pachacutec

“He who envies the good draws evil from them for himself, just as the spider draws poison from flowers.”

“El que tiene envidia de los buenos saca de ellos mal para sí, como hace la araña en sacar de las flores ponzoña”.

“The noble and courageous man is known by his patience in adversity. Impatience is a sign of a vulgar and low mind, badly taught and worse trained.”

“El varón noble y animoso es conocido por la paciencia que muestra en las adversidades. La impaciencia es señal de ánimo vil y bajo, mal enseñado y peor acostumbrado”

“Governors should mind two things with great attention: first, they and their subjects should observe and fulfill the emperor’s laws perfectly; second, they should consider with great vigilance and care the common and particular resources of their province.”

“Los gobernadores deben advertir y mirar dos cosas con mucha atención. La primera, que ellos y sus súbditos guarden y cumplan perfectamente las leyes de sus Reyes. La segunda, que se aconsejen con mucha vigilancia y cuidado para las comodidades comunes y particulares de su provincia”.

“One who cannot govern his house and family will be much less competent to govern a state, and should not be given power over others.”

“El indio que no sabe gobernar su casa y familia, menos sabrá gobernar la república; este tal no debe ser preferido a otros”.

“The physician or herbalist who is ignorant of the virtues of herbs, or who knows the virtues of some but does not seek to know the virtues of all, knows little or nothing. He must work until he knows them all, whether useful or injurious, in order to deserve the title he claims.”

“El médico o herbolario que ignora las virtudes de las yerbas, o que sabiendo las de algunas no procura saber las de todas, sabe poco o nada. Conviénele trabajar hasta conocerlas todas, así las provechosas como las dañosas, para merecer el nombre que pretende”.

Reader of the quipu. Chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, El Primer Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, completed in 1615

“He who seeks to count the stars before knowing how to count the sums and knots of the (quipu) ledgers deserves derision.”

“El que procura contar las estrellas, no sabiendo aún contar los tantos y nudos de las cuentas, digno es de risa”.

“Adulterers who ravage the reputation and quality of others and take away the peace and quiet of others must be declared as thieves, and therefore be sentenced to death, without any remission.”

“Los adúlteros que afean la fama y la calidad ajena y quitan la paz y la quietud a otros deben ser declarados por ladrones, y por ende condenados a muerte, sin remisión alguna”.

Here’s the rub.

The providence of Pachacutec’s treasure trove of aphorisms is sketchy, at best.

They were published by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega in the “Royal Commentaries of the Incas” in 1609 — 138 years after Pachacutec’s death.  Garcilaso de la Vega was the son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca Ñusta, or princess.

Known in his day as “El Inca,” Garcilaso resided in Cusco for the first twenty years of his life before emigrating in 1560 to Spain, where he was accepted as a preeminent authority on Inca history and customs.

But as with many of the chroniclers, his depiction of Inca life eventually came to be viewed more as utopian propaganda than historical fact.

It doesn’t help that Garcilaso attributed many of Pachacutec’s passages to another mestizo chronicler, Father Blas Valera, whose work was largely destroyed in the English attack on Cadiz in 1596.

Still, for third-degree, historical hearsay, many of the Pachacutec sayings stand the test of time. Others, not so much.


  1. Ancient American Poets  by John Curl (Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe, Vol. 26, No. 2/3, Ancient American Poets, MAY-DECEMBER 2001-2002).
  2. Handbook to Life in the Inca World by Ananda Cohen Suarez and Jeremy James George (Facts On File, Inc. 2011).
  3. Historia de la Civilización Peruana por Sebastian Lorente (Lima 1879).

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Authored by: Rick Vecchio

Rick Vecchio, Fertur’s director of development and marketing, was educated at the New School for Social Research and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for Pacifica Radio WBAI and as a daily reporter for newspapers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Then in 1996, he decided it was time to realize a life-long dream of traveling to Peru. He never went back. While serving as Peru country manager for the South American Explorers from 1997-1999, he fell in love with Fertur's founder, Siduith Ferrer, and they married. Over the next six years, he worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press. Meanwhile, Siduith built the business, which he joined in January 2007. Now he designs custom educational and adventure tour packages for corporate and institutional clients, oversees Fertur’s Internet platform and occasionally leads special trips, always with an eye open for a good story to write about.

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Fred Shute at 5:33 pm

    May I cite you and your article in my book ? Thanks

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