Popul Vuh

Last night I completed Dennis Tedlock’s translation of the Popul Vuh. Often referred to as the Mayan’s Genesis, this is the Quiché people’s creation myth. It tells of the gods’ creation of the earth-sky, their attempts to create humans, the exploits of the trickster‘s Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and the times of the first humans. Unlike most sacred texts, I found this one to be quite accessible. It’s written in a way that, even in translation, flows and is easy to understand. I did have trouble pronouncing many of the names, but for that just ask your friendly neighborhood Guatemalan.

When the first humans were created (on the gods’ third attempt), they had perfect sight. The gods were worried that, being able to see “the four sides, the four corners in the sky, on the earth,” these humans’ deeds would rival their own, so they took the sight away. The name Popul Vuh translates to Council Book. It is said that the Quiché lords would sit with the this book in council and, using the original hieroglyphic version (which is now either lost or hiding) as a celestial guide, could regain the lost sight.

They knew whether war would occur; everything they saw was clear to them. Whether there would be death, or whether there would be famine, or whether quarrels would occur, they knew it for certain, since there was a place to see it, there was a book. “Council Book” was their name for it.

Mel Gibson’s upcoming film Apocalypto is supposed to be partially based on these myths. Hopefully the book will gain more attention because of it.

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