You can find it translated into various languages, and in digital format, very easily. It is worth reading, to go deeper into this history that narrates events, myths, and more. Or if you prefer to see it in video format, there are animations which summarize the mythology of the origin of the world and the creation of man: first out of clay, then wood, until finally reaching the final version, corn. It also tells about the ball game and the defeat of the gods of the underworld at the hands of two brothers, whom we will talk more about in a moment.
For its historic content, as well as its literary qualities that refer to The Iliad and The Odyssey, the Popol Vuh is a reference book on religion, history, astrology, customs, and teachings that governed the behavior of the Maya, and provides us with more knowledge to be able to understand their vision of the world. Its origin is oral; before the conquerors arrived, the stories and teachings were transmitted by memory from one generation to the next.
It was Friar Francisco Ximénez, from the Dominican order, who arrived to the village of Chichicastenango, Guatemala and received an early version of the book in Quiché Maya with verses in Latin, transcribed by a Guatemalan Maya. With great interest in its content, Ximénez made some incomplete transcriptions into Castilian Spanish. The text passed through various hands and finally reached Abbott Charles Etienne Brasseur, who translated it into French and managed to give it more coherence, dividing the content into sections, while still respecting its original meaning.
The Popol Vuh as we know it today consists of three essential parts:
– The first part contains a description of the creation of the world and of the origin of the man made from corn, which was the main food base of the Maya.
– The second part centers on the narration of the adventures of the twin brothers Hunahpú and Ixbalanqué, young gods who defeated the evil forces of Xibalbá, the underworld, by means of a ball game and various tests in which they displayed their intelligence and abilities, converting them later into the sun and the moon, respectively. The origin of these gods bears a similarity to the birth of Jesus Christ spoken of in the Bible, as in both cases they were born from a virgin; the mother of the twins becomes pregnant when she receives the saliva of a powerful god into her hands.
– The third part is a detailed story about the origin of the indigenous people of Guatemala, their migrations, distribution within their territory, wars, and racial dominance of the Quiché until just before the Spanish conquest.
The great contributions of the Popol Vuh have served as inspiration for numerous artists, researchers, and creative people who have admired Maya culture, organization, and mythology. Today we can appreciate illustrations made on “amate” (bark paper) by artists, animated stories, comics, and of course the final version of the text that we can read today, surprising us at every turn of the page.
By: Violeta H. Cantarell
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