The Popol Vuh: A New English Version, translated from K’iche’ by Michael Bazzett

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Susan Gillespie


Popol Vuh (Popol Wuj), a K’iche’ Maya epic, is widely judged as the finest piece of native American literature. Written between 1554 and 1558 in the Spanish-introduced alphabet, it recounts in vivid detail the origins of the cosmos and the history of the K’iche’ people of highland Guatemala. The story opens with the lifting of the earth out of the sea, followed by several attempts by primordial gods to generate creatures to venerate them. The first three tries are failures, including making humans out of mud and wood. Then monstrous beings introduce chaos and are destroyed at the hands of two young tricksters named Hunahpu and Xbalanque. Their exploits comprise much of the narrative, including a trip to the Underworld (Xibalba) to play ball with the Lords of Death. The boys’ defeat of Xibalba allows for the creation of true humans out of maize, after which they ascend into the sky as sun and moon. Popularly referred to as Hero Twins, they are comparable to similar characters in North and South American folklore.

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