Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of The Mayan Book of The Dawn


Joshua J. Mark
published on 06 July 2012

Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of The Mayan Book of The Dawn of Life and The Glories of Gods and Kings

The Popol Vuh is a religious text of the Maya people. Written down between 1701 and 1703 by the Spanish priest Francisco Ximenez, from much older source material, the book tells the story of the creation of the world, of human beings, and of the great adventures of the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanche. Dennis Tedlock's translation has become the most popular version of the book in English because of its accessibility and style. The story of the Hero Twins and their journey to the underworld of Xibalba to battle the forces of darkness and death is told with excellent pacing and progression. The musical tone of the words, so important in Mayan speech, is preserved in this translation so that, read aloud, one has the impression of hearing a Maya daykeeper recite the old stories. The was originally written by the Quiche Maya to preserve their ancient culture during the time when they were being persecuted by the Christian missionaries. Book I begins:

This is the beginning of the ancient word, here in this place called Quiche. Here we shall inscribe, we shall implant the Ancient Word, the potential and source for everything done in the citadel of Quiche, in the nation of Quiche people...We shall write about this now amid the preaching of God, in Christendom now. We shall bring it out because there is no longer a place to see it, a Council Book, a place to see "The Light That Came from Beside the Sea", the account of "Our Place in the Shadows", a place to see "The Dawn of Life", as it is called (63).

The story then slowly unfolds of how humanity was created and destroyed by the gods until they finally felt they succeeded in creating something of worth. The story of the Hero Twins, of course, is the focus of the work and is one of the greatest epic adventures in world literature. Tedlock's work includes select drawings and photographs and is highly recommended whether one is interested in the Maya or simply in reading a great story well told.

About the Reviewer

Joshua J. Mark
A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.