Popol Vuh


Dennis Tedlock

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Themes and Colors
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Popol Vuh, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture

It's important to consider the Popol Vuh as the guiding cultural and religious document that it was for the Mayan people, and specifically the Quiché tribes that recorded it. For much of history, the story existed as an oral story as well as one that was recorded hieroglyphically; it was only written down phonetically after the Spanish invasion. Quiché leaders and seers used the text in its oral and hieroglyphic forms to guide how they…

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Heroism vs. Villainy

Because the Popol Vuh follows several generations of both divine and human heroes, it offers a number of heroic and villainous characters for consideration as it explores what it means to be a hero. Overwhelmingly, the story ties heroism to three qualities: familial loyalty, religious devotion, and cunning trickery. All the heroes are adept and successful tricksters, loyal to their family members, and particularly in terms of the human heroes, they're overwhelmingly devout. By tying…

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Names, Power, and Memory

Naming, both the naming of other things and the naming of oneself, is how characters in the Popol Vuh gain power. The Heart of the Sky and the Heart of the Sea gods want humans to be able to "name their names," and when humans and gods are victorious, announcing their names to their adversaries is often a part of their victory. Because this relationship between naming and power applies to an extensive cross section…

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What It Means to be Human

Because one of the primary problems the gods face is the question of how to create humans, the Popol Vuh is necessarily concerned with discovering what makes humans humanlike, gods godlike, and what makes either humans or gods into the best version of themselves. At the beginning of the Popol Vuh, after the gods draw land out of the ocean, they decide that they must next create humans to take care of the land…

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