Popol Vuh Editorial History

Discerning the proper context of Popol Vuh depends crucially upon understanding the editorial agency so deeply embedded within (which is extensively reviewed in my doctoral dissertation). I divide the editions into three classes: direct editions, indirect editions, and modern editions. These direct and modern arcs can be further subclassified by whether they derived from Ayer ms 1515 or from Historia de la provinçia.

The first two published editions of Popol Vuh came directly from Francisco Ximénez’s manuscript. The first appeared in 1857 by Carl Scherzer. The second appeared in 1861 by Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg. Brasseur first coined the title “Popol Vuh,” divided the narrative into chapters, and added extensive notes. But whereas Scherzer retained Ximénez’s title (“las historias”) and two of the prologues, Brasseur discarded Ximénez’s paratext and attached his own 262-page prefatory “dissertation sur les mythes” that effectively recontextualized the narrative as an ethnographic work rather than as a missionary endeavor. Brasseur was also extremely opaque about his source material and after Brasseur died, Ximénez’s manuscript vanished.

Following Brasseur, all editions until 1947 were indirect works based on Brasseur and Scherzer (and to a lesser extent, Ximénez’s monolingual redaction found in Historia de la provinçia). One of the more recognized works was by Georges Raynaud in 1925. One of Raynaud’s students at the Sorbonne was Miguel Ángel Asturias who collaborated on the edition and produced a Spanish translation in 1927. Asturias, in turn, brought Popol Vuh back into the literary consciousness through his novel, Hombres de maíz.

In 1941, Guatemalan diplomat Adrián Recinos (re)discovered Ximénez’s manuscript in The Newberry Library and prepared the first direct edition in nearly a century. Since then, editions can reasonably be assumed to be based principally on Ximénez’s manuscript. Brasseur’s influence is still evident, though, in the perpetuation of his “Popol Vuh” moniker and in the chapter divisions. Some editors have attempted to versify the Quiché text. The following table gives the prominent editions of Popol Vuh.

(the following table is in the process of recompilation)

Direct Editions

year source citation
1857 Ayer ms 1515 Scherzer, Carl. Las Historias del Origen de Los Indios. (NOTE: There are two imprints of Scherzer’s edition, Vienna and London)
1861 Ayer ms 1515 Brasseur de Bourbourg, Charles Étienne. Popol vuh. Le livre sacré et les mythes de l’antiquité américaine. (NOTE: There are two imprints of Brasseur’s edition, Paris and London)
1927 Historia de la provincia Villacorta, José Antonio Villacorta. Manuscrito de Chichicastenango. El Popol Vuj. Estudio sobre las antiguas tradiciones del Pueblo Quiché.
1872 Historia de la provincia Gavarrete, Juan. El Popol Buj. Versión española de la traducción de Brasseur de Bourbourg comparada con la de Ximénez, con notas tomadas de ambos comentadores y concordancias con las Santas Escrituras.

Indirect Editions

year source citation
1908 Spence, Lewis. The Popol Vuh. The Mythic and Heroic Sagas of the Kichés of Central America.
1913 Pohorilles, Noah Elieser. Das Popol Wuh. Die mystische Geschichte des Kicé-Volkes von Guatemala nach dem Original-Texte übersetz und bearbeitet.
1925 Brasseur Raynaud, Georges. Les dieux, les héros et les hommes d l’ancien Guatémala d’après le Livre du Conseil. [based on Brasseur’s edition]
1927 Asturias, Miguel Ángel. Los dioses, los héroes y los hombres de Guatemala antigua o el Libro del Consejo. Popol Vuh de los indios quichés.[translation of Raynaud]
1944 Schultze Jena, Leonhard S. Popol Vuh: Das heilige Buch der Quiché-Indianer von Guatemala.

Modern Editions

year source citation
1947 Ayer ms 1515 Recinos, Adrián. Popol vuh. Las antiguas historias del Quiché
1950 Ayer ms 1515 Goetz, Delia, and Sylvanus G. Morley. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya. [English translation of Recinos]
1971 Edmonson, Munro S. The Book of Counsel: The Popol Vuh of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala.
1973 Estrada Monroy, Augustín. Empiezan las historias del origen de los indios de esta provincia de Guatemala. Popol Vuh. [“Edición Facsimilar”]
1985 Tedlock, Dennis. Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. [revised 1996].
1999 Colop, Sam. Popol Wuj: Versi6n Poetica K’iche’.
2003 Christenson, Allen J. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya.

Derivative editions (1862-1946)

All of the editions between 1861 and 1947 are derivative editions based on Brasseur, Scherzer, and Gavarrete. Gavarrete was a librarian/archivist in Guatemala who copied part of Ximénez’s Historia de la provinçia (which it will be recalled contained a monolingual redaction of what is found in his ecclesiastic treatise). Gavarrete’s copy created some confusion as to the “original,” which is now believed to be the one in Berlin. Brasseur’s version gained a lot of traction through Georges Raynaud and his student Miguel Ángel Asturias. Asturias in turn seeded Popol Vuh into the Indianista literary movement of the twentieth century effectively adding another transatlantic dimension.