Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh

Doctoral Dissertation. Although seventeenth-century Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez is credited for conservation of Popol Vuh, no critical attention is given to his personal agency and his ecclesiastical agenda. The oversight is particularly disconcerting where he plainly states in his prologue, “Esta mi obra, y trabaxo discurro q’ avra muchos q’ la tengan por la mas futil y vana de las q’ he trabaxado, asi lo pensaran muchos; y yo lo discurro al contrario, porq’ entiendo ser la mas util, y neçesaria.” My investigation is founded on answering the question: Why did Father Ximénez believe conservation of this text to be his crowning achievement? I answer this question by examining the four prologues of the Ayer manuscript to uncover Ximénez’s significant interaction with the text.

MLA CITE AS Woodruff, John. The “most futile and vain” Work of Father Francisco Ximénez: Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh. U. Alabama, 2009. Print. Repub. as "Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh." Accessed 07 Jul 2020. Web.

Abstract | Introduction | C1: Synthesizing “Popol Vuh” | C2: Provenancing the Manuscript | C3: Reconstructing the Text | C4: Rethinking the Context | Conclusion | Notes | References | Dedication | Acknowledgements | Acceptance

Published Abstract

Popol Vuh recounts the mytho-historical traditions of the Quiché Maya and it comes to the modern day reader via the seventeenth-century priest Francisco Ximénez of the order of Santo Domingo. Though Father Ximénez is appreciated for his act of conservation, little critical attention has been given to his role in the process. The oversight is particularly disconcerting given the opening statement of his prologue: “Esta mi obra, y trabaxo discurro q’ avra muchos q’ la tengan por la mas futil y vana de las q’ he trabaxado, asi lo pensaran muchos; y yo lo discurro al contrario, porq’ entiendo ser la mas util, y neçesaria.” My investigation is founded on the question, Why does Father Ximénez believe this to be his most important, his “most useful and necessary” work?

This study approaches Popol Vuh as a colonial text and the role that Father Ximénez played in its conservation. The paratextual elements—particularly the prologues—reveal Father Ximénez’s presence and voice within. The manuscript contains four prologues that traditionally have been thought to commence four separate sections, of which Popol Vuh would be the third. But instead of four juxtaposed pieces as [a | b | c | d], the manuscript should be understood as a unitary construction composed in two treatises as [a + (b + c + d)]. Consequently, the “c” element representing the position of Popol Vuh is wholly contained within the corpus of the second treatise in such a way that Ximénez’s voice is sustained beyond the leading and trailing discourse, into, and through the text proper. As a further consequence, the prologues become available to be examined for their permeability of the larger work, and this coaxes Ximénez’s subtle voice from beneath the text. The study’s appendix contains full verbatim transcriptions of all four prologues in the Ayer (i.e. “Popol Vuh”) manuscript. This study also disproves the multiple manuscript theories of Munro Edmonson and Jack Himelblau. Of additional merit are the chapters on the modern synthesis and provenance of the manuscript.


Five hundred years before the Spanish conquest, the ancient Maya civilization that had erected awesome stone temples dissolved into much smaller spheres of influence and power. The jungle swallowed monuments, and the early Spanish conquerors, chaplains, and missionary friars of the sixteenth century suppressed what remained of pre-conquest culture. Of a particular loss were their fan-fold “books” made from bleached amate bark. Only three such items survived, all of which were already in Europe when their existence became known to the world. Still, Maya epigraphers could not meaningfully decipher these or the stone inscriptions until the latter twentieth century. In lieu of authentic and intelligible material, Western colonial texts arose as the only source of historiographic and ethnographic information on the pre-colonial civilizations and populations. Probably the most famous of these is Popol Vuh.

Popol Vuh recounts the mytho-historical traditions of the Quiché Maya and it comes to the modern day reader via the seventeenth-century priest Francisco Ximénez of the order of Santo Domingo, and though Father Ximénez is appreciated for his act of conservation, little critical attention has been given to his role in the process. The oversight is particularly disconcerting given the opening statement of his prologue:

Esta mi obra, y trabaxo discurro q’ avra muchos q’ la tengan por la mas futil y vana de las q’ he trabaxado, asi lo pensaran muchos; y yo lo discurro al contrario, porq’ entiendo ser la mas util, y neçesaria

This study is founded on the question, Why does Father Ximénez believe this to be his most important, his “most useful and necessary” work?

The Popol Vuh prologue is, one could argue, equal in significance and relevance to the content that it introduces. In their introduction to Ma(r)king the Text: The presentation of meaning on the literary page, Joe Bray, Miriam Handley, and Anne C. Henry point out that “to mark a text is also to make it [and] features such as punctuation, footnotes, epigraphs, white space and marginalia, marks that traditionally have been ignored in literary criticism, can be examined for their contribution to a text’s meaning” (xvii). This attenuates Gérard Genette’s position that “the paratextual element is always subordinate to ‘its’ text” (Genette 12). For example, Richard McCabe and David Scott argue that a comprehensive understanding of a work “depends rather upon the complex interaction of its component parts” and that paratextual elements are “internal signpost system[s], indicating various latent or implicit connections within the text” (McCabe 35; Scott 29). With this in mind, Ximénez’s forceful presence in the opening statement of his prologue demands an exploration of its interaction with the content of his “obra.”

It is generally believed that Father Ximénez discovered a phonetic transcription of the Quiché cultural tradition, which he then copied and translated in parallel columns of Quiché and Spanish while serving as parish priest of Santo Tomás Chichicastenango between 1701 and 1703. He later redacted his translation for inclusion in Book One of his Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala, Que trata del tiempo de la gentilidad. The manuscripts remained in the possession of the Dominican Order, presumably in the Convent of Santo Domingo in the capital, until General Francisco Morazán expelled the clerics from Guatemala in 1829. These and other documents found their way to the Universidad de San Carlos library where they slumbered in obscurity until Austrian adventurer Carl Scherzer encountered them in 1854. He copied or had a copy made of Ximénez’s Spanish translation, which he published in 1857 as Las Historias del Origen de Los Indios. About a year after Scherzer, French cleric Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg also beheld Ximénez’s writings in that library. Brasseur removed Ximénez’s transcription-translation to France where he published a parallel Quiché-French edition in 1861 entitled Popol Vuh. Le Livre Sacré.

Brasseur was not particularly forthcoming about his source material and Ximénez’s transcription-translation manuscript quietly passed through two collectors until reaching The Newberry Library in Chicago at the turn of the century. Meanwhile, Brasseur’s Quiché-French edition became the academic standard and propagated Popol Vuh as an ethnographic study, as evidenced by the renowned historian Hubert Howe Bancroft:

Of all American peoples, the Quichés of Guatemala have left us the richest mythological legacy. Their description of the Creation as given in the Popol Vuh, which may be called the national book of the Quichés, is, in its rude strange eloquence and poetic originality, one of the rarest relics of aboriginal thought. (qtd. in Goetz xi; also Recinos 7)

In 1941, Guatemalan diplomat Adrián Recinos (re)discovered Father Ximénez’s original transcription-translation in the Newberry and prepared a new edition. As evidenced by the title, Popol vuh. Las antiguas historias del Quiché, Recinos sustained the ethnographic treatment first instituted by Brasseur. This continued to be the practice for the remainder of the twentieth century. Further complicating the task of disentangling the true context of Father Ximénez’s work was Munro Edmonson’s 1971 edition in which he proposed a theory of multiple original or quasi-original manuscripts. Jack Himelblau largely adopted Edmonson’s stance in the 1980s. In 2001, however, Néstor Quiroa departed from the de facto model and examined Popol Vuh with respect to its conservator and the agenda that Father Ximénez might have espoused.

This study approaches Popol Vuh as a colonial text and the role that Father Ximénez played in its conservation. The paratextual elements—particularly the prologues—reveal Father Ximénez’s presence and voice within. The manuscript contains four prologues that traditionally have been thought to commence four separate sections, of which Popol Vuh would be the third. In the course of the present study, however, it will be shown that this is not an accurate perception. Instead of four juxtaposed pieces as [a | b | c | d], the manuscript should be understood as a unitary construction composed in two treatises as [a + (b + c + d)]. Consequently, the “c” element representing the position of Popol Vuh is wholly contained within the corpus of the second treatise in such a way that Ximénez’s voice is sustained beyond the leading and trailing discourse, into, and through the text proper.

To make the study, I look first at the historical, social, and human circumstances that have developed the ethnographic conceptualization of Popol Vuh. The second chapter provenances Ximénez’s manuscript and links the Universidad de San Carlos library to The Newberry Library. The third chapter expands provenance to reveal that the manuscript was bound or collated as of Scherzer’s first encounter in Guatemala. Additionally, the prologues will be shown to demonstrate a concatenation of constituents in the second treatise, and that the first treatise specifically addresses content of the second treatise, thereby revealing the entire document as a unitary construction. The prologues are then available to be examined for their permeability of the larger work, and chapter four elucidates Father Ximénez’s subtle voice and re-evaluates his context. The conclusion then proposes how a future scholarly edition would capture and convey this context.

An appendix includes full transcriptions of the prologues found in the manuscript. The prologues have never been published together as a unit, or in a manner conducive to direct study. For this reason, the transcriptions figure notably in the investigation’s contributory value, and readers of Spanish are encouraged to read them in full. Both the transcriptions and quotations thereof in the text are verbatim, which will account for the differences in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and abbreviation. The exception pertains to the tresillo and cuartillo characters invented by Francisco de la Parra to represent unique Maya sounds. In their place, I substitute modern spellings in the text (i.e. “Cakchiquel” for “achiquel” and “Tzutuhil” for “,utuhil”).

The archaic style of Ximénez’s text necessitates certain departures from the style guidelines of the Modern Language Association. For accuracy, there may be no terminal punctuation in block quotations, punctuation may appear outside of a closing quotation mark if not original to the manuscript, and capitalization and spelling may not conform to modern expectations. This applies also to nineteenth-century editions from Scherzer and Brasseur. And because this work deals extensively with textual comparisons, certain citations for that purpose will adhere less rigidly to the MLA four-line convention and be set off for clarity and focus.

It has also been necessary to develop a core terminology for consistency and disambiguation. The first of these is mythistory. The term has been around since at least 1730 with a continually evolving understanding (Mali 9), though hereafter mythistory will be understood to signify the amalgamation of culture, religion, history, and tradition comprising the content of Popol Vuh.[1] Mythistory will be the most frequent referent, although, Popol Vuh, “Popol Vuh,” and Popol Vuh have similar, but slightly inflected meanings. Italics denote the published title of an edition under discussion. Quotation marks connote the popular or prevailing conceptualization of the mythistory, particularly when it is used to identify the mythistory content within Ximénez’s manuscript. Lastly, the absence of italics or quotation marks signifies the content or substance of the Quiché mythistory. In other areas, spellings and meanings of anthropological terms are adopted from John Henderson of Cornell University. Maya is both a noun and adjective that identifies, describes, or refers to the indigenous people and civilization; Mayan is used only in linguistic contexts. Quiché is one of thirty-one Mayan languages; it also describes the ethnic, cultural, and/or linguistic subgroup of the Maya people. Quichean denotes the Mayan subfamily comprised of the Quiché, Cakchiquel, Tzutuhil, Sacapultec, Sipacapa, Kekchi, Uspantec, Pokomam, and Pokomchí languages (Figure 15). The map on the following page illustrates the topographic zones relative to the conquest, colonization, and migration of the Maya. In addition, I have indicated the approximate locus of the Quiché and Cakchiquel capitals at the time of the conquest.

The titles of Father Ximénez’s four surviving works can be equally confusing in their similarities, especially considering that the fourth manuscript lacks a title. For this reason, we are obliged to avoid gratuitous abbreviations in this study. The full titles (exclusive of captions) are the following:

  • Primera parte de el tesoro de las lengvas Cakchiqvel, Qviche y Tz,vtvhil
  • Historia natvral del reino de Gvatemala
  • Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Gvatemala

The fourth surviving work (the subject of the present study) does not have a clear title and it will be identified in the text by its call number in The Newberry Library, Ayer ms 1515. It contains these four internal titles:

  • Arte de las tres lengvas Cakchiqvel, Qvíche y Tzvtvhil
  • Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro para la bvena administraçion de estos natvrales
  • Empiezan las historias del origen de los indios de esta provinçia de Gvatemala
  • Escolios a las historias de el origen de los indios

The reader should be particularly mindful of the titular similarities between Ximénez’s multivolume Historia de la provincia, the Ayer manuscript’s Empiezan las historias del origen de los indios, and Scherzer’s Las historias del origen de los indios.

Figure 1 - Topographic zones of the Maya realm (from Henderson p. 35)
Figure 1 – Topographic zones of the Maya realm

Chapter 1: Synthesizing “Popol Vuh”

The first European contact with the Maya world occurred on Columbus’s final 1502 voyage through the Gulf of Honduras. Some coastal exploration of the Yucatán Peninsula occurred in 1508, and Ponce de León lightly touched the coast in 1513, but it was Francisco Hernández de Córdoba who first undertook its exploration in 1517. The conquest of the Yucatán was not as easily accomplished as was the Mexican conquest where political centralization in Tenochtitlán made for a simpler subjugation. While Hernán Cortés trekked through the southern lowlands in his march south to Honduras, Pedro de Alvarado effected his conquest of the central highlands “much more rapidly than the lowland zones” of the Maya realm (Henderson 12). The central highland region depicted in Figure 1 included the Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Tzutuhil territories.

Alvarado’s April 1524 conquest was brutal, even for his contemporaries, and it is recorded in Annals of the Cakchiquels and Popol Vuh. Alvarado tortured and executed the Quiché rulers, burned the capital city of Gumarcaah (Utatlán as it is better known by its Nahuatl name), and established a functional colonial capital on the outskirts of nearby Iximché, which was later moved to Antigua. Though conquest is the most fitting label for what Alvarado accomplished, it was not absolute. The Itzá of Tayasal, for example, did not succumb to Spanish rule until 1697 (Henderson 12).

After Alvarado’s conquest, the task of pacifying and educating the natives was placed in the hands of the Catholic monastic orders. Though by no means the only order present, the Dominican evangelical philosophy was especially suited for missionary work in the New World because it emphasized native-language learning and community relationship (Quiroa, “Ideology” 282; Extirpation 55-70; Pagden). Yet even with the order’s focus on native-language evangelization, many church leaders resolved to extinguish the roots of the “pagan” and “superstitious” beliefs so inextricably resident within the culture. Select Indians were taught Spanish so that they might translate catechisms, sermons, prayers, and the like. Unable to extricate indigenous religion from its medium of communication, native language was suppressed to the extent possible, and the native writing system was forbidden such that virtually all indigenous accounts of history disappeared (Henderson 13-14, 261-63; Megged 68; Quiroa, Extirpation 71).

In time, however, a growing number of missionaries began preserving certain elements of Maya thought.[2] A number of grammars and vocabularies appeared, and, perhaps most ironically, one by Bishop Diego de Landa who was himself responsible for at least one mass burning of native books. Only three Maya texts survived the conquest because they had been spirited back to Europe—in all likelihood before de Landa’s 1562 pyromanic episode. These are the Dresden, Paris, and Madrid codices, although as Fate would have it, they remained indecipherable until the latter part of the twentieth century.[3]

The surviving codices, while valuable, are not the only sources of information about pre-conquest Maya civilization. To the contrary, much of our modern under­standing of Maya civilization comes through the innumerable stelae and temple inscrip­tions, and the work of contemporary epigraphers such as Linda Schele (deceased) and David Stuart in deciphering Maya writing. We now know that the Maya had very precise base-20 mathematics and were able to predict the occurrences of astronomical events, of which the sun, moon, Venus, twenty, four, nine, and thirteen are prominent markers that established the Maya calendars, royal lineages, auguries, and occurrences of festivals and rituals (Henderson 16-17, 48-57). In short, “the calendar system lent meaning and order to every facet of life” and “determine[d] the omens of each day” (146, 50). We also know that the Maya believed that the world existed in Great Cycles lasting 5,128 years each[4] and that each Great Cycle ended and began with the complete destruction and rebirth of the world (Henderson 57, 273, 277; LeCount). By permuting their solar and ritual calendars together, the Maya could pinpoint their position in the great cycle. The Spanish conquest occurred in the fifth great cycle that began in 3,114 BCE and will end on December 21, 2012 CE (LeCount; Henderson 91). This dual calendar system and congruence with a Biblically-reckoned Genesis-to-Apocalypse timeline was a doubtless intrigue for early missionaries. In fact, Bishop de Landa’s treatise, Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, exhibits a reasonable comprehension of their calendar system (Henderson 16). Even so, pre-conquest information persisted in obscurity.

At the same time that their achievements testified to the intellect of the Maya people, such a perception would have been unharmonious with the Spanish view of the natives as inferior (preferably soulless) beings whose Christianization (or enslavement) was the incumbent duty (or right) of the Christian west.[5] It might well also have frightened the proselytizers whose studies would have familiarized them with another such “superstitious” and “pagan” culture of equally advanced mathematics, architecture, and astrology—the Babylonians.[6] But even as the conquest chaplains and pacification missionaries such as de Landa zealously pressed to destroy the native culture out of a belief that the natives were savage, pagan, and superstitious, counterpart missionaries such as Bartolomé de las Casas labored to defend the natives from the injustices perpetrated against them. Other missionaries drafted grammars (“artes”) and vocabularies (“tesoros,” “vocabularios”) of the indigenous tongues, though whether as a means of cultural preservation or extirpation is open to interpretation. Still, while the artes appear to have been drafted in concert with the Dominican native-language approach, the inflection and actual implementation thereof varied according to the priest and his hierarchy. In the case of Father Francisco Ximénez of the Order of Santo Domingo, the evidence suggests a divided stance.

Father Ximénez came to the New World in February 1688, the youngest acolyte among “una barcada de treinta religiosos.” They were forthwith dispatched throughout the province “para que aprendiesen las lenguas” (Rodríguez Cabal 4, 6).[7] Ximénez was delayed by the completion of his novitiate and his subsequent acceptance of an administrative assignment at the seminary, but by 1691 the young priest was in San Juan Sacatepéquez learning Cakchiquel. He attained sufficient mastery in only two months so as to be sent to San Pedro de las Huertas to assist Fr. Francisco de Viedma who was convalescing a broken leg. In December 1693, Ximénez began his service as the Doctrinero of San Raimundo and in August of 1701 Ximénez began his curacy of Santo Tomás Chichicastenango (also known as Chuilá and virtually any combination thereof). Father Ximénez was the Curate of Rabinal from 1704 through 1714. During this time he also served as the Doctrinero, Vicario, and Predicador-General of that district beginning as early as 1705. Father Ximénez served in various other capacities until his death in late 1729 or early 1730. Sadly, he was appointed Presentado, but died before the letters of patent could be delivered (Rodríguez Cabal 38).

Father Ximénez’s writings exhibit a clear passion for the native languages. He was also clearly invested in the history of the region. He is primarily recognized for his conservation of the Quiché Maya mythistory, today known as “Popol Vuh.” At some point he obtained a phonetic rendering written in Latin script, which he then transcribed and translated in parallel columns of Quiché and Spanish.[8] Most believe this occurred during his 1701-1703 curacy of Santo Tomás Chuilá (Chichicastenango) based on the caption of the title page, but it is not implausible that he could have obtained it at a later time or in a different location. Both could be true in that no investigation to date has been made as to whether or not he would have made the parallel translation at the same time as he made his transcription. In 1715, however, Ximénez redacted his Spanish translation for his Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala, specifically, chapters two through twenty-one of Book One, Que trata del tiempo de la gentilidad. In any event, his writings remained posthumously in the possession of the Dominican Order at the Convent of Santo Domingo, that is, until General Francisco Morazán expelled the clerics from Guatemala in 1829 causing these and other items to pass to the Universidad de San Carlos.

In June 1854, the Austrian adventurer Carl Scherzer, one of the many Americanaphiles of his day, found several of Father Ximénez’s writings among that library’s holdings. The following year, l’abbé Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg also examined the same texts. Brasseur removed the volume containing Ximénez’s parallel transcription-translation of the mythistory with him upon his return in January 1857. With his death the volume passed to Alphonse Pinart through whom the immensely wealthy businessman Edward E. Ayer purchased it. Ayer later donated it and other items to The Newberry Library where it slumbered in obscurity until Adrián Recinos (re)discovered and published its Popol Vuh content in 1941 and 1947, respectively. The ethnologically-aware post-war climate of its re-emergence, though, affected both its presentation and its reception.

Father Ximénez’s transcription-translation of the mythistory—contrary to its presentation for the last 150 years—is not a stand-alone treatise. Rather it is found within a larger volume, today identifiable as Ayer ms 1515 in The Newberry Library. While it is not clear who bound or collated it, Scherzer and Brasseur both describe it as a volume as far back as 1854, well before it reached the Newberry.[9] The significance of its collation/binding will be studied in chapter three. At this point in the investigation, however, the principle issue is that Popol Vuh continues to be published apart from its accompanying material and studied extensively as an independent source of ethnographic and cultural information on the pre-conquest Maya. But Father Ximénez appears to have considered his efforts to be of much greater importance than ethnography because in the third prologue (introducing “Popol Vuh”) he writes:

Esta mi obra, y trabaxo discurro q’ avra muchos q’ la tengan por la mas futil y vana de las q’ he trabaxado, asi lo pensaran muchos; y yo lo discurro al contrario, porq’ entiendo ser la mas util, y neçesaria q’ he trabaxado (Empiezan las historias ln 15-17)

This same tone is found in the opening line of the first prologue:

Aunq’ entiendo: q’ no dexara de aver, quien tenga por futil, y vana aquesta obra, pues ha avido tantos, q’ han dado luz en sus artes de estas lenguas; todavía sin atender, a esta censura, quise tomar este travaxo (Arte de las tres lengvas ln 6-8)

Ximénez’s “futil y vana” motif also presents in the second and fourth prologues, though seemingly less consciously. The echo of this motif and other particular elements distributed throughout all four prologues suggest that his conservation of this Quiché mythistory is part of a greater evangelical mission, perhaps historical, but certainly not ethnographic. In light of their evidentiary value, it is disconcerting that Ximénez’s prologue(s) are not given an appropriate critical attention in existing scholarship.[10]

Examining the four prologues of Ayer ms 1515 in context yields a clearer and fuller understanding of Ximénez’s otherwise hazy approach and coaxes his subtle voice from beneath the text. The problem with a simple analysis of his voice is that the manuscript that serves as the basis for modern investigation is not the manuscript that Ximénez wrote. While it is the same physical document now as it was in the colonial period, its popular and academic understandings have been influenced by the early editors and aficionados who caused it to be perceived as four distinct manuscripts. As Joe Bray, Miriam Handley, and Anne C. Henry observe in their introduction to Mar(k)ing the Text: The presentation of meaning on the literary page, “to mark a text is also to make it; features such as punctuation, footnotes, epigraphs, white space and marginalia, marks that traditionally have been ignored in literary criticism, can be examined for their contribution to a text’s meaning” (xvii). Accordingly, each edition of the text incorporates something of its editor. Understanding the background of the early “Popol Vuh” intellectuals will reveal their involvement in shaping or ma(r)king the text.

Karl Ritter von Scherzer [Carl Scherzer in his Spanish editions] was born May 1821 in Vienna. His participation in the 1848 revolution resulted in temporary exile. He worked a stint as a printer in both Leipzig and Paris. Scherzer spent three years in North America with Moritz Wagner from 1852 to 1855. It was during this trip that in 1854 Scherzer encountered several colonial manuscripts in the municipal library and in the library of the Universidad de San Carlos as he searched “en las diversas bibliotecas de Guatemala las obras que tratan la historia antigua de esta tierra” (“Introduccion” v-vi). He found three of Ximénez’s works in the university’s library: an incomplete Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala, a vocabulary, and a “volúmen de las obras del P. Ximenez del mayor interes” (xiii-xiv). This refers to what is now Ayer ms 1515. He made or had a copy made starting at the third prologue, which he published in Vienna in 1857 as Las Historias del Origen de Los Indios. Scherzer’s edition was the first in print and his introduction contained a detailed inventory of the full “volúmen” that served as his source. Therefore, Scherzer’s edition is crucial for establishing the veracity of the Ayer ms.

Scherzer cites a letter from Brasseur to the Duke of Valmy in which Brasseur writes: “Le père Francisco Ximenez, provincial de l’ordre de St. Dominique dans la province de Guatemala et Chiapa composa une histoire ancienne de ces contrées demeurée manuscrite et entièrement inconnue” (Scherzer, “Introduccion” ix; italics retained). Whether by way of Brasseur or some other source, Scherzer acknowledges that “[f]uera de Guatemala las obras del Padre Ximenez no han sido conocidas sino por algunos extractos que Ramon de Ordoñez habia publicado.” Accordingly, Scherzer disclaims “la pretension de haber descubierto estas comunicaciones interesantes” in favor of “el mérito de haber sido el primero que ha dirigido la atencion del mundo sabio á los manuscritos del P. Ximenez en la biblioteca de Guatemala y de haber en parte acasionado su publicacion” (ix-x). This assertion would later become a point of contention for Brasseur.

Scherzer’s travels with Wagner also formed the basis for his 1855 work, Sprachen der Indianer Central-Amerika’s während seinen mehrjährigen Reisen in den verschiedenen Staaten Mittel-Amerika’s aufgezeichnet und zusammengestellt. About the same time that he published Las Historias del Origen de Los Indios in 1857, he also published an account of his American travels as Wanderungen durch die mittel-amerikanischen Freistaaten, Nicaragua, Honduras und San Salvador or Travels in the Free States of Central America: Nicaragua, Honduras, and San Salvador. This travelogue reads much like a personal diary. In all, Scherzer’s approach appears to have been that of the observer. His time in the region put him in “la situacion agradable de poder presentar á los amigos de la historia americana el contenido mas curioso de estos compendiosos trabajos” (“Introduccion” x).

In 1856 Scherzer boarded the Novara circumnavigation expedition and published his experiences in three volumes. He led an exploration to Eastern Asia and served as Austrian consul to Izmir, London, Geneva, and Leipzig. Scherzer died February 1903 in Gorizia (“Death List”). However, well before Scherzer’s death, Brasseur had appropriated the Quiché mythistory for a different purpose, namely, to prove the origin of the Indians in accordance with his literal Biblical worldview.

Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg was born September 1814 in Bourbourg, France, a town that was ironically founded under Spanish rule. After his ordination in 1845, Brasseur was recruited by abbé Léon Gingras (a Canadian) to serve in Québec. His superiors insisted on additional studies in ecclesiastical history, though Abbé Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Ferland would later charge that Brasseur “did not continue beyond the eighth lesson” (Sylvain). Brasseur delved into the archdiocesan archives there at Québec, possibly provoking the ire of his superiors. The result, however, was the 1845 “publication” of Esquisse biographique sur Mgr. de Laval, premier évêque de Québec.

The Esquisse, says Philippe Sylvain of Université Laval, “antagonized the priests of the seminary” and drove Brasseur back to Boston where he had stopped briefly en route to Québec. He served some months there by the graces of Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick, of whom he asked and received the title of Vicaire-Général so that it might be “d’un puissant secours, pour les recherches littéraires qu’il avait intention de continuer en Europe” (Ferland). He did in fact remain in Europe from late 1846 or early 1847 through July 1848, at which time he departed for Mexico. This gave rise to his next work, Lettres pour servir d’introduction à l’histoire primitive des nations civilisées de l’Amérique septentrionale, a compilation of four letters to his patron the Duke of Valmy, edited, and translated into parallel French-Spanish columns. Brasseur left for France in October 1851 and remained in Europe three years.

Brasseur next published Histoire du Canada[11] in 1852, dedicating his œuvre to Father Fitzpatrick of Boston whom he says received him at a time when “le climat et les circonstances l’eurent fait repasser de Québec dans son diocèse” (Brasseur, Histoire du Canada iii). As if forgetting such “circumstances” as he may have left behind, Brasseur unabashedly lays claim to those credentials on his title page: “Par M. L’Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg Vicaire-Général de Boston, ancien professeur d’histoire ecclésiastique au Séminaire de Québec, membre de plusieurs Sociétés savantes d’Europe et d’Amérique, etc.” The work received a glowing imprimatur from his Bishop.

Figure 2 - Imprimatur from Histoire du Canada
Figure 2 – Imprimatur from Histoire du Canada

Controversy seized Histoire du Canada almost immediately. Beginning in January 1853 with a series of articles appearing in Journal de Québec, l’abbé Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Ferland spoke out vehemently against Brasseur, lambasting him for his “errors of date, names misinterpreted, geographical absurdities, texts truncated or misquoted, faulty translations, [and] obvious plagiarisms” (Sylvain). Of this “roman historique,” Ferland writes:

Pour écrire sur le Canada, avec les minces matériaux qu’il possédait, il se reposait principalement sur son imagination, espérant qu’elle lui aiderait à remplir les lacunes qui se rencontreraient dans ses connaissances historiques et topographiques. […] Au jugement de quiconque connaît tant soit peu l’histoire du Canada, ce travail est tellement défiguré par les omissions, les inexactitudes, les bévues grossières, les appréciations fausses, que pour celui qui n’a déjà étudié l’histoire de notre pays, il est impossible d’y démêler le vrai d’avec le faux. Les dates sont souvent jetées au hasard, les faits dénaturés, les hommes jugés avec une partialité qui dénote la légèreté et la mauvaise humeur. L’écrivain protestant Smith, adversaire acharné de la race française et du catholicisme, s’est montré moins injuste envers le clergé et le peuple catholiques du Bas-Canada, que M. Brasseur de Bourbourg, dans la seconde partie de son ouvrage.

Weeks after Ferland’s articles appeared in the Journal, Pierre-Flavien Turgeon, Archbishop of Québec, forwarded the same to Louis Veuillot, editor of the Parisian Catholic lay review L’Univers requesting that he be “good enough ‘to insert a few lines’ in his journal, ‘to avenge the Church in Canada for the insults it had received from an unjust detractor’” (Sylvain). Additionally, Turgeon brought this matter to the attention of Bishop Pierre-Louis Parisis of Arras, the grantor of Brasseur’s lavish imprimatur. The Arras bishopric included Brasseur’s hometown of Bourbourg and if this fact facilitated the favorable treatment of Histoire du Canada, it did not, however, stop the bishop from withdrawing his approval of the work, somewhat ambiguously, with an ignominious notice in L’Univers.

Figure 3 - Retraction of the Histoire du Canada imprimatur
Figure 3 – Retraction of the Histoire du Canada imprimatur

The dates indicate that these events transpired while Brasseur was back in Europe. Undeterred by such harsh criticism, Brasseur lectured on the subject of the Americas and “among the French public as a whole […] established the basis of his reputation as a specialist in American studies” (Sylvain). Brasseur also returned to searching the archives of Rome and Madrid and in the course thereof stumbled upon Bishop Diego de Landa’s Relación[12] (Bandelier). Brasseur departed for the Americas in July 1854.

After traveling through major U.S. cities and the austere libraries therein, Brasseur arrived in Guatemala City February 1, 1855 (Histoire des nations xxiv). Brasseur soon met Monseigneur don Francisco Garcia Paláez, Archbishop of Guatemala, “qui sympathise avec tous les hommes studieux, désirant favoriser mes recherches archéologiques et mon goût pour les langues des Indiens, [et qui] m’offrit, en avril 1855, l’administration de la cure de Rabinal, dans la Véra-Paz” (xxv). Not surprisingly, this was the site of Ximénez’s 1704-1714 curacy and before him, Bishop Diego de Landa who had ordered the book bonfire of 1562. Brasseur writes that he occasioned to see Ximénez’s writings in the university library, just as Scherzer described one year prior. However, Brasseur’s multiple bibliographic statements in Histoire des nations civilisées (1857), Popol Vuh (1861), and Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne (1871) are inconsistent, contradictory, and in at least one instance, purposefully false (to be painstakingly examined in chapter 2).

Brasseur’s careless scholarship has long undermined the provenance of Ayer ms 1515. Beginning in the 1970s, Munro Edmonson proposed a strained theory of multiple “Popol Vuh” manuscripts on the basis of Brasseur’s statements. Conceivably, Brasseur confuses his sources or tries to repair the weaknesses of poor documentation and partial recollections. Or perhaps Brasseur simply obfuscates an unseemly acquisition of a Guatemalan national treasure. Nevertheless, Brasseur candidly confesses his quest for documents recounting “les origines américaines et en particulier pour l’histoire de Guatémala” (Histoire des nations xxvi). But this probably was not all that Brasseur sought to accomplish. His letters of 1851 overtly exhibits an overarching quest to prove “scientifically” the origins of the Amerindians vis-à-vis his Biblical worldview. If Brasseur matured as a scholar in the interval since, he seems unable to leave the path that he had already begun. An attenuation of his bias appears unlikely, given the title of his 1864 edition of Diego de Landa’s Relación in which he avers a connection between Egyptian and American histories (see footnote 12).

The question of Brasseur’s scholarship—in terms of his agenda and context—cannot now be ignored. Undeterred by the thorough drubbing given to his Histoire du Canada, Brasseur endeavored to establish an intellectual reconciliation of Biblical readings and scientific exploration and discovery at a time when Europe burned with Americanism. Scherzer too played to Europe’s growing enthusiasm, though his edition contained an introduction of roughly thirteen pages in sharp contrast to Brasseur’s 262-page “dissertation sur les mythes de l’antiquité Américaine, sur la probabilité des communications existant anciennement d’un continent à l’autre” (xvii). As a final observation, both Popol Vuh and Histoire du Canada were not published for six or seven years after his residencies in the respective regions. With the looseness and inattention to factual detail exposed by Ferland concerning Histoire du Canada, a similarly jaundiced reading should be given to Brasseur’s preparation and treatment of Popol Vuh.

Brasseur returned to Europe in 1857. Information regarding Brasseur’s travels depends solely on his own accounts in his various introductions, but Adolph Bandelier, writing for The Catholic Encyclopedia, suggests Brasseur returned to the Yucatán from 1859 to 1860, and again from 1864 to 1865. Bandelier further opines that Brasseur conducted “his apostolic labors among the Indians for ethnographic purposes.” He continues,

Later on, he was led to tread a very dangerous field, that of tracing relationships between American peoples and Eastern civilization and, as he advanced in years, the connection between the Old World and the New in pre-Columbian times, while not impossible, assumed in his mind the form of a fact absolutely certain.

Though Bandelier asserts that the manifestations of Brasseur’s obsession were features of his later years, the foregoing evidence suggests their prevalence earlier on, possibly as early as 1851 with Lettres pour servir d’introduction.

Brasseur was not the only Americanist of his day that endeavored to “prove” the origin of the Indian, but he may have been the most aggressive. This differs from Scherzer and may serve to explain why Scherzer did, and Brasseur did not, include Ximénez’s prologues or surrounding material. Brasseur’s presentation seems to be an ethnographic proof of his religious argument on the origin of the Indians, which is not the colonial religious context in which Ximénez operated. A final unanswered question remains as to why Brasseur published his Popol Vuh in parallel Quiché and French when Ximénez’s text is in parallel Quiché and Spanish. Brasseur’s French translation rendered his edition inaccessible to its ethno-cultural patria and effectively recontextualized the text as a Western scientific study. The Histoire du Canada debacle exposes a significant intellectual disconnect in Brasseur’s European venue, and Brasseur’s ideas and suppositions became isolated within that intellectual sphere as a result.

Brasseur died in Nice, France in 1874 and the documents which he had spirited back to France found their way into various hands. The holograph that would become known as Ayer ms 1515 passed to Alphonse Pinart who does not appear to have entertained any interest in Ximénez’s text. He will be discussed in limited detail in the next chapter. For now, it is sufficient to know that Edward E. Ayer purchased Ximénez’s manuscript by way of Pinart. Brasseur seems acquainted with Alexander von Humboldt’s work (Popol Vuh xviii) and, says Bandelier, enjoyed a collegial standing with William H. Prescott. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico would later spark an insatiable interest in Indian Americana for Edward E. Ayer. The immense fortune that Ayer accumulated in the nineteenth century’s railroad industry enabled him to amass an enormous personal collection, which Ayer eventually donated to The Newberry Library where Ximénez’s manuscript now resides.

Like the colonizers who first came to the New World, Ayer’s father was drawn to the adventure and economic possibilities on the frontier, and moved his family to Southport (Kenosha) Wisconsin. Months after their arrival in 1836, their daughter Mary arrived, and it is believed that she was “the first white child born in the town” (Lockwood 3). Edward Everett Ayer was born a few years later in November 1841. A military road established by Congress turned Southport into an increasingly significant trade route. Ayer’s father opened a general store, contracted a blacksmith, and even dabbled in grain brokering. He sold his enterprise to buy land five miles south where a train station was to be built, and he had the fortune to participate in the planning of the town of Harvard, Illinois. His efforts led to limited railroad construction contracts.

Edward Ayer enlisted in the military in 1861 and spent several years in the American southwest. During this time, Ayer was stationed at a mine near the Mexican border where, at roughly twenty years of age, he read his first book: Prescott’s history.[13] He is quoted as its having “seemed to open up an absolutely new world to me” (Lockwood 47-48). Ayer returned to Illinois at the conclusion of his service in 1864. Within a month, Ayer was in Chicago on business where he happened past a bookseller and bought Prescott’s full five-volume set. He recalls that day in his memoir:

I feel that that day, taking those books home, was, perhaps, the happiest day of my life up to that time; and going home I only touched the earth in high places. And I want to reiterate that the finding of Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico in that mine in Arizona in ’62, has been responsible and is to be credited as the principal force that has given me a vast amount of enjoyment in this world, and is absolutely responsible for the “Ayer Collection” in the Newberry Library, Chicago. (Lockwood 49)

After Prescott, one of Ayer’s earliest acquisitions was Thomas W. Field’s An Essay towards an Indian Bibliography[14] (Lockwood 162-63). Field’s essay lists an astounding 1,708 titles from his personal library, and is “especially valuable for its listings and analysis of the contents of the reports, published in Spanish, French, and German as well as in English, of early explorers who came in contact with the native tribes of North America” (Hoyt 437; Davidson 230). More extensive than even that of the Government’s Indian Department, Field’s collection exhibited “strong humanitarian views” and “denunciations of the perpetrators of cruelties on the Indians” (Sabin iii-v).

By the time it was auctioned, the Field collection also contained a number of other items that expanded his bibliography by orders of magnitude. Among these were A Dictionary of Books Relating to America From its Discovery to the Present Time and also A List of the Printed Editions of the Works of Fray Bartholomé de las Casas (Sabin 291). Field’s personal library included several names already familiar to this investigation, specifically, Brasseur de Bourbourg, Scherzer, and Ximénez (Sabin 32, 295, 370). Of Brasseur’s Lettre A. M. Léon de Rosny sur la découverte de documents relatifs à la haute antiquité Américaine, et sur le déchiffrement et l’interprétation de l’écriture phonétique et figurative de la langue Maya, Sabin writes

When, therefore, he had, with heroic sacrifice of all personal ease, accepted the life of self immolation of a missionary to the Indians of Mexico; had studied for years the relics of Aztec picture-writing; had learned and systematized in great treatises their modern dialects; the immense works which he then printed upon the history of the pre-Cortesian races, made scarcely a ripple on the quiet of the scientific world. He [Brasseur] stands alone in the vast temple of learning which he has restored, if he did not erect. […] His numerous volumes […] have done much to perpetuate the memory of a wonderful race. (Sabin 32) [15]

Returning now to Ayer, if the influence that Prescott had on him is any indication, it would follow that Field’s Essay Towards an Indian Bibliography had just as great an impact. Ayer had been a trustee of the Newberry since its incorporation in 1892. In 1897, he determined to donate his 17,000 pieces to the library, but because of the enormity of the undertaking, its completion tarried until 1911. However, in 1927, feeling that his namesake collection was not sufficiently known, Ayer had the Newberry disseminate a “pamphlet” to selected institutions and scholars containing “brief descriptive notes on the volumes, manuscripts, and other accessioned items in his library” (Lockwood 157). This is the summation of the Indian collection:

Indians of North America—Their Origin, Prehistoric Life and History: In this section are grouped the books treating of the origin of the Indians, all the way from the point of view of those who considered them the descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel, to that of the modern scientific anthropologist. The fascinating story of their prehistoric life is just beginning to be unraveled and told, and every year brings new revelations from archaeologists in all parts of the country. The history of many tribes is yet to be written and much can be done from sources found here. Under this grouping are books dealing also with the following matters: Indian arts and industries, trade, money, mythology and religion (including ceremonies and dances), music, physical anthropology, health and disease, missions and schools, and the biographies of individual Indians.

Indian Languages and Graphic Systems: One hundred and eighty-eight different languages or dialects are represented in the Ayer Collection. The books illustrating or treating of them include grammars and grammatical treatises, vocabularies and dictionaries, and some few school books; translations of the Bible, prayer books and catechisms; all very largely done by missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant. Of more recent date are books containing folk-lore and myths with both free and literal translations. Supplementing these are some fifty-five original manuscripts, and 50,000 pages of photographic copies of manuscripts, principally in the Mayan and allied languages. (Lockwood 158-59; emphasis added)

These materials argue compellingly that Ayer was indeed familiar with the scholarship on the Central American Indians. Whether Ayer specifically sought out Brasseur’s materials on the basis of Field’s Essay Toward an Indian Bibliography, or whether Ayer’s agents/dealers in Europe sought out the items connected to the bibliography, an aim to acquire Ximénez’s manuscript seems apparent. Lockwood notes that Ayer “used to love to sit of an evening with his wife near him, while he pored over catalogues from foreign book sellers [that] he might come across the two Jesuit Relations that had hitherto eluded his diligent search” (279).[16] Mrs. Ayer shared his enthusiasm; in 1916, she translated and published The Memorial Of Fray Alonso De Benavides.

Years later, Adrián Recinos’s (re)discovery of “Popol Vuh” within Ayer ms 1515 would not be the only such occurrence.[17] Prior to this, John Cornyn found Sahagún’s long-lost Latin-Spanish-Nahua dictionary among the Ayer collection in the Newberry. Additionally, Father Junipero Serra’s 1769 diary was intercalated with other writings of his, but it appears that the dealers from whom Ayer bought the Serra holograph were ignorant of the full extent of the contents (Lockwood 165-66). Thus, Ayer’s blind acquisitions may well indicate a hope to find the relations intercalated within other documents or in the alternative, to find some mention of them.

When Ayer’s earnest study of the American Indian began sometime around 1880, it is said that he sought “to know about their origin, their prehistoric life, their primitive customs, and their first contacts with white men.” He wanted “books that told about the people” and “human experiences; not sophisticated abstractions” (Lockwood 81-83, 160). This is especially true of the colonial era, and not unlike Bartolomé de Las Casas, Ayer “endeavored to protect [Native Americans] from exploitations, and ever stood out for their rights before the Nation” (McDowell 212). Ayer advocated for proper education and military eligibility of Indians (212, 223-225).

In addition to his humanitarian aims, Ayer was enraptured by the authority and candor of first-hand experiences which he believed constituted “‘our first and best authorities’ on the region and the period with which they deal” (Lockwood 175). The realism that punctuated the period in which Ayer began his earnest collecting probably contributed to his particular bent. However, Ayer’s aim to preserve a snap-shot of Indian history and culture in its earliest and most pristine state is res in se ‘a thing in itself’ and as such imposed no enduring context to restrain the perpetuation of Brasseur’s re-characterizations. By the time of Adrián Recinos’s post-war edition of Popol Vuh, realism and naturalism had long since yielded to other critical approaches and other social interests.

Adrián Recinos was the next principle figure to interact with the text. Born July 1886 in Antigua, Guatemala to a notable family of Huehuetenango, Recinos was raised first in Huehuetenango and later in Quetzaltenango. He graduated from the Instituto Nacional Central de Varones in 1902 and subsequently earned a law degree from the Facultad de Ciencias Jurídicas y Sociales at the Universidad de Guatemala in 1907. Recinos entered his political career the following year as Secretario de la Legación de Guatemala to El Salvador. Then from 1910 to 1920 he rose to the rank of Subsecretario del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. It appears that as a prominent leader of Estrada Cabrera’s political party, Recinos was elected to serve in the National Legislative Assembly from 1920-1921 before returning to the ministry of foreign relations under the presidency of José María Orellana (Estrada Cabrera’s successor). A stint as Ministro Plenipotenciario to France, Spain, and Italy followed from 1923-1925. Upon Orellana’s death, Recinos returned briefly to the National Legislative Assembly from 1926 to 1927, which was the onset of Lázaro Chacón’s presidency.

Recinos’s career, however, changed considerably in 1928 when he arrived in Washington, D.C., again as Ministro Plenipotenciario, though completing his tenure with a full ambassadorship from 1942-1944. When President Jorge Ubico lost power in a coup by General Federico Ponce Vaides, and when shortly thereafter Ponce Vaides was ousted by General Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, Recinos, a “conservative closely identified with the Ubico regime,” ran for president (Immerman 45).[18] Recinos lost that campaign to Juan José Arévalo and remained abroad for the rest of the decade. His diplomatic career, however, was not over. Recinos represented Guatemala in the United Nations from 1954 to 1959 before returning to Spain as Guatemala’s ambassador, serving there through 1961. He died March 1962 in Guatemala. His obituary in the New York Times regards him as one of the early proponents of the Organization of American States (“Dr. Adrian Recinos, Guatemalan Envoy”).

Recinos’s professional career is punctuated with socio-cultural endeavors. When Recinos started his diplomatic journey in the 1910s, he aligned himself, at least in part, with modernist thinkers also present in the capital. The earliest evidence of these relationships is with Virgilio Rodríguez Bateta, then director of Diario de Centro América. Ingrid Roldán Martínez, however, suggests that their relationship began much earlier in the Instituto where they were “compañero[s] de estudios y amigo[s].” In or around 1917 and while serving as undersecretary of foreign affairs, Recinos and Rodríguez Bateta jointly ideated a society dedicated to the preservation of Guatemalan history (Lamadrid 307). Their idea found support from the rector of the Church of St. Francis who provided them with access to a printing office. They also found some support in President Estrada Cabrera’s administration, but logistic, political, and geotectonic circumstances hampered their progress. Nevertheless, their idea materialized in 1923 in the form of the Sociedad de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala.[19] The Society, Lázaro Lamadrid writes, purposed to “further the historical and geographical studies of the nation and to achieve their diffusion and popularization by whatever means possible” (307; emphasis added).

The Society is well known for its Biblioteca Goathemala series of colonial literary and historical writings. The first three volumes of the series are comprised of Father Ximénez’s Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala, edited by J. Antonio Villacorta in 1929, 1930, and 1931, respectively. But Villacorta was no stranger to the emerging scene, nor was he disinterested in its purpose and ambition; he was at that time the secretary of public education. Moreover, the Society’s leadership boasted other very important names—“personalidades de la época” says Francisco Mauricio Martínez of Prensa Libre—that define the period: Antonio Batres Jáuregui, Rafael E. Monroy, Juan Arzú Batres, José Matos, Jose Victor Mejía, Felix Castellanos B., Fernando Cruz, Ernesto Rivas, Carlos Wyld Ospina, and José Castañeda (Martínez; Lamadrid 307). In light of Recinos’s personal connections, the role that these men enjoyed in the formation of the Society and the extent to which the Society aimed to popularize the national history, a brief digression into the early history of the society is necessary and unavoidable.

Though Villacorta has the distinction of opening the Biblioteca Goathemala series—and doing so with Francisco Ximénez no less—he was not new to academic publishing. Villacorta composed a few unimportant primers and records of office, but his first serious study was Monografía del Departamento de Guatemala (1926). Similarly, Adrián Recinos’s initial miscellanies are overshadowed by his Monografía del Departamento de Huehuetenango (1913). In this, Villacorta and Recinos first signal their alignment, in and apart from their work on Father Ximénez. Both Villacorta (1930s) and Recinos (1950s) served as presidents of the Sociedad de Geografía e Historia. By virtue of their service as founders and directors, their interests extend to or are at least synergistic with those of the Society. The early volumes of the series appear to support this position. By 1947, the Society had released its eighteenth volume and counted among its titles the works of Antonio de Remesal, Francisco Antonio Fuentes y Guzmán, Juan Villagutierre Sotomayor, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Pedro de Alvarado, Francisco Vázquez, and the anonymous Isagoge histórico-apologética de las Indias Occidentales y especial de la Provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala.

Returning now to Recinos, this man of letters published or translated a number of works on ethno-cultural topics. He was a close friend of Sylvanus G. Morley and each translated works by the other. Recinos translated Morley’s Guidebook to the Ruins of Quirigua (1936) and his more than 600 page The Ancient Maya (1947). Morley in turn was one of the translators of Recinos’s Popol Vuh (1950). Recinos completed the remainder of Daniel Brinton’s translation of Anales de los Cakchiqueles (Memorial de Sololá), Título de Totonicapán, and various other indigenous texts under the general title of Crónicas Indígenas, many of which had long since been handled by Brasseur de Bourbourg. Like Popol Vuh, these texts pertain to the oral traditions of the origins of the Maya peoples. Recinos was active in a number of socio-political organizations including The American Society of International Law in Washington, D.C. (Chinchilla Aguilar 508).

Adrián Recinos’s illustrious career and founding of the Sociedad de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala presents an odd paradigm with respect to his Popol Vuh, which was not published by the Society. At first glance, it would seem that Recinos’s work on Father Ximénez’s most celebrated piece would be a worthy inclusion in the Biblioteca Goathemala series. What is different, however, is that Recinos does not credit Popol Vuh to the authorship of Francisco Ximénez, a condition that necessarily obliges a discarding of the manuscript’s paratext. Recinos’s edition does not include Ximénez’s title page or prologue to the Quiché mythistory, and Recinos’s introduction discounts the co-bound material adjoining the mythistory. This is in contrast to the Society’s editions of Historia de la provincia that accord authorship to Ximénez, of which the first volume contains Ximénez’s monolingual redaction of the mythistory.

Recinos’s edition also tacitly perpetuates Brasseur’s precedent, explaining that he did so in order to facilitate comparative study:

El manuscrito original no está dividido en partes o capítulos. El texto es corrido y sin interrupción desde el principio hasta el fin. En este trabajo he seguido, por lo general, la división de Brasseur de Bourbourg en cuatro partes y cada parte en capítulos, porque la encuentro racional y conforme con el sentido y asunto de la obra. Como la versión del Abate francés es, asimismo, la más conocida, me ha parecido que de esta manera se facilitará el cotejo y consulta por parte de los lectores que deseen hacer un estudio comparativo. (Recinos 11-12)

The original manuscript is not divided into parts or chapters; the text runs without interruption from the beginning until the end. In this translation I have followed the Brasseur de Bourbourg division into four parts, and each part into chapters, because the arrangement seems logical and conforms to the meaning and subject matter of the work. Since the version of the French Abbe is the best known, this will facilitate the work of those readers who may wish to make a comparative study of the various translations of the Popol Vuh. (Goetz xiv)

Recinos’s casual, sensible retention of Brasseur’s imposed chapter divisions echoes Recinos’s retention of Brasseur’s title. Brasseur and Recinos played a part in ma(r)king the text with their additions; they supplied what each believed the reader must have in order to understand the text and in so doing, predefined the text for the reader. The Indianista literary movement exacerbated the discontextualization. Miguel Ángel Asturias’s 1949 novel Hombres de maíz builds directly on Popol Vuh’s ethnographic contextualization. And in this line, it is helpful to know that Asturias had been a student of Georges Raynaud at the Sorbonne, the latter having produced his own edition in 1925 based on Brasseur’s work. Asturias’s novels led Jack Himelblau in the late 1980s to espouse Edmonson’s theory of multiple manuscripts.

In conclusion, what twentieth-century readers have understood as “Popol Vuh” is a product of disinformation presented in the available, accessible editions. This fact is most clear in the propagation of the moniker Popol Vuh. The post-holocaust, ethnologically-aware world was especially prone to embrace the Quiché mythistory as an ethnographic artifact. Any precedent which might have been set by Scherzer’s retention of Ximénez’s title page and prologue faded into the background behind the ma(r)kings of subsequent editors. Restoring the original context of Father Ximénez’s work begins by tracing its history.

Chapter 2: Provenancing the Manuscript

“Perhaps the thorniest problem,” observes John Henderson, “is that of the ethical issues involved in the use of unprovenienced material” (263). Popol Vuh is a tantalizing morsel for those seeking to better understand the ancient Maya, but we must ask ourselves if works of this caliber should be trusted (Henige 199). Immovable Maya temples, altars, and stelae authenticate themselves res ipsum loquitur ‘the thing speaks for itself.’ Other archeological artifacts uncovered in situ are meticulously inventoried by their excavators in order to preserve their evidentiary value. Father Ximénez’s text, however, is not so easily addressed.

No dispute exists that the oldest surviving text of Popol Vuh is The Newberry Library’s Ayer ms 1515. Neither is there any dispute that it has been at the Newberry since the turn of the twentieth century. It was donated by Edward E. Ayer who had purchased it by way of Alphonse Pinart who in turn had received it from Brasseur de Bourbourg. The uncertainty arises from inconsistent and contradictory statements from Brasseur concerning how and where he obtained Ayer ms 1515.[20]

The previous chapter notes that Ayer began his earnest book collecting in the 1880s. Lockwood explains:

Mr. Ayer, about the same time that he began to buy Indian paraphernalia, began collecting books. The more he saw of the Indians, the more he wanted to know about their origin, their prehistoric life, their primitive customs, and their first contacts with white men. It was to satisfy this curiosity that he now set about the purchase of books. It was probably just about the time that he moved from Harvard to Chicago in 1880, that he made definite choice of the North American Indians as a prime subject of inquiry. He declares that his whole career as a collector was based on the desire to know who was the first white man in every five hundred square miles of North America, how he treated the Indians he found there, how they treated him, who followed in exploration, and what became of the Indians. At first he had no idea that he would gather a great library of American history such as now perpetuates his name in the Newberry Library, Chicago. But, as has been said, this all came about in the natural order, since, when he began to get together his collection of Indian paraphernalia, he wanted at once to get books that told about the people. (Lockwood 81-82)

Ayer’s zeal was not restricted to the United States of America. His interest in “North American Indians,” as evidenced by his early acquisitions, includes Mexico, Yucatán, Canada, and the arctic and subarctic (Alaska, Yukon, etc).

His purpose grew until he added to his collection of books about the aborigines of North America, matchless source material dealing with the discovery, settlement, and early history of America; and with the habits, manners, languages, and history of the native races of the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands. […] When news of the Battle of Manila flashed around the world on May 1, 1898 […] no sooner was he settled in his hotel than he sat down and wrote letters to his numerous agents in Europe, South America, the United States, and other parts of North America requesting them to send him at Chicago lists of everything they had to sell concerning the Philippine Islands, whether printed or in manuscript. […] From the great number of titles that had been received, he drew up four lists, and these he sent off to four different agents or book-dealers in Europe and South America. Before many weeks had gone by, he was the possessor of the largest private collection of book on the Philippines to be found in North America. (Lockwood 83-84)

Following this, Ayer persistently attempted to acquire the private Philippine collection of a reluctant Chilean citizen. Two years later, however, Ayer learned that the collector “had disposed of about half of the items to Mr. Ayer’s agent in Paris and the other half to his agent in Madrid” (Lockwood 84). Ayer then discriminately purchased only those items that he did not already possess. These accounts collectively demonstrate the connections that Ayer had with booksellers/agents in the major world markets, and it now fortifies a heretofore delicate link in the chain of custody.

The common belief is that Ayer purchased ms 1515 from Alphonse Pinart, or that Pinart had brokered the transaction on Ayer’s behalf. It is true to the extent that Pinart received Brasseur’s Mexican-Guatemalan library after his death in 1874; however, now it is apparent that Ayer purchased it not from Pinart directly, but rather at auction on February 5, 1884.[21] Understanding now Ayer’s methods and aims, especially his habitual reading of book catalogs (id 28-29; Lockwood 279), the title for Pinart’s auction catalog would have been sufficient to catch his attention: Catalog of rare and precious books, in manuscript and print, Principally on the Americas and Languages the World Over comprising the Library of Mr. Alphonse L. Pinart and Encompassing the Entirety of Mr. Brasseur de Bourbourg’s Mexican-Guatemalan Library.[22]

Figure 4 - Title page of auction catalog containing Brasseur’s collection
Figure 4 – Title page of auction catalog containing Brasseur’s collection

The introduction is no less attention-getting:

L’importance de la bibliothèque […] est assez indiquée par les noms de ceux qui l’ont formée, pour que nous croyions utile de nous étendre longuement sur les raretés qu’elle contient. Alph.-L. Pinart se rendit acquéreur, il y a quelques années, de la collection mexico-guatémalienne de l’abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg; cette collection, […] contenait les documents les plus précieux sur la linguisti­que et l’histoire de l’Amérique centrale […]. (Paul v)

As if to sustain a close connection between the two men, Paul then quotes a significant passage from Brasseur’s introduction to Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne. In actual­ity, Brasseur’s influence on Pinart’s areas of study appears to have been very minimal.

Alphonse Pinart was himself an Americanist that had assembled a modest collection of American documents. Born in 1852, Pinart ambled through adolescence without direction until he met Brasseur at the 1867 World Fair in Paris (Parmenter 6). He was inspired to pursue a career in ethnology, though not quite in the same line as Brasseur. Pinart’s interest was in the languages of the Pacific ocean, from North America to the Indonesian islands.

Pinart authored several papers and books in the course of his studies. He also amassed a considerable collection of documents. He and Brasseur must have enjoyed a good rapport in the years leading to Brasseur’s death; their correspondence ultimately resulted in Pinart’s assumption of Brasseur’s Mexico-Guatémalienne collection. Pinart never expounded upon Brasseur’s publications with his own. Pinart fell into financial ruin and his penurious state led to the sale of his—and therefore Brasseur’s—collection.

Tracing the provenance of Ayer ms 1515 while in Brasseur’s possession is dreadfully more tedious. No one disputes that this manuscript was in Brasseur’s care and custody; the inside cover bookplate establishes this. The Newberry’s catalog also recog­nizes a Pinart bookplate. The trouble lies in Brasseur’s inconsistent, contradictory, and in at least one instance, purposefully false statements about his source material. His obfuscations have given rise to postulations of other copies.

In the 1970s through the 1990s, Munro Edmonson and Jack Himelblau advanced theories that multiple copies of Father Ximénez’s transcription-translation existed and circulated in the region. These positions are predicated upon a literal acceptance of Brasseur’s bibliographic remarks, and an intrinsic dismissal of Scherzer’s statement of having consulted Father Ximénez’s original text in the Universidad de San Carlos library. It also ignores the pressures of the Inquisition that would have impeded casual circulation (Quiroa, “Ideology” 292; id 92 et seq). By the end of the twentieth century, the common belief had become that Brasseur obtained his “Popol Vuh” material in Rabinal from an individual whom he identified as Ignacio Coloche. The idea sits well on the surface—Rabinal was the site of Father Ximénez’s 1704-1714 curacy—but to hypothesize the existence of multiple manuscripts in Rabinal and the capital overcomplicates the obvious and most probable facts.[23]

The first step in debunking the unsound multiple manuscript theory is to ascertain the time interval during which Brasseur could have obtained his source material. Brasseur had not personally seen any of Father Ximénez’s writings as of his departure from Mexico in 1851, which he indicates in a letter to his patron the Duke of Valmy:

El padre Ximenez, cuyas obras por desgracia no han visto jamas la luz pública, y que era muy versado en los dialectos que se hablaban en aquellas regiones de América,[*] fué el primero que la tradujo de la lengua tzéndal, acompañándola de comentarios, notas etimológicas y documentos relativos á la historia antigua de los Quichés, Tzéndales, etc., reuniéndolo todo bajo el título de Libro de la Gentilidad: con el auxilio de estas riquezas históricas escribió mas tarde su grande obra, de la que encontré algunos fragmentos en los borradores de Ordoñez; pero, como dije anteriormente, jamas vió la luz pública este libro; la misma suerte tuvieron otros muchos que menciona Ordoñez, y que fueron recogidos ó suprimidos por los virreyes ó capitanes generales, por el Consejo de Indias, ó por prelados regulares, que por temor ó por envidia, se opusieron á su circulación, así como sucedió á la importantísima obra del padre Sahagun.

[Brasseur’s footnote]
El padre Francisco Ximenez, provincial del Orden de Santo Domingo en la provincia de Chiappas y Guatemala, compuso una historia antigua de aquellos paises, la que ha quedado manuscrita y es completamente desconocida. D. Ramon Ordoñez habla de ella en algunos pasages de su obra, y pude encontrar su título en los borradores de este; dice así: Titulo del Libro de la gentilidad. Historia de la Provincia de San Vicente de Chiapas y de Goathemala; Orden de predicadores, compuesta por el R. P. provincial general Fr. Francisco Ximénez; no dice el año; no concluyó la obra.–Está escrita en 4 tomos en folio.–En los mismo fragmentos de Ordoñez vi que este mismo padre Ximenez compuso un Diccionario comparado de las lenguas Quiché, Tzéndal, Tzotzil, etc., que según parece, conocia á fundo. (Brasseur, Lettres 9-10; notes 14, 15 omitted) [24]

Accordingly, Brasseur was cognizant of Father Ximénez’s writings as of his departure from the Americas in 1851 (Lettres 9-10; Popol Vuh xiv).

Brasseur returned to the region three years later, arriving in Guatemala February 1, 1855 (Histoire des nations xxiv). He quickly visited a number of libraries and private collections,[25] one of these being the Universidad de San Carlos where he took special notice of a particular volume of Father Ximénez.

Le premier volume que nous eûmes occasion de consulter commençait avec le texte et la traduction du manuscrit quiché, qui fait l’objet de celui-ci. C’est là que nous l’avons transcrit pour la première fois, en y joignant l’original, lors de notre arrivée à Guatémala en 1855. Des autres ouvrages de Ximenez, il en est un encore, fréquemment cité dans les Mémoires de l’archevêque : c’est une Histoire naturelle du royaume de Guatémala, qui paraît avoir été fort complète ; mais nous n’avons jamais été assez heureux pour la rencontrer. Quant au Tesoro de las tres lenguas, il forme deux volumes petit in-folio, dont le premier, contenant le Vocabulaire, après avoir passé par des mains diverses, tomba dans celles du colonel Galindo, d’où il trouva son chemin vers Paris : le second, outre une grammaire extrêmement détaillée des trois dialectes, et un Confessionnaire dans les mêmes langues non moins étendu, renferme aussi une copie du manuscrit quiché de Chichicastenango. C’est la première qui paraît avoir été faite sur l’original indigène par Ximenez; elle est suivie de ses Scolies et d’une invocation en l’honneur de la religion de Saint-Dominique, écrite à Rabinal, en date du 14 août 1734, signée Chaves, et c’est là que nous l’avons eue. (Popol Vuh xiii-xiv; italics retained, emphasis added)[26]

This description signifies Brasseur’s first direct contact with Father Ximénez’s writings; it therefore establishes the earliest point that Brasseur could have obtained Ayer ms 1515.

In April 1855, two months after his arrival in Guatemala, Brasseur began a residency “dans plusieurs paroisses indigènes dont Mgr L’archevêque me conféra l’administration, entre autres à Rabinal où j’appris la langue quichée” (Popol Vuh iii). This was not pre-planned, and developed out of a need to conduct undisclosed research:

Monseigneur don Francisco Garcia Pelaez, archevêque de Guatémala, qui sympathise avec tous les hommes studieux, désirant favoriser mes recherches archéologiques et mon goût pour les langues des Indiens, m’offrit, en avril 1855, l’administration de la cure de Rabinal, dans la Véra-Paz. Cette bourgade renferme environ sept mille indigènes appartenant à la langue quichée. C’est avec eux que je me mis en état non-seulement de la parler et de l’écrire, mais de traduire même les documents les plus difficiles : tel est, entre autres, le manuscrit [*] trouvé par le père Ximenes à Santo-Tomas Chichicastenango […].

[Brasseur’s footnote]
C’est le document que nous citons continuellement, dans le cours de cette histoire, sous le titre de Manuscrit Quiché de Chichicastenango (Histoire des nations xxv-xxvi; emphasis added)

As indicated by the two emphasized portions, Brasseur links the text that he consulted in the university library with the material that he translated while in Rabinal.

Brasseur returned to the capital after a year among the Quiché whereupon the archbishop, presumably the same as before, dispatched him to San Juan Sacatepéquez. The purpose of his residency in the Cakchiquel region was the same:

Mgr. l’archevêque m’envoya alors à San-Juan Sacatepeques, où je ne restai que peu de mois, mais assez, cependant, pour me perfectionner dans la langue cakchiquèle, que j’avais étudiée déjà auparavant à l’aide du quiché, et pour traduire un manuscrit d’un grand intérêt historique, renfermant l’histoire du royaume des Cakchiquels de Quauhtemalan, écrite par un des fils de l’avant-dernier roi de cette ville. Je dois ce manuscrit à un jeune et zélé archéologue guatémalien, don Juan Gavarrete, l’un des notaires de la cour ecclésiastique; c’est celui que je cite fréquemment sous le titre de Mémorial de Tecpan-Atitlan. (Histoire des nations xxix)

Brasseur passed the remainder of 1856 on the southern outskirts of the capital, of which at least two months were spent in Escuintla to the southwest. On January 2, 1857 Brasseur set off, “pour des motifs de santé,” for his return trip to France (Histoire des nations xxix-xxx).[27]

In June 1857, Brasseur published the first volume of his Histoire des nations civilisées du Mexique et l’Amérique-Centrale. In addition to an account of his time in Guatemala, he includes a list of documents which he brought back with him to France, of which “les uns furent copiés par moi ou par des amis sur les originaux, les autres me furent donnés, et le lecteur en trouvera la liste à la fin de cette introduction” (xxv). Contained in this list are the “Manuscrit Quiché” and “Mémorial de Tecpan-Atitlan” that he states having translated in Rabinal and San Juan Sacatepéquez, respectively:

Nº VIII. Manuscrit Quiché de Chichicastenango, « Empiezan las historias del origen de los Indios de esta provincia de Guatemala, traducido de la lengua quiche en la castellana, para mas comodidad de los ministros del santo Evangelio, » tel est le titre que le traducteur espagnol donne à ce manuscrit […]

Nº IX. Manuscrit Cakchiquel, ou Mémorial de Tecpan-Atitlan (Solola). Ce document curieux commence par des mémoriaux de quelques notices généalogiques sur les princes de la famille royale du Cakchiquel. […] Ce document provient de l’ancien couvent des franciscains de Guatémala et me fut donné original par don Juan Gavarrete, notaire de la cour ecclésiastique. (Histoire des nations lxxx-lxxxiii)

Brasseur openly acknowledges Juan Gavarrete as the source of the Manuscrit Cakchiquel, but he never discusses the provenance of his Manuscrit Quiché until 1871 in his Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne, at which time he asserts that it came from Rabinal “based on information found at the end of the volume” (see following pages). Further, Brasseur’s statements link one, if not both, documents back to Juan Gavarrete who had actively engaged in copying Father Ximénez’s texts in the capital (Brasseur, Histoire des nations xxv-xxvi, xxix, lxxx-lxxxiii; Scherzer, “Introduccion” xiv). In any event, Brasseur plainly obtained what we know to be Ayer ms 1515 between February 1, 1855 and January 2, 1857.[28] Brasseur’s statements about where he obtained his source text must now be addressed.

Research into Brasseur’s past, especially as it pertains to his Histoire du Canada, helps to explain his untidy bibliography. Ferland’s opuscule published in Journal de Québec specifically accuses Brasseur of “relying principally upon his imagination, hoping that it would enable him to fill in the gaps that he encountered” to such degree that “it is impossible to disentangle fact from fiction.” Ferland further opines that “dates are often assigned haphazardly, the facts twisted, and men judged with a partiality indicative of a cavalier and poor temperament” (Ferland; my translation). Rosa Helena Chinchilla Mazariegos, in her 1993 edition of Arte de las tres lengvas, notes similar confusions and inconsistencies in Brasseur’s Grammaire de la langue Quichée wherein he confuses and misidentifies material from Ximénez’s Arte de las tres lengvas and Ildefonso Joseph Flores’ Arte de la lengua metropolitana (Chinchilla xxv). The fact that Brasseur had both of these artes in his possession in France (Bibliothèque 62-63, 155-56) makes such blunders all the more difficult to accommodate from a critical standpoint.

Brasseur also claims to have made a copy of Ximénez’s Arte de las tres lengvas which was “copiée par moi sur celle de l’université” (Histoire des nations lxxxviii). It is unlikely that Brasseur managed to copy this portion of the Ayer ms in the short interval from February to April that he was in the capital. This same task occupied the summer of 1986 for Chinchilla (vii). Yet Brasseur claims only to have copied the arte but does not confess copying it while he was in the library. The improbability suggests that Brasseur had perhaps absconded with the university’s text.

Both Brasseur and Scherzer record seeing several volumes of Father Ximénez’s writings in the Universidad de San Carlos library; Scherzer, of course, was the first in 1854. Though they differ in their level of detail, they do agree on the content and sequence of the volume at issue. Scherzer inventoried it and his account coincides precisely with the Newberry’s Ayer ms 1515. Brasseur described a similar or same volume when he visited the university’s library upon his arrival in 1855:

Le premier volume que nous eûmes occasion de consulter commençait avec […] une grammaire extrêmement détaillée des trois dialectes, et un Confessionnaire dans les mêmes langues non moins étendu, renferme aussi une copie du manuscrit quiché de Chichicastenango. C’est la première qui paraît avoir été faite sur l’original indigène par Ximenez; elle est suivie de ses Scolies et d’une invocation en l’honneur de la religion de Saint-Dominique, écrite à Rabinal, en date du 14 août 1734, signée Chaves, et c’est là que nous l’avons eue. (Popol Vuh xiii-xiv; emphasis added)

By using “renferme” in conjunction with “volume,” Brasseur indicates that the Manuscrit Quiché is included, contained, or perhaps metaphorically locked within the grammar and confessionary. The presence of the Chávez and Rabinal details seen below would then affirm that Brasseur’s text is the one from the Universidad de San Carlos library.

Figure 5 - Folio of Ayer ms 1515 consistent with Brasseur’s San Carlos description
Figure 5 – Folio of Ayer ms 1515 consistent with Brasseur’s San Carlos description

In striking similarity to Brasseur’s description, Scherzer says that his copyscript came from Ximénez’s “original” text, and he also notes the presence of an appendix entitled “Escolios á las historias de el origin de los indios” (Las historias i, xiv; “Über die handschriftlichen” 172). Given that both men describe and localize an identical volume to the university library, the best explanation is that Brasseur absconded with it. A further implication is that the volume was bound in Guatemala prior to its removal to France.

Edmonson seems to accept the prospect that Brasseur removed the volume, acknowledging that “[i]t was still there in 1855, when it was examined by Scherzer and Brasseur de Bourbourg, after which it disappeared from history” (viii). But then Edmonson writes:

Fortunately the whole Arte, together with the text and translation of the Popol Vuh and the Escolios was recopied (in more than one hand) in the early eighteenth century. The copy passed into the possession of E. Chávez in Rabinal, who added a praise of the Dominican order in Spanish, his name, and the date: August 14, 1734. It is this Manuscript of Rabinal which has come down to us. Eventually it came into the hands of a Rabinal Indian collector of old documents, Ignacio Coloche, from whom Brasseur de Bourbourg obtained it in 1855, taking it back to Paris as part of his Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne. (Edmonson viii)

While Edmonson admits that this is the text “which has come down to us,” his position of a serendipitous identical copy strains under scrutiny. Clearly, if it were an identical copy, then the Chávez-Rabinal material would already have been present and not added. Himelblau’s position is largely based on Edmonson’s edition (Himelblau viii, xi).

Edmonson and Himelblau’s conclusions are not entirely their own fault. Brasseur does say, some fifteen years later in his Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne, that the Ayer ms was the “former property of Ignacio Coloche” of Rabinal. However, Brasseur also lists an adjacent item of identical purported provenance and in both instances relies upon paratextual information to draw conclusions about their provenance, specifically, that the vocabulary “was perhaps left behind” in Rabinal, and that Ximénez’s text “appeared to have been written in that town based on information found at the end of the volume.”

Figure 6 - Brasseur’s purported provenance of Ayer ms 1515
Figure 6 – Brasseur’s purported provenance of Ayer ms 1515

The “information” can only refer the final folio of Ayer ms 1515 previously depicted (Figure 5). Brasseur dismisses the patent paleographic and chronologic inconsisten­cies of the final page and forgets his own in situ description at the library that the Chávez signature and Rabinal dateline were already attached to the volume.

The remainder of Brasseur’s Ximénez entries is no less problematic (Figure 7, below). Rather than clarifying, Brasseur’s bibliographic notes institute new troubles, first and foremost, by introducing another manuscript. Further frustrating the analysis are inconsistent notes, nonstandard cataloging, and abiding ethnocentric predilections. Whereas the four sections comprise a bound volume, Brasseur lists them individually.

Figure 7 - Continuation of Brasseur’s purported provenance of Ayer ms 1515
Figure 7 – Continuation of Brasseur’s purported provenance of Ayer ms 1515

And though fifteen years earlier he had stated that the Quiché mythistory was contained, included, or “locked” together with the confessionary, he has represented here that Arte de las tres lengvas is followed by Tratado segvndo, that Empiezan las historias is followed by Escolios a las historias, but never that all of these follow Arte de las tres lengvas. This cleaving action exhibits Brasseur’s desire to treat the mythistory as a free-standing ethnographic text. Finally, Brasseur recognizes items in a nonstandard manner, here making a separate entry for the letter that Ximénez copied into Tratado segvndo.

Figure 8 - Brasseur’s separate “Carta” entry
Figure 8 – Brasseur’s separate “Carta” entry

The compositor of the Pinart auction catalog compressed Brasseur’s overlapping entries, in this case omitting the Noreña letter altogether and describing the Ayer ms by the first two titles only (i.e. Arte de las tres lengvas and Tratado segvndo).

Figure 9 - Ximénez entries in the Pinart auction catalog
Figure 9 – Ximénez entries in the Pinart auction catalog

The preparer of the catalog either failed to notice the continuation of the text, or was misled by Brasseur’s remarks, never observing a piece entitled Empiezan las historias. Additionally, Brasseur’s misleading “Manuscrito Antiguo Kiché” entry is also absent. Scherzer’s printed 1857 edition appears as item 965, which introduces a suspicion that Brasseur possessed it in his library.

Brasseur asserts that the “Mansucrito Antiguo Kiché” is the “original de celui qui fut copié pour M. le Dr Scherzer et depuis publiée à Vienne” ‘original of that which was copied by Scherzer and later published in Vienna’ (Bibliothèque 157; Figure 7). This statement is purposefully false. Next, Brasseur alleges that “[ce] document est une copie tirée de l’Histoire générale de Guatémala du P. Ximenez, qui existe manuscrite dans la bibliothèque de l’université de cette ville.” This statement is incorrect; Brasseur miscites the title of Ximénez’s Historia de la provincia. As for the first statement, Scherzer couldn’t find the requisite volume containing the monolingual redaction of the mythistory from Book One of Historia de la provincia:

De las obras que el P. Ximenez escribio, solo pude encontrar tres volumenes. Uno de estos contiene en 1031 paginas en folio una parte de la historia de la Provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala, empezando con el libro cuarto y la descripcion de las ocurencias en el año 1601 y concluyendo con el libro quinto y el capitulo 86, el cual ya comprende los sucesos del año 1698. […] Los dos volúmenes antecedentes desgraciadamente no se hallan en la biblioteca de la Universidad […]. (Scherzer, “Introduccion” xi; id 61)

However, Scherzer notes that “se halla otro volúmen de las obras del P. Ximenez del mayor interes” (xi-xiii; id 61).[29] Scherzer makes no mention of finding any copies “qui exist[aient] manuscrite dans la bibliothèque de l’université de cette ville” that Brasseur declares to be the source of Scherzer’s edition. But Scherzer does speak to a personal copy made and held by the archivist in charge of the collection:

Infelizmente estos escolios no están completos; me esforzé sin embargo de completarlas tanto cuanto me fué possible por medio de una copia sacada del original que se halla en manos del Señor Don Juan Gavarete en Guatemala, á quien estoy sumamente reconocido por habermela dejado usar para mi objeto. (“Introduccion” xiv)

Whether or not this disclosure mitigates Scherzer’s title-captioned claim of presenting his edition “exactamente según el texto español del manuscrito original que se halla en la biblioteca de la Universidad de Guatemala” is peripheral to this line of evidence. Central to the point, however, is that Gavarrete’s copy was used to complete the edition, but not to make the edition.[30]

The proof that Brasseur’s statement is false is simply that Scherzer included the prologues that are found only in Ayer ms 1515. There are no prologues in Historia de la provincia and consequently there would not be any in a copy taken therefrom. Even if the material had been available to Scherzer at the point when he began his copyscript, it lacked the specific content necessary to support Brasseur’s assertion, which Brasseur knew or should have known, especially if he had a Scherzer edition in his possession. Brasseur’s “Manuscrito Antiguo Kiché” entry is at best a blunder, at worst an intentional fabrication, but unquestionably a red herring. Regardless of the true character of Brasseur’s false statement(s), his error is predicated on a candid footnote in Scherzer’s introduction, and such disproportionate dependencies on minute details recalls to mind Ferland’s allegations against Brasseur’s scholarship in Histoire du Canada.

Brasseur believed he was to publish Popol Vuh “pour la première fois” (Popol Vuh xiii). Unfortunately, by the time Brasseur returned home in 1857, Scherzer had already beaten him to it:

Aunque no tengo la pretension de haber descubierto estas comunicaciones interesantes, creo poder reclamar el mérito de haber sido el primero, que ha dirigido la atención del mundo sabio á los manuscritos del P. Ximenez en la biblioteca de Guatemala y de haber en parte ocasionado su publicacion. (“Introduccion” x)

In June of that same year, Brasseur, offended and perhaps bracing against another insufferable blow to his beleaguered reputation, attacked Scherzer in Histoire des nations civilisées:

Il y avait, par conséquent, erreur complète dans l’assertion de M. le docteur Scherzer à mon sujet, lorsqu’il faisait annoncer dans la Gazette d’Augsbourg, en 1854, « qu’il avait découvert à Guatémala le fameux manuscrit du père Ximenes, que M. l’abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg avait cherché en vain dans la bibliothèque de San Gregorio de Mexico ». Je n’ai rien cherché d’une manière particulière dans la bibliothèque du collége de San Gregorio; mais j’y ai découvert le Manuscrit original en langue nahuatl, que j’ai depuis intitulé Codex Chimalpopoca. Quant au Manuscrit du père Ximenes, c’est moi qui, le premier, l’ai fait connaître au monde savant, dans la première de mes quatre Lettres pour servir d’introduction à l’histoire des nations civilisées du Mexique, publiées à Mexico en 1851. M. le Dr Scherzer doit au Dr don Mariano Padilla, à Guatémala, l’avantage d’avoir vu le premier le Manuscrit original, dont il a fait copier une traduction qui est loin d’être conforme à l’original en langue quichée. (Histoire des nations ix, footnote 1)

During their respective itineraries in Guatemala, both men published letters in European serials announcing their discoveries. Brasseur garnered specific praise from publisher/ editor Nicholas Trübner for finding Fr. Ildefonso Flores’ Arte de la lengua metroplitana, which Brasseur immodestly cited in the 1871 Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne:

Ce livre, avant mon premier voyage à Guatémala, était entièrement inconnu à la bibliographie européenne; on doutait même qu’il eût jamais été publié. Voici comment s’exprime à ce sujet l’Athenæum, nº du 12 janvier 1856, tandis que j’étais administrateur ecclésiastique des Indiens de robinal (Verapaz): “Bourbourg’s second letter on his literary discoveries is not less interesting. Bourbourg knows how to collect, and it is surprising what the enthusiasm of a single individual can achieve in this department. We have now a proof positive that the Grammar of the Cachiquel language, by the Rev. Father Alonzo (Ildefonso) Flores, is, as already stated by Juarros, really printed, — a fact which neither Hesse, nor Scherzer, nor Squier had been able to establish — although Juarros says that Flores had been Professor of Indian Languages at the San Carlos university of Guatemala and that his Grammar had been found to be very useful.” (Brasseur, Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne 63)

Trübner would later publish Brasseur’s Grammaire de la langue Quichée in 1862. Unfortunately for Brasseur, Trübner was also in a unique position to have specific and inconvenient knowledge that could, once again, gravely undermine Brasseur’s reputation. It turns out that Scherzer’s 1857 edition had an additional London printing “en casa de Trübner & Co.”

Figure 10 - Title pages of the two printings of Scherzer’s 1857 edition
Figure 10 – Title pages of the two printings of Scherzer’s 1857 edition

Brasseur’s Popol Vuh (1861) and Grammaire de la langue Quichée (1862) were to be the first and second of a series of works on the Mayan languages:

Le volume que nous offrons aujourd’hui au public est le second de notre Collection de documents originaux dans les langues indigènes pour servir à l’étude de l’histoire et de la philologie de l’Amériqu[e] ancienne. Il forme avec le Popol-Vuh, un ensemble de données suffisantes pour mettre le lecteur à même de s’initier seul à la langue quichée et à ses deux dialectes, en complétant ce que nous avons pu dire sur la littérature de l’Amérique centrale avant la conquête. (Grammaire ix)

It is interesting to note that Brasseur acknowledges the interconnectedness of Father Ximénez’s manuscript. This is to say, Arte de las tres lengvas, which Mazariegos points out to be the main source of Brasseur’s Grammaire, is part and parcel of Popol Vuh. Yet, Brasseur’s awareness of this fact was already manifest at the time when published Popol Vuh in which he foretold the publication of the second volume:

nous avons ajouté des notes pour en éclairer le sens, en attendant que nous puissions mettre sous presse la Grammaire de la langue quichée et le Vocabulaire des trois langues quichée, cakchiquèle et tzutohile que nous sommes en train de préparer. Le Livre Sacré est ainsi le premier volume d’une série d’ouvrages originaux que nous comptons publier, s’il plaît à Dieu, sous le titre général de Collection de documents dans les langues indigènes, pour servir à l’étude de l’histoire et de la philologie de l’Amérique ancienne. C’est là ce qui nous a obligé en quelque sorte à mettre en tête de cette série une introduction aussi longue, mais qui aura, nous l’espérons, l’avantage d’aider le lecteur, encore peu au courant de ces questions, à embrasser d’un coup d’œil les fondements de l’histoire et des théogonies antiques du continent occidental. (Popol Vuh xv)

Brasseur’s reference to the forthcoming second volume powerfully argues that he already had his publisher—Nicholas Trübner—for the Grammaire before he had a publisher for Popol Vuh, and thus had the benefit of anticipating and avoiding contingencies such as Trübner’s familiarity with Scherzer’s prior edition. A public revelation that Brasseur had published the same text as Scherzer, apart from damaging Brasseur’s self-made reputation as an expert on the Americas, would render his edition redundant and purposeless. We might therefore have an explanation as to why Brasseur was not very forthcoming as to his source material. Of course, such explanation would exist in addition to Brasseur’s weak scholarship practices addressed by Ferland.

Just as Brasseur’s ethnographic interest was different from Scherzer’s historical aim, so Brasseur’s edition had to be different, more scientific, and more authoritative. Brasseur printed his edition—the basis for the mythistory’s modern appellation—in parallel Quiché and French with an astounding 262-page prefatory “Dissertation sur les mythes de l’antiquité Américaine, sur la probabilité des communications existant anciennement d’un continent à l’autre et sur les migrations des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique, etc., d’après les documents originaux, servant d’Introduction et de commentaire au Livre Sacré” (xvii). While Brasseur’s initially stated purpose of “aiding the reader” seems innocent, in actuality it may well be seen as Brasseur’s attempt to make the reader interpret the text in the manner that Brasseur wanted it to be interpreted: a “scientific” proof of his Biblical worldview.

Brasseur’s ethnocentrism is manifest in and by his handling of the Ayer ms. Whereas Scherzer included Father Ximénez’s prologues and scholia, Brasseur strips their colonial-religious context and adds his own context by way of his disproportionate introduction. In time, Brasseur’s edition was studied by Georges Raynaud of the Sorbonne and his student Miguel Ángel Asturias who re-injected another line of the re-contextualized mythistory back into Latin-American consciousness by way of his Indianista novels.

In a sense, Scherzer, Brasseur, Asturias, Edmonson, and Himelblau evolve a multiplicity of “Popol Vuh,” each distinct from Father Ximénez’s original, and each in accordance with subjectively personal readings of an excised text. In this state, there are no boundaries that constrain the reader’s perception and reception. Jonathan Culler has stated that “one can argue that [a] work is not something objective, existing independently of any experience of it, but is the experience of the reader” (125 qtd. ex seq). This leads William Worden to surmise in his study of reader-response that “no es el texto mismo, sino la interacción del lector con el texto lo que produce el sentido de una obra literaria” (619). Father Ximénez’s text and contexts are finite, but without an accurate understanding of an author’s fundamental context, the reader’s unbounded reception of the work results in a subconscious rewriting. In effect, the inherited or anticipated context of the work leads the reader to a place where “to read is to misread, to write is to miswrite” (Henige 198). The following chapter shows that Ximénez’s prologues define the contextual parameters and stitch the sections together.

What should be understood from the foregoing discussion is that there was only one text used by both Brasseur and Scherzer, that both place it in the Universidad de San Carlos library, that it was already collated or bound, and that both considered it as Ximénez’s original. Brasseur had to have removed the text from the Universidad de San Carlos library. His obfuscations could be the result of more inept scholarship, but they may also form a more purposeful intent to deceive the public. In any event, he was not forthcoming regarding his source material, which is now shown to have been Ayer ms 1515. Ximénez’s bound/collated manuscript later passed from Brasseur to Alphonse Pinart in the 1870s and to Edward E. Ayer in 1884, who later donated to the Newberry Library where it remains to this day.

Chapter 3: Reconstructing the Text

Provenancing the source of “Popol Vuh” is crucial to reconstructing its context because it shows that Scherzer and Brasseur consulted the same document and it allows for corroboration of the text’s physical construction from which to draw out evidence of authorial presence. In the instant study, our evidence of Ximénez’s presence is found in the structural and aesthetic features of the four prologues in Ayer ms 1515. The prologues will serve in three primary roles: they reveal the intertextuality of the treatises, they redefine the traditional textual boundaries, and they coax Ximénez’s subtle voice from beneath the text itself.

The previous chapter showed that the Newberry Library’s Ayer ms 1515 is the same text that was formerly in the Universidad de San Carlos library. Such provenance effectively creates a link between the two libraries. We know that Ayer ms 1515 has been collated or bound as of its accession in the Newberry Library a century ago, and Scherzer and Brasseur both describe the same collated or bound condition in the university library in 1854 and 1855, respectively.[31] Although they had different agendas for their investigations, they agree on the circumstances of the text, that is, how it came to the university library and the organization and presentation of the content.

Scherzer came to the region with Moritz Wagner from 1852 to 1855. He describes an arduous southerly trek to “Guatemala, the largest, handsomest, and most comfortable town in Central America, where I intended making a long stay” (Scherzer, Travels 244). Scherzer’s four months of exhausting cowboy-style travel readied him for a period of leisure following his arrival in the capital in early May.[32] It was the start of the rainy season, which in conjunction with a needed recuperation, led Scherzer to nose through the local libraries in search of historical writings:

El único lugar en todo el centro de America adonde el investigador encuentra ya algunos manuscritos importantes y documentos raros es Guatemala, capital de la republica del mismo nombre. Como en la estacion de las lluvias todos los viajes y excursiones para objetos cientificos se deben suspender, yo me aproveché de este tiempo en el año de 1854 para buscar en las diversas bibliotecas de Guatemala las obras que tratan de la historia antigua de esta tierra. (Scherzer, “Introduccion” v-vi)

The first noteworthy discovery was in the municipal library where he found a number of sixteenth-century letters, the “original de la Conquista de Nueva España,” and a “manuscrito interesante de Fuentes de Guzman: Historia de Guatemala” (xiii-xiv; partially reformatted). Brasseur corroborates these items and their location in the municipal library (Bibliothèque 56, 65). Following this, Scherzer found Father Ximénez’s writings in the local university.

En la biblioteca de la Universidad de San Carlos no se hallan tampoco muchos manuscritos importantes. El mayor tesoro de esta pequeña coleccion de libros son sin duda los manuscritos del padre Francisco Ximenez de la órden de Santo Domingo, que vivió al principio del siglo pasado como cura párroco del pueblo indio de Chichicastenango en los altos de Guatemala […]. Por mucho tiempo las obras de este hombre […] se tenían por perdidas. Se presumía que los jefes españoles […] suprimieron y destruyeron de intento sus escritos. Felizmente se escaparon de tal destruccion brutal en un rincón obscuro del convento de los dominicos de Guatemala, y cuando mas tarde todas las órdenes religiosas se suprimieron, algunos volúmenes del P. Ximenez pasaron á la biblioteca de la Universidad de San Carlos, donde yo los encontré entre otros manuscritos en el mes de Junio 1854. (vii)

Brasseur affirms Scherzer’s synopsis, the transference of convent archives to various libraries under Francisco Morazán’s anticlericism, and the notion that Guatemala was the best place to seek out such treasures (Popol Vuh xiii; Histoire des nations xxv).

Scherzer directly cites Brasseur’s 1851 Lettres pour servir d’introduction à l’histoire primitive des nations civilisées de l’Amérique septentrionale in which Brasseur provided overviews and tentative titles of Father Ximénez’s works (Scherzer, “Introduccion” ix). Since he was cognizant of the material and as he certainly intended to travel to the capital, it is possible that Scherzer expressly sought out Father Ximénez’s writings. He points out that Brasseur “alludes to a fear” in his Lettres pour servir d’introduction that Father Ximénez’s works were “lost to science” (Scherzer, “Introduccion” ix; my translation). Scherzer takes this as an indication that Brasseur did not know of their existence in Guatemala. For that matter, Scherzer believed that “ninguno de los examinadores actuales de la historia antigua de Centro-America parece haber tenido noticia de la existencia de estos manuscritos en Guatemala” (ix). This left Scherzer with a sense of incumbency to save the materials that he found from an imminent destruction (“Introdcucion” x; Las historias 215).

Scherzer’s interest was that of a historian “en la situacion agradable de poder presentar á los amigos de la historia americana el contenido mas curioso de estos compendiosos trabajos” (x). To accomplish his goal, Scherzer “hi[zo] sacar copias exactas de todo lo que en los manuscritos tiene relacion con la historia antigua del pais y de sus habitantes” (x). Perhaps in keeping with the descriptive approaches of historians—and certainly in very sharp contrast to Brasseur—Scherzer made a reasonably detailed inventory of what he saw in the library. His inventory is especially helpful in three areas: 1) it invalidates certain provenancial criticisms; 2) it defines a precise order of the contents; 3) it indicates that the text was bound or collated before contact with Western editors. It reads (labeled for reference):

Sherzer's inventory of Ximénez's manuscript as found in the Universidad de San Carlos library
Sherzer’s inventory of Ximénez’s manuscript as found in the Universidad de San Carlos library
(re-typeset and labelled)

Scherzer does not explain why he combines the Historias and Escolios of the Ayer ms into a single entry at gamma prime. He might well have differentiated them in his notes at the library only to collapse the multiple entries into one at publication.[33] There is support for this idea in the first words of delta block where he refers to them jointly as a single “ultimo tratado” where tratado ‘treatise’ is unambiguously in the singular.

The edition that Scherzer ultimately published contained additional scholia not found in Ayer ms 1515. He explains:

Infelizmente estos escolios no están completos; me esforzé sin embargo de completarlas tanto cuanto me fué possible por medio de una copia sacada del original que se halla en manos del Señor Don Juan Gavarete en Guatemala, á quien estoy sumamente reconocido por habermela dejado usar para mi objeto. Cuando el S. Gavarete, al principio del año 1848 empezó de tomar en la biblioteca de la Universidad una copia de los escolios del P. Ximenez, estos estaban aun completos; y actualmente ha desaparecido ya tambien el fin de ellos. (xiv)

Why Scherzer considered the “volume” as incomplete has been a source of consternation for some critics. He does not list the anomalous material noted by Brasseur, namely the final folio bearing the Chávez signature and Rabinal dateline. Still, Scherzer’s use of “escoliadas, etc. etc.” suggests other seemingly irrelevant non-scholia material at the end. The only scholium in the Ayer ms ends in the upper half of the recto (front) with the remainder left blank. It does not end abruptly mid-thought, mid-paragraph, or mid-sentence so as to represent inarguably that pages had been lost. Still, it would be illogical to have only a solitary scholium when the title page reads in the plural (Figure 11d, below). Ximénez also uses the plural in the third prologue.

se reduçe esta mi obra a dar luz, y notiçia de los herrores, q’ tuvieron, en su gentilidad, y q’ todavia conservan entre si. quise trasladar todas las historias a la letra de estos indios, y tambien traduçirla en la lengua castellana, y ponerle los escolios q’ a la fin van puestos, q’ son como anotaçiones de la historia en q’ se van declarando las cosas de los indios, porq’ discurro q’ havra muchos curiosos, q’ quieran saberlas, y con eso si no saben la lengua tendran la façilidad, en poderlo saber.  (Empiezan las historias ln 20-26; emphasis added)

On this basis, Scherzer’s expression of incompleteness is surely a semiotic inference. The same may be said of Brasseur who also uses a plural “scolies” (Popol Vuh xiv).

Figure 11 - Internal title pages of Ayer ms 1515
Figure 11 – Internal title pages of Ayer ms 1515

In addition to the implied multiplicity of scholia, Scherzer’s introduction depicts the first half of the manuscript as inconsequential to his interest as a historian. Furthermore, the distinctive layout and verb-initial title of the third title page (Figure 11c) seems to set the mythistory apart from the remainder, as if to divide the collation into two distinct arrangements. Approached in this manner, such perceived division would have obliged Scherzer editorially to consider the historias and the escolios as a unit.

Ximénez prominently communicates the historical nature of the content introduced by the third prologue and states there that he translates the history in parallel so that curious minds will be able to know it even if they do not understand the native language (Empiezan las historias ln 17, 21-26). Therefore, one can see why Scherzer would begin his copy here because, according to Ximénez, this is the historical component and it is translated into Spanish precisely for Scherzer’s ilk. Grammars and confessionaries were immaterial and unintelligible to Scherzer, which he admits at beta saying, it would have necessitated “un conocimiento mas exacto y perfecto de estos dos idiomas que el que poseen los criollos de Guatemala, y el comp[a]rarlo, como era mi intencion, no pudo verificarse por diversas razones.”

Jack Himelblau, however, takes a sharp stance against Scherzer’s usage of Gavarrete’s copyscript to derive the additional scholia.

Regrettably, Scherzer does not provide us with a breakdown of the contents of the Escolios extant at the time he had them transcribed. It is therefore impossible to separate the material originally present in the escolios from that which Scherzer incorporated from Gavarrete. Still, Scherzer’s general statement that the escolios were incomplete would seem to imply that he had scanned more than 6 folios of notes in the manuscript that served as his source. Equally significant is what is not stated in the above passage. Scherzer nowhere acknowledges the existence of a Gavarrete transcription of Ximénez’s Historias. With regard to his own transcription of the Historias, Scherzer underscores that it is based on Ximénez’s “original” Spanish manuscript. This unequivocal claim appears on the title page. It is also reiterated in the introduction […]. Although the content of Scherzer’s transcription coincides with that of the Spanish version of the Historias in the Ayer MS 1515, which is the only copy of the Popol Vuh that has survived, it is hardly a faithful copy of it. Scherzer’s edition suffers from textual misspellings, omissions, additions, and transposition; it is also plagued with punctuation errors. (Himelblau 4-5; internal quotation omitted)

Himelblau contends first that Scherzer’s inventory is deficient. As previously suggested, Scherzer’s in situ inventory might initially have been more precise only to be condensed at publication since the original number of scholia would be obviated by the supposition of having completed them. The individual scholar must judge whether or not the fractional usage of Gavarrete’s copyscript mitigates Scherzer’s editorial affirmation of being “exactamente según el texto español del manuscrito original que se halla en la biblioteca de la Universidad de Guatemala” (Las historias i; Figure 10). Also requiring consideration is whether or not Gavarrete was forthcoming about the source of his copy. That Scherzer knows of Gavarrete’s copy but seems ignorant that it derived from Historia de la provincia hints that Himelblau’s attack on this point is dilatory.

Himelblau also appears to suggest that Scherzer’s copy was deficient because its resulting edition does not conform to twentieth-century standards. For his part, Himelblau does not acknowledge Ximénez’s own woeful spelling, erratic punctuation, and ubiquitous run-on sentences, and he fails to give any proof that the errors are attributable to Scherzer or Scherzer’s copyscript. As for Scherzer’s printed edition being “hardly a faithful copy” that “suffers from textual misspellings, omissions, additions, and transposition; […] plagued with punctuation errors,” Himelblau forgets to accommodate the responsibility of the publisher. For example, the word spacing of “interesan te ycompararlo” is in error at delta, and at beta the text erroneously reads “comprarlo” instead of compararlo. In both cases, patent typographical errors do not substantiate an argument against the fidelity of the edition. Furthermore, a comparison of the inventories found in Scherzer’s 1856 German article and his 1857 Spanish introduction demonstrates significant editorial modernizations of Ximénez’s spellings.

Still, the investigation at hand is of Ximénez’s prologues, and in this regard Himelblau unwittingly concedes an important point. If, as he states, Scherzer “scanned more than 6 ff. of notes in the manuscript that served as his source,” then the scholia prologue was complete and in place when Scherzer made his copy. Moreover, since Scherzer would have examined the entirety of the scholia prologue from the Ayer ms, a cursory comparison of its first page readily shows only two non-orthographic deviations in the comparison below (line breaks disregarded). The fidelity of Scherzer’s text is apparent, and close examination advises that Scherzer’s text is not so much inaccurate as it is merely edited. The congruence between the original and Scherzer’s argues that Scherzer’s copy was not as poor as Himelblau describes.

Ayer ms 1515 Scherzer’s edition
Cosa es çierta, y averiguada entre todos los q’ conoçen indios, q’ es la gente mas irregular en sus cosas, q’ se ha descubierto en toda la redondez de la tierra, y asi muchos hombres de buen talento, cada día se ven, desatinados con sus cosas, pues quando les pareze q’ ya estan al cabo de el conoçimiento de quienes son los indios, se hallan tan en los prinçipios de su conoçimiento, y comprehension, q’ todo lo q’ han adquiro con su estudio, y cuidado para mejor poderlos governar no les sirve, ya en los casos, q’ de nuevo se offreçen. muchos ha avido q’ han querido dar a entender el conoçimiento de el indio en sus escritos, de historias, y sumas, y otros escritos; pero pienso q’ les ha suçedido lo q’ a mi, me suçedera en todos mis escritos, q’ aun q’ he procurado dar a entender lo q’ ellos son, al cabo pienso q’ no avre dicho nada. El Doctor Pe. Apiano cosmografo de el emperador carlos quinto demarcando la isla española, los quiere dar a conoçer al mundo diçiendo: q’ son gente: in dando liberalissimi, in accipiendo cupidissimi. en el dar muy liberales, en el reçibir muy codiçiosos, y q’ consumen todo un dia dando bueltas a un palo. algo dixo en esto, declaro en parte la natural inclinaçion de el indio., q’ en dar dudo, q’ aya quien sea mas liberal en dar, pues quien abra q’ no este todo poseido de Dios q’ teniendo solo […] Cosa es cierta y averiguada entre todos los que conocen indios, que es la gente mas irregular en sus cosas, que se ha descubierto en toda la redondez de la tierra, y así muchos hombres de buen talento cada dia se ven desatinados con sus cosas, pues, cuando les parece que ya están al cabo del conocimiento de quienes son los indios, se hallan tan en los principios de su conocimiento y comprehension, que todo lo que han adquirido con su estudio y cuidado para mejor poderlos governar no les sirve ya en las cosas que de nuevo se ofrecen. Muchos ha habido, que han querido dar á entender el conocimiento del indio en sus escritos de historias y sumas y otros escritos; pero pienso que les ha sucedido lo que á mí me sucederá en todos mis escritos: que aunque he procurado dar á entender lo que ellos son, al cabo pienso que no habré dicho nada. El Doctor Padre Apiano, Cosmógrafo del Emperador Carlos Quinto, demarcando la isla Española, les quiere dar á conocer al mundo, diciendo: que son gente, in dando liberalissirni, in accipiendo cupidissirni; en el dar muy liberales, en el recibir muy codiciosos, y que consumen todo un dia dando vueltas á un palo; algo dijo en esto, declaró en parte la natural inclinacion del indio, que en dar dudo que haga quien sea mas liberal en dar, pues quien habra que no esté todo poseido de Dios, que teniendo solo […]

Finally, Himelblau does not cite a specific library holding to support a “Gavarrete transcription of Ximénez’s Historias,” but the best candidate may be the University of California at Berkley’s BANC MSS M-M 439 whereof the catalog reads:

Copy of various chapters from the history of the Provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y de Guatemala compiled by the Dominican philologist, Ximenez. […] There are two main portions: 1. Livro Sagrado del Quiche. Material translated by Ximenez from a Quiche manuscript discovered early in the eighteenth century among the Indians of Chichicastenango, containing an account of the creation of the world, the origins of Guatemala, and various aspects of Guatemalan religion and history. Corresponds to Chapters III-XXI of the 1929 printed editions. 71 p. (Cont.) 2. Historia del antiguo Reino del Quiche. Chapters XXVII-XXXV and part of Chapter XXXVI of Ximenez’s treatise, dealing with the early history of the Province and with the religion, marriage and burial customs, and calendar of the natives. Consists largely of translations from the above-mentioned Quiche manuscript and quotations from Jeronimo Romans’s Republica de los Indios Occidentales, 35 p. (“BANC MSS”)

This Berkley document also manifests some congruence with Brasseur’s red herring in the Bibliothèque Mexico-Guatémalienne (Figure 12 below; see also Figure 7 previously). And while Berkley does not appear to correspond to the “Manuscrito Antiguo Kiché” heading, the title of the second part matches a gratuitous descriptor in Brasseur’s entry:

Figure 12 - Brasseur’s Red Herring entry
Figure 12 – Brasseur’s Red Herring entry

If the forgoing items are in fact Gavarrete’s copy, then the evidence indicates that Gavarrete did not make a single, contiguous, unabridged copy. Rather, Gavarrete would have created two independent abridgements Ximénez’s Historia de la provincia: an internal subaltern account (chapters three through twenty-one) and an external hegemonic commentary (chapters twenty-seven through thirty-six). It appears that in 1848 Gavarrete undertook a full copy of Historia de la provincia, and was possibly willing to part with his disjoint abridgments for this reason.[34] Likewise, Gavarrete would have been willing to allow Scherzer to use it to “complete” the scholia. This explains how Gavarrete could interact in part with Scherzer’s edition without Scherzer’s full awareness and without compromising the integrity of Ayer ms 1515 as the basis for Scherzer’s edition.[35]

There is another possible source of Himelblau’s uncited Gavarrete copy. The Newberry Library has a set of “photographic reproduction of a copy of Book I, Chapters 1-36 of Historia de la provincia” (“Ayer MS 1565”). In either case, though, both Berkley and Ayer ms 1565 terminate in chapter thirty-six, which also happens to be the end of Scherzer’s “completed” scholia (Figure 13, next page). Nevertheless, Scherzer unequivocally did not use either of these as his source text because his edition includes the two respective prologues of Ayer ms 1515, which are found in no other manuscript. Moreover, the “historias” segment of Scherzer’s edition reads continuously without interruption just as is found in Ayer ms 1515. The first of Scherzer’s scholia corresponds to the heading of the single Ayer ms 1515 scholium; the rest of Scherzer’s scholia, which are probably what he “completed” by using Gavarrete’s abridgment, match the titles of chapters twenty-seven through thirty-six of Book One of Historia de la provincia, Que trata del tiempo de la gentilidad. Whether Himelblau intended Berkley or Ayer ms 1565 in his uncited criticism, neither of them offers proof that Scherzer’s edition derived from anything other than Ayer ms 1515.

Figure 13 - Penultimate page of Scherzer’s edition
Figure 13 – Penultimate page of Scherzer’s edition

Scherzer’s in situ inventory of the manuscript that would become Ayer ms 1515 remedies most of the criticisms against his source material. Himelblau’s opinion on this point, however, is unclear:

Scherzer lists the six documents individually and his titles correspond to those found in the Ayer MS 1515. He errs only in subdividing the Tratado segundo into four independent documents and in stating that the Confesionario in the Tratado segundo is written “en cacchiquel, quiche y yutuhil (Sutujil)” […] Tratado segundo is a single document containing four items, among which the Confesionario is one. (3)

Concluding that Scherzer incorrectly divided Tratado segvndo is an untenable position because each of these alleged subdivisions is physically anchored to the others. The bleed-through of “Tratado segvndo” is plainly visible on the verso (rear) where the “carta” begins (Figure 14a). The carta continues onto the verso of a subsequent folio that also begins the “confessionario” (Figure 14b). In turn, the end of the confessionary shows a bleed-through of “Chathezismo de indios” from its verso (Figure 14c).

Figure 14 - Transition points within Tratado segvndo pertaining to Scherzer’s inventory
Figure 14 – Transition points within Tratado segvndo pertaining to Scherzer’s inventory

While Scherzer’s statement that the volume “contains the following treatises” is broad, the structural continuity of the manuscript is such that he clearly did not mistake these for separate documents. Lastly, whereas Himelblau attacks Scherzer for his dividing of Tratado segvndo at gamma, he does not protest Scherzer’s lumping together of Empiezan las historias and Escolios a las historias at gamma prime. Himelblau simply fails to appreciate the inventory as personal notes that Scherzer intended for use in describing the manuscript, not for indexing the content. Thus, Himelblau’s point is unclear.

Scherzer’s inventory overcomes its weaknesses to a large extent by virtue of the fact that it is identical in content and sequence to that of Ayer ms 1515. And having previously established that Brasseur and Scherzer’s source was the Ayer ms while it was still in Guatemala, Scherzer’s description becomes the earliest evidence of the manuscript’s bound—or at the very least collated—condition, a point on which both men agree:

Fuera de este vocabulario se halla otro volúmen de las obras del P. Ximenez del mayor interes, que contiene los tratados siguientes

Le premier volume que nous eûmes occasion de consulter commençait avec le texte et la traduction du manuscrit quiché, qui fait l’objet de celui-ci.

Whatever their understanding of volume was, they uniformly applied it to all of Ximénez’s manuscripts found there in the library. Moreover, Ximénez’s prologues connect and sequence the sections as described, thereby strongly arguing that such organization was Ximénez’s express intent.

The Ayer ms is perhaps Ximénez’s most treasured project, in his own words, “la mas util, y neçesaria q’ he trabaxado” (Empiezan las historias ln 16). After Ximénez’s death, it is presumed that the text remained in the convent of Santo Domingo until General Francisco Morazán expelled the clerics in 1829, whereupon it transferred to the Universidad de San Carlos. It is doubtful, given Ximénez’s prolific writings, that anyone had the leisure—during a time of social upheaval and chaos—to parse, sequence, and collate this particular volume. Scherzer recounts this period:

Por desgracia domina en todos estos lugares un gran desorden. Aunque el presidente actual, Don Rafael Carrera, ha restablecido de nuevo, hace algunos años, los religiosos expulsados en 1829, en sus respectivos conventos, no ha podido restituirles al mismo tiempo todo lo que el gobierno de Morazan les habia quitado, y así, careciendo de recursos y aun de subsistencia, el corto número de religiosos que volvieron á la capital, no ha podido occuparse en examinar y poner en orden los libros que se salvaron del saquéo general. (“Introduccion” vi)

There is no indication that Ximénez’s other writings required or received posthumous assembly and therefore none should be wantonly accorded to Ayer ms 1515.

An initial impediment to conceiving Ayer ms 1515 as a comprehensive work is an apparent lack of organization, not the least of which is the absence of a general title. Father Ximénez’s other surviving works offer more overt structure such as found in Historia de la provincia. In addition to the general title, each book and each chapter also have content-appropriate titles, all of which present in a perceptibly logical manner. Aside from locating Tratado segvndo as the second internal title, there is no readily apparent organization to Ayer ms 1515:

  • Arte de las tres lenguas achiqvel, Qviche y ,vtvhil
  • Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro para la bvena administraçion de estos natvrales
  • Empiezan las historias del origen de los indios de esta provincia de Gvatemala
  • Escolios a las historias de el origen de los indios

Close examination of each title’s accompanying prologue will show that the text is actually a unitary work consisting of two treatises.

In his study entitled “Francisco Ximénez and the Popol Vuh: Text, Structure, and Ideology in the Prologue to the Second Treatise,” Néstor Quiroa examines the context of Popol Vuh in the shadow of the Tratado segvndo prologue. He concludes that “Ximénez’s prologue to the second tratado can now be understood, as it offers concrete information to explain the ecclesiastic structure of the entire manuscript” as well as “the ideological framework within which Ximénez and the Dominican missionaries operated” (289, 290).[36] Drawing principally upon Alberto Porqueras Mayo’s seminal work, Él prólogo como género literario, Quiroa straightforwardly analyzes Popol Vuh with respect to the structural proximity and permeability of the Tratado segvndo prologue. In the present study, however, the notion of what constitutes a “section” and how any such groupings are simultaneously interdependent and independent must be established before the effects of the prologues can be understood.

The logically-positioned Tratado segvndo specifically mentions—and therefore anchors—the “Popol Vuh” content to itself. Ximénez writes in this prologue:

a lo q’ mira este tratado segundo en q’ se contiene el confesionario, y chateçismo, como tambien un tratado q’ le añado en la lengua quiche, y traduçido en la nuestra castellana, donde se ven los varios herrores con q’ el demonio antiguo enemigo de el genero humano, procura haçer la guerra a estos misserables indios. tocanse en todo este tratado asi en el confesionario como en el chateçismo, estos herrores para q’ advertido de ellos el ministro, como çentinela vigilante vele sobre el rebaño de xpto. (ln 23-31; emphasis added)

Here one sees that Ximénez casually accords the appended “Popol Vuh” material with the same standing as the confessionario and chathezismo de indios. He implies by this that each of these—the confessionary, the catechism, and the mythistory—is, individually and collectively, part and parcel of that which a minister ought to know “para la bvena administraçion de estos natvrales.” The sum of Tratado segvndo is didactic as it seeks to elucidate intellectually the errors, falsehoods, corruptions, and/or inaccuracies of the pre-conquest, non-Christian religious vestiges.

As Ximénez brings the second prologue to a close, he injects the vanity and futility motif first identified in chapter one as the basis for the present investigation:

y aun q’ no falta quien diga q’ el tocar estas cosas en el confisionario, y chateçismo, es futil, y vano, porq’ ya estos naturales no se acuerdan de essas cosas, hanse de evitar estos tales, y no darles oydos como a çentinelas dormidas (Tratado segvndo ln 32-35)

The concluding remark of the second prologue then reappears as the opening lines of the third prologue:

Esta mi obra, y trabaxo discurro q’ avra muchos q’ la tengan por la mas futil y vana de las q’ he trabaxado, asi lo pensaran muchos; y yo lo discurro al contrario, porq’ entiendo ser la mas util, y neçesaria q’ he trabaxado (Empiezan las historias ln 14-16)

Another parallel phrasing, or authorial hiccup, follows as Ximénez revisits the didactic purpose/justification for including the mythistory:

pues ademas de sacar a luz lo q’ avia en la antiguedad entre estos indios cosa en q’ en todas las naçiones de el universo han gastado mucho tiempo, y trabaxo hombres grandes rastreando los vestigios de la venerable an- tiguedad; se reduçe esta mi obra a dar luz, y notiçia de los herrores, q’ tu- vieron, en su gentilidad, y q’ todavia conservan entre si. (Empiezan las historias ln 17-21)

Thus, the Empiezan las historias prologue is an ad-hoc restatement of the justification first set forth in the Tratado segvndo prologue.

Ximénez’s phrasing on the mythistory’s title page is a further reincorporation of the Tratado segvndo prologue. This is to say, the title caption, “tradvzido de la lengva qviche en la castellana […] por el R.P.F. Franzisco Ximenez,” is merely a representation and re-presentation of the first-person statement found in Tratado segvndo, “un tratado q’ le añado en la lengua quiche, y traducido en la nuestra castellana” (Empiezan las historias ln 4-5; Tratado segvndo ln 25-26). The authorial hiccup seen in the mythistory prologue allows Tratado segvndo to be broadened and extended to introduce the scholia:

quise trasladar todas las historias a la letra de estos indios, y tambien traduçirla en la lengua castellana, y ponerle los escolios q’ a la fin van puestos, q’ son como anotaçiones de la historia (Empiezan las historias ln 21-24; emphasis added)

This third statement regarding the inclusion of the mythistory summarily concatenates the scholia within the dependency. Even if this were not the case, any scholia “a las historias de el origin de los indios” would lack independent standing without a forgoing “historias del origin de los indios.” In this way, Tratado segvndo anchors Empiezan las historias, and Empiezan las historias anchors Escolios a las historias.

Inasmuch as Tratado segvndo sequesters the mythistory within its scope, the mythistory willingly submits to Tratado segvndo’s jurisdiction and extends Tratado segvndo’s penumbra to the scholia. It does this by revalidating its dependency through back-references to Tratado segvndo while also making forward-references to the scholia. Following this, Ximénez uses the scholia prologue to acknowledge all of the preceding material:

de estas cosas, y otras muchissimas q’ han llegado a mi notiçia, intento el formar estos escolios a esta su historia de ellos anotando lo q’ es historia antigua, y çitando a la historia q’ queda antes puesta. y anotando lo q’ toca en punto de nuestra Sta. fee catholica pa q’ mas comodidad tenga el q’ se quisiere approvechar de este mi trabaxo. advirtiendo aqui, y teniendo por cosa çierta, q’ el dia de oy estan en los mesmos herrores, y disparates, y aunq’ pareçe q’ no es mas q’ tal, o qual çentella de aquel fuego, es mucho el inçendio q’ ay entre ellos. (Escolios a las historias ln 135-42)

Referencing the “historia q’ queda antes puesta” puts a lasso on Tratado segvndo because there Ximénez said the mythistory was “un tratado q’ le añado […] donde se ven los varios herrores” (Tratado segvndo ln 25-26). The reader learns of the “varios herrores” in Tratado segvndo, and in the Escolios a las historias he will read that the Indians are still “en los mesmos herrores.” The phrase “mas comodidad tenga el q’ se quisiere approvechar de este mi trabaxo” reasserts the title caption of Empiezan las historias. The repeated didactic justification of exposing the vestigial native beliefs acknowledges and sustains the context of Tratado segvndo, that is, what a priest need know for a good and proper administration and execution of his duties. The “historia q’ queda antes puesta” locks the scholia behind the “historia” and the “historia” in turn is locked behind Tratado segvndo. In effect, Ximénez bookends the mythistory between the prefatory and the conclusory material and in so doing, Ximénez incorporates and extends his argument into and through the text proper of “Popol Vuh.” His translation aligns his voice “en la lengua castellana” with the indigenous voice transcribed “a la letra de estos indios” (Empiezan las historias ln 23-24).

The evidence establishes that Father Ximénez considered and intended the mythistory to be an integral constituent of Tratado segvndo. The scholia exist to explain precisely how knowledge of the mythistory will assist the minister in his responsibilities and therefore it too must be considered part of Tratado segvndo insofar as it falls within the shadow of its title, Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro… The whole of the second, third, and fourth “sections” comprise a singular entity within Ayer ms 1515. The sum of the three is the “Second Treatise.” It begins by addressing the errors, then revealing the errors, and lastly explaining the errors. When understood as a unit, the full Tratado segvndo can be seen to align with Arte de las tres lengvas because

despues de todo eso, se quedara tan quan tabula rasa. sin saber lo q’ se avra aprendido. procuren los q’ tratan de administraçiones saber la lengua de su partido q’ sera mas façil q’ un hombre capaz, y docto, y q’ sabe su obligaçion la aprenda, pues no tiene otra cosa q’ hazer fuera de su administraçion (Escolios a las historias 188-92; emphasis added)

The final appendage of Tratado segvndo now frames Arte de las tres lengvas as a type of “first treatise.”

The three prologues of the second treatise, individually and collectively, perpetuate a sense of linguistic insufficiency. Ximénez explains that he translates the mythistory

porq’ discurro q’ havra muchos curiosos, q’ quieran saberlas, y con eso si no saben la lengua tendran la façilidad, en poderlo saber. y tambien pa desengañar a algunos a quienes he oydo hablar de esta materia, q’ o ya sea por no saber la lengua, o porq’ lo han oydo, en relaçion adulterada, de voca de otros juzgan de estas historias, ser cosa muy conforme a razon, y a nuestra Sta. fee (Empiezan las historias ln 24-30)

Ximénez contrasts the minister’s need for meaningful language comprehension against the perfunctory needs of clerical administrators and the curiosities of non-clerics. In addition he indicates that fully effective ministry is impeded by insufficient access to accurate material, a common lament among Dominicans (Megged 66-68).

Father Ximénez’s prologues reflect the influences of his forerunners and the Dominican principles of native-language evangelization. He is particularly influenced by Domingo de Vico whom he identifies four times in the prologues (Arte de las tres lenguas ln 22, 102; Escolios a las historias ln 94, 172). This is in contrast to other prominent figures such as Las Casas, Montenegro, Remesal, and Villalpando, each of whom appears only once. Ximénez identifies Villalpando as the second bishop of Guatemala, but depicts de Vico in a notably higher standing:

En todo quanto pudiere, voy siguiendo el mexor norte, de estas lenguas, el Venerable Pe. fr. Domingo de Vico, q’ es, quien mas comprehendio aquestas lenguas, poniendo los mesmos parrafos suyos donde no neçesita de explicaçion, mudando de otra suerte, los q’, estuvieren obscuros para q’, mexor se entienda, y omitiendo en toda, o en parte, y añadiendo otros donde pareçiere, q’ no se pone en el hecho de la cosa, y no explica el intento. y no es de marabillar: q’ se ofuscase en muchas cosas, pues fue tan en los prinçipios; q’ antes se tiene amaravilla q’, con tan sin ninguna luz, nos dexase tanta, q’ seguir. (Arte de las tres lenguas ln 101-109)

Ximénez ties de Vico into the scholia prologue as well:

yo me he llegado a persuadir viendo nuestras verdades catolicas embueltas en estos desatinos, lo uno a lo q’ diçe el Ve. Pe. fr. Domingo de Vico en el cap. 101 de la segunda parte de su theologia indorum a q’ estos indios desçienden de las diez tribus q’ se perdieron de los judios, y q’ no bolvieron a su patria, y asi conservaron por tradiçiones todos los suçesos q’ nos refiere el sagrado texto y el demonio se los fue embolbiendo en muchissimos herrores. y lo otro, a q’ de no ser asi q’ desçienden de aquellas diez tribus. el demonio como tan sabio, alcançando por algunas conjeturas la venida de el Sto. evangelio a estas partes, les sugirio estas mentiras embueltas en muchas verdades catolicas de las q’ nos enseño el espiritu Sto. en la sagrada escriptura, con fin de q’ oyendo los indios lo q’ avian de enseñar los ministros del Sto. evangelio de Dios, y sus obras, de la encarnaçion de el Verbo, de Ma. SSma. y los demas Sanctos mas se arraigasen en sus herrores pensando: q’aquello q’ se les enseñaba era lo mesmo en todo, q’ lo, q’ ya ellos sabian de el demonio por voca de sus saçerdotes. (Escolios a las historias ln 93-106)

As Ximénez sees it, Mayan language and religious customs exist in an inextricably linked state. It would also seem, insofar as de Vico posits himself as an authority on both native language and native religion, that there is a demonstrable justification for Ximénez to take the same role upon himself by way of his first and second treatises.

More evidence for Ximénez’s incorporation of language within this text lies in the didacticism that pervades the very nature of an arte. Artes were designed to teach and instruct, the same goal that Ximénez openly expresses of his Tratado segvndo. At the same time, Ximénez seeks to correct pervading mistruths that he saw as posing a then present danger to Catholicism:

yo mesmo lo he oydo de voca de un religioso grave y q’ a no estar yo enterado ya por averlo visto, y leydo me persuadiera al mesmo la dictamen por la grande autoridad desa persona, y de las personas q’ me refirio averselo asi dicho. a quien procure disuadir de su dictamen con la verdad de el caso, y prometiendo, q’ quanto antes pudiese tomaria esta materia entre manos, para desengaño de muchos, q’ se hallan engañados como he dicho o por ignorar la lengua, y no entienden lo q’ leen, o por las falsas relaçiones q’ les han dado.[37] (Empiezan las historias ln 30-37)

At various points in the Arte de las tres lengvas prologue, Ximénez compares and contrasts the Mayan languages with Europe’s own romance languages. He offers onomatopoeia, constructive simplicity, and logicalness as evidence of the language’s advanced development. He also adopts and/or expands existing theories that the natives were of Semitic ancestry on the basis that the simplicity and logic of Mayan languages demonstrated less corruption and therefore greater proximity to the original language (Biblically speaking) of mankind. As pertains to Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Tzutuhil, however, he writes:

Estas tres lenguas son en sus rayzes, una mesma, y solo difieren entre si: en jugar de los vocablos de diferente suerte, y poniendo diferentes particulas de elegançia; pero tan regulares, q’ si bien se advierte, apenas ay cosa de que no se pueda dar razon, de adonde trae su origen cada nombre, vo., o partiçipio. y el no aver muchos podido dar razon desto, es porq’: no se han explicado a la inteligençia radical, y sçientifica procurando: scire rem per causas; q’ es la sçiençia de las cosas: q’ hablarla como el indio la habla, muy bueno es, por q’ es materno, y muy propio […] Viniendo pues a tratar de estas tres lenguas digo q’ es inaveriguable las opiniones de algunos, sobre: qual de estas es madre, origen, y raiz. de qual, respecto de las muchas mentiras q’ desas antiguallas tienen tocante a sus origines. pues aun solos los quichees, quentan de diferente suerte su origen. lo çierto, es, q’ todas las de este Reyno, como arriba queda dicho, son hifas de una; pero qual sea el origen de las otras, no se puede eso averiguar; por q’ lo q’ muchos diçen: q’ los indios quichees, fueron los SSes absolutos, eso fue: desde, q’ levantaron Reyno a parte diverso, de el imperio Mexicano, q’ solo duro por doze, o treçe generaçiones, hasta la entrada de los españoles q’ Reynaba entonçes el Rey Tecun tepepul (Arte de las tres lenguas ln 48-55; ln 73-82)

Only in recent decades have anthropologists been able to understand the evolution of Mayan languages. According to John Henderson, a Quichean split occurred around 1,000 CE (41-42, 253). This means that the three languages of Ximénez’s arte—Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Tzutuhil—had only been distinct languages for perhaps 500 years, confirming in part Ximénez’s genealogical reconstruction. But this should not be misunderstood to indicate that there was a single Mayan language shortly before the conquest. While Amerindians inhabited the Maya region shortly after 10,000 BCE, a unified Proto-Mayan is not believed to have existed after 2000 BCE (Henderson 65, 273).

Figure 15 - Temporal schematic of Mayan languages (from Henderson 36)
Figure 15 – Temporal schematic of Mayan languages

It is important to note, however, that Ximénez constrains his theory to the three Quichean sublanguages and not necessarily to a Proto-Mayan. In addressing “estas tres lenguas” he finds that it to be indeterminate “qual de estas es madre, origen, y raiz” but he is careful to point out that “solos los quichees, quentan de diferente suerte su origen” (Arte de las tres lengvas ln 74-75, 76-77). The events of their origin transpire within the period elapsed since they separated from the Mexican empire “twelve or thirteen generations” before the arrival of the Spanish (ln 80-82; my translation).

The first and most direct evidence that Ximénez has the Quiché mythistory in mind when drafting the Arte de las tres lengvas prologue is his allusion to its concluding genealogy: “desde, q’ levantaron Reyno a parte diverso, de el imperio Mexicano, q’ solo duro por doze, o treçe generaçiones, hasta la entrada de los españoles q’ Reynaba entonçes el Rey Tecun tepepul.” This geneology is found in the conclusion of the mythistory:

Y estas fueron las generaciones, y descendencia de el Reyno y el esclarecimiento de Balam Quitzé, Balam Acab, Mahucutah, y Iquí Balam, nuestros primeros abuelos y padres, cuando amaneció el Sol, Luna y Estrenas. Y aquí daremos principio a la descendencia de todos los Reyes y Señores, como fueron entrando y sucediéndose, conforme fueron muriendo y entrando cada una de las generaciones de los Señores y viejos Señores de los calpules todos. Y aquí se contará de cada uno de por si, cada uno de los Señores de el Quiché. Balam Quitze, el primero y tronco de los de Caviquib. Cocauib, segunda generación de Balam Quitzé. Balam Conaché, la tercera generación. Cotuhá Ztayub, cuarta generación. Cucumatz Cotuhá, el primero de los portentosos, quinta generación, Tepepul Ztayul. sexta generación, Quicab Cavizimah, séptima generación, que también fue portentoso, Tepepul Xtayub, octava generación. Tecum Tepepul, nona generación, Vahxaqui Caam y Quicah (Cut), décima generación de los Reyes, Vucub Noh y Cuvatepech, undécima generación de los Reyes, Oxib Queh, Beleheb Tzi, duodécima generación de los Reyes. Y estos reinaban cuando vino Alvarado, y fueron ahorcados por los españoles, Tecum, Tepepul que tributaron a los españoles, Y estos fueron la tercia décima generación de los Reyes. (Estrada Monroy 259-61 ln 4779-4815).

There are other genealogies in the mythistory, but Ximénez references only this particular Quiché geneology in the first prologue, apparently because “solos los quichees, quentan de diferente suerte su origen” (Arte de las tres lengvas ln 76-77).

According to “Popol Vuh,” Quichean speakers at one time had a single language when they began their journey to the site of the first dawn:

Y allí se les mudó el lenguaje a los pueblos, y hablaron diferentemente, y no se entendían entre sí cuando vinieron de Tulán Zu(iua). y allí se dividieron, unos se fueron hacia el oriente, y muchos se vinieron aquí […]. Y dixeron, qué es esto que éstos han dejado nuestra lengua, cómo se hizo esto, nos hemos perdido, a dónde fuimos engañados?, porque sólo era una nuestra lengua cuando venimos de Tulán Zu(iua) y uno nuestro origen y crianza No es bueno esto que hemos hecho, dixeron todos los pueblos, debaxo de los árboles, y los mecates. (Estrada Monroy 181, ln 3023-43; 183, ln 3087-95)

The colloquy emerges after hail extinguished the natives’ fires. The god Tohil restores fire to the Quiché who in turn share it with their kin for a price.

Y luego recibieron su fuego, y luego se calentaron. Y otra tribu, o parcialidad, hurtó el fuego en el humo, éstos eran los de la casa de murciélagos, y su ídolo se llamaba Chamalcán de los cacchiqueles, y era semejanza de un murciélago cuando pasó por el humo, y pasando suavemente, vino a tomar el fuego, y no lo pidieron el fuego los cacchiqueles, y no se quisieron dar por vencidos. (Estrada Monroy 187 ln 3161-71)

This is a full characterization of a divided Maya people, here clearly differentiating the Cakchiquel as “otra tribu, o parcialidad.” It implicitly admits a Quiché individuation and establishes the Quiché and Cakchiquel dominance over the others that surrendered their sovereignty in exchange for fire. As they continue their vigil of the first dawn, they also recognize their identities for the first time.

Y llegando a un cerro allí se juntaron todos los quichées con los pueblos, y allí se juntaron a consejo todos, y luego se avisaron unos a otros, y se llama agora el Cerro de el Mandato o Aviso. Y juntos alli se engrandecieron y alabaron. Yo soy, yo soy el Quiché y tú, tú Tamuh, así era su nombre, le fue dicho a los de Tamub. y les dixeron a los de Ilocab, tú, tú llamarás, Ilocab y no se perderán estos tres quichées, sino que seremos una mesma cosa, y de un mesmo sentir, esto dixeron cuando se pusieron los nombres. y entonces fueron llamados cacchiqueles los cacchiqueles, y los rabinaleros; este fue el nombre que les dieron, y hasta agora persevera. Y a los de Tziquinahá, también agora se les dio el nombre entre ellos mesmos. Y alli se juntaron a aguardar que amaneciese y vian el salir de el lucero, que éste es el que viene primero ante el Sol cuando naciere (Estrada Monroy 189-91 ln 3230-53)

As lesser known tribes are absorbed into Quiché and Cakchiquel, the culturo-linguistic identifications become self-evident and immediately invoke a connection to Arte de las tres lengvas. But while the third language of the Arte, Tzutuhil, appears to be missing, it is present by way of synecdoche as “Y a los de Tziquinahá, también agora se les dio el nombre entre ellos mesmos.”

Estrada Monroy explains in a note that “Tziquinahá” means “nido de pájaros” and references a notation in Recinos’s edition that “Tziquinabá es el actual pueblo de Atitlán” (Estrada Monroy 281; Recinos 206). However, in the English translation of Recinos’s edition, Delia Goetz translates the line in question as “those of Tziquinaha” and expands Recinos’s footnote further still: “Tziquinahá is the present town of Santiago Atitlán and was the capital of the Zutuhil” (Goetz 182). The Quiché source of the line in question reads “are chicari ah q,iquinaha ubi uacamic,” which Allen Christenson modernizes to read “Are’ chi k’u ri Aj Tz’ikina Ja, U b’i’ wakamik” (201). The phonetic values in question become aj ‘of’ Tz’ikina ‘bird’ and ja ‘house.’ The prefixed /aj/ is the key to revealing the synecdoche. Dennis Tedlock directly speaks to the reading of these words:

bird house Tz’ikinaja, the palace at [Utatlán]. Not to be confused with ajtz’ikinaja, “those of Bird House,” a branch of the people known today as the Tzutuhil, who speak a language of the Quichean family and are located south and west of Lake Atitlán. Those of Bird House belong to a group of thirteen allied tribes the Quichés regarded as having come (like themselves) from the east. (337; emphasis added)[38]

Tedlock’s evidence also points to a correlation between the mythistory and Ximénez’s statement that the Quiché “levantaron Reyno a parte diverso, de el imperio Mexicano.”

The Popol Vuh gives the eastern city names that reach deep into the Mesoamerican past, calling it Tulan Zuyua […]. From other Mayan authors we learn that this city had a western twin that shared the name Tulan, which means “Place of Cattails” in Nahua. A new reading of the inscriptions at Copán reveals that Mayans knew this name as long ago as the Classic period, and that they applied it to the great western city whose ruins are known today as Teotihuacan. (45)

Henderson believes that Tulán Zuiva was the site of, or was adjacent to, Chichén Itzá in the north-east Yucatán (253). In this way, both “Tulan” towns indicate a Mexican correspondence.[39] Ximénez’s conclusions about the exodus of Quichean speakers from Mexican roots and the length of time since the separation both point to the substance of Popol Vuh. We as readers of Ximénez’s text are left with an arte that explicitly references the mythistory. While Arte de las tres lengvas extols the virtue of Quichean languages,[40] Escolios a las historias commands ministers to know the native languages. In between these poles lies a mythistory that recounts the history of its culturo-linguistic possessors.[41]

Ultimately, the facts are that Ximénez speaks in depth of his admiration for Domingo de Vico in the Arte prologue and the Escolios prologue. His Arte prologue references content contained within his transcription and translation of the mythistory. The mythistory and scholia are constituents of Tratado segvndo. And finally, in the Escolios prologue, Ximénez posits linguistic fluency as necessary for effective ministry. He also nonchalantly makes the strongest argument as to why a minister ought to study Arte de las tres lengvas along with Tratado segvndo:

aunq’ los Pes. antiguos les dieran çiertas historias de Stos. en su lengua q’ cantasen al tun, en lugar de las q’ ellos cantaban de su gentilidad, no obstante, yo entiendo q’ eso cantan en lo publico, y donde el Pe. los oye, y q’ alla en secreto haçen muey lindas memorias de su gentilidad (Escolios a las historias ln 131-135)

Because of the persistent regressive behavior of the Indians, Ximénez believes that the only recourse is deep understanding of their stumbling blocks and keenly targeted teaching to refute and weed out these impediments to the faith.

el dia de oy estan en los mesmos herrores, y disparates, y aunq’ pareçe q’ no es mas q’ tal, o qual çentella de aquel fuego, es mucho el inçendio q’ ay entre ellos. y aunq’ a la verdad pareçera a muchos materia imposible arrancar esta zizaña, del todo, no hara poco serviçio a Dios en procurar arrancarla con continuo desvelo, y predicaçion, y enseñanza continua (Escolios a las historias ln 140-145)

Ximénez does not tell us how he chose the order of the first and second treatises, that is, of Arte de las tres lengvas and Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro. So to some degree, the sequence of the two treatises of Ayer ms 1515 must remain arbitrary. Even so, it is worth noting that Bishop Francisco Núñez de la Vega, who would have been bishop during Ximénez’s novitiate, believed that the conversion of the Amerindians was a prerequisite to the second coming of Christ:

La conversión de los gentiles a la fe, y predicación del Evangelio en todo el mundo, que se ha hecho y va haciendo en esta postrera misión de ministros evangélicos en las partes de las Indias, que prometió Dios por su profeta Isaías después de la de los apóstoles sagrados, para que en las regiones todas orientales y occidentales se divulgase su Evangelio (Núñez de la Vega 288-89; see also Matt 24:10-14; Mark 13:10).

Núñez de la Vega also speculated that Christ’s return was near: “no se sabe, ni puede predicarse tiempo fijo de la venida del Anticristo y fin del mundo, pero tiénenle conjeturado doctores muy antiguos por el año del setecientos, otros por el de 1734, otros por el de 1789, otros por el de 1800, otros por el 1994” (292). Given Ximénez’s familiarity with Scripture and the influences of Núñez de la Vega, it is plausible that the order of Ximénez’s treatises models a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. (The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Isaiah 28:9-11 KJV)

One could also argue a similarity between Isaiah’s analogy and Ximénez’s characterization of the native’s knowledge of the past: “indagando yo aqueste punto, estando en el Curato de Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, hallé que era la Doctrina que primero mamaban con la leche” (Historia de la provincia 73).

Whatever Ximénez’s reasoning might have been in determining the sequence of the two treatises, the abiding certainty is that Ximénez intended Arte de las tres lengvas and Tratado segvndo to be a sequence, and that his determined sequence is established by the latter’s title. The intertextuality of the manuscript’s four prologues and content refute the long-standing practice of treating Ayer ms 1515 as independent “sections.”

Chapter 4: Rethinking the Context

The problem with modern editions of Popol Vuh is that they fail to represent sufficiently the circumstances of the text. It is first and foremost a colonial text, and like all colonial texts, it has a Western presence. In the case of Popol Vuh, Father Ximénez used the text to illuminate the positive and negative spiritual condition of the natives, their “errors” as he called them. The result is a tension within the text. While Ximénez uses the mythistory for evangelical purposes, the manner in which he employs it places the native voice on trial; it is to be condemned by its words and redeemed by its words.

The colonial period is largely defined by its Western voice in terms of diaries, histories, official accounts (relaciones), ecclesiastical writings, and governmental/civil records. These literary forms spoke of the natives, but they did not speak for the natives. Western perceptions considered the natives as lacking the faculties necessary for intellectual interaction. However, the evidence presented in chapter one established that this was not an accurate regard. In actuality, “[t]he ancient Maya were the only fully literate Native American people, and the texts they produced offer the possibility of direct access to Maya perspectives on their own history, philosophy, and institutions” (Henderson 261). Henderson is speaking here of pre-Columbian epigraphic inscriptions, which he is careful to distinguish from colonial writings that “generally reflect politics and economics in detail, other aristocratic concerns less well, and many aspects of culture not at all” (261-62). Yet even as the colonialist recognizes these truths, scholars from other disciplines may not have a full appreciation of period dynamics:

European and North American intellectual traditions are predisposed to privilege written texts over material remains in reconstructing history. Texts often record the kinds of specifics thought to be the essence of history: personal names, place names, calendar dates. Texts often seem to be unambiguous in their recording of events, especially in comparison with material remains. In fact, of course, texts are never unambiguous; they can only be understood in the context of the perspective and agendas of their authors. (Henderson 263)

Walter Mignolo and Michel Foucault also challenge the western penchant for written accounts, and these principles undergird this investigation’s argument that Popol Vuh should not be read as an ethnographic artifact but as a colonial text.

Asturias’s participation in the Indianista literary movement of the twentieth century is largely responsible for instigating a treatment of “Popol Vuh” as an authentic subaltern expression (Quiroa, Extirpation 98-99), but John Beverly points out that the underpinnings of testimonial literature such as “quién tiene la autoridad de narrar” and “[quién] asume la autoridad, y la responsabilidad, de narrar su propia historia a través de un interlocutor letrado” are not always properly handled (10). Furthermore, Beverly challenges the emergent beliefs on indigenous voice:

Si la idea de subalternidad en la crítica postcolonial designa algo, es una posición socio-cultural […] desautorizada por una cultura dominante o hegemónica. No es que lo subalterno “no puede hablar”, como sugiere la famosa frase de Gayatri Spivak; habla mucho (la oralidad es a menudo una de sus características). Lo que ocurre, sin embargo, es que lo que tiene que decir no posee autoridad cultural o epistemológica, en parte precisamente porque está circunscrito a la oralidad. No cuenta para nosotros, es decir, para la cultura letrada. La forma de producción y recepción del testimonio le confiere esa autoridad. (10)

Ximénez’s role in the conservation of Popol Vuh is not always clearly defined as he is simultaneously both critic and proponent. Though he uses Popol Vuh to advance his argument that the indigenous beliefs and practices persisted in his day, he also uses it to exalt the native voice. To better illustrate this point, Ximénez could have dogmatically attacked the Quiché tradition citing and quoting passages as needed, but instead he translates it entirely, ostensibly for those who do not know the language. However, this caveat neither justifies nor obliges the co-presence of the Quiché transcription.[42]

Ximénez cannot simply translate the narrative without undermining his argument because that type of translation necessarily imposes him as an editor. Such a translation would shift the narrative from an objective, evidentiary observation of the natives’ actual practices to that of Ximénez’s subjective perception and interpretation. Ironically, while including the Quiché transcription in parallel strikes something of an evidentiary balance, Ximénez then assumes liability for the content. This is to say, Spanish readers unfamiliar with indigenous beliefs would automatically hold the content, which they would be reading in Spanish, to the same intellectual standards of reasoning to which they were accustomed from their own Western writings, and effectively reject the validity of the content on the basis of its primitive designs. To overcome these resulting vulnerabilities, Ximénez affixes his official credentials and an explanation.

At one time, not all discourse required an authorial attribution. According to Michel Foucault, “the texts that we today call ‘literary’ (narratives, stories, epics, tragedies, comedies) were accepted, put into circulation, and valorized without any question about the identity of their author” (149). In essence, the antiquity or fictionality of the work removed it from the modern spatio-temporal paradigm such that the work inherited its authenticity. Conversely, “scientific” texts would be “accepted as ‘true,’ only when marked with the name of their author” (149). However, the author-function reversed in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, and scientific discourse came to be accepted on the basis of its inherent truth rather than the reputation of the individual “christening” the written expression of that scientific truth, but “literary discourses came to be accepted only when endowed with the author-function.” As a result of the inversion,

We now ask of each poetic or fictional text: from where does it come, who wrote it, when, under what circumstances, or beginning with what design? The meaning ascribed to it and the status or value accorded it depend upon the manner in which we answer these questions. And if a text should be discovered in a state of anonymity—whether as a consequence of an accident or the author’s explicit wish—the game becomes one of rediscovering the author. (Foucault 149-50)

This is in fact what is seen in Ayer ms 1515 where Ximénez prominently places his credentialed authorization amid copious white space (Figure 16a).

Figure 16 - “Popol Vuh” and Escolios title pages bearing Ximénez’s name and title
Figure 16 – “Popol Vuh” and Escolios title pages bearing Ximénez’s name and title

Ximénez did not say who wrote it or when, if it had been dictated, the authority of the writer or orator, or if and where it was discovered. Ximénez is therefore forced to vouch for the material with the reputation of his own name, and in so doing, Ximénez purposefully elevates the status of the Quiché culturo-religious tradition through the addition of his authorization. He recognizes the need to buttress the mythistory in this manner because he had not initially done so in Tratado segvndo, a reflection of his originally intended usage as a didactic implement. But the initial lack of credentials was not an oversight; it simply wasn’t imperative when he began Tratado segvndo.

No author-function would have been necessary for Ximénez’s Arte de las tres lengvas because it was a descriptive, scientific analysis of the mechanics of three languages. The same is true of the confessionary and catechism, which are steeped in antiquity and common knowledge. The anonymous Quiché mythistory, however, lacked a reputable substantiation. After the title page, Ximénez’s name disappears from the text and though the disappearance of his name creates a narrative void, Ximénez does not disappear entirely because his presence is sustained through the text by way of his translation. When the translation ends, Ximénez breathes new presence into the text at what is both the end of Empiezan las historias and the beginning of Escolios a las historias (Figure 16b). He effectively cloaks the mythistory within his reputation and bookends “Popol Vuh” between his leading and trailing discourse. “Popol Vuh” undergoes an undulating metamorphosis between scientific reporting and generative discourse. He appropriates the mythistory to substantiate his argument, thereby extending his argument into and through the mythistory itself. Furthermore, by transcribing and translating the text in parallel, Ximénez’s voice becomes a choral harmony with myriad ramifications.

As previously noted, insofar as Ximénez credentials/legitimizes the content in anticipation of Western unfamiliarity, he incurs liability for the unverifiableness of the content, and any perception that the material is nonsense impugns his wisdom for engaging in the task. Ximénez has to reaffirm its existence on an expository level. The same scenario played out for Bernardino de Sahagún who “also found it necessary to defend the credibility of the speeches he was reporting to those who had viewed the Indians as barbarians because of their illiteracy; and it was also necessary to make clear that the content of Book 6 was not invented” (Mignolo 315). The adverse pressures stemmed from the barbaric, savage, and illiterate image of the Indians synthesized from the process of conquest and colonization (315).

Ximénez’s solution was to attach a preemptive defense. In this line, Néstor Quiroa observes that writers in that period—especially ecclesiastics—needed to justify their work, and that the justification was typically accomplished with a prologue:

The doctrinal prologue, as indicated by its name, often preceded doctrinal or ecclesiastic work. In this section the author took the opportunity to state his religious rationale. Similarly, the doctrinal prologue was utilized extensively in most of the first works, or historias, written about the New World by members of the mendicant orders. In addition to their religious objectives and ideology, mendicant authors were obligated to justify their work, especially when dealing with delicate matters such as indigenous religious beliefs and rites. Under these circumstances, the prologue reflected an accentuated condemnation and refutation of native religious beliefs. However, it should be noted that such validation was not enough to ward off investigation by the Inquisition, as in the case of Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagún’s recording of the Nahuatl culture of central Mexico. (“Ideology” 292) [43]

Thus, as a preemptive disclosure, Ximénez’s prologue somewhat remedies the vulnerabilities of the content and the liabilities of his authorization.

Ayer ms 1515 contains four title pages and four prologues. In the previous chapter it was shown that the mythistory is foretold in the Tratado segvndo prologue where it is identified as an inclusion and equated in significance to the confessionary and catechism. Since these other two constituents do not have individual title pages and prologues, we must consider that the mythistory was neither originally set off from the remainder of Tratado segvndo as it is presently.[44] It now becomes a real possibility that Ximénez added the title page and prologue after the fact.

Visually, the parallel style of the transcription-translation resembles the body of Tratado segvndo. All of these folia are inscribed on both sides and in a predominately columnar arrangement. However, the Empiezan las historias title page and prologue are neither in columns nor inscribed on both sides. Furthermore, Empiezan las historias is the only title page that does not begin its prologue immediately under the title (Figure 16a, Figure 11c). The abundant empty spaces demonstrate that the “Popol Vuh” title page and prologue were not created at the same time as the adjacent material.

Another telling irregularity resides in the syntagmatic presentation within the titles. Whereas Arte de las tres lengvas, Tratado segvndo, and Escolios a las historias all begin with nouns, Empiezan las historias stands apart as verb-initial and stands also as a complete sentence. In this way it functions as a signpost rather than a formal declaration of a textual boundary (Scott 26-29). It unintrusively suspends an ongoing action but then permits and/or encourages, the continuation of the action. Essentially, the dissimilar title page serves to mark the beginning of the “historias” for the express purpose of creating a point of entry to its constellation within Tratado segvndo.

We must again think about the evidence against the originality of this title page, first as the abundant white space, then as a syntagmatic variant, and finally as authorizing credentials. As an insertion, the title page represents an editorial process, which by its nature is a post-production event. And as editorial marks, the title page and prologue must be understood to interact with the text (Bray xvii-xix; Genette 12). As explained in the previous chapter, the title page and prologue subordinate the mythistory to the whole of Tratado segvndo. At the same time, the mythistory title page and prologue grant a measured autonomy because they possess the power to modify the reading insofar as the full understanding of a text is a function of the “complex interaction of its components” (McCabe 35).

The reader is informed at various points in the prologues that the text is directed at two audiences. First there is the missionary priest named in the title: Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro para la bvena administraçion de estos natvrales. According to Ximénez, effective ministry required an understanding of how to incisively teach the priest’s charges. Therefore, his first audience, the “ministro,” needed to know the indigenous beliefs, which he claims to be so well concealed as to be almost imperceptible:

escrivire en estos escolios, para dar la mayor notiçia q’ pudiere desta gente, a los venideros, y q’ no ignoren sus cosas. suponiendo como supõgo q’ muchas no se saben, por el secreto tan grande q’ entre si guardan, de miedo de el Pe. o de el español. y espeçialmente, de sus juntas, q’ ellos suelen tener, entre si. y mas si son cosa de ydolatria esas es tal el secreto q’ guardan q’ ni el muchacho mas tonto, ay remedio, q’ se descuide en manifestarlo, y solo por congeturas, se suele rastrear algo. (Escolios a las historias ln 230-237)

In this context, Ximénez’s reasoning for including the Quiché in parallel becomes perfectly clear. While it might be that “no falta quien diga q’ el tocar estas cosas […] es futil, y vano, porq’ ya estos naturales no se acuerdan de essas cosas” (Tratado segvndo ln 32-34), Ximénez has first-hand evidence to the contrary:

yo entiendo q’ eso cantan en lo publico, y donde el Pe. los oye, y q’ alla en secreto haçen muey lindas memorias de su gentilidad. de estas cosas, y otras muchissimas q’ han llegado a mi notiçia, intento el formar estos escolios a esta su historia de ellos anotando lo q’ es historia antigua, y çitando a la historia q’ queda antes puesta. y anotando lo q’ toca en punto de nuestra Sta. fee catholica pa q’ mas comodidad tenga el q’ se quisiere approvechar de este mi trabaxo (Escolios a las historias ln 133-139)

The currency of the Indians’ suspect practices demands that the missionary priest have a thorough understanding in order to ascertain that which is insignificant quotidian chatter and that which is not. Still, both cases presuppose a linguistic sufficiency to which end the priest can consult the parallel Quiché transcription as well as Arte de las tres lengvas.

The second audience contemplated by Ximénez is the curious reader that does not know Quiché.

quise trasladar todas las historias a la letra de estos indios, y tambien traduçirla en la lengua castellana, y ponerle los escolios q’ a la fin van puestos, q’ son como anotaçiones de la historia en q’ se van declarando las cosas de los indios, porq’ discurro q’ havra muchos curiosos, q’ quieran saberlas, y con eso si no saben la lengua tendran la façilidad, en poderlo saber. y tambien pa. desengañar a algunos a quienes he oydo hablar de esta materia, q’ o ya sea por no saber la lengua, o porq’ lo han oydo, en relaçion adulterada, de voca de otros juzgan de estas historias, ser cosa muy conforme a razon, y a nuestra Sta. fee como yo mesmo lo he oydo de voca de un religioso grave (Empiezan las historias ln 21-30)

Ximénez did not make this same explanation when he first advertised the mythistory in Tratado segvndo; there it was only “un tratado q’ le añado en la lengua quiche, y traduçido en la nuestra castellana, donde se ven los varios herrores” (ln 25-26).[45] The emergence of the inserted prologue through the post-production editorial process indicates a retrospect awareness of an additional audience and a solidifying conviction of an additional implementation, “tambien pa. desengañar a algunos a quienes he oydo hablar de esta materia” (Empiezan las historias ln 26-27).

Ximénez first states in the title caption that the mythistory is “tradvzido de la lengva Qviche en la Castellana para mas commodidad de los ministros de el Sto Evangelio” but he then states in the prologue that “havra muchos curiosos, q’ quieran saberlas, y con eso si no saben la lengua tendran la façilidad, en poderlo saber” (Empiezan las historias ln 4-8, 25-26). The inserted title page first appeals to convenience while the inserted prologue appeals to curiosity. With this second audience in mind, the split designation of readership demonstrates the interaction between the prologues of Empiezan las historias and Tratado segvndo. While the inserted title page subordinates “Popol Vuh” by facilitating the sacerdotal obligations of the first audience, the prologue seemingly accommodates a broader audience. Moreover, it creates a conflict because the original Tratado segvndo prologue and the inserted Empiezan las historias  prologue are forced to compete for control of the content.

As an instructional guide for clergy, Ximénez did not compose Tratado segvndo for circulation outside of the church’s walls, so his “muchos curiosos” are confined accordingly. An example is the church hierarchy that might not have interacted directly with the(se) natives and perhaps would not have a masterful knowledge of the Quiché language. Another possibility is the Indian himself, working within the convent or selected by a priest because of his special aptitude.

y despues de tan mal plantada la fee ha sido peor regada, pues aunq’ algunos ministros zelosos han procurado arrimar el hombro, luego descaeze con la muerte, o aucençia de tales ministros, q’ cuidaban de dar buen riego a estas plantas; y tambien por q’ no tienen en donde aprender [se latin] aquellos q’ saben leer para q’ de ellos se difundiera a los demas por falta de libros en su ydioma q’ traten de la fee catholica mas q’ las dos partes de su tha. de el Ve. Pe. fr. Domingo de Vico, y el cate[çismo] q’ como no han pasado de manuscriptos, es muy raro el q’ se halla, y tengo por experiençia q’ los indios q’ han tenido dicha de leerlos han reçivido mucho bien en sus almas, q’ si se ubieran impreso dichos libros muchos o todos ubieran gozada de este bien; (Escolios a las historias ln 166-186)

In any event, all parties with access to the manuscript, those who know Quiché and those who do not, will be able to study the ancient Quiché beliefs to identify its manifestations and to understand the positive and negative, useful and detrimental attributes.

Just as Ximénez endeavored to prepare a guide for his present and future colleagues, so he demonstrates the influence of his Dominican forerunners, in particular, Domingo de Vico. Recruited by Las Casas for the Vera Paz experiment,[46] de Vico came to the New World in a group of forty-six priests under the leadership of Tomás de la Torre. Almost immediately, de Vico “showed special interest in learning the native languages” (Quiroa, Extirpation 67-68). De Vico’s profound influence on Ximénez is evident by the fact that he is referenced with greater frequency and higher admiration of all the personages named in the prologues. Ximénez specifically looks to de Vico’s catechism written in the highland Maya languages (Quiroa 68-69; Escolios a las historias ln 94-96). This Theologia Indorum addressed not only “the nature of God and the creation of the world through the coming of Jesus Christ” but also “the major events of the New Testament concluding with the events of Judgment Day” (Quiroa 68-69). In Quiroa’s estimation, there were conflicting opinions concerning the utility of embracing the native stories:

As exemplified by the content of this work, Friar de Vico was convinced that use of the “similarities” or parallelisms between the indigenous stories and Biblical accounts was the most efficient way to explain the Christian message to the natives. According to de Vico, the Indians had originally practiced the Judeo-Christian faith but idolatry, or what he defined as the worship of wood and stone, had been introduced to them five generations earlier. De Vico’s reasoning originated from the popular theory among theologians of the time that the native population of the New World had originated from one of the ten lost Biblical tribes of Israel. […] The concepts of God, Heaven, and Hell were among some of the indigenous religious concepts that, according to de Vico, could be used indiscriminately to explain Biblical teaching to the neophytes because they fundamentally derived from the same Creator God. For instance, chapter 25 of his Theologia stated:

Y, ahora voy a alumbrar y a declarar lo que es cierto, para despertar vuestros corazones y para que abraís los ojos a la certeza de que solo hay un Dios: Tzakol, Bitol (es) su nombre en vuestra lengua.

[…] The religious community did not unanimously embrace Friar de Vico’s “syncretic” approach because of the theological implications it presented. It was believed that the use of indigenous stories to explain the Christian dogma would further encourage idolatry because the Indians were considered unable to distinguish between the two systems and would, therefore, embrace both indiscriminately. In 1576 the Inquisition officials issued a decree ordering the collection of such manuscripts from the monasteries, as well as prohibiting further translations of the Bible into indigenous languages. (Extirpation 69-71; internal citations omitted)

The notion of syncretism, as Quiroa uses it, carries a “pejorative sense, since it is regarded as a process which causes impurity in what is claimed to be an otherwise pure form of religion based on an impeccable revelation [which] is the way the term in often used in Christian theology” (Hinnells 507). Therefore, it does not satisfactorily capture de Vico’s tactic as quoted by Quiroa. Rather than attempting to merge their beliefs, de Vico appears to be seeking a pacific, common ground for dialogue. The Apostle Paul used the same approach speaking to the Athenians:

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown god. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; (The Thompson Chain Reference Bible, Acts 17:22-31a KJV)

Both Paul and de Vico directly engage their audiences on an intellectual plane. As Dominicans, Las Casas, de Vico, and Ximénez were trained in the Aristotelian-Thomist theology of intellectual proselytization (Megged 70; Quiroa, Extirpation 52-53). In this line, “[l]earning the language of the adversary was seen as a missionary weapon for an efficient Christianization of the natives” (Quiroa, Extirpation 55).

[L]anguage became part of the Dominican medieval mentality during the thirteenth century to convert “infidels,” specifically the acquisition of native languages for the purpose of understanding the history and evil beliefs of the adversary, as well as in forming the presentation of the message of Christ. This in turn prepared the Dominican order to accommodate the multi-linguistic, multiethnic population of the Americas two hundred years later. (Quiroa, Extirpation 56-57)

A parallel transcription-translation enables Ximénez to expand the implementations of his “futile and vain” endeavor beyond that of a solely ecclesiastical instruction. Ximénez can simultaneously argue for a more appropriate evangelical deployment while also intellectually engaging the natives by volleying their own tradition back for con­templation of Western perspective (Mignolo 315).

Heretofore it was shown that Father Ximénez contemplated two audiences, the “ministro” and the “curioso.” And while he reinforces the clergy’s need for reference material about the Indians, Ximénez likewise addresses a lack of material available to the Indians: “y tengo por experiencia q’ los indios q’ han tenido dicha de leerlos han reçivido mucho bien en sus almas, q’ si se ubieran impreso dichos libros muchos o todos ubieran gozada de este bien” (Escolios a las historias ln 173-76). The position that Ximénez expresses here inherently subscribes to a belief in the intellectual reasoning abilities of the natives. Missionaries had found themselves in the unfortunate position of not having access to native histories by which to evaluate native practices and customs.[47] Even so, Ximénez’s full assessment is not so clearly defined.

Como S. Pablo deçia de si de su hedad pueril, asi estos todo es cosa de muchachos por lo qual no son sus maliçias de tanto peso como lo son las de otros hombres de otras naçiones, y aun q’ algunos digan como dize N. Pe. Noreña en su carta q’ alcançan grandes maliçias, de q’ no ay duda, digo q’ como Dios N. Sor. suplio en los brutos con el instinto natural lo q’ les faltaba de talento para su conservaçion, asi en estos, les suplio de instinto q’ mas se puede llamar asi su saber q’ entendimiento, lo q’ de este les faltaba para su conservaçion (Escolios a las historias ln 53-59)

Because they retained a semblance of natural Adamic existence, they are not so much inherently wayward as they are simply not spiritually mature. One sees a similarity to Las Casas who according to Quiroa “interpret[ed] the natives’ devotion and offerings to their gods as positive characteristics, particularly if they could be persuaded to worship the Christian God” (Extirpation 67). Similarly, de Vico believed “the native stories, customs and rituals could be used as major vehicles for Christianization” (67). These strategies are not entirely condemnatory and not entirely justificatory. This is the substance of Ximénez’s context. To the extent that he embraces the commonality between the Christian and Quiché beliefs, he also calls for vigilant oversight against potential, but not necessarily imminent, apostasy (Empiezan las historias ln 46; Escolios a las historias ln 205-207). Effective, progressive evangelization in conjunction with vigilance against apostasy is why conserving the mythistory is his “most useful and necessary” work.

Father Ximénez’s attitude toward and his appropriation of the Quiché mythistory is not concrete. His praises and admonitions appear as textual ballast carefully balancing his controversial act of conservation. There is justification in reading Popol Vuh as a weapon of spiritual extirpation as well as a refutation of the extirpation doctrine. Ximénez’s Maya are not inherently wayward, but not fully spiritually mature either:

a mi me pareçe q’ el mas açertado modo para dar a conoçer quienes son los indios, y su mayor comprehension, lo q’ muchos hombres de buen talento han dicho, q’ para difinir los indios con difiniçion adecuada es definiendolos por contradictorias. (Escolios a las historias ln 42-45)

So it is no surprise that they possess, he concludes, “muchas cosas vituperables, mas tambien tienen otras muy loables” (Escolios a las historias ln 228-29).

There is no single, absolute, unambiguous explanation behind Ximénez’s conservation of “Popol Vuh.” Even Ximénez is uncertain about how to interpret the religious parallels:

yo me he llegado a persuadir viendo nuestras verdades catolicas embueltas en estos desatinos, lo uno a lo q’ diçe el Ve. Pe. fr. Domingo de Vico en […] su theologia indorum a q’ estos indios desçienden de las diez tribus q’ se perdieron de los judios, y q’ no bolvieron a su patria, y asi conservaron por tradiçiones todos los suçesos q’ nos refiere el sagrado texto y el demonio se los fue embolbiendo en muchissimos herrores. y lo otro, a q’ de no ser asi q’ desçienden de aquellas diez tribus. el demonio como tan sabio, alcançando por algunas conjeturas la venida de el Sto. Evangelio a estas partes, les sugirio estas mentiras embueltas en muchas verdades catolicas (Escolios a las historias ln 93-101; emphasis added)

Static approaches and studies of Popol Vuh do not capture the fullness or the complexity of Ximénez’s schizophrenic vacillations. Although Tratado segvndo presents the figure of a watchman surveilling “por donde procura el enemigo abrir la brecha para el asalto,” Escolios a las historias mitigates such harshness in explaining that his appropriation of the mythistory is not “con animo de q’ vean su barbaridad, y bestialidad, sino de mober a compassion” (ln 37-38; 157-158, respectively). “Popol Vuh” lies between. Discerning its context requires an availability of the whole of Ayer ms 1515 so that the reader can respond to the thrusts and parries of praise and admonition.


Rethinking the context of Popol Vuh is something that must begin at the most fundamental level. It is not enough to analyze the content alone because Ximénez’s “ma(r)kings” are both literal and figurative, and both manifestations are discernible only by a first-hand reading of the manuscript. Until the twenty-first century, students and scholars have had little choice but to rely on editions that unwittingly predisposed a particular reader response. Still, even as technology has the potential to remedy, at least in part, such defects, technology alone cannot undo a century and a half of manipulated presentation and flawed contextualization.

This study began the process of rethinking the context of Popol Vuh by exploring the evolution of “Popol Vuh” over the decades since its discovery in the 1850s. Some of the forces contributing to the reception and understanding of Popol Vuh were consequences of an evolving society; others arose out of deliberate acts. Only by exposing and raising an awareness of the contributing factors does it become possible to reconstruct Father Ximénez’s intent in conserving the Quiché mythistory. However, even as this plays out, it opens the door to problematic questions of authenticity. This is to say, if one begins by questioning the prevailing presumptions of Popol Vuh, one must necessarily also question the authenticity of the text, and by extention, the authenticity of Ximénez’s voice. But once the provenance of Father Ximénez’s text is established, his intended construction becomes apparent and his context emerges from the intertextuality of the prologues.

Exploring the synthesis of “Popol Vuh” and provenancing the manuscript is not just a foundation to reassess the overall context, but it is itself part of the “rethinking” process. Only after reorienting the reader’s approach to the material can she or he identify the complex interactions within the text. Ximénez’s message is not entirely justificatory nor entirely condemnatory. As uncomfortable as it may be, there is no single, absolute, unambiguous explanation for his conservation. Only in having access to the whole of Tratado segvndo can the reader develop an informed response to the thrusts and parries of praise and admonition within Ximénez’s “most futile and vain” but also “most useful, and necessary” work.

Presenting Popol Vuh in context is really a matter of presenting Ayer ms 1515 to the reader. The difficulty is that Ayer ms 1515 is, for the most part, unprintable. Aside from burdensome physical dimensions, the text’s unwieldy columns are not easily manipulated and the linguistic content is so esoteric as to exclude all but the smallest handful of potential editors. There is, however, an acceptable form to publish Father Ximénez’s work. Though the overwhelming majority of postcolonial readers will not count themselves among the “ministros” audience, Ximénez does not require that the content be reserved exclusively unto clerics. The scholarly-minded readership would seem to have a legitimate claim as members of the “muchos curiosos, q’ quieran saberlas, y con eso si no saben la lengua tendran la façilidad, en poderlo saber” (Empiezan las historias ln 25-26). It might seem that this has been precisely what twentieth-century editions have achieved, but it is not. Ximénez attaches a qualifier to the curioso audience: “y tambien pa. desengañar a algunos a quienes he oydo hablar de esta materia, q’ o ya sea por no saber la lengua, o porq’ lo han oydo, en relaçion adulterada” (ln 26-28; emphasis added). Permission to read the mythistory as a textual isolate is an academic stipulation for those who already have a significant understanding of evangelical operations and of the natives and their culture, but it is not an educational provision for the uninitiated. The educational function is subsumed in Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro para la bvena administraçion de estos natvrales. In order to properly convey Father Ximénez’s context, we must, somehow, find a compromise between the two dueling prologues.

Kate Bennett points out concerning John Aubrey’s Brief Lives that “to print an ‘unprintable’ text is a compromise, and much remains out of reach of the public domain which print represents” (289). Inasmuch as Chinchilla’s 1993 edition of Arte de las tres lengvas is a monumental contribution to the understanding of Father Ximénez and his times, her seven years of preparation are evidence of the profound difficulty in editing the manuscript. Scherzer, too, recognized the problematic nature of editing Father Ximénez’s writings back in 1854 and concluded that it requires “un conocimiento mas exacto y perfecto de estos dos idiomas que el que poseen los criollos de Guatemala” (Scherzer, “Introduccion” xii). It is unrealistic to expect a reader to master the Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Tzutuhil languages in order to consult the manuscript, but a compromise can be reached through the publication of the entirety of the Spanish content of Tratado segvndo, which is to say, the prologue, the Noreña letter on confessing the natives, the confessionary, the catechism, the mythistory (with its title page and prologue), and the scholium (with its prologue). Expressed another way, everything written in Spanish that is not in Arte de las tres lengvas. The Spanish content encapsulates Father Ximénez’s generative discourse because it is his natural language and the most accessible language of his “ministro” and “curioso” readership. It is therefore in the Spanish content that we are most likely to discern the authorial presence. It is to be hoped that a scholar will soon produce such a contextually accurate edition.


[1] Mali and McNeill provide lengthier discussions of the history of the term. Tedlock applies it succinctly to Popol Vuh (59).

[2] Similarly, Bernardino de Sahagún composed a full study of central Mexico for which he recived special attention from the Inquisition (Quiroa, “Ideology” 292).

[3] The Madrid Codex is also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex indicating the two previously separated halves now reunited in Madrid. Not mentioned is the Grolier Codex (also termed “Grolier Fragment”) that appeared in the 1970s. Its authenticity, in part a consequence of its brevity, remains undecided.

[4] Great Cycle = (13 baktun) * (20 katun) * (20 tun) * (18 uinal) * (20 kin). The kin is a solar day.

[5] Several authors have expressed these positions. Particularly insightful are William Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, and John Elliot, The Old World and the New.

[6] Perhaps as complex as the Maya vigesimal base-20 system was the sexagismal base-60 system the Babylonians adopted from the Sumerians. It is still used to calculate time and angles (Wallbank 15).

[7] There is very little biographical information on Father Ximénez. The information presented here is compiled from Rodríguez Cabal, Ximénez’s own Historia de la provincia, and Tedlock.

[8] It is generally held that Ximénez borrowed the phonetic original from a parishioner and returned it after completing his transcription. My research has led me to accord an equal or greater probability that Ximénez found the hypothicated phonetic original in some forgotten corner of a convent. And in light of Mignolo, one cannot rule out the possibility that Ximénez himself made the phonetic redaction from an oral recitation.

[9] Giselle Simon, Director of Conservation Services at the Newberry Library, believes that the binding is consistent with nineteenth-century work. Furthermore, she states that “it was a crude binding” and “the Newberry would not have bound this.” However, she acknowledges that the Newberry did, in the 1930s or 40s, add a calfskin overlay onto its pre-existing binding.

[10] Only Carl Scherzer (1857), Augustín Estrada Monroy (1973), Rosa Helena Chinchilla Mazariegos (1993), and Néstor Quiroa (2002) have published various prologues from Ayer ms 1515. Quiroa examined the Tratado segvndo prologue for its contextual implications, but until the present study, no one has edited or examined all four prologues for that purpose.

[11] I abbreviate Brasseur’s titles for readability. Hereafter, full titles will appear as footnotes: Histoire du Canada de son église et de ses missions depuis la découverte de l’Amérique jusqu’à nos jours, écrite sur des documents inédits compulsés dans les archives de l’archevêché et de la ville de Québec, etc.

[12] Published by Brasseur in 1864 as Relation des choses de Yucatan de Diego de Landa: texte espagnol et traduction française en regard, comprenant les signes du calendrier et de l’alphabet hiéroglyphique de la langue maya : accompagné de documents divers historiques et chronologiques, avec une grammaire et un vocabulaire abrégés français-maya, précédés d’un essai sur les sources de l’histoire primitive du Mexique et de l’Amérique Centrale, etc., d’après les monuments égyptiens, et de l’histoire primitive de l’Égypte d’après les monuments américains.

[13] Prescott was in good standing and frequent communication with Alexander von Humboldt. It was the latter who first brought attention to the Maya codices when he reproduced a portion of the Dresden Codex in his 1810 work, Vues des cordillères, et monumens des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique. The likelihood that Ayer was further specifically aware of the Maya writing system is supported by Humboldt’s collaboration with George Catlin, said to be one of Ayer’s first acquisitions after Prescott. “Catlin must have been known to him early, and without doubt this author excited his [Edward Ayer’s] imagination” (Lockwood 161).

[14] The full title is An Essay towards an Indian Bibliography. Being a Catalogue of Books, relating to the History, Antiquities, Languages, Customs, Religion, Wars, Literature, and Origin of the American Indians, in the Library of Thomas W. Field. With Bibliographical and Historical Notes, and Synopsis of the Contents of some of the Works least known (Hoyt 437).

[15] Sabin explains that “the notes appended are sometimes by Mr. Field” (Sabin v). It would seem that if not Field’s, the remarks would be those of the publisher of the auction catalog. This note has no attribution.

[16] “The Ayer Collection contains all but two of this series—Copie de deux Lettres envoiees de la Nouvelle France, being the Relation for 1655, and Lettres envoiees de la Nouvelle France for 1659.” The “Jesuit Relations” are from 1632 to 1673 (Lockwood 174-75).

[17] Recinos receives credit for finding the manuscript and making its first direct edition. Edmonson (viii) and López (123) attribute the actual (re)discovery to Walter Lehmann in 1928.

[18] Ingrid Roldán Martínez has a different take on the state of his political relationship with Ubico, suggesting some rocky times of “desavenencias” during Recinos’s time abroad in the foreign service.

[19] Renamed Academia de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala in 1979.

[20] For clarity and consistency, the Newberry call number will be used throughout to identify the collation of Ximénez’s Arte de las tres lengvas, Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro, Empiezan las historias (“Popol Vuh”), and Escolios a las historias. Unless stated otherwise, “Ayer ms” indicates the same.

[21] The catalog indicates that Father Ximénez’s items would be sold on this date (Paul 248), but it should not necessarily be read to imply that the transaction was completed on this date.

[22] My translation, with syntax assistance from Bruce Edmunds. See image next page (Figure 4).

[23] The thirteenth-century philosopher William of Ockham best identified this concept: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem ‘an entity ought not be multiplied unnecessarily’ (my translation). This concept is commonly referred to as Ockham’s Razor or the Law of Parsimony.

[24] Published in parallel French and Spanish. I cite only the Spanish portion for brevity and readability.

[25] His accounts seem to suggest that the university was not his first stop.

[26] The de-emphasized portion will be utilized at a later point. I present it here so that later references will retain context.

[27] I adopt Bandelier’s statement that “with exception of short notices in some encyclopedias, there exists, apparently, no printed record of the life of Brasseur de Bourbourg. His own works, chiefly the Introduction to the Histoire des nations civilisées etc., furnished the chief data for the above sketch.”

[28] Since he already had the text by this time, there is no need to discuss his two subsequent trips to the region: an expedition to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec from March 1859 to October 1860 when Brasseur claims to have visited the western highlands of Guatemala and lived among the Mam (Popol Vuh iv), and another to Mexico in 1864 that forced him to flee to Guatemala whence he returned to Europe.

[29] The volume “del mayor interes” is what is being identified herein as Ayer ms 1515.

[30] In actuality, Father Ximénez’s manuscript was not incomplete and Scherzer’s perception as such will be explained in the following chapter. Also, a detailed discussion of Gavarrete’s mysterious copy, and the fact that it was made in two disjoint abridgments, is reserved for chapter three as well.

[31] Reiterating in part footnote 9, Giselle Simon, Director of Conservation Services at the Newberry Library, believes that the binding is consistent with nineteenth-century work. Furthermore, she states that “it was a crude binding” and “the Newberry would not have bound this.” She also speculates that the text could have been bound in Guatemala: “I think it probably could have sustained more pest damage in Guatemala than it would have in France” and “if it was bound in Guatemala, I wouldn’t doubt it because of the worm holes and where they are and how they line up.”

[32] Probably May 5, 1854 based on calculations from the text (Travels 121-122, 239-244). In the next quotation, the “estacion de lluvias” occurs in late April or May through August or September according to other descriptions within the travelogue: “the first rains, which fall towards the end of April or the beginning of May,—the commencement of the wet season […]” (Travels 7; also 9, 122, 131, 213, 215).

[33] Scherzer’s 1856 report gives a more descriptive entry for gamma prime that supports this premise: “Empiezan las historias […]; nebst einem Anhange: Escolios á las historias de el origin de los indios, escoliadas para mayor noticia á los ministros de las cosas de los indios” (172). Scherzer’s introduction to the 1857 edition is translated from his initial report.

[34] Based on Villacorta’s 1929 edition that includes a bibliographic notice initialed by Gavarrete and dated 1875 (xv-xvi). Gavarrete states that he made a full copy of the entire Historia de la provincia over the interval from 1848 to 1875. Thus, his disjoint abridgment is superseded by the full copy. Because of the chronology, Himelblau could not (or should not) have conceived this as the uncited Gavarrete copy.

[35] As an illustration of the partial interaction, consider this hypothetical dialogue:

Scherzer: Señor. Gavarrete, the end of this text seems missing! Do you know what happened?
Gavarrete: I have no idea. The final pages must have gotten separated or damaged. But Ximénez recycled that material in the first tome of Historia de la provincia. You should be able to find the rest of it in there. If you like, you can use a copy I made a few years ago [whereupon Gavarrete hands Scherzer only the second abridgment].

[36] Quiroa considers Tratado segvndo as evidence of Ximénez’s agenda, but he considers Ayer ms 1515 to be a “single volume [that] includes three different sections” (“Ideology” 281-282). His position is affirmed in part and refuted in part by my evidence that Ayer ms 1515 is actually a unitary construction.

[37] My investigation leads me to conclude that this “religioso grave” of “grande autoridad” was Núñez de la Vega who became Bishop of Chiapa and Soconusco in 1684. He would have been the chief ecclesiastic during Ximénez’s novitiate and expressed varying opinions of the indigenous traditions.

[38] My citations are of Tedlock’s introduction and glossary. They should not be misconstrued as expressing a favorable opinion of Tedlock’s translation.

[39] As a further indication of Mexican correspondence and separation, Henderson offers evidence that Teotihuacanos established a commercial base in Kaminaljuyú in the southern highlands (96, 114, 124). See Figure 1 for locations.

[40] See Walter Mignolo’s documentation of the admiration that the missionary priests Juan de Torquemada, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and Andrés Olmos expressed of the eloquence of native speech (316).

[41] The subjects of the narrative define themselves as owners of the tradition because the text shifts to the first person, “Yo soy, yo soy el Quiché y tú, tú Tamuh.” See Constance G. Janiga-Perkins’s study on the assimilation of self and narrative in “‘What Does It Matter Who Is Speaking?’: Possessions of Self and Other in Knivet’s Admirable Adventures and Strange Fortunes.” Though Ximénez says that “solos los quichees, quentan de diferente suerte su origen,” the co-presence of the Cakchiquel and Tzutuhil share ownership of the narrator function. The narrative therefore lies in the collective dominion of the Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Tzutuhil.

[42] These characterizations will be supported in subsequent pages, though specifically, the assertions of ongoing practices come from Empiezan las historias ln 20-21 and Escolios a las historias ln 140-41; Ximénez’s explanations for translating the mythistory are found in Empiezan las historias ln 4-8, 25-26, and Escolios a las historias ln 139.

[43] For a full treatment of the aspects of prologues, see Alberto Porqueras Mayo, El prólogo como género literario: su estudio en el Siglo de Oro español. Quiroa perspicaciously summarizes: “Over time, the prologue took on different forms according to the type of text it served. It is possible to classify prologues into four categories according to their content, namely, introductory, perceptive, affective, and doctrinal” (291-92).

[44] However, we must also recognize that Ximénez had some flexibility since it is the last of the three constituents. “Adding” it at the end as he states in the Tratado segvndo prologue argues that Ximénez perhaps already had his transcription-translation at the time he drafted the rest of Tratado segvndo.

[45] Ximénez also does not mention Escolios a las historias in the prologue to Tratado segvndo, although, the titular similarities between the scholia and the mythistory would seem to indicate a temporally proximate post-production drafting and insertion.

[46] Vera Paz was one of Las Casas’s two attempts to establish a peaceful settlement of Spaniards and Indians.

[47] The dearth of evangelical resources appears widespread. Amos Megged writes that Father Diego Duran, a late sixteenth-century Dominican missionary to Mexico, “blamed the chaplains who accompanied the first conquerors in their forays of destruction and looting for burning and extirpating the sacred glyphs and books of the Indians in ‘inexplicable zeal.’” As a result, “the agents of Christianization—the friars—were insufficiently equipped to distinguish among the daily forms of heresy that took place before them” (68).


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Scott, David. “Signs in the text: the role of epigraphs, footnotes and typography in clarifying the narrator-character relationship in Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noirMa(r)king the Text: The presentation of meaning on the literary page. Eds. Joe Bray, Miriam Handley and Anne C. Henry. Aldershot, Eng: Ashgate, 2000. 26-34.

Sylvain, Philippe. “Brasseur de Bourbourg, Charles-Étienne.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 6 June 2008. < BioId=38977>.

Sylvain, Philippe. “Brasseur de Bourbourg, Charles-Étienne.” Dictionnaire biographique du Canada en ligne. 6 June 2008. < BioId=38977>.

Tedlock, Dennis. Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. Revised ed. New York: Simon, 1996.

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. 4th ed. Indianapolis: B.B. Kirkbridge Bible Company, 1982.

Villacorta C, J. Antonio, ed. Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala de la orden de predicadores. By Francisco Ximénez. Vol. 1. 3 vols. Guatemala: Sociedad de Geografía e Historia, 1929.

Walbank, T. Walter, Alastair M. Taylor, Nels M. Bailkey, George F. Jewsbury, Clyde J. Lewis, and Neil J. Hackett. Civilization Past and Present. 8th ed. New York: HarperCollins College, 1996.

Worden, William. “Los cuatro don Romualdos de Misericordia.” Letras peninsulares 17.2-3 (2004): 611-20.

Ximénez, Francisco. Arte de las tres lengvas achiqvel, Qviche y ,vtvhil ~ Tratado segvndo de todo lo qve deve saber vn ministro para la bvena administraçion de estos natvrales ~ Empiezan las historias del origen de los indios de esta provinçia de Gvatemala ~ Escolios a las historias de el origen de los indios. ms. VAULT Ayer MS 1515. The Newberry Library, Chicago.

—. Historia de la provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala de la orden de predicadores. Ed. Carmelo Sáenz de Santa María. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Mexico: Consejo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes de Chiapas, 1999.

—. Popol Wuj Online. 2007. Ohio State U. < index.php>.


For myself, and for all my teachers and professors
who nurtured and accompanied me on my journey


Susan Ashton recorded a song in the nineties observing the irony that “sometimes the hardest people to say I love you to are the ones you love the most.” I would suppose the same paradox applies for gratitude. This project is the culmination of a very long journey and I cannot possibly name all of the teachers and mentors along the way that recognized and nurtured the potential within me. As for this dissertation, I would be remiss not to mention my undergraduate professors Kathy King, who taught me to write for the humanities, and John McCaw, who encouraged my interest in García Lorca and from there, Hispanic letters in general.

Equally as difficult is to recognize all the ways in which my graduate professors have made me a wiser scholar and a better person. Connie Janiga-Perkins, I could not have imagined a better director. Your years of advising, your encouragements, and your gentle critique will always be with me, in particular, do you really need this sentence? William Worden, I could not have realized this milestone without your guidance at the onset, and your counsel by way of Rosa María, refúgiate en tu trabajo. Metka Zupančič, thank you for your nurturing spirit and perspicacity. Last summer I said I had an article; you said I had a dissertation. You were right. Bruce Edmunds (Professeur Cool) and Larry Clayton, you have always been cheerful and good humored, and you saved the day with your gracious willingness to serve on the committee. I hope my future students will say the same of me. And to all the longsuffering faculty and staff of the department of Modern Languages and Classics, Lisa LeCount in the Department of Anthropology, and all my colleagues and fellow students, thank you.

To my mother Maizie and my grandfathers McMurry Griffith and Dick Woodruff whose financial backing provided for the summer of intensive research and writing necessary to bring this monumental task to completion. May my success be to you some measure of joy and recompense. I am indebted to the personal support of my good friends, relatives, and associates David Johnson, Sean Walsh, Dan Rountree, Robert Griffith, Rosa María Stoops, Jane Daw, Rick Bishop and Covenant Life Church, Jim Falkner, Bill Gandy, and Dan Woodruff.

This work would also not have been possible without the magnanimous assistance of Néstor Quiroa, Wheaton College; Stacey Ayotte, University of Montevallo; Giselle Simon, John Aubrey, John Brady, and John Powell, The Newberry Library; Amy McCrory and Anne Fields, Ohio State University libraries; Pat Causey and the ILL staff here at the Capstone; The University of Alabama; and the University of Montevallo.

Finally, I thank Father Francisco Ximénez for leaving behind something so fascinating and unimaginably fulfilling, and my Creator who accords talent in proportion to adversity.


Dissertation Acceptance Signatures | By the Committee (January 30, 2009) • Constance G. Janiga-Perkins, Ph.D. • William Worden, Ph.D. • Metka Zupančič, Ph.D. • Bruce Edmunds, Ph.D. • Lawrence A. Clayton, Ph.D. | By the Department Chair (January 30, 2009) • Thomas M. Fox, Ph.D. | By the Graduate Dean (April 23, 2009) • David A. Francko, Ph.D.

One Reply to “Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh”

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