Popol Vuh Misapprehensions of Fact

Since Popol Vuh first entered the world stage in 1857, a numerous myth and misapprehensions of fact have become deeply entrenched in the “lore” of Popol Vuh. 

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“Popol Vuh” is not an original title
Ayer ms 1515 (which is the oldest surviving source text) is merely referenced as “las historias del origen de los indios” and has no actual title. Carl Scherzer used this as a formal title in his 1857 edition, but it was Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg who coined “Popol Vuh” in his 1861 edition titled “Popol Vuh. Le Livre Sacré.¨ But Brasseur so trashed Scherzer’s work, and Brasseur included such a lengthy 262-page prefatory “dissertation” that Brasseur’s edition became regarded as more authoritative. Furthermore, Brasseur concealed the fact that he possessed the Ayer manuscript in his library. After Brasseur’s death, the manuscript passed to Alphonse Pinart and then to Edward E. Ayer who donated it to The Newberry Library in 1911 where it was not (re)discovered until 1941. This long period of unavailability prevented anyone from ever correcting Brasseur’s arbitrary title and it has stuck ever since.

The phrase “Popol Vuh” IS in the manuscript
Brasseur did not pull the phrase “Popol Vuh” out of thin air. It can be found in the third bicolumnar folio as seen here. Of course, the Quiché spelling differs and thus gave rise to the alternate modern spelling of “Popol Wuj”.

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“Popol Vuh” does not require a definite article
Even where it appears in the manuscript, “Popol Vuh” is not preceded by a definite article. Westerners have a tendency to elevate sacred texts through the use of definite articles, as is the case with The Bible, The Talmud, The Quran, The Bhagavad Gita, etc, etc. Though it seems somehow incorrect or unnatural not to use a definite article, it is perfectly acceptable and proper to do so for Popol Vuh when it does not title a specific edition.

Ayer ms 1515 was likely bound in Guatemala
According to Giselle Simon, Ayer ms 1515 was likely bound in Guatemala. (See Woodruff, John M. The “most futile and vain” Work of Father Francisco Ximénez: Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh. U. Alabama, 2009. Print.)

Juan Gavarrete’s manuscript is not lost
Gavarrete’s manuscript is not lost. (See Woodruff, John M. The “most futile and vain” Work of Father Francisco Ximénez: Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh. U. Alabama, 2009. Print.)

Carl Scherzer was not a physician
Scherzer was a lawyer, not a physician. The misconception seems to have started with Edmonson who misinterpreted Scherzer’s honorific “Dr.” as an indicator of Scherzer’s profession.

Alphonse Pinart was not a book dealer
Alphonse Pinart was an ethnolinguist, not a book dealer. (See Woodruff, John M. The “most futile and vain” Work of Father Francisco Ximénez: Rethinking the Context of Popol Vuh. U. Alabama, 2009. Print.)


MLA Cite As Woodruff, John M. "Popol Vuh Misapprehensions of Fact." https://www.johnwoodruff.com/w?page_id=2309. Accessed 09 Dec 2019. Web..

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