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Invitation to World Literature

Popol Vuh Popol Vuh – Key Points

Key Teaching Points and Discussion Prompts


  1. What do the twins One Hunahpú and Seven Hunahpú have in common with the twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué? How are they different? Why do you think that both sets of heroes are twins? Are there similar twins in European myths? (e.g. dioscuri) What is special about twins? Why are there two sets of twins?
  2. How do Hunahpú and Xbalanqué outwit the gods and avoid the fate of their father and uncle?
  3. What is the problem with the wooden people?

Plot Actions

  1. How do the Quiché rise to prominence, and what does their rise have to do with fire?
  2. Why do you think the gods allowed the Earth to remain in total darkness for so long, without a sun?
  3. Why do you think the story of creating humans stops just before the real humans are finally created? What is the purpose of diverting the story back to the hero twins?
  4. There is a flood story in Popol Vuh. How is it like and unlike the flood stories in the Biblical Book of Genesis and The Epic of Gilgamesh?
  5. Why do the Maya migrate from their ancestral home of Tulan to their new Guatemalan home? How does language figure in the story?


  1. What does the ball game the hero twins play seem to represent? Does any other creation myth include a sport? What might it stand for?
  2. Why do the gods want humans to exist? Are they meant simply to provide worship for the gods, or are humans meant to be caretakers of the Earth?
  3. What role does trickery play in the story? How do the tricks of the hero twins compare to those of Monkey in Journey to the West?
  4. Violence is a common occurrence in this work, as well as in many others. Why and how does violence function in this text, especially in great Creation myths and stories (i.e. The Flood in the Bible and The Epic of Gilgamesh)? Why is there violence depicted between humans and humans as well as humans and gods?

Discussion Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking

  1. Why was it important to the original Mayan authors to include the lineages of noble leaders? Why was it important to the Mayan translators, working under Spanish rule, to preserve those records?
  2. What does it say about the gods that they make mistakes? Their first three attempts at making humans all fail. Does this take away from their godliness? Are the Mayan gods supposed to be perfect, all-powerful, or all-wise?
  3. Unlike many creation narratives, in Popol Vuh there is no single, all-powerful god who creates everything. Many gods at many levels of influence cooperate to create the universe. What does this tell you about Mayan culture? Does it appeal to you?
  4. Why do you think the Quiché are the greatest of human tribes in the story? How do they get their predominance, and how do they show their superior intelligence or trickery?
  5. What are your thoughts about stories told within stories?  Why is this narrative style significant?  What other stories do you know that tell tales within a larger narrative?

Series Directory

Invitation to World Literature


Produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation with Seftel Productions. 2010.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-892-0