The Early Races in the Popol Vuh
Theosophical Forum, October, December, 1902 & January, February, 1903
We have heard much of the Sacred Books of the East. It is time to say something of the Sacred Books of the West, and their profound traditions of the making of the worlds, and the long past of human life. Among the world scriptures, some one point is generally accentuated, while others are left more dim and subordinate. Thus, in the scriptures of ancient China, which were edited, not written, by the great Confucius twenty-four centuries ago, the salient thought is Reverence; the august presence of unseen spiritual life. In the ancient Egyptian records, one is everywhere in presence of a profound feeling of the hidden worlds, whither the soul betakes itself at death, and of the great battle there waged for its destiny, the battle between righteousness and sin. Amen Ra, “the hidden sun,” and Osiris, the god of just men made perfect, both carry our thoughts to the hidden world, and all the religion of ancient Egypt is devoted to the raising of the veil, so that the hidden may be revealed. In the old Magian writings of Persia, we are brought face to face with the same great contest, but as waged in the world of the living, rather than as judged in the halls of the dead. There are everywhere the great twin Powers, Ahura Mazda, “The Great Breath of Wisdom,” and Angro Mainyu, “The Adversary,” both dwelling in the eternal might of Zervana Akerana; and the contest of these two powers is shown to us everywhere, in the outer world of trees and flowers and beasts and birds; in the human world of strife and struggle; and in the moral world of love and aspiration, struggling ever against egotism and hate. The scriptures of ancient India bring their great two-fold message of Rebirth, and Liberation from Rebirth, the path of the Fathers and the path of the Gods; and all else in them ministers only to this great double teaching, the head and heart of the Mystery Doctrine.
In the Sacred Books of the West, with the Popol Vuh of the archaic Guatemalans as their most important part, there are at least echoes and adumbrations of each of these elements; there are passages full of devotion and aspiration; there are hints of many Occult secrets of the hidden worlds, and the mystic life of man; but, most of all, there is a tradition, unrivaled in richness and detail, as well as in philosophic depth and poetical grandeur, of the early races, the great prologue and first act in the tragical drama of man. These records we shall translate, following the renderings of those learned men who, through long years of work and study in Central America, assiduous devotion to the still living records of the archaic races still dwelling there, and a thorough knowledge of the manuscript materials ammassed by the learned men who followed close on the heels of the old Conquistadores, have been able to make the Sacred Books of the West as intelligible and accessible as those of the East, even though the western records are far less generally studied or even known to exist.
In India, the great central figure is Manu; in Persia, Zoroaster; and we must begin by recognizing that there are many Manus and many Zoroasters. In ancient America, the analogue of Manu or Zoroaster is “The Serpent of the Azure Plumes,” called by the Mexicans Quetzal-coatl, from the azure plumes of the quetzal bird, and by the Quiches of Guatemala Gucumatz. We shall have made the first step towards a comprehension of the Sacred Books of the West, as soon as we recognize that, in Quetzal-coatl, or Gucumatz, we are dealing with a multiple personality, or even something more than a personality; for Gucumatz is often a cosmic and universal principle, though often also a great human law-giver, or, more likely, the type of a hierarchy of such law-givers, the parallel to the king-initiates of the archaic East. One of the modern historians of ancient America thus summarizes the tradition of Quetzal-coatl, considered as a human or semi-divine law-giver:
“From the distant East, from the fabulous Hue Hue Tlapalan, this mysterious person came to Tula, and became the patron-god and high-priest of the ancestors of the Toltecs (or Tula-tecs, ‘people of Tula’). He is described as having been a white man, with strong formation of body, large eyes, and a flowing beard. He wore a mitre on his head, and was dressed in a long white robe reaching to his feet, and covered with red crosses. In his hand he held a sickle. His habits were ascetic, he never married, was most chaste and pure in life, and is said to have endured penance in a neighboring mountain, not for its effects upon himself, but as a warning to others. He condemned sacrifices, except of fruits and flowers, and was known as the god of peace; for, when addressed on the subject of war, he is reported to have stopped his ears with his fingers . . . . . He was skilled in many arts: he invented gem-cutting and metal-casting; he originated letters, and invented the Mexican calendar. He finally returned to the land in the East from which he came; leaving the American coast at Vera Cruz, he embarked in a canoe made of serpent-skins, and ‘sailed away into the East.’”
This is the central figure in ancient American myth. The same figure, Quetzal-coatl, or Gucumatz, also occurs as a cosmic principle, in the Creation Stanzas of the Popol Vuh, which we now translate:
“This is the first book, written of old; but its view is occult for him who sees and thinks. Admirable is its revelation, and the record it gives of the time when all things were made, in the heavens and on the earth, the quadrature and the quadrangulation of their signs, the measure of their angles, their alignment, and the establishment of the parallels in the heavens and on the earth, at the four extremities, at the four cardinal points, as was spoken by the Creator and Former, the Mother, the Father of life, of existence, of him through whom all moves and breathes, father and life-giver of the peace of nations, of their civilized vassals; he whose wisdom meditated on the excellence of all that exists in the heavens, on the earth, in the lakes, and in the deep.
“This is the record of how all was in suspense, all was calm and silent; all was immovable and full of peace, and the immensity of the heavens was void.
“This is the first record and the first narration. There was as yet no men, no animals, upon the earth; nor birds or fishes or creeping things, nor wood nor stone, nor precipices nor ravines, nor plants nor bushes; only the heavens existed.
“The face of the earth was not yet manifested; there was only the quiet deep, and the vastness of the heavens.
“There was nothing yet that had a body, nothing which clung to other things; nothing that balanced itself or made any movement, or made any sound throughout the heavens.
“Nothing existed that stood upright; nothing but the quiet deep, the sea, calm and lonely within its bounds; for naught existed yet.
“Naught was but motionless silence, in the darkness, in the night. Only there were the Creator, the Former, the Dominator, the Azure-plumed Serpent, They who engender, They who give life, upon the deep, like a growing light:
“They are clothed in green and azure; this is why their name is Gucumatz: the being of the mighty wise is theirs. This is how the Heavens exist, this how the Heart of the Heavens also exists; such is the name of the Eternal, thus is he named.
“Then his Word came hither, with the Dominator and the Azure-plumed Serpent, in the darkness and the night; and thus spoke the Word with the Dominator and the Azure-plumed Serpent:
“And they spoke together: then they consulted and meditated; they understood each other; they joined their words and their thoughts together.
“While they consulted together, the Day dawned; and at the moment of dawn, man was manifested, while they took counsel on the birth and growth of the forests and climbing plants, on the nature of life and of mankind, wrought in the darkness and the night, by Him who is the Heart of the Heavens, whose name is The Great Breath.
“Of the Great Breath, the lightning is the first sign; the second sign is the line of the lightning-flash; the third sign is the thunderbolt; these three are the Heart of the Heavens.
“Then came they with the Dominator, the Azure-plumed Serpent: then they held counsel on ordered life; how the seeds should be produced, how light should be made, to be the sustenance and, nourishment of the gods.
“Thus be it. Be filled. Let the waters withdraw, and cease to encumber, that the land may exist here, that it may grow firm, and give its surface, that seeds may be sown there, and that the day may illumine the heavens and the earth; for we shall gain neither glory nor honor from all that we have created and formed, until mankind exists, the being endowed with mind.
“Thus they spoke, while they were forming the earth.
“Thus was the creation of the earth, as it exists: Earth, they said; and at that instant, it was formed.
“As a mist or a cloud was its formation in its material being; then like swimming fish the mountains came into being.
“Through power alone, and miraculous might, were they able to do what was decided for the making of mountains and valleys, with the creation of pine and cypress forests, which appeared upon them.
“Thus was the Azure-plumed Serpent filled with gladness. Thou art welcome! he cried; O Heart of the Heavens, O Great Breath, O Lighming-flash, O Thunderbolt!
“What we have created and formed shall come to perfection, they replied.
“And first were formed the earth, the mountains, and the plains: the course of the waters and divided; the streams ran serpent-like among the mountains: in this order did the waters exist, when the great mountains appeared.
“Thus was the creation of the earth, when it was formed by Those who are the Heart of the Heavens and the Heart of the Earth; for those are They named, who first made it fruitful, when the heavens and the earth, still lifeless, were hung in the midst of the abyss.
“Then they gave fruitfulness to the beasts of the mountains, who are keepers of all forests; the creatures who dwelt among the mountains, deer, birds, lions, tigers, serpents, the viper and the snake, who guard the climbing plants.
“Then spoke the Engenderer, the Giver of Life: ‘Have we made the shady woods and climbing plants, to remain silent, to be motionless? It is well that there should be beings to guard them.’
“Thus they spoke, while they were bestowing fruitfulness, while they fulfilled this work; and straightway deer and birds came into being. Then they allotted to the deer and birds their dwelling-places.
“’Thou, deer shalt dwell along the water-courses, and in the ravines; thou shalt sleep here, among the brushwood and the grass; in the forests shall ye multiply, on four feet shall ye go, on four feet shall ye live.’ And it was done as they said.
“Then were their dwelling-places likewise allotted to the birds, both great and small: ‘Ye birds, you shall dwell high in the forests, high among the climbing plants; there shall ye make your nests, there shall ye multiply; you shall have your life on the branches of the trees, on the twigs of the climbing plants.’
“Thus was it spoken to the deer and the birds, while they followed this command, and they all betook them to their dwellings or their lairs. Thus to the beasts did the Engenderer and the Life-giver allot their dwellings.
“When all were finished, both beasts and birds, the beasts and birds were thus addressed by the Power of the Creator and Former, the Engenderer and Life-giver:
“’Give voice, sing now, since we have given you the power to give voice and sing; let your speech be heard, each according to his. race, each according to his kind;’ thus it was spoken to the deer, the birds, the lions, tigers and serpents:
“’Pronounce our names, honor us, your mother and father; call upon the Great Breath, the Lightning-flash, the Thunder-bolt, the Heart of the Heavens, the Creator and Former, the Engenderer and Life-giver; speak, call us and salute us!’ thus was it spoken unto them.
“But they could not speak like mankind; they could only chatter, cackle and croak; without uttering any form of speech, each one according to his kind gave voice in different ways.
“When the Creator and Former heard that they could not speak, they spoke once more to each other: ‘They cannot utter our names, though we have created and formed them. It is not well,’ repeated to each other the Engenderer and the Life-giver.
“And to the animals it was said: ‘Ye shall be changed, because ye could not speak. We have changed our word: your food and nurture, your lairs and dwellings ye shall have; but they shall be in the ravines and forests; for our glory is not perfect, and ye call not upon us.
“There are yet other beings who can surely salute us; we shall make them able to obey. Carry out now your work, but your flesh shall be torn by teeth!’—thus was it said.
“’This is your fate!’ Thus was it spoken unto them, and then were these things declared to them, to the beasts both great and small upon the face of the earth.
“Then they sought to try once more; they wished to make a new attempt, they wished to make a new way of adoration.
“But they did not understand each others’ language; they accomplished nothing, and nothing was brought about.
“Thus was their flesh humiliated; and all the beasts that are here upon the face of the earth were condemned to be preyed on by each other.”
If we be asked in what way the ancient Quiches of Guatemala could preserve the memory, not only of their chronicles, but of elaborate creation stories and myths, such as those which we translated, one may reply in the words of Las Casas:
As for that, it must be known that, in all the republics of these regions, in the kingdoms of New Spain and elsewhere, amongst other professions and those who followed them, there were those who performed the functions of chroniclers and historians. They had a knowledge of the origins of all things touching religion, the gods, and their worship, as also of the founders of towns and cities. They knew the manner in which their kings and lords had arisen, as also their kingdoms, their modes of election, and of succession; the number and character of the princes who had passed away; their works, and memorable acts and deeds, both good and evil; whether they had governed well or ill; who were the righteous men and the heroes who had lived; what wars they had waged, and how they had prospered in them; what had been their ancient customs and primitive populations; the changes for the better, or the disasters that overtook them; in a word, the whole material of history; in order that the understanding and memory of the past might be preserved. These chroniclers kept count of the days, the months, and the years. Though they had not writing like ours, they had, nevertheless, their figures and characters, by the aid of which they could express whatever they wished, and in this way they had their great books composed with such art, such ingenuity and skill, that we might say our alphabet was of no great use to them. Our priests and friars have seen these books, and I myself have also seen them, though some of them were burnt at the instance of the monks, in fear lest, in matters of religion, they might be injurious.
So far the old Spanish writer. We return now to the text of the Popol Vuh, resuming the story at the point where we left off last month:
“Thus was needed a new attempt at forming creatures, by the Creator and the Former by the Engenderer and the Lifegiver:
“Let us try once more; already the seedtime approaches, and the dawn is near; let us make those who are to be our sustainers and nourishers.
“How may we come to be invoked and commemorated on the face of the earth? We have already tried with our first work, our first creation: we have not succeeded in making them worship and honor us. Therefore let us try to make men, obedient and full of respect, to be our sustainers and nourishers.’
“They spoke. Then took place the creation and formation of men; of clay was their flesh made.
“They saw that he was not good; for he was without cohesion, without consistence, without movements, without force, inept and watery; he could not move his head, his face turned only in one direction; his vision was veiled, and he could not look behind; he was endowed with the gift of speech, but he had no understanding, and straightway he dissolved into water, without having the power of holding himself upright.
“Now the Creator and the Former spoke once more: The more we labor on him, the less is he able to walk and multiply; therefore let us now make an intelligent creature, they said.
“Then they unmade and destroyed their work and their creation once more. Forthwith they said: ‘How shall we act now, in order that beings to adore and invoke us may be produced?’
“Then they said, while they were consulting anew: ‘Let us speak of them to Shriyacoc and Shmucane, who wield the blow-gun against opossum and jackal; try once more to draw his lot, and to find the time of his formation.’ Thus the Creator and the Former spoke together, and then they spoke to Shriyacoc and Shmucane.
“Straightway they held converse with these soothsayers, the foreempter of the sun and the foremother of light, for thus are they called by those whom are the Creator and the Former, and these are the names of Shriyacoc and Shmucane.
“And those of the Great Breath spoke to the Dominator and the Azure-plumed Serpent: then they spoke to him of the sun, to the formative powers, who are the soothsayers: ‘It is time once more to discuss together the signs of the man we formed, that he may once again be our sustainer and nourisher, that we may be invoked and commemorated.
“’Begin, then, to speak, oh thou who engenderest and givest birth, our foremother and forefather, Shriyacoc and Shmucane; let the germination be accomplished, let the dawn whiten, that we may be invoked, that we may be adored, that we may be commemorated by the man who is formed, the man who is created, the man who is finished, the man who is moulded; thus let it be;
“’Make your name manifest, ye who wield the blow-gun against opossum and jackal, twice engenderer, twice life-giver, great boar, great wielder of quills. he of the emerald, the jeweler, the chiseler, the architect, he of the Azure-green planisphere, he of the Azure surface, the master of resin, the chief of Toltecat, foremother of the sun, foremother of the day; for thus shall ye be called by our work and our creatures;
“’Make your passes over your maize, your seed-pods, to discern whether he shall be made, and whether we shall sculpture and elaborate his face of wood;’ thus was it said to the soothsayers.
“Then came the moment to cast the lot. and to salute the enchantment cast with the maize and the bean-pods: Sun and Creature! an old woman and an old man then said to them. Now this old man was the master of the bean-pod, his name was Shriyacoc; and the old woman was the soothsayer, the formative power, whose name was Chirakan Shmucane.
“Then they spoke thus, at the moment when the sun rested in the zenith: ‘It is time to take counsel together; speak, that we may hear, that we may speak, and declare whether wood is to be sculptured and carved by the Former and Creator; if this is to be our sustainer and nourisher, at the moment of seedtime, when the dawn grows white.
“’Oh maize, oh bean-pods, oh sun, oh creature, be united, and joined together,’—thus they spoke to the maize and the bean-pods, the sun and the creature. ‘Redden thou, O Heart of the Heavens, nor let the brow and the face of the Dominator and the Azure-plumed Serpent be abased.’
“Then they spoke, and declared the truth: ‘It is thus, indeed. that you must make your manikins wrought of wood, which shall speak and reason according to their will, upon the face of the earth.
“’So be it,’ they spoke in answer. At that same instant came into being the manikins wrought of wood; men were produced, men who reasoned; and these are the people who dwell upon the face of the earth.
“They lived and multiplied; they begat daughters and sons,—manikins wrought of wood; but they had neither heart nor intelligence, nor memory of their Maker and Creator; they led useless lives, living like the beasts.
“They did not remember the Heart of the Heavens, and this is how they fell: they were only a trial, an attempt at men; who spoke at first, but whose faces dried up; without consistence were their feet and hands; they had no blood, no substance, no roundness of flesh; their faces showed nothing but withered cheeks; their feet and hands were arid, their flesh was withered.
“This is why they did not bethink them to raise their eyes towards their Maker and Creator, their Father and their Providence. These were the first men that existed in numbers upon the face of the earth.
“Finally came about the end of these men, their ruin and their destruction,—of these manikins wrought of wood, who were in like manner put to death.
“The bean-wood formed the flesh of the men: but when the women were shaped by the Maker, and the Creator, the pith of the rush was taken to form the flesh of the women; this is what the Maker and the Creator ordained should make their flesh.
“But they neither thought nor spoke in the presence of their Maker and Creator, who had made them and had given them birth.
“Thus came about their destruction; they were drowned in a deluge, and a thick resin descended upon them from the sky; great birds of prey came to tear their eyes from their orbits; great birds of prey came to cut off their heads; great birds of prey devoured their flesh; great birds of prey crushed and broke their bones and sinews; their bodies were reduced to powder, and strewn broadcast, as a punishment for their deeds.
“Because they had not thought upon their mother and their father, on him who is the Heart of the Heavens, whose name is the Great Breath, because of them, the face of the earth was darkened, and a tumultuous rain began, raining by day, and raining by night.
“Then all the animals, great and small, came against them, and even wood and stone rose up against these men, ill-treating them; all things that had served them spoke, their pots and pans and dishes, their dogs and fowls, everything they possessed, ill-treated them openly.
“’You acted illy towards us; you bit us; in your turn you shall be tormented,’ their dogs and their fowls said to them.
“Their millstones spoke to them in their turn: ‘We are tormented by you; every day and every day, by dark as well as by daylight, always rattle, rattle, bang, bang, our sides cried because of you; this is what we endured for you; and now that you have ceased to be men, you shall feel our power; we will pound your flesh, and grind it to powder,’ their millstones said to them.
“And this is what their dogs, speaking in their tum, said to them: ‘Why did you not give us food to eat? You hardly looked at us, you drove us away, pursuing after us; you always found something handy, to strike us with, when it was your own time to eat.
“’This is how you treated us; we could not speak. But for that, we would not now have given you over to death. How was it that you did not bethink you, how did you not understand within yourselves? It is we who now destroy you, and now you shall learn what teeth are in our maws; we shall devour you,’ cried their dogs, tearing their faces in pieces.
“Then their pots and pans spoke to them in their turn; ‘Pain and sorrow you caused us, smoking our faces and sides; always exposing us to the fire, you burned us, as though we had no feelings; you shall feel it yourselves now, in your turn, and we shall bum you,’ said their pots and pans, insulting them to their faces. Thus did also their hearth-stones, demanding that the fire should blaze with violence under their outstretched heads, for the evils they had done them.
“Then were seen men running, pushing each other, full of despair; they sought to climb upon the house-tops, and their houses crumbled away, letting them fall to the earth; they sought to climb into the trees, but the trees shook them away from them; they sought to hide in the caves; but the caves shut in front of them.
“Thus was wrought the ruin of these human beings, creatures fated to be destroyed and overthrown; thus were their persons given over to destruction and contempt.
“And they say that their descendants are to be found, in the little monkeys that now live in the forests; this is the sign that remained of them, because they were formed of wood by the Maker and the Creator.
“That is why those little monkeys look like men, the sign that remains of another generation of human beings, who were only manikins, men wrought in wood.
“A great number of men were made, and during the darkness they multiplied; ordered life did not yet exist, when they multiplied; but they all lived together, and great was their life and their renown in the lands or the Orient.
“At that time, they did not worship, nor sacrifice upon altars to the gods; only they turned their faces toward heaven, and they knew not what they had come so far to do.
“Then lived together in joy the black men and the white men; gentle was the aspect of these people, gentle was the speech of these folk, and they were full of intelligence.
“Thus spoke those of that land, seeing the rising of the sun. Now all of them were of one speech; as yet they bowed not down to wood or stone; they remembered only the wood of their Maker and Creator, the Heart of the Heavens, and the Heart of the Earth.
“And they spoke, meditating on what concealed the coming of the day; and full of the holy word, full of love, of obedience and reverence, they uttered their entreaties; then, raising their eyes to heaven, they asked for daughters and sons.
“’Hail! O Creator, O Maker! Thou who seest and hearest us! Do not desert us! Do not leave us! O God who art in Heaven and on Earth, O Heart of the Heavens, O Heart of the Earth! Grant us children and offspring so long as the sun and the dawn shall go their ways. Let the seeds spring up, let the light come! Grant us to walk always in open paths, in ways without ambushes; let us ever be tranquil, and at peace with all our kind; let us live happy lives; give us life and being, free from all reproach, O Great Breath! O Flashing Lightning! O Thunderbolt! Sun-god! Messenger! Lord of Breath! Mighty One! Lord of the Azure Veil, Mother of the Sun, Mother of Light, let the seeds spring up! Let the light come!’”
The story of the “manikins wrought of wood,” is ostensibly a cosmic myth, with a brief irruption of the almost universal Deluge legend—so conspicuously absent from the archaic story of Egypt—which here has a touch of volcanic coloring, reminding us that we are in the region where volcanic cataclysms, from Quetzal-tenango to Mont Pelée, have so recently thrilled the world with horror. Incidentally, we may note that there are points of comparison between this Popol Vuh deluge legend and a story of great renown, which at least alleges Egypt as its source: Plato’s account of the destruction of Atlantis. These two both give the catastrophe a volcanic coloring, as contrasted with the Deluges of Genesis. and of the Chaldean and ancient Aryan Scriptures.
But there is really a great deal more in the Popol Vuh story than a creation myth, and one cannot help detecting the sly smile with which the narrator mingles that vanished and mythical race of manikins with the people who now inhabit the earth,—our worshipful selves, for example. There is a fine moral to the story; indeed, one may say that it carries the Golden Rule into wholly new regions, which other nations in their moralisings have left altogether unimproved. Oriental nations, in general, are not sensitive in their treatment of animals, and hardly any one who has visited an Eastern city, from Constantinople to Pekin, has failed to enlarge on the miserable lot of the homeless, shelterless and generally dinnerless dogs that roam the streets, and display their leanness to the sun. This cruelty to animals has produced a reaction, embodied in the precepts of some Oriental religions, such as Buddhism, and, even more strongly, its first cousin, Jainism. I have known a group of Jaina capitalists buy up the fishing of the Bhagirathi river for many miles, avowedly in the interest of the poor little fish, and somewhat forgetful of the well-being of the fishermen, whose hovels dot the river bank, among the scented acacias with their yellow nobs of bloom. And we have all heard of the Pinjra Pala, or hospital for sick tigers, buffaloes, jackals and the like, in Bombay, where holy fanatics give their blood to provide breakfasts for decrepit fleas. But these are the exception. In the East, callousness about the feelings of animals is the rule. In the West, the universal presence of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals at once attests our humanity and the great need for it.
So that the appeal for the dogs and fowl is not quite unprecedented. But outside the Popol Vuh it would be difficult to parallel the plea put forward for the better treatment of inanimate things. There is a wonderful vigor of fancy in this picture of the lords of creation sublimely impressed with their superiority, and maltreating and misusing everything they come in contact with, even to their pots and pans, their dishes and their ovens. If the power to see ourselves in others be the supreme test of morals, then this little sermon of the nameless archaic Guatemalan must take a high place among the precepts and homilies of the world.
But the finest quality of the story is peculiarly American. This mixing up of high and serious matters like the Creative divinities and their wrath against mankind with open fun and merry-making reminds us of the theology of Budge and Toddy,—those epoch-makers in the child-literature of the world; or, even more strongly, of the Biblical moralisings of Huck Finn’s dusky friend Jim, who was “more down on Sollermun” than any nigger he ever knew. There is high reverence in the Popol Vuh story; and in other parts of the same scripture, there are prayers full of a noble spirit of sincere and deep religion. Yet this real veneration for things venerable is quite compatible, here, as in the modern American parallels, with a spirit of mischief and humor. Here is a marked contrast with the almost unbroken seriousness, even gloom, of the Semitic scriptures, from the earliest Babylonian tablets to the Koran. In the Semitic books we often find a sardonic and biting wit, which finds a modern analogue in certain Scottish anecdotes; but of genuinely good-natured humor—and humor is essentially good-natured—the Semitic records have hardly a trace. Humor comes of a sense of power, joined with a humane entering into the feelings of others; and, where the Semites have had the humanity, as in certain of the Prophetic books and the New Testament, they have lacked the power. Where power was present, as with the Babylonian conquerors or the Moslems, there seems to have been none of that ability to see oneself in others which is the distinctive mark of veritably human life.
In a famous Vedic hymn, the chanting Brahmans round their altars are likened to the green and brown frogs, croaking with joy around a pool, when the hard earth is cooled and softened by the rains. Another Sanskrit funny story of Vedic age likens the same reverent sacrificers to a row of white dogs, each holding the tail of his predecessor in his mouth, as the white robed Brahmans held the hem of each others’ garments, as they marched solemnly around the sacrificial fire. Later Sanskrit fables have as their comic characters mice, crows, elephants, jackals, and, last but not least, monkeys. And it is worth noting that in India the monkeys are regarded as degenerate human beings, and not ourselves as their progressive and pushing descendants. We all remember the famed monkey-king, Hanuman, in the epic of Rama and Sita, with his character for bravery, magnanimity, and high chivalry. There would be less reluctance to own an ancestor like that. Indeed, if we are to credit popular tradition in India, we have no choice; for they say that we westerners are the offspring of a colony of Hanuman’s Simian folk and the outer barbarians among whom they settled, perhaps an allusion to the primitive Aryan invasion mingling with the Euskarians or Silurians, or whatever we call the cave men and their forbears, of paleolithic or eolithic times.
Indeed it is impossible for anyone living in a land also inhabited by monkeys not to be struck by the wizened humanity of much of their lives; they are fanciful and erratic, it is true, but they are in reality far more full of purpose and consecutiveness than the creator of the Bandar-log admits. A recent traveler in the land of the Popol Vuh, for instance, writes of them thus:
“high up on the wild fig-trees were black, long-tailed monkeys, common and tame, their wonderfully human faces peering down at the intruders, the mothers clasping their hairy little babies to their breasts with one arm, and with the other scratching their heads in a puzzled manner.”
The same writer speaks of a little, white-faced monkey with “a face nearly devoid of hair, and as white as a European,” so impossible is it to avoid comparisons between Simian and man.
No wonder, then, that the second funny story in the Popol Vuh is also concerned with monkeys, and, as before, with a markedly anti-Darwinian conviction that monkeys are degenerate men. This second story purports to relate events of a much later cycle than the first, and there are echoes in it of doings known to us from the earliest Central American chronicles, several of which we possess. The tale is so well told, that I give it in full, just as the author of the Popol Vuh left it; premising, merely, that it is the sequel of a very remarkable narrative comparable, perhaps, to the Homeric and Vergilian journeys to Hades:
“We shall now relate the birth of Hunahpu and Shbalanqué. This is their birth which we are going to relate: when she had reached the day of their birth, the young woman, names Shquiq, brought forth.
“The old woman was not present, however, when they were born; they were produced instantaneously, and both were delivered, Hunahpu and Shbalanqué were their names, and in the mountains were they born.
“Then they were brought to the house; but they would not sleep: ‘Go, throw them out of doors, for they do nothing but cry!’ said the old woman. Then they put them on an ant-heap, but their sleep there was sweet; so they took them away from there, and laid them on thorns.
“But the desire of Hunbatz and Hunchouen was, that they should die on the ant-hill; they desired it because they were their rivals, and because they were an object of envy to Hunbatz and Hunchouen.
“In the beginning, their young brothers were not received by them in the house; these did not know them at all, and so they were reared in the mountains.
“But their wisdom was not shown because of their envy, the evil wish of their hearts having gained the mastery over them, although no act on the part of Hunahpu and Shbalanqué provoked them.
“For they did nothing but hunt with the blow-pipe every day; they were not loved either by their grandmother nor by Hunbatz or by Hunchouen; they gave them nothing to eat, only when the meal was ended, when Hunbatz and Hunchouen had finished eating, they came.
“But they did not take offense, nor were they angry, suffering with contentment; for they knew their nature, and saw as clearly as day. So they brought birds, when they came each day; but Hunbatz and Hunchouen ate them without giving them anything, whether to Hunahpu or Shbalanqué.
“Hunbatz and Hunchouen did nothing but play the flute and sing. Now once Hunahpu and Shbalanqué came without bringing any birds, and when they came, the old woman flew into a passion.
“’Why do you bring no birds?’ was said to Hunahpu and Shbalanqué—’This is the cause of it, our Grandmother; only our birds have caught in the thick branches of the tree,’ they answered: ‘we are not able to climb up the tree to take them, our Grandmother; but let our elder brothers climb up; let them come with us, and bring the birds down;’ they added.
“’It is well, we shall go with you to-morrow at dawn;’ said the elder brothers in answer. But the wisdom of Hunbatz and Hunchouen was dead within them concerning their downfall: ‘We shall change their natures and their bellies, and let our word take effect because of the great torments which they have inflicted on us. They wished us to perish and to be done to death, and that misfortune should overtake us, their young brothers. They have degraded us in their thoughts like slaves; in like manner shall we humiliate them, and we shall do it as a sign.’
“Said they to each other, while they were going to the foot of a tree called Canté (yellow wood), accompanied by their elder brothers; they advanced, busying themselves with shooting with their blow-guns; numberless were the birds that twittered at the summit of the tree, and their elder brothers marveled to see so many birds.
“There were the birds, but never a one of them came falling to the foot of the tree, and: ‘not one of our birds fell yet: go, throw them down, you others,’ they said to their brothers. ‘It is well,’ they replied.
“But when they had climbed up the tree, the tree grew, and its trunk thickened; and afterwards, when Hunbatz and Hunchouen wished to come down, they were not able to come down from the top of the tree.
“So they said from the summit of the tree: ‘How has this happened to us, Oh our younger brothers? Miserable are we! This tree affrights those who look at it, oh ye our brothers,’ they said, from the top of the tree.
“And Hunahpu and Shbalanqué answered: ‘Take off your belts, tie them round your waists, and leave a long end hanging behind, in that way you will be able to come down easily,’ added their two brothers.
“’It is well,’ they replied, loosening the ends of their belts: but at the same instant they became tails, and they were changed into monkeys.
“Then they went away immediately through the tree-tops, among the great and little hills; they went away everywhere through the woods, grimacing, and balancing themselves on the branches of the trees. Thus were overcome Hunbatz and Hunchouen by Hunahpu and Shbalanqué; but it was only through their magic power that they did it.
“Then they came home. Returning, they said to their grandmother and their mother: ‘Grandmother, what has happened to our brothers, that in an instant their faces have become like those of the beasts ?’ they said.
“’If it is you who have done these things to your brothers, you have ruined me, you have overwhelmed me with sadness. Do not deal thus with your elder brothers, oh my children’ the old woman replied to Hunahpu and Shbalanqué.
“Then they replied to their grandmother: ‘you shall see our brothers’ faces again; they shall come back: but only it shall thus be a trial for you, grandmother; be careful not to laugh. Now learn what has befallen them.’
“Immediately they began to play on the flute, and they played the air called Hunahpu-Qoy—Hunahpu’s monkey.
“After that they sang, and played the flute and drum, taking their flutes and hand-drums; then making their grandmother sit down beside them, they played their instruments, to call forth their elder brothers by their sounds and by their songs, the air of which was called Hunahpu’s monkey.
“Then Hunbatz and Hunchouen came, and began to dance, as they approached; but, as soon as the old woman saw their ugly faces, she laughed while looking at them, without being able to stop laughing; but the same moment they ran away, and she saw their faces no more.
“’You see, grandmother; they have gone away to the woods. What have you done, grandmother? We can only make this trial four times, and only three times remain.
“’We shall call 1hem with the sound of the flute, and with singing, keep back your laughter, and let the trial begin again,’ added Hunahpu and Shbalanqué.
“Forthwith they began to play the flute anew; and they came dancing back as far as the middle of the hall, giving their mother so much pleasure, and so well arousing her mirth, that she soon burst out into a fit of laughter: there was in truth something so grotesque in their monkey-faces, with the width of their paunches, the waggling of their tails, and their flat bellies, that the old woman had good reason to laugh, when they entered.
“Then they ran away back to the mountains. ‘What are we going to do now, Grandmother? For the third time we shall begin the trial,’ said Hunahpu and Shbalanqué.
“They played the flute once again, and they came back dancing once more; and for awhile their grandmother was able to keep from laughing. The monkeys climbed up the terrace of the house, showing their big, red eyes, and their long snouts, and the grimaces of every sort that they made to themselves.
“Then the old woman looked at them once more, and soon she burst out laughing. But their faces were no more seen, on account of the old woman’s laughter: ‘This once more, grandmother, we shall call them forth from the wood, and this will be the fourth time,’ said Hunahpu and Shbalanqué.
“They were called forth once again by the sound of the flute; but the fourth time they would not come, and fled away into the woods. Then they said to their grandmother: ‘We have tried, grandmother, but they have not come, although we tried to call them. Do not grieve about it: we are here, your grandchildren, and we shall look on you as our mother, grandmother, since it comes that we remain, in place of our elder brothers, who were called and named Hunbatz and Hunchouen, as they were called,’ said Hunahpu and Shbalanqué.
“Now Hunbatz and Hunchouen were invoked by the musicians and singers of the people of olden times, and formerly they were invoked likewise by the painters and sculptors. But they were changed into beasts and became monkeys, because they grew proud, and ill-treated their brothers.
“Thus their reason was destroyed; thus Hunbatz and Hunchouen were lost and destroyed, when they were changed into beasts. But before that they lived constantly in their houses, and as they were great musicians and singers, they accomplished great things, while they lived with their grandmother and their mother.”
“Now Hunbatz and Hunchouen were great musicians, and singers: having grown up in the midst of great labors and great toils, which they had passed through, tormented in every way, they had become great sages: they had become equal as flute-players, singers, painters and sculptors; everything came forth perfect from their hands.
“They knew certainly what was their birth, and they were instructed likewise who had gone to that they Shibalba, were the representatives of their fathers where their fathers died; they were full of wisdom, were Hunbatz and Hunchouen, and in their wisdom they had known from the outset all that concerned the existence of their young brothers.”
The art-sense reflected in the allusions to painting, music and sculpture takes us back direct to the marvelously sculptured monoliths of Copan, Palenqué and Quirigua. On some of the columns of the latter, so strongly reminiscent of the obelisks of the Nile valley, are faces which have as high a plastic feeling as any archaic sculpture, that of ancient Hellas alone excepted. As to their music—in which the two wicked elder brothers were so proficient,—I should like to say much; but it would be unjust to a theme of high importance and interest, to introduce it as merely a corollary to another subject.