Chapter Three: Assignments and Readings

Assignment: Comparative Literature Discussion Forum

GOAL: To practice familiarity with different oral storytelling traditions and build the learner’s multicultural literary experience. To also build on close reading and textual analysis skills on the epic in a comparative multicultural writing activity. Learner’s work with two of the four provided excerpts from Greek, Maya, and Mali storytelling oral traditions. *Performances are also provided.

INSTRUCTION: 1) Choose two excerpts from two different oral traditions: Greek, Maya, and Mali. 2) Read each one at a time, and as you read 3) Annotate on the storyteller of each epic. *Write down your observations and reflections on the traits and role of each storyteller as narrator; include quotes. Express its tone and ways to engage audiences. What intrigues you? Are you engaged? Feel free to make inquiries. Ask questions about the similarities and or differences in your comparison, especially on the efforts by the storytellers to engage audiences as they relate social norms and values. Revealed cultural norms should also reflect the UN’s sustainability goals. Which ones? UNSDG

*Be mindful of inferences and assumptions.

Hesiod’s Theogony (700 BCE): Translated by Evelyn-White, adapted by L. Zang OER On “Theogony”

Homer’s Iliad (800 BCE): Translator A. Kline, Adapted by Mulder OER On “Iliad”

Maya Popol Vuh (1530s): Spanish, K’iche by F. Ximénez. Translator Lewis Spence OER “Popol Vuh”

Epic of Sundiata (1200s CE) OER On Sundiata *This source has two options: a text or filmed version


The Popol Vuh

This selection comes from the Mayan Popol Vuh, recorded in the 16th century using the Latin alphabet of the Spanish conquerors. The Mayans of the Yucatan Peninsula were converted to Roman Catholicism by Spanish missionaries but still recorded their historical texts in their native language. The epic was eventually translated into Spanish by the Dominican friar Francisco Ximénez in the 18th century. However, when this translation was lost, for almost 150 years, so too was the epic. The Popul Vuh was rediscovered in a Guatemalan library in the 1850s.

The text reflects the traditions of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala, but the section containing the story of creation was influenced by Christianity.

The epic is divided into a preamble and four sections, each further divided into chapters:

The Preamble attests to the antiquity of the oral text and how it was recorded after the Spanish conquest.

Part 1 provides an account of creation, tales of the Hero Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, and an introduction of the ball game that is seen in many visual representations in Mayan temples or court complexes such as Chichén Itzá.

The creation of animals is recounted first, but the gods are unhappy that the creatures cannot respond to them. They decide to make a new species out of mud. When that goes awry, wood is then used. Wood is marginally better than the weak mud, they can even speak and multiply, but they do not have souls and they fail to acknowledge their creators. Small animals attack the wooden creatures, and eventually a flood is sent to destroy them. The ones who survive become monkeys that are indigenous to Central America.

Part 2 provides a genealogy of the major characters and the famous ball game defeat, along with other contests of the lords of Xibalbá — the Underworld.

Part 3 returns to creation themes, particularly the creation of humans. The creators Tepeu and Gucumatz decide to try and make men out of maize (corn). Maize was a central crop for the Maya, and, like many other creation myths around the world, deities create humans from substances important to their culture. Yellow and white maize are ground together, mixed with corn drinks, and shaped into humans. However, this time the gods have made creatures that know as much as the gods themselves, which displeases them. The deity known as the Heart of Heaven blows a mist into the creatures’ eyes, limiting what humans can see and know.

Part 4 concludes with the recounting of historical migrations, the origins of rituals, the founding of cities, and the Quiche warfare with others. A final genealogy traces the leaders up to the Spanish conquest.

The following selections are from Lewis Spence’s Excerpts from The Popol Vuh: The Mythic and Heroic Sagas of the Quiche of Central America, 1908.


Lewis Spence, Excerpts from The Popol Vuh: The Mythic and Heroic Sagas of the Quiche of Central America, 1908.

Dennis Tedlock, Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of The Mayan Book of The Dawn of Life and The Glories of Gods and Kings, Simon Schuster, 1996.

Sumerian/Babylonian Gods in the Epic of Gilgamesh

  • An (Babylonian: Anu): god of heaven; may have been the main god before 2500 B.C.E.
  • ninhursag (Babylonian: Aruru, Mammi): mother goddess; created the gods with An; assists in creation of man.
  • Enlil (Babylonian: Ellil): god of air; pantheon leader from 2500 B.C.E.; “father” of the gods because he is in charge (although An/Anu is actually the father of many of them); king of heaven & earth.
  • Enki (Babylonian: Ea): lord of the abyss and wisdom; god of water, creation, and fertility.
  • nanna (Babylonian: Sin): moon god.
  • Inanna (Babylonian: Ishtar): goddess of love, war, and fertility.
  • Utu (Babylonian: Shamash): god of the sun and justice.
  • ninlil (Babylonian: Mullitu, Mylitta): bride of Enlil. OER Glossary for Epic of Gilgamesh


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