Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature

edited by John Bierhorst. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $12.95. The book contains the Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl, the Ritual of Condolence through which the Iroquois both mourned the death of a chief and installed his successor, a Mayan political tirade disguised as a prophetic calendar, and a Navajo religious and therapeutic ceremony called The Night Chant. Not easy reading, what with unpronounceable names and inexplicable gods, but Mr. Bierhorst’s commentaries and notes are of great help, revealing as they do the complex and sophisticated meanings underlying the literal text. The purpose of the collection is to present these Indian works as literature, and in this it is successful. All of the pieces are unquestionably works of art. Maps, index, bibliography.