Most people know the legend of King Arthur, but not enough know about the once-and-future king of Mexico, Cē Ācatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. This hero-king has just as much right to have cheesy movies, over-the-top cartoons and avant-garde comic books about him as Arthur does.
Say what you will about Mel Gibson, Apocalypto helped raise awareness for the sheer awe and grandeur of Mesoamerican civilization.
Some have argued that the over-the-top gore and remorseless violence of the film does as much to damage the perception of the Mayans as it does help it, but they were pretty violent and it’s not like King Arthur’s story hasn’t been shown with needless violence.
Arthur was conceived when Merlin used magic to help Uther Pendragon bed Lady Igraine. He was raised by Sir Ector without knowledge of his destiny. He drew the sword from the stone to become king and founded Camelot. He married Guinevere, a Pictish princess and ruled the greatest (mythical) empire in British history. His reign came to an end thanks to the trickery of his sister Morgan Le Fey, who used a disguise to get him to sleep with her, conceiving Sir Modred, who would ultimately kill Arthur in battle. Guinevere also paid the ultimate price, facing death for her infidelity with Lancelot. As Arthur died, he was carried off to the Isle of Avalon. A prophecy foretold he would return one day, when Britain most needed him.
Now, Topiltzin (the name Quetzalcoatl used as king):
He was conceived by magic as the virgin princess Chimalman was struck by an arrow from the dying king Mixcoatl. Topiltzin was raised by the goddess Quilaztli, far away from his father’s kingdom. He returned to become priest-king of the Toltecs and found the city Tula. In his guise as the god Ehecatl, he courted the goddess Mayahuel, but she paid the ultimate price when losing her virginity meant death at the hands of other gods. Topiltzin’s reign came to an end thanks to the trickery of his brother Tezcatlipoca. Disguised as the god Titlacauan, Tezcatlipoca got Topiltzin drunk and convinced him to sleep with his sister. Disgraced, Topiltzin left the kingdom by sea, prophesized to return one day, when the land needed him most.
Of course, Quetzalcoatl had a lot of other adventures: with his werewolf-twin Xolotl he harrowed hell and with his brother Tezcatlipoca he butchered a primeval beast and used its body to create the world (Tez lost his foot for his troubles, but it was replaced with a mirror).
So, what is it going to take for non-European heroes to get the pop culture treatment? When can this hero-king again have his day in the sun?
At least he has an over-the-top cartoon.