Lbeck's Dance of Death

The Physician

Translations and notes are to be found below.

The physician

De Arste

Se ik mn water rechte an,
So is mine kunst altomalen gedn.(1)
De dt wil mi nu alsus lonen;
He denket miner nicht lenger to schonen.
Mannigen hebbe ik geholpen mit miner kunst,
Ein dl umme gelt, ein dl umme Got, ein dl umme gunst.
Nu kan ik mi sulven nicht lenger redden dat leven,
Worde mi k eine halve appoteken geven.
Ein rike man hadde mi boden gesant,
He gaf mi einen nobelen in de hant,
Dat ik em guden rt mochte geven;
Sus hebbe ik em up de appoteken geschreven.
Noch k ein ander, de is mede in dem rade,
Dr queme mi k noch af eine vette brade,
Mit velen kranken, de eren trst up mi setten,
Men de dt en wil miner nicht vorgetten.
De sake wil kort so mit mi werden,
Dat mn lcham wert togevoget der erden.
Hrumme ik Gode alle desse sake bevele
Unde ik bidde em, dat he wille entvangen mine sele.
Cosma unde Damin, gi hilgen arsten unde mertelr beide.
Vorwervet mi jo nu to Gode gt geleide.

Death with scythe

De doet

Her doctor, vele hefstu gesecht van dinen kranken,
Nu beginnestu sulven k sere to anken.
Got is de hogeste arste unde de beste,(2)
He helpet rst unde k in dat leste.
He sleit unde maket wedder gesunt alle dage
An sele, an live na sinem behage.
Men schal den arsten eren, so heft Salomon geschreven;
Hrumme en schal sik dn herte nicht vorheven.
Wente sulven kanstu di nicht gehelpen klein noch grt,
Men Got mach di helpen t aller nt.
Dat deit he gerne, wente he is vul gnaden,
So vern du de armen nicht hefst so sr beladen
Unde hefst to vele geldes van en genomen,
Al was en dat k weinich to hulpe komen.
So we dat wil, dat sik Got siner schal vorbarmen,
De schal k barmhertich wesen over de ntroftigen armen.
De hilgen arsten unde mertelr Cosma unde Damin,
De hebben dit alsus mit vlite gedn.
De minschen arstedieden se an sele, an live t rechter mildicheit,
Drto leten se sik mertelen dorch den loven der cristenheit.
Diner msterschop en schal allene nicht tohoren,
Dattu alle tt scholest gelt upboren,
Men meist umme leve dine kunst dorch Got bewisen;
Nicht du allene, men al de sik an kunst der arstedie prisen,
Dat si in dem hovede, in den benen, efte in dem magen;
Den kranken to Gode reisen, dat belonet Got to ewigen dagen.

The Physician

If I see my water correctly,(1)
then my [medical] art is completely done.
Death will now reward me thus.
He no longer means to spare me.
I have helped many people with my [medical] art.
Some for money, some for God, some to be in good graces.
Now I can no longer save my own life,
even if I were given half a pharmacy.
A rich man had sent for me;
he gave me a noble(2) in my hand
that I might give him good advice.
Thus I wrote him [a prescription] for the pharmacy.
Furthermore another person, who is in the city council;
there I also received a fat roast [as payment].
There are many ill people who put their trust in me
but Death will not forget me.
It will shortly happen to me
that my corpse will be added to the earth.
Therefore I commit all these things to God
and I pray to him that he will receive my soul.
Cosmas and Damian(3), both of you holy physicians and martyrs,
now give me good escort to God.


Mr. Doctor, you have said much about your sick [patients];
now you also begin to complain much yourself.
God is the highest physician and the best;(4)
he helps first - and also in the last.
He strikes [with illness] and makes healthy again all days.
In soul, in body, as he pleases.
You shall honour the physician - thus has Solomon written(5)
but still your heart shouldn't raise itself too high
since you cannot help yourself [neither] little nor great.
But God can help you out of all distress;
he does this readily because he is full of mercy
insofar as you haven't strained the poor too much,
and have taken too much money from him,
even when it [the cure] didn't help him much.
So he who wishes that God should have mercy upon him,
he must also [himself] be merciful towards the needy poor.
The holy physicians and martyrs Cosmas and Damian(3) -
they have done it thus with diligence:
They cured people in soul, in body, out of real charity,
furthermore they let themselves suffer martyrdom through love for Christianity.
Your mastery should not only mean,
that you should always earn money,
but rather prove your love for your [medical] art through God.
Not you alone, but all those who take pride in their medical art -
be that in the head, in the leg or in the stomach.
To rouse the sick to God - that will God reward until eternal days.(6)

The physician Death to the physician Click the small pictures to see the original pages.

See the page about the Black Death.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

Water...: Urine glass. Indispensable part of medieval medical science. Notice the flask in the physician's hand.
noble...: a former gold coin of England, first issued in 1346 by Edward III, equal to half a mark or 6s. 8d., replaced in 1464 under Edward IV by the rose noble (thank you Mr. Webster).
Cosmas and Damian...: Patron saints of physicians and surgeons. The two twins practised their healing for free, but were tortured and decapitated under Emperor Diocletian - presumably in 287.
God is the highest physician and the best? I thought God was responsible for the plague, as a punishment upon humanity.

I wonder whom Death considers the second best physician. Typhoid Mary?

Sirach 38:1, Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him.
to rouse the sick to God... It is strange that the physician suddenly is requested to perform clerical work. It should be noted that the physician is regarded as ecclesiastical because he has studied - in contrast to the barber-surgeon or sawbones who is regarded as a craftsman.

This explains why the physician appears between 2 lay people, the mayor and the nobleman. You might see this note about the overall sequence.

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