Lübeck's Dance of Death

Abbot, Crusader and Physician

De abbet

Ach, hadde ik dat ghe-
holden myt flyd
Mit al mynen broderen,
de myt my syd,
Dat queme my nu to
groter bathe;
Och, hadde ick Gode
in dessem stathe
Also ghedenet in rech-
ten truwen,
So mochte ik dar nu
ewich up buwen.

The abbot

Doctor in artzedye

Ach God, hir is gantz
klene rath,
Dyt water is vorwa-
re gantz quath,
De ferwe is swarth,
grön unde roth,
Ick see dar in den byt-
teren doth.
Up der appoteken is
nicht eyn krud,
Dat jegen den doet
kan wesen gud.

The doctor

De doet to dem Abbet

Her abbet, geystlike vader, di mene ik gantz,
Kum hastygen in den dodendantz.
In velen capittelen hefstu gewesen,
Dar dines ordens regel wart gelesen:
Hefstu di wol dar na gericht
Myt dynen broderen, so fruchte nicht.

De doet tom crützheren

Her meyster van dem Düdeschen orden,
Ik wil myt di dagen in korten worden,
Di helpet nicht lenger staet efte ghelt:
Volge my na up eyn ander felt.
Hefstu barmhertich ghewest dynen armen,
So wil sik God diner wedder erbarmen.

De crützhere

Knight of the Teutonic Order

Seet, wo greselik synt
desse word. Nüwerl-
de hebbe ik der gheliken
hord. Unse orden strec-
ket syk wente an de Tor-
kye. Dorch Prützen, Lyf-
lant went an de Wallach-
ye. Dyt alle kumpt my
nu weynich to baten.
Help my nu, Maria, so
werde ik nicht vorlaten

De dot to dem doctor

Her doctor, dantze myt,
holth an de hand.
Du hefst my nenen boden sand.
God, de hogeste arste unde de beste,
He helpet erst unde ok in dat leste,
Al, de öm denen uth hertens grunt,
Maket he ewich an der selen gesunt.

N.B.: The book should be read from right to left: First Death's admonition, then the answer of the dying person. The translation below is presented in the proper (logical) sequence. The Low German text in the "book" above has been modernized to make it more readable. Click here to read the original text.

Death to the abbot

Mr Abbot, ecclesiastical father, I mean you totally,
come hastily into the dance of death.
In many chapters have you been
where the rule of your order was read(1):
Have you conformed well to this
with your brothers - then fear not.

Death to the crusader

Mr. Master of the Teutonic Order,(2)
I will deal with you in short words:
no longer avails you neither [high] station nor money;
Follow after me upon another field.
Have you been charitable to your poor
then God will show mercy upon you in return.

Death to the physician

Mr. Doctor, dance along, hold on to the hand.
You did not send for me.
God, the highest physician and the best
he helps first and also in the last.(4)
All who serves him for reasons of the heart
he will make eternally sound in soul.

The abbot

Alas, had I followed it diligently
with all my brothers who are with me,
it would now be very useful;
Oh, had I God - in this office -
thus served with the right loyalty
then I could now build on it forever.

The crusader

See, how gruesome these words are -
I have never heard the like.
Our order stretches until Turkey -
through Prussia, Livonia(3) - until Walachia.
It all is availing me little now.
Help me now, Mary, so that I'll not be forsaken.

The physician

Alas God, here is very little remedy,
the water(5) is still totally bad,
The colour is black, green and red
I see therein the bitter death.
In the pharmacy there is no [medical] herb,
that can do any good against Death.

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

Rules . . .: The code of regulations observed by a religious order or congregation: The Franciscan rule (Webster).
Knights of the Teutonic Order . . .: Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital at Jerusalem. Order of knights founded by German crusaders in 1190 and abolished 1809 by Napoleon. Scandinavians and Germans were crusading in the "heathen" Balticum.
Livonia . . .: Baltic area. Since 1919 divided between Estonia and Latvia.

The crusader is not merely bragging: the knights did control Prussia and great parts of the Baltic States.

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?

Water . . .: Urine glass. Indispensable part of medieval medical science. Notice the flask in the physician's hand.