Lübeck's Dance of Death

Official, Hermit and Burgomaster

De doet to deme official

Gy geystliken richters, ok du official,
Komet alle heer in dessen gral,
Curtesaners, ock alle gy notarius,
Hinricus, Johannes, locate unde bacalarius,
Vor Godes richte möte gy in desser fart.
Dar helpet neyne wassene neze efte flassene barth.

De official

Ach God, dyt synt seer scharpe word,
De ick nü hir susz hebbe ghehord
Myt al den gesellen, de myt my syd.
Hadde wy dat richte vorstan myt flyd,
Mit rechter guden conciencien,
So horde wy nu eyne gnedige sentencien.

De dot tom klusener.

Broder Conrat, eft wo du bist geheten,
Desses dantzes laet di nicht vordreten.
Bistu otmodich ghewest, ane glitzerye,
So de vaders plegen in der wostenye,
Din willige armod un ander flid
Wert Got di belonen to ewiger tid.

De klusener

O Here, dencke myner
in desser stunt,
De du umme my byst
yammerliken vorwunt,
Erlöze my, so du dedest
den hilgen Heliam
Unde den guden kon-
nynck Ezechiam,
Nym my, Here, uth des-
sem elende,
Myne sele bevele ick
in dyne hende.

The hermit

De dot tom bormester

Her bormester, dat or-
del unde alsodane word
Hefstu noch nicht eer
Dath dy nu wert tho-
Dantze myt, du most
vor Godes recht!
Is nu gerecht dyne
So werstu horen eyne
gnedige sentencie.

Death with scythe
The mayor

De borgermester

Ach God, wo schal ick
dyt vorstaen,
De doet tastet my
ernstlyk an.
Ick meende, ick scholde
noch werden gesparet,
Dat vele sake noch
werden gheklaret,
De borgers konen my
nicht wol entberen.
Id is gud bytyden
sterven leren.

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 official(1)

You ecclesiastical judges - also you official
come all here into this festival.
Courtiers, all of you too - notary,
Hinricus, Johannes, locate - and bacalarius(2),
You must [go] before God's law court in this journey.
Neither waxen nose(3) nor flaxen beard will help you there.

Death to the hermit

Brother Conrat - or what you are named
don't let this dance depress you.
Have you been humble - without hypocrisy-
like the fathers usually are in the wilderness.
[For] your voluntary poverty and other diligence
God will reward you in eternity.

Death to the burgomaster

Mr. Mayor - the verdict and such words
have you yet not heard before -
that you now are being addressed:
Dance along - you must before God's law court!
Is your conscience now clean
then you will hear a merciful sentence.(7)

The official

Alas God, these are very sharp words,
that I have never heard before here,
with all the people that are along with me.
Had we managed the law court with diligence -
with pure, good conscience
then we would now hear a merciful sentence.

The hermit

Oh Lord - think of me in this moment,
since you are wretchedly wounded for my sake.
Redeem me like you did with the holy Elijah(4)
and the good king Hezekiah.(5)
Take me, Lord, out of this misery;(6)
I commit my soul into your hands.

The burgomaster

Alas God - how shall I understand this,
Death is earnestly grasping me.
I thought I should still be spared
[so] that many things still could be finished.
The citizens can't well do without me.
It is good - in [good] time - to learn to die.(8)

The staff of the hermit The official doesn't appear in Des dodes dantz, so there's no picture of him.

Notice the little figure of Christ at the end of the hermit's staff (enlarged in the picture to the right).

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

Official . . .: A deputy for the Catholic bishop at the church court.
Hinricus, Johannes . . .: Two names.
locate . . .: assistant teacher. Like the "preceptor" at some colleges.
bacalarius . . .: Student. See this note elsewhere about the seven free arts.
waxen nose . . .: A nose of wax means swindle. To wear a nose of wax means to be deceitful and to prevaricate. To put a flaxen beard on somebody means to cheat them. Compare with the deceitful Reynke Voss (Reynard the Fox):

Vnde hadde alsus eynen flassen bard
Deme konnynge maket tor suluen vard,
Nicht alleyne eynen bard van flasse,
Men ock eyne neze angheseth van wasse.
(lines 2783-6)

Elijah was in for VIP treatment when he died: " And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. " (2nd Kings 2,11).
Hezekiah got a respite and a helping hand: " […] the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake. " (2nd Kings 20, 4-6).
The original meaning of the Low German "elende" is out-land. The word is related to Old Saxon "elilendi", where "eli" is related to alias, and "lendi" to land.

People on Earth are out-landers — separated from their "real" home, Heaven. »confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth« (Hebrews 11:13), »pass the time of your sojourning here in fear« (1 Peter 1:17).

verdict, God's law court, sentence . . .: At that time Lübeck had 4 mayors who were chosen among the leading burgher families. As leaders of the council the mayors had legislative power, but at the same time the mayors functioned as judges and thus also had judicial power.
A special medieval genre of books was the "ars moriendi" or "artes [bene] moriendi" = the art of dying [well] - books telling Christians how to prepare for death.