Lübeck's Dance of Death

In the End Death Speaks Thus

Alsus heth de sanck, den ick meen:
Bytterlyken sterven is de erste sanck,
De ander is der klocken klanck,
Der drydde is, in korter stunden
Werstu vorgetten van dynen frunden,
Umme dyn tydlyke gud ghan se to deele,
De worme umme dat flesz, de düvel umme de sele.
Wan denne dyt sus wert entricht,
Dat eyn yslyk syn eyne part kricht,
Dat holth he so fast ane alle feyl,
He geve dat nicht vor de anderen twey deyl.
Krygen de worme dat flesz to deele,
Se achten nicht des gudes edder der sele.
Wan de frunde ock krygen dat gud,
Achten kleyn, wat lyff unde sele doet.
Kricht de düvel de sele in beholth,
Ja, he geve se nicht vor alle golth.
Up dat syn wylle jo nicht en schee,
Eyn yslyk syk wol vore see.
Leret wol sterven unde syd bereyt,
Wol sterven allen kunsten boven geyt,
Wol sterven is so groten kunst,
Dar mede men kumpt in Godes gunst.
O Criste, dorch dynen doth sy wy vorlost,
Wesz du yo unse ewyghe trost      Amen.

      Anno domini Mcccccxx Lübeck.

Lübeck's double eagle
3 poppy fruits   Tau with cross

The Low German text in the "book" above has been modernized to make it more readable. Click here to read the original text.

Finally Death speaks thus: [continued]

Such is the name of the song that I mean:
Bitterly dying is the first song,
the second is the bells ringing,
The third is [that] in short time
you'll be forgotten by your friends,
they go to share your temporal belongings,
the worms [go] for the flesh, the Devil for the soul.(1)
When then this is thus arranged -
that each gets his own part -
this he holds on to without mistake.
He doesn't give it away for the two other parts:
If the worms get the flesh to share
they don't care for the goods or the soul.

When the friends also get the goods
[they] care little about what body and soul do.
If the Devil gets the soul to keep -
yes, he gave it not away for all gold.
In order that his will should not be done
each should take care of himself.
Learn to die well and be prepared(2)
To die well surpasses all arts.
To die well is so great art,
by this you obtain God's favour.
Oh Christ - we are redeemed through your death,
Be you always our eternal consolation       Amen.
In the year of the Lord 1520 Lübeck.
om Iomffrw Marie Rosenkrantz, och dess Brødersckaff ..., [Michael (Nicolai)]
Jomfru Maria Rosenkrans
om Iomffrw Marie Rosenkrantz, och dess Brødersckaff ..., [Michael (Nicolai)]
Jomfru Maria Rosenkrans

Death mentions 3 "songs": bitter death, the toiling of bells and being forgotten by friends. This text is similar to the introduction in Berlin's dance of death.

Death then mentions another trio: worms, friends and the Devil, who are fighting for the corpse, the inheritance and the soul. Meyer has found the same text in an even older version in Danish. This book is Herr Michaels om Iomffrw Marie Rosenkrantz, och dess Brødersckaff (i.e.: about the virgin Mary's rosary and its brotherhood). This book is from 1514/1515, but according to the words of the publisher, the Copenhagen version was a reprint of a publication from 1496.

The text is under the heading "the third stone" i.e. the third of those larger beads that separate the smaller beads of the rosary into decades. I'll attempt a translation:

Tha giffuer sig siælen wack och wee
hwn scal thñ grwmmæ Dieffuel see
huar mwnæ hwn tha scullæ bliffuæ
Hwn seer thynæ synder storæ och smaa
mz hwilkæ hwn scal for Dōmen gaa
aff sorg mwnæ hwn sig weenæ
Her bliffuæ igeen baadhæ fæsthæ och borghæ
som thu haffuer bygd mz synd och sorghæ
sjælen far bort alleenæ
Kroppen som hær haffuer waret glad
han giffues tha iordhen til ormæ mad
iordhen scal hānū forthæræ
Thynæ frænder slides om godtzet fast
nar kroppen er i graffuen kast
thz maat thu saaræ kære


Then the soul complains, alas and alack
She shall see the cruel Devil
where she shall then stay.
She sees your sins, great and small,
with which she shall go before judgment.
She must wail from sorrow.
Here remain both forts and strongholds
that you have build with sin and sorrows.
The soul goes away alone.
The body that has been happy here;
he is given to the earth as worm food.
The earth shall consume him.
Your friends are fighting for your possessions quickly
when the body has been thrown into the grave.
This you must pay much heed to.

The three poppy fruits epitomizing the printery.
3 poppy fruits
Tau with a cross
Tau  with a cross

The book ends with 4 shields. The first shield shows the double eagle of Lübeck. In the bottom, left corner there's 3 poppy fruits, and it is because of this symbol that the printery today is called Mohnkopf (the High German word for poppy fruit). The last shield is also typical for the Mohnkopf printery and shows the letter T (or Tau) with a cross.

The same 4 shields - in smaller versions - appear on the last page of Des dodes dantz. You might take a look at the little shields in the frame around Christ on the cross.

Footnotes: (1) (2)

The description of Death's 3 "songs" is almost verbatim the same in the introduction to Berlin's dance of death.

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.