The Emperor

The Emperor
Basel's dance of death, The Emperor

Todt zum Keyser:
HErr Keyser mit dem grawen Bart,
   Euwr Reuw habt jhr zu lang gespart,
Drumb sperrt euch nicht, Jhr müßt darvon,
   Vnd tantz'n nach meiner Pfeiffen thon.

Death to The Emperor
Mr. Emperor with the gray beard,
You have long saved your repentance.
Therefore, do not struggle, you must from here
and dance after my fife's tone.

Der Keyser.
ICh kundte das Reich gar wol mehren
   Mit Streitten, Fechten, Vnrecht wehren:
Nun hat der Todt vberwunden mich,
   Daß ich bin keinem Keyser gleich.

The Emperor.
I was able to increase the kingdom considerably,
with war and fight prevented injustice.
Now Death has won over me,
so that I'm not [any longer] like an emperor.
Büchel: Death with beard
Basels dance of death, emperor

After the pope, who's the world's most powerful man, comes now the emperor, who's the world's most powerful secular man.

Bock: Death with beard
Basels dance of death, emperor

Death comments on the emperor's beard: »Mr. Emperor with the gray beard«. Evidently the emperor is no longer a young man, but he still delays his repentance (and penance).

Death himself is beardless — at least according to Merian (picture above). In contrast, Büchel (to the left) shows Death with a beard. Is Büchel mistaken? Or was the beard added during one of the renovations of the mural during the more than 100 years that separate Merian and Büchel?

Neither. The drawing to the right is by Hans Bock the Elder, and we can see that Bock backs up Büchel. Bock's drawing is from 1596 — i.e. it's older than both Merian and Büchel. So Merian was wrong in portraying Death without a beard.

English translation from Beck, 1852
Death to the Emperor.The Emperor's reply.

Imperial Sire, your beard is grey
And still repentance finds delay;
'Tis vain to strive, you must go hence
And to my doleful piping dance.

My empire's bound I could extend,
By force of arms the weak defend;
But death o'ercomes me in a hour,
And leaves no trace of all my power.

Translation from Hess, 1841
Death to the Emperor.Answer of the Emperor.

Sire emperor with your gray beard,
Your repentance, you have to long spared
Therefore d'ont resist, you must away
And dance after the tune my whistle does play.

My empire I could very well encrease
To fight and defend againts wrong with ease.
Now death has intirely conquered me
That I am no more like an emperor, you see.


Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Emperor
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Emperor
Büchel (1768)
Büchel 1768: Emperor
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Emperor
Girardet (1786)
Girardet 1786: Emperor
Fragment (1805)
Fragment 1805: Emperor
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Emperor
Hess (1841)
Hess 1841: Emperor
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Emperor
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Emperor