Basel: The Abbot

The Abbot
Basel's dance of death, The abbot

Todt zum Apt:
HErr Apt ich zieh euch die Yfflen ab,
   Deßhalb nutzt euch nicht mehr der Stab:
Sind jhr g'wesen ein guter Hirt
   Hie ewrer Schaff, die Ehr euch wird.

Death to The Abbot
Mr. Abbot, I'm pulling your cap off.
Therefore your staff no longer avails you.
Have you been a good shepherd
for your sheep here, [then] the honour will be yours.

Der Apt:
ICh hab mich alß ein Apt erhebt,
   Vnd lang in hohen Ehren g'lebt:
Auch satzt sich niemand wider mich,
   Dennoch bin ich dem Todt geleich.

The Abbot.
I have raised myself [above the crowd] as an abbot
and lived long in high honour.
And there was nobody who opposed me.
Yet I'm Death's equal.

Kleinbasel, Abbot.
Büchel, Abbot
Großbasel, Abbot, by Büchel
Büchel, Abbot
Death threathens to pull off the abbot's cap — like he does with the mother, the councilman and the peasant.

Death uses the word "Yfflen". The cap kan be spelled yfelen, ynfel, infel, inful etc., and the word goes back to Latin, "infula".

By the way, the verb "Infeln" means to put on a cap - i.e. to install a bishop/abbot in his office. Death is in the process of doing the exact opposite.

The strange part is that according to Merian's copperplates (above) Death himself wears a bishop's mitra. Death wasn't wearing a mitra in Kleinbasel (picture to the left), and he didn't do it in Basel when Büchel made his watercolours in 1773 (picture to the right).

The bishop's mitra was evidently a product of Merian's imagination.

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

Abbot, your mitre I must loose,
Your staff is now of no more use;
If here you've been a shepherd true,
High honour is prepared for you.

I rose to Abbot's high estate
And long enjoy'd my honours great;
None dared resist my high behest,
And yet Death makes me like the rest.

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

Sir abbot I draw you the mitre off,
Therefore, no more you want your staff;
Have you a good pastor been,
You are the glory of your flock I mean.

To an abbot myself I raised,
And lived in honour and was praised,
Th'o nobody opposed me,
Still, equal now to death I bee.


Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Abbot
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Abbot
Büchel (1768)
Büchel 1768: Abbot
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Abbot
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Abbot
Hess (1841)
Hess 1841: Abbot
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Abbot
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Abbot