Basel: The Heathen Woman

The Heathen Woman
Basel's dance of death, The heathen woman

Todt zur Heydin:
ICh kan, Heydin, fein artlich greiffen,
   Ein Todtenlied auff der Sackpfeiffen,
Dem must nachtantzen wie dein Mann,
   Rüffest du schon all Götter an.

Death to The Heathen Woman
I can, heatheness, fine and artfully,
grab a death-tune on the bagpipe,
that you must dance after like your husband,
even if you called all [your] gods.

Die Heydin:
JVno, Venus vnd auch Pallas,
   Euch Göttin laßt erbarmen daß
Ich sterben muß, helfft mir auß Noth,
   Kein Segen hilffet für den Todt.

The Heathen Woman.
Juno, Venus and also Pallas.
You goddesses have mercy that
I must die. Help me out of distress.
No blessing helps against Death.
The heathen woman in Kleinbasel: "Oh, Mohammed do not leave me in distress".
Büchel, Heathen woman
Holbein, Death plays the bagpipes.
Holbein's Simolachri de la morte: Fool

In Kleinbasel (to the left), Death doesn't have a bagpipe, so this is presumably yet another later addition by Hans Kluber.

Where did Kluber get the idea from, with Death playing the bagpipes with one hand while grabbing his victim with the other? Probably from Holbein's dance of death (picture to the right)

The heathen woman prays to the three goddesses Juno, Venus and Pallas, just like her husband was praying to Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. It may sound odd that there were people in Basel in the late Middle Ages, who prayed to the old Roman gods. If we compare with the text in Kleinbasel, we see that the heathens originally prayed to Mohammed. In Kleinbasel, The heathen / Turkish woman implores Mohammed: »O Machmet los mich nit in noit« - (="Oh, Mohammed do not leave me in distress").

When Kluber in 1568 added the Turkish emperor Suleiman I, the Magnificent at the end of the dance, the Turkish couple were transmogrified into "heathens".

Büchel, Death and the heathen woman
Büchel, Heathen woman
Frölich: The heathen and his wife
Frölich, Heathen

The woodcut to the right is from Frölich's book. The heathen and his wife are on the same woodcut, which was then used twice.

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

Hark! Paganess I can so gay
A dead march on my bag pipe play,
You too must dance to that same strain
You call on all the gods in vain.

O Juno, Venus, Pallas, oh!
Ye Goddesses some pity shew.
Must I then die? O misery!
No charm, I find, from Death can free!


Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Heathen woman
 1715: Heathen woman
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Heathen woman
Büchel (1768)
Büchel 1768: Heathen woman
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Heathen woman
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Heathen woman
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Heatheness
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Heathen woman
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Heathen woman