Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Original Sin

The Danse Macabre of Paris.
Cimetière des Innocents

The text in Lübeck's / Tallinn's dance of death starts with "Oh, rational creature".

The oldest known dance of death, i.e. the danse macabre in Cimetière des Innocents in Paris, starts in exactly the same way: "O creature roysonnable, Qui desires vie eternelle.". The Danse Macabre was translated by John Lydgate: "O creatures ȝe that ben resonable, The life desiringe whiche is eternal".

The oldest German dance of death started in Latin: »O vos uiuentes huius mundi sapientes«: "Oh, you living, you sages of this world". The three last words refer to 1st Corinthians 1:20, which in the Latin Vulgate ends: "sapientiam hujus mundi", or in English: "hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?". The German parallel text goes: »O diser welt weyshayt kint«, "Oh, Children of the wisdom of this world".

Why is it so pertinent to point out that Man is a rational creature - and what has this got to do with eternal life?

This is the central Christian dogma - known as The Original Sin: The fact that we're rational creatures is also the reason that we're going to die. Adam and Eve were immortal until they ate from the tree of knowledge and were expelled from Paradise.

The title page of Dodendantz from 1520 explains this in straightforward terms:

God vorboth Adam in deme paradyse:
Eth nicht van desser frucht, de ick dy wyse,  
Deystu hir entyegen, so mostu sterven.
Nicht du alleyne, men ock al dyne erven
Adam brack dat gheboth ane noth.
Alsus quam an uns de naturlike doth,


God forbade Adam in Paradise:
Do not eat from this fruit that I show you.
If you do against this, then you must die
Not you alone, but also all your heirs.
Adam broke the ban without coercion.
Thus came over us the natural death

Emmetten, click to see the entire dance.

Des Dodes Dantz from 1489 has a similar introduction:

Al, dat geboren wert, kumt in de nôt,
Dat it môt liden den bitteren dôt.
Adam heft uns gebracht bi dit ungemak,
Do he in dem paradise mit Even Godes gebot brak.


All that is born comes into the distress
that it must suffer the bitter death.
Adam has brought [it to] us by the misdeed,
when he in Paradise with Eve broke God's command.

In short: All must die because of Adam's "crime". Nathanael Schlott expresses the same idea in his "new" text from 1701, when he lets Death speak to the merchant:

Denk an den Banquerot, den Adam längst gemacht,
Der setzet dich in Schuld, und hat mich hergebracht.


Consider the bankruptcy that Adam made long ago,
It puts you in debt and has brought me here.

The fall of man. Death appears at the very moment God's command is broken.
Mors de la Pomme, Pomme
Holbein: the expulsion. Death is waiting outside, playing the guitar.
Holbein Proofs, Expulsion

Already Mors de la Pomme from 1468 shows how Death appears at the very moment Adam and Eve eat the apple (picture to the left). In a book of hours by Marcus Reinhart from 1490 we can also see how the dance starts with Adam and Eve and the subtil serpent. The same is true for Accidens de l'Homme, La Vie de l'Homme and Loups Rauissans that all start with Adam and Eve (and Cain and Abel).

These French books have inspired Hans Holbein. His dance of death started with the creation, the Fall and the Expulsion (picture to the right).

Holbein more or less redefined the genre, so ever after this the dances of death have always started with the Fall of man (and ended with Judgment Day). This is not only true for the many imitators of Holbein, but also for the few monumental dances of death that were still produced, like for instance the one in Bern.

St. Paul the Apostle

Lucerne's dance of death starts with the expulsion. Notice the apple in Eve's hand.
Lucerne's dance of death
Spreuerbrücke, the expulsion. Death leads the procession and plays the xylophone.
Spreuerbrücke, the expulsion

So billions of people have to die and burn forever in Hell because of one lousy apple whose mortal taste Brought Death into the World, and all our woe (yes, that was Milton).

Does it sound stupid? Then you may rest assured that neither God nor Jesus ever uttered such nonsense. The original sin was invented by Paul the apostle in his epistles e.g. Romans 5,12: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" or 1st Cor. 15,22: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive".

Exactly how Paul came to be an apostle is less than clear, since he never met Jesus in person. Paul started his career persecuting and jailing Christians: "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it"(Galatians 1,13). Then he "saw the light", repented, and started working just as zealously for Christianity as he had just tried to destroy it.

There are those who claim that Paul didn't really convert to Christianity, but rather that he converted Christianity itself, since the Gospel he taught had little to do with the teachings of Jesus and the congregation in Jerusalem.

Further information:

For heaven's sake, madam, don't do it, DON'T DO IT !!!
© Hans Quist.
Hans Quist