The oldest dance of death script in the world

This is the Latin and German text from the world's oldest dance of death script manuscript, CPG 314.

The text has been taken from Der Ursprung der Totentänze by Wilhelm Fehse pp. 50-58, except that Fehse has forgotten two lines from the abbot. The illustrations are from Heidelberg's dance of death and each picture is linked to the corresponding dancer in this dance. There is only one preacher in Heidelberg.

Original textTranslation
(vide d' h° i albo codice d' qmda artiu a pn'° pict'as)
Der erst prediger.

O vos uiuentes huius mundi sapientes,
Cordibus apponite duo verba christi, venite
Nec non et ite, per primum ianua vite
Justis erit nota, set per aliud quoque porta
Inferi monstratur: sic res diuersificatur.
Gaudia vel pene sine fine sunt ibi plene.
Hinc voce sana vos hortor spernere vana.
Tempus namque breue uiuendi, postea ve ue
Mors geminata parit, sua nulli uis quoque parcit.
Fistula tartarea vos iungit in una chorea,
Qua licet inuiti saliunt ut stulti periti.
Hec ut pictura docet exemplique figura.

Theutunice
The first preacher
O diser welt weyshayt kint,
Alle die noch in leben sint,
Setzt in wer herz zway wort,
Die von cristo sind gehort.
Das ain gett her, daz ander gett hin,
Durch das erst die frummen hånd gwyn
Mit dez himels port, die in geöffnt ist.
Das ander die bösen weyst
Ab zu der hellischen porten.
Also wirt in den worten
Gegeben ein söllich vnderschaid:
Das ain halb ist gantz fröd beraytt,
Anderhalb die peyn ach genczlych,
Über al on ende ewiklych.
Dar umb ich wch getrewlich rått,
Ir tut wch ab vppiger tått.
Wann die czeytt ist kurcz an disem leben.
Dar nach wird achh vnd wee gegeben
Durch den czwyfachen tod,
Der vber nymam erbårmd hått.
Mit seiner hellischen pfeyffen schreyen
Bringt er ewch all an ainen rayen,
Dar an die weysen alz die narren
Gezwngen in den sprüngen farn;
Als des gemäldes figuren
Sind sy ain ebenbild zu truren.
Oh, Children of the wisdom of this world,(1)
all who are still alive.
Put two words in your heart
that were heard from Christ.
The one is "come here", the other "go away"(2)
Through the first, the pious [people] have advantage
with Heaven's gate, which is opened to them.
The other leads the evil [people]
away to the gates of Hell.
Thus, in these words
is given such a difference:
For one half, complete pleasure has been prepared,
the other half, alas, pure pain
over all, without end, forever.
Therefore I advice you earnestly
that you avoid idle deeds
for time is short in this life.
Then there'll be "alas and alack"
through the double Death(3)
who has mercy on nobody.
With the screeches of his hellish fife
he brings you all into a dance.
where the wise [men] as [well as] the fools
are forced to fare in the dance.
Like these painted figures,
they are a perfect image to mourn over.
Heidelberg, Preacher
Item alius doctor depictus predicando
in opposita parte de contemptu mundi.


O uos mortales, peruersi mundi sodales,
Finem pensate que futura considerate,
Qualibus ad primum tempus que requiritur, ymum
Pro loco duplatur, ubi finis perpetuatur.
Mors horrenda nimis est cunctorum quoque finis.
Qualiter aut quando venerit, manet in dubitando.
Sic etiam dura noscuntur inde futura
Propter ignotum remanendi locum quoque totum.
Pendet a factis in isto mundo peractis.
Ergo peccare desistete, si properare
Ad finem cupitis optatum, nam bene scitis,
Quod celum dignis locus est, set fit malis ignis.

Theutunicum.
O ir tötlichen menschen all,
Die der falschen welt wölt wolgefallen,
Bedenkt, wye daz ende sey,
Vnd merkett, waz künftig ist da py:
Zu dem ersten gehört wye vnd wenn,
Das letscht ist zwyfaltig benennt,
Wå die statt czu pleyben ist.
Der tod wch allen das end beweyst.
Aber wye oder wenn des todes czeytt
Kummen sol, des enwyst ir nit.
Es wirt erkant wch allen hertt,
Was yederman dar nach ist beschertt
Vmb das vnkündig ist die statt,
Wa yderman seyn pleyben hått.
Das alls wirt an den werken hangen,
Die in diser welt sind begangen.
Dar vmb solt ir von sünden lån,
Wölt ir zu dem end gan,
Des ir alle seytt begirlich;
Vnd ist dar zu wyssentlych,
Das der himel wirt den frummen,
In das fuir die bösen kummen.
Oh all you mortal humans,
who wish for pleasures in this false world.
Consider how the end will be
and notice what is imminent thereby.
Firstly there's how and when
the last is mentioned twice:
Where the continuing place is.(4)
Death will show you all the end
but how and when the time of Death
shall come, you don't know.
It will be realized by you all, hard,
what each man then has been allotted:
concerning that the place is unknown
where each man has his continuation;(5)
that everything hangs on to the works,
that are done in this world.
Therefore you shall refrain from sinning,
if you want to go towards the end.
This you should all desire,
and it is also certain
that the pious [people] go into Heaven;
The evil come into the fire.
Papa.

Sanctus dicebar, nullum viuendo verebar
Friuole nunc ducor ad mortem, vane reluctor.

Ad idem.
Pope
Ich was ain hayliger babst genant,
Die weyl ich lebt an forcht bekant,
Nu wird ich gefürt freuenlych
Zu dem tod, ich weer mich vppiklych.
I was called a holy pope.
While I lived I didn't know fear.
Now I'll be outrageously lead
to Death. I defend myself vainly.
Heidelberg, Pope
Cesar.

Culmen imperii vincendo magnificaui,
Morte sum victus, non cesar, non homo dictus.

Ad idem.
Emperor
Ich kund daz reiche in hochen eren
Mit streytt vnd fechten wol gemeren,
Nu håt der tod vberwnden mich,
Das ich pin weder kayser noch menschen gleych.
I could honour the empire highly,
increase it well with struggle and fight.
Now, Death has defeated me,
so that I am neither like emperor nor human being.
Heidelberg, Emperor
Cesarissa.

Deliciis vsa viuens vt cesaris vxor,
Morte confusa nullis modo gaudiis vtor.

Ad idem.
Empress
Wollust hett meyn stolczer leyb,
Do ich lebt alz ains kaysers weyb.
Nu håt mich der tod zu schanden bråcht,
Daz mir dehain fröd ist mer erdacht.
My proud body had sensual pleasures,
while I lived as an emperor's wife.
Now has Death destroyed me,
so that no happiness can be found for me anymore.
Heidelberg, Empress
Rex.

Ut ego rex vrbem, sic rexi non minus orbem.
Nunc miser in penis mortis constringor habenis.

Ad idem.
King
Ich hån als ain koning geweltiklych
Die welt geregyrt als rom das reych;
Nun pin ich mit todes panden
Verstrikt in seynen handen.
I have as a king mightily
reigned over the world, like Rome the kingdom.
Now I'm with Death's bonds
ensnared in his hands.
Heidelberg, King
Cardinalis.

Ecclesie gratus fui per papam piliatus;
Mortis proteruam nunc stringor adire cateruam.

Ad idem.
Cardinal
Ich was mit babstlicher wal
Der hayligen kyrchen kardinal;
Nun pyn ich dor zu gezwngen gar,
Das ich tancz an des todes schar.
I was through papal election
cardinal for the holy church.
Now I am completely coerced to it
that I'm dancing in the troop of dead.
Heidelberg, Cardinal
Patriarcha.

Duplici signatus cruce sum patriarcha vocatus,
Et mortis dire cogor consortes adire.

Ad idem.
Patriarch
Ich hån das zwyfach crücz getragen
Als ain patriarch pey meynen tagen;
Nun wyl der tod mich zwingen,
Mit seynen gesellen zu springen.
I have carried the double cross
as a patriarch in my days.
Now Death will force me
to dance with his fellows.
Heidelberg, Patriarch
Archiepiscopus.

Doctrina fultis hoc signum pretuli stultis,
Metropolitanus nunc cum vanis ego vanus.

Ad idem.
Archbishop
Ich trug in hocher wirdikaytt
Das crücz vor der pfaffhayt,
Als ain erczbischof daz tragen sol;
Nun gen ich an der toten zal.
I carried with high worthiness
the cross before the clergy
as an archbishop shall carry it.
Now I go to this number of dead.
Heidelberg, Archbishop
Dux.

Nobiles eduxi, quorum dux ipse reluxi,
Sed nunc vt adeam cogor cum morte coream.

Ad idem.
Duke
Ich hån die edlen herren fert
Als ain herczog geregyrt mit dem schwert;
Nun pin ich in fechen claydern glancz
Gezwngen an des todes tancz.
I have lead the noble men -
governed as a duke with the sword.
Now I am - in the splendour of gaudy clothes -
forced to the dance of death.
Heidelberg, Duke
Episcopus.

Presul egregius venerabar hic quasi dijus;
Hew nunc distorti presumunt me dare morti.

Ad idem.
Bishop
Ich pin wirdiklich geeret worden,
Die weyl ich lebt in bischofs orden;
Nu zyechen mich die vngeschaffen
Zu dem tancz als ainen affen.
I have been worthily honoured
while I lived in a bishop's office.
Now the misshapen are drawing me
to Death as a monkey.
Heidelberg, Bishop
Comes.

Nobilis imperii comes in mundo reputatus
Morte nunc perii corisantibus associatus.

Ad idem.
Count
Ich was in der welt genant
Ain edler gråf dem reych bekant;
Nun pin ich von dem tod gefellet
Vnd hie an seynen tancz gestellet.
In the world I was called
a noble count - renowned in the empire.
Now I'm felled by Death
and placed here in his dance.
Heidelberg, Count
Abbas.

Ut pater arctaui monachos et optime paui,
Nunc egomet stringor et mortis regula cingor.

Ad idem.
Abbot
Ich hån vil monnych als ain apt gelert,
Streng gezogen vnd wol genertt.
Nun wird ich selber hie gezwngen,
Mit des todes regel gedrungen.
I have - as an abbot - taught many monks;
strictly brought up and well nourished.(6)
Now I myself am here subdued
and under compulsion of Death's rule.(7)
Heidelberg, Abbot
Miles.

Strenuus in armis deduxi gaudia carnis,
Contra iura mea ducor in ista corea.

Ad idem.
Knight
Ich hån als ain strenger rytter gut
Der welt gedynt in hochem mut;
Nun pin [ich] wyder rytters orden
An disen tancz gezwngen worden.
I have - as a stern knight -
served the world well with noble mind.
Now I have - against knights' order -
become coerced to this dance.
Heidelberg, Knight
Jurista.

Non iuuat appello de mortis ultimo bello;
Succumbunt iura legesque sub ista figura.

Ad idem.
Juror
Es hilff dehain appellyren nit
Von des todes letzsten streytt.
Er vberwindet mit seynem geschlecht
Das weltlych vnd das gaystlych recht.
No appealing helps
against Death's last dispute.
He defeats - with his kin -
the worldly and the ecclesiastical law.
Heidelberg, Juror
Canonicus.

In choro cantaui melodias quas adamaui;
Discrepat iste sonus et mortis fistule tonus.

Ad idem.
Canon
Ich hon alz ain korherre frey,
Gesungen manig lyeblych melody;
Des todes pfeiff stett dem nit glych,
Sy hot gar sere erschreket mich.
I have as a free canon(8)
sung many lovely melodies.
Death's fife is not like it;
it has terrified me so much.
Heidelberg, Canon
Medicus.

Curavi multos iuuenes mediocres adultos.
Quis modo me curat? Mihi mors contraria iurat.

Ad idem.
Physician
Ich hån mit meynem harn schawen
Gesund gemacht mann vnd fråen.
Wer wyl mich nun machen gesund?
Ich pin zu tode wnt.
I have with my urine-watching(9)
made man and women sound.
Who will now make me sound?
I am wounded to death.
Heidelberg, Physician
Nobilis.

Armis consortes in uita terrui fortes;
Nunc mortis terror me terret, ultimus error.

Ad idem.
Nobleman
Ich hon manchen man erschrekt,
Der wol mit harnasch was bedekt;
Nun erschrekt mich hie der tod
Vnd pringt mich in die jungst not.
I have frightened many men,
who were well covered by armour.
Now Death is frightening me here
and brings me in extreme distress.
Heidelberg, Nobleman
Nobilissa.

Plaudere deberem, si ludicra vite viderem,
Fistula me fallit mortis, que dissona psallit.

Ad idem.
Noblewoman
Ich solt treyben juchtzens vil,
Sech ich vor mir der fröden spyl.
Des todes pfeyff mich betrügt;
Disß tancz gesank hie fälschlychen luigt.
I ought to shout with joy a lot
[when] I see before me this happy play.
Death's fife deceives me;
this dance song, it lies falsely.
Heidelberg, Noblewoman
Mercator seu civis.

Viuere speraui thesauros elaboraui,
Munera mors spernit, ab amicis me que secernit.

Ad idem.
Merchant
Ich hett mich zu leben versorget wol,
Das kysten vnd kasten wåren vol.
Nu håt dem tod meyn gåb verschmåcht
Vnd mich vmb leyb vnd gut bråcht.
In life I had provided well,
that chest and [money]box were full.
Now Death has disdained my gift
and have separated me from body and goods.
Heidelberg, Merchant
Monialis.

In claustro grata seruiui cristo velata.
Quit valet orare, me mors iubet hic corisare.

Ad idem.
Nun
Ich han in dem closter meyn
Got gedynet alz ain geweyltes nünlein
Was hilfft mich nun meyn beeten
Ich musß des todes rayen treten.
I have in my monastery
served God as a veiled nun.
What does my praying avail me now?
I must step into the dead's dance.
Heidelberg, Nun
Mendicus.

Pavper mendicus viuenti turpis amicus,
Morti carus erit, illum cum diuite querit.

Ad idem.
Beggar
Ain armer geyler hie in leben
Zu ainem frwnd ist nymant eben;
Aber der tod wyl seyn frwnd seyn,
Er nimpt in mit dem reychen hin.
A poor beggar here in life;
Nobody is a friend,
but Death will be his friend.
He takes him away [along] with the rich.
Heidelberg, Beggar / Cripple
Cocus.

Fercula condita quamuis in mundo paraui,
Raptus a uita mortem minime superaui.

Ad idem.
Cook
Ich han erlärt vil pfeffer sek
Vnd gemacht daz süsß geschläk,
Vnd kund des köstlins doch nit finden,
Dar mit ich den tod mocht vberwinden.
I have emptied many sacks of pepper
and made sweet goodies -
and yet can't find any delicacies
with which I might defeat Death.
Heidelberg, Cook
Rusticus.

Hic in sudore vixi magnoque labore;
Non minus a morte fugio contraria sorte.

Ad idem.
Peasant
Ich han gehept vil arbaytt grosß;
Der schwaysß mir durch die hwt flosß.
Noch wolt ich gern dem tod empflychen,
So hån ich des glücks nit hie.
I have had much hard work,
the sweat was flowing through my skin.
Still, I would like to flee Death;
in this I have no luck here.
Heidelberg, Peasant
Puer in cunabulo.

O cara mater, me vir a te trahit ater,
Debeo saltare, qui nunquam sciui meare.

Ad idem.
Child in cradle
O we lybe muter meyn,
Ain schwarczer man zeucht mich do hin.
Wye wyltu mich also verlån?
Musß ich tanczen vnd kan nit gån!
Oh woe, my dear mother.
A black man drags me away.
How can you leave me thus?
Now I must dance and can't yet walk.
Heidelberg, Child in cradle
Mater.

O filij que te volui liberare,
Morte preuenta saliendo sumque retenta.

Ad idem.
Mother
O kint, ich wolt dich haben erlost;
So ist enpfallen mir der trost.
Der tod hat das für komen
Vnd mich mit dir genomen.
Oh child, I would have saved you.
Thus I have lost my consolation,
Death has forestalled it
and taken me along with you.
Heidelberg, Mother

Further information

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)

children of the wisdom of this world. . .: is a reference to 1stCorinthians 1:20 where the wisdom of this world is false wisdom as compared to the superior Christian wisdom: Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

The allusion is even clearer in the Latin text: »huius mundi sapientes«, the same three words that end 1 Corinthians 1:20 in the Vulgate: »Ubi sapiens? ubi scriba? ubi conquisitor hujus sæculi? Nonne stultam fecit Deus sapientiam hujus mundi?«

The dances of death in Lübeck, Paris and London also started with an allusion to wisdom and eternal life.

Come here / go away. . . The preacher refers to Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus talks about separating the sheep from the goats:
Matthew 25:34: Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Matthew 25:41: Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
The Double Death. . . reference to Judgement day and the eternal torment:
Revelation 2,11: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
Revelation 20,6: Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Revelation 20,14: And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Revelation 21,8: But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

In the next line, The Double Death becomes personified.

continuing place . . .: the Latin text "remanendi locum" shows that "statt czu pleyben" means "permanent residence" (modern German: Stätte), and not "city" (modern German: Stadt).

In everyday German it's not unusual to mix the words up in "bleibende Statt/Stadt/Stätte" and thus the German translator might have meant for "statt czu pleyben" to be an allusion to Hebrews 13:14 »For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come«, which in German sounds »Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt, sondern die zukünftige suchen wir.«

Notice that this allusion is not present in the Latin text, where "locum" (i.e. place) could hardly be confused with the "civitatem" (i.e. city) of the Vulgate Bible.

The German translator is struggling, but he's hard to follow, and it doesn't help things that he has added an "wch allen" (= "by you all"), which isn't in the Latin text. The Latin text means: »How and when he [Death] will come remains uncertain and therefore the future will also be known as hard, because the continuing place is totally unknown as well«.
nourished . . .: nourished with the daily bread, God's word, of course.

In CPG 438 the abbot instead says »gemert« (= "increased").

rule . . .: The code of regulations observed by a religious order or congregation: The Franciscan rule (Webster).
canon...: a priest attached to a cathedral. The canons are so called because they lead a rule bound life, "vita canonica".
Physician with urine glass from the dance of deatn in Lübeck.
Physician with urine glass
urine-watching . . .: Watching a urine sample was an indispensible part of medieval medical practise. See picture to the right.

Up to CPG 314