Kleve / Overijsselsche Totentanz

Fragment no. 2
Kleve, fragment 2
Fragment no. 3
Kleve, fragment 3

We know this text from four fragments.

The first fragment to be published resides in Leeuwarden's Provinciale Bibliotheek. It was published by F. A. Stoett in 1891 under the headline »Spreekwijzen verklaard«.(1) This fragment contains Death's call to the citizeness, her reply, Death to the hermit, his reply, Death's speech to all ranks and the first line of their reply.

Two years later Stoett returned to the subject yet again: »Iets over doodendansen«.(2) Stoett listed all of the Dutch dances of death, and one of the highlights(3) was the fragment that he had published two years ago. In the mean time Dr. Seelmann (presumably Wilhelm Seelmann) had brought Stoett's attention to the manuscript in Kassel, as transcribed by Max Rieger in Germania IXX.

The similarity was striking and Stoett presented a sample, Death to the citizeness. This example is repeated here with Stoett's spelling:


Gy borgerynne myt dycken ransen
Gy pleget hoeveren ind toe dansen
Ind latet u megede nae gaen,
Dat u nyet en is gebaren aen.
Gy soldet al gemeyne
Uwe man lyeff hebben alleyne
Ind laten u vaeke ommegaen
Soe moget gy vry van sunden staen.

545. Ir burgerin mit den hoen rantzen
ir plegent hoifieren und dantzen.
Uwer meide laiszt ir uch naich gain,
das uch nit ist geborn ain.
Ir solt auch alle gemein
uwer man liep hain allein
Und laiszen uwer lauffen und uwer gain
So mocht ir frier von sunden stain.

The fragment had originated from the inheritance after the Frisian poet J. Hiddes Halbertsma (1789-1869), and it has never been cleared up where Halbertsma had gotten it from. However, Stoett declared that the 47 lines were written in »een Overijselsch dialect«, and that name has stuck.

Fragment no. 1
Introductory sermon.
Kleve, fragment 1

This Overijsselsche Totentanz has never been subject to much attention — partly because it only consisted of 47 lines, but in 1992 three more fragments were discovered in the North Rhine-Westphalia. The stumps had been used for strengthening the bindings of books with acts (Nordrhein-Westfalen stift Wissel Akten nr. 17 und 17a).

The text was thus quadrupled from 47 to 180 lines, and now it underwent a more scientific examination by Claassens and Sternberg (see below).

Claassens and Sternberg concluded that all four fragments originate from the same manuscript. They also pointed out that only the first fragment (to the left) has a margin with free space at the top or bottom of the text. From this concluded that we are not dealing with a codex (i.e. a book) but with a roll.

The dialect was pinpointed to Kleve, located in the Lower Rhine region near the Dutch border. So at least the text had a more catchy name now: "Ein Klever Totentanz".

What is left is the question of the exact relationship between this manuscript and Doten Dantz mit Figuren. While Stoett had emphasized the similarities between the two texts, he had also pointed out that "his" fragment featured a hermit, who does not appear in Doten Dantz (there is a brother, but the dialogue is very different).

The discovery of the three fragments has not made the question easier to answer. The first fragment (to the left) consists solely of an introductory sermon, which has nothing in common with the unprepared dead, who introduces Doten Dantz. The second fragment starts with four and a half verses that are much reminiscent of Doten Dantz, but then follows a character, which is not known from any other dance of death: "des wokeners erue" / the usurer's heir. The third fragment starts with the last lines from an unknown person, which is followed by 5 verses that we also find in Doten Dantz, except that the first 6 lines of the citizen's speech are different.

Claassens and Sternberg were unable to determine the age of the manuscript more precisely than "the 15th century", so there's nothing to prevent the author from having read the printed editions of Der Doten dantz mit figuren from 1488 and 1492.

See the text itself for a closer comparison.

The relationship with Lübeck's dance of death

There are great similarities between this manuscript and Doten Dantz mit Figuren. But what about the dance in Lübeck and Tallinn? It is generally accepted that one has to look for Dutch roots for the dances in Lübeck and Tallinn.

Hartmut Freytag has gone through the texts looking for parallels (see external link), but the results are not convincing. The greatest parallel is in the introductions:


Syet hijer an al gemeyne
Jonck alt groit ind kleyn[e]

Seet hyr dat spegel junck unde olden

Apart from this there are a number of cases where the same two words are used for rhymes. For instance: In the above table to the left, "al gemeyne" rhymes with "kleyne", and the same is true for Death's speech to the craftsman in Lübeck: »Gi Amtes Lude alghemeine, Achten vele Dinges kleine«.

Go forth

Read the text from Kleve held up against Doten Dantz mit Figuren.


Further information

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

Frederik August Stoett: Noord en Zuid, year 14, 1891, no, 2, pp. 153-158, Spreekwijzen verklaard, III den dans ontspringen.
Stoett: Noord en Zuid, year 16, 1893, no. 1, pp. 1-20, "Iets over Doodendansen in Nederland".
An even greater highlight, at least judging from the space allotted by Stoett, was the Dutch version of Thielman Kerver's marginals.