The pope with the triple crown is dragged away by two deaths. The fact that the pope is about to die like everybody else is not so extraordinary in itself, but the little devil shows clearly that the pope is in for a long travel in the downward direction.
Holbein also used devils in his dance of death. On the picture to the left there's a devil in the top left corner, another devil comes flying with a letter of indulgence and the figure below the pope's armrest is equipped with devil's wings. Many of Holbein's imitators left out the devils (see example below to the right) — thus making it possible to sell the book to Catholics. Christian de Mechel even made two versions: One with and one without devils.
The accompanying text for this letter goes: »Und du bist verwundt wie wir. Du bist vns glich worden. Dyn hoffart ist herab gezogen zu der hell«.
The quote is Isaiah 14,10-11, which Luther renders thus: »"Auch du bist schwach geworden wie wir, und es geht dir wie uns." Deine Pracht ist herunter zu den Toten gefahren«. In English: »All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee«.
As the three texts show, Hebrew "Sheol" may mean "Hell" or "Realm of the Dead" — depending on the person who translates.
To the left is a copy designed by Hollar (without devil).