Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Old Text from 1463

The preacher
Death to all
The pope
The emperor
The empress
The cardinal
The king
The bishop
The duke
The abbot
The knight
The Carthusian
The nobleman
The canon
The mayor
The physician
The usurer
The curate
The merchant
The parish clerk
The craftsman
The hermit
The peasant
The young man
The young woman
The child

What follows is what remains of the text from 1463. The painting is generally assumed to have been created by Bernd Notke.

Painting with text below.

The first 108 lines are taken from the dance of death in Tallinn, Estonia. The next 72 lines are missing and then follow the lines that Jacob von Melle wrote down in 1701.

To make things worse, Jacob von Melle has apparently shuffled some of the verses, but I shall return to that subject in the notes to each picture.

The preacher, who introduces the dance, does not appear in the painting in Lübeck, so I have used a clip from the painting in Tallinn instead. The rest of the pictures are photos taken between the two world wars by Wilhelm Castelli. These pictures are available several places but I have chosen the ones in Bernt Notke und sein Kreis by Walter Paatz, Berlin 1939. For some reason Paatz has removed the text below the painting.

The dance of death below the dance of death organ.
Dance of death under organ

Notice, that "u" and "v" has been interchanged at places to make the text more accessible and the abbreviation "vñ" has been resolved into "unde". Headings and punctuation has been added.

I have tried to translate the text, but notice the many similarities between Medieval Low German and Modern English. Words like "to", "do", "he", "help", "mine", "is", "spare" "water" and "god" are the same - and countless words are very similar: scal/shall, mi/me, hadde/had, respijt/respite, grot/great, pin/pain, wat/what, dat/that, olth/old, junck/young, essche/ask, jw/you etc. etc.

The best way to start is to jump directly into the dance by clicking the pictures below:

The dance of death in Lübeck, part 0The dance of death in Lübeck, part 1The dance of death in Lübeck, part 2The dance of death in Lübeck, part 3The dance of death in Lübeck, part 4The dance of death in Lübeck, part 5The dance of death in Lübeck, part 6The dance of death in Lübeck, part 7The dance of death in Lübeck, part 8The dance of death in Lübeck, part 9
Click to see picture and text.

Sources of the Low German text



In This Section


Footnotes: (1)

After the 2nd World War, Lubeca religiosa was among the millions of German books that were distributed all over the Soviet Union as spoils of war.

In 1996 the president of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, decreed that Georgia's share of the spoils should be returned. Among the 1,850 books that were thus returned to Lübeck was Lubeca religiosa, although it is not entirely clear whether the book returned was Jacob von Melle's autograph or a very old copy.

For details, see this external link: Aus Georgien zurück, Ein Beispiel für Restitution von Bibliotheksgut. Thanks to Mischa von Perger for alerting me to this story.