Death to All

Death in Tallinn

Death to all

To dussem dantse rope ik al gemene
Pawes keiser unde alle creaturen
Arm ryke groet unde kleine
Tredet vort went iu(1) en helpet nen truren
Men dencket wol in aller tyd
Dat gy gude werke myt iu bringen
Unde iuwer sunden werden quyd
Went gy moten na myner pypen springen

To this dance I bid you all.
Pope and Emperor, everyone,
Rich and poor man, great and small.
Tears are useless! Step in, come!
At all times be sure to bear
Works of good, and make it so
You are free of sin and care
Before you join our merry show.

Death to the pope

Her pawes, du byst hogest nu
Dantse wy voer ik unde du
Al hevestu in godes stede staen
Een erdesch vader ere unde werdicheit untfaen
Van alder werlt du most my
Volghen unde werden als ik sy
Dyn losent unde bindent dat was vast
Der hoecheit werstu nu een gast

Highest of this graded line,
Let us lead, your hand in mine.
You who stood in stead of God,
An earthy father, praised and awed
By all mankind: follow me,
And become this face you see.
The bulls you bound are sealed and fast
But your highness could not last.

English version © Jack Freckleton-Sturla, 2021. The following is a more literal translation:

Death to all

I call everybody to this dance
pope, emperor and all creatures,
poor, rich, great and small.
Step forward, because grieving doesn't help you!
But consider well, at all times,
that you bring good works with you,(2)
and become free of your sins,
because you must dance to my pipe.

Death to the pope

Mr pope, you are the highest now,
let us lead the dance,(3) I and you!
Though you have stood in God's stead,
an earthly father, received honour and dignity
from the whole world, you must
follow me and become, as I am.
Your loosing and binding, that was firm(4)
The highness you will lose now.(5)

The red area shows the location in the chapel in Lübeck
The red area shows the location in the chapel
The painting in St. Mary's Church in Lübeck.
Lubeck #1

The text is from the fragment in Tallinn, except for Death's first 4 lines, which also survive from Lübeck.

The dance of death in the Marienkirche in Lübeck. started on the west wall of the chapel.

The dance of death in Chaise-Dieu, by Rosenfeld, 1968.
Chaise-Dieu, the start of the dance
The dance of death in Chaise-Dieu, by Jubinal, 1841
Ceci n'est pas une bagpipe.

In contrast to Lübeck, where Death plays the fife, Death plays a bagpipe in Tallinn, either to make the scene more gruesome, or because bagpipes are known to be able to wake the dead.

There is a certain similarity between the start of the dance in Tallinn and the even older dance of death in Chaise-Dieu in Auvergne, France. This was pointed out as early as 1897 by Alexander Goette (Holbeins Totentanz und seine Vorbilder, p. 38). Hellmut Rosenfeld produced the drawing to the left for his book from 1968 (Der mittelalterliche Totentanz, picture 21), where Death also plays the bagpipe.

The problem with this interesting theory is that Rosenfeld's drawing deviates markedly from the drawing that he has copied. Achille Jubinal published Explication de la Danse des Morts de la Chaise-Dieu in 1841, and had personally seen this part of the mural before it perished. The sitting person is not a corpse, and probably isn't holding a bagpipe. One wonders why Rosenfeld had to copy Jubinal's drawing by hand. Hadn't the photocopier been invented back in 1968?

La Danse Macabre. Døden carries a coffin on his shoulder.
Antoine Vérard, Pope and emperor

Death plays the flute In Lübeck, Death does not play the bagpipe, but the fife (picture to the left). At least this was true for the copy that Wortmann painted in 1701. On the other hand, the feathery hat was not typical for the hat fashion in 1463, so the question is (again), how close Wortmann's copy was to the original.

The next Death starts the procession by calling the pope to the dance. Death carries a coffin on his shoulder, just like he does in La Danse Macabre (to the right) and the many derived dances.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

went iu . . .: Some of the older authorities (Seelmann/Stammler et al) preferred »wente nu«, but the text on the painting is very clear here (at least it is today after the restoration.
Good works . . .: Death gives us a message from his sponsor - the Catholic church. See the moral of the story.
lead the dance . . .: A "Vortantz" is a dance at the beginning by the first (leading) couple, who open the dance.

In the dances of death, this "honour" is usually reserved for the pope.

Loosing and binding . . .: Compare with Jesus' words to Peter the Apostle: "And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matthew 16,19).

"To bind" means to make unlawful, and "to loose" means to make lawful. The pope is a successor of Peter the Apostle, so what it means, in effect, is that whatsoever rules the pope maketh up shall receive the Divine rubberstamp of instant approval.

Literally: "You will now become a stranger to highness".

"gast" would normally mean "quest, but the Indo-European root of the word is "ghostis", which meant "stranger".