So far we have been looking at Simon Vostre's dance of death with variations. A dance that ultimately goes back to the Danse macabre in Paris.
Douce describes (page 61, ff.) a Spanish book of hours "Las Horas de nuestra Señora con muchos otros oficios y oraçiones", printed in Paris by Nicolas Higman for Simon Vostre, 1495, which also contains these 66 dancers that we by now have learned to know and to love.
But after that follows another very different series, also by Vostre. In the table below, the left column is Douce' description of the first 24 images, while the right column contains transcriptions and translations by Mischa von Perger.
|Douce||Transcription, translation and comments by Mischa von Perger|
Nos. 1 & 2, an elegiac distich:
Discite vos choream cuncti, qui cernitis istam.
Do learn, all you who watch this dance,
The plural form "gloriae" ("fames") in the second verse is awkward and disturbs the metre. Therefore, we have to replace it by the singular form, "gloria", as it appears in the source.
Source: Jean Gerson (?), La Danse macabre (written in 1424 or slightly earlier), verses 1 sq.; cf. the extended edition by Guyot Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The authority.
Nos. 3 & 4, an elegiac distich:
Esto memor. quod puluis eris: et vermibus esca.
Be aware (singular imperative) that you will be dust and a meal for the worms
Source: Alanus ab Insulis / Alain de Lille (died 1202/03 A. D.), Liber parabolarum, book 1, chapter 6, verses 101 sq. (Alain has "putris" instead of "putrens"); cf. Marchant, The authority and the dead king.
|Nos. 5 & 6, an elegiac distich:
vado mori diues aurum vel copia rerum
I am going to die, a rich man. Gold or plentiness of things
Source: One or the other of the "vado mori" poems of the 14th century; cf. Marchant, Monk and usurer.
Connection between text and image: The verses of pictures 5 & 6 are uttered by the rich man — picture 6 shows him.
No. 7, a prose line:
Fortium virorum est magis mortem contemnere <quam> vitam odisse.
Brave men should despise death, not hate life.
In order to make the saying grammatically correct, we have to add the word "quam", as it appears in the source.
Source: Quintus Curtius Rufus (presumably first century A. D.), Historiae Alexandri Magni Macedonis, book 5, chapter 9. Cf. Marchant's Death and the man of arms (Lomme darmes / armiger): In the Latin edition, the word "quam" was omitted; however, it correctly appears in the French edition.
Connection between text and image: As in Marchant's editions, the quotation accompanies an armed man. However, it does not fit well Vostre's armed man, who does not appear to be a brave heart but a murderer.
No. 8, a prose line:
Stultum est ti<m>ere quod vitari non potest.
It is stupid to fear what cannot be avoided.
Above the "i" of the third word should have been printed a horizontal line to indicate the following nasal, "m".
As the previous subscription, this one also appears above the scene "Death and the man of arms (Lomme darmes / armiger)" in Marchant's Danse macabre nouvelle.
|No. 9, a hexameter:
est commune mori mors nulli parcit honori
To die is common. Death does not spare any state of honour.
Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The authority.
|No. 10, a hexameter (the first half of a distich) with internal rhyme:
Mors fera mors nequam mors nulli parcit et equam
Death is wild, death is bad, death spares nobody and <imposes> an equal
The sentence as printed ends abruptly. So the reader has to supply the continuation.
Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The authority.
Nos. 11 & 12, a distich made of two hexameters with double rhyme:
Hec tua vita breuis, que te delectat vbique (recte: inique).
This your short life, that pleases you everywhere (recte: more than it should),
The last word of the first line, "ubique", is awkward. According to Marchant's Danse macabre edition, we have to replace it by "inique".
Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, Monk and usurer.
|Nos. 13 & 14, a distich made of two hexameters with double rhyme:
Vita quid est hominis nisi res val<l>ata ruinis.
What is human life, if not a thing set between ruins?
In the print, the second "l" of the word "vallata" is missing.
Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, pilgrim and shepherd.
|Nos. 15 & 16, an elegiac distich:
quid sublime genus quid opes quid gloria prestant.
What do a noble birth, wealth, and fame bestow on us?
In the second verse the past tense of "aderant" requires us to read the preceding word as "tunc" ("back then") instead of "nunc". Marchant has the correct version.
Cf. Marchant, The pope and the emperor in the Latin versions.
And cf. the inscription on the scroll held by the figure of Jean de Berry (died 1416 A. D.) on his grave monument in Bourges:
Quid sublime genus quid opes quid gloria prestent
Look which gifts a noble birth, wealth, and fame bestow on us!
Connection between text and image: The verses of pictures 15 & 16 are uttered by a person of high birth, wealth, and fame — picture 16 shows such a man.
Nos. 17 & 18, an elegiac distich:
Ortus cuncta suos: repetunt: matremque requirunt.
All things strive to find their origins again and seek their mother,
Source: Maximianus (sixth century A. D.), elegy 1, verses 221 sq.; cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, halberdier and fool.
No. 19, a hexameter:
A. a. a. vado mori. <quia> nil valet ipsa iuuentus.
A a a, I am going to die, <because> youth is of no worth.
In order to restore the original metre, we have to add the word "quia" to the beginning of the second phrase, as it appears in Marchant's version:
Vado mori iuuenis: quia nil valet ipsa iuuentus.
I am going to die, a young one — because youth is of no worth.
Source: One or the other of the "vado mori" poems of the 14th century; cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, The child — In the Vulgate Bible, Jeremiah, not willing to serve as God's prophet, pretends to be just a child by saying in Latin: "A, a, a - look, Lord, my God, I cannot talk" (Jer 1:6).
Jeremiah 1:6, et dixi a a a Domine Deus ecce nescio loqui quia puer ego sum.
Connection between text and image: The verse of picture 19 is uttered by the child — the picture shows the child.
No. 20, a pentameter:
Mors scita sed dubia <est>. nec fugienda venit.
Death <is> known but dubious and, when coming, cannot be fled from.
In order to restore the original metre, we have to add the word "est" to the first phrase. However, the corrupt version was also printed by Marchant.
Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre des femmes, The authority.
No. 21, a hexameter with internal rhyme:
Non sum securus hodie vel cras moriturus.
I am not secure — today or tomorrow I shall die.
Cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, pilgrim and shepherd.
No. 22, a hexameter with internal rhyme:
Intus siue foris est plurima causa timoris
Inside or outside — there is very much reason for fear.
Connection between text and image: The verse of woodcut 22 considers indoor and outdoor death — woodcut 21 depicts outdoor death, woodcut 22 indoor death.
This and the previous verse were also printed one after the other by Marchant; cf. La Danse macabre nouvelle, pilgrim and shepherd.
No. 23, a verse with internal rhyme:
Viximus gaudentes nunc morimur tristes et flentes.
We have lived merrily — now we die sad and crying.
This is the only verse that has no classical metre — and does not appear in Marchant's Danse macabre editions.
No. 24, a pentameter:
Forte dies hec est vltima vado mori.
Perhaps this is my last day. I am going to die.
Source: One or the other of the "vado mori" poems of the 14th century; cf. Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, Astrologer and citizen.
|Nos. 25 & 26, an elegiac distich:
Felix qui potuit tranquillam ducere vitam.
Happy is he who was able to lead a calm life
In the second verse, the words "stabili … fine", "by a stable end", are awkward. We have to look for the correct version in the source.
Source: Maximianus (as in nos. 17 & 18), elegy 1, verses 289 sq.:
Felix qui meruit tranquillam ducere vitam
Happy is he who has gained to lead a calm life
The corrupt version was also printed by Marchant, La Danse macabre nouvelle, Lawyer and minstrel.
It seems to have escaped Douce that pictures 25 and 26 are just as much a part of the series as the 24 others. Therefore I have included them with a short description. Langlois too includes them, but his exemplar must in turn have lacked picture 23 and 24 (minstrel and hermit), for Langlois says that Douce has these two instead of the last two.(1)
Picture 25 finishes the dance with Judgment Day (like for instance Holbein did a few years later), and picture 26 is "the author / authority", who delivers the final morale, like he often does, e.g.: the Danse Macabre of Paris (picture to the left).
The above table shows another thing that pictures 25 and 26 have in common with the others pictures: The texts are quotes from the printed versions of the Danse Macabre in Paris by Guy Marchant. This holds true for all the pictures with a single exception (#23).
Take for instance pictures 1 and 2: »Discite vos choream cuncti qui cernitis istam« and »Quid tum prosit honor glorie divitie«, and compare with the two first lines from the first picture in the Danse Macabre (picture to the left). In fact this particular quote also appears in the even older handwritten versions of Danse Macabre, so the text might for all we know go back to the original mural from 1425.
As a matter of fact, and this is shown by Mischa von Perger in the above table, many of the quotes are even older than Guy Marchant's books and are thus not penned by Marchant himself. The point still remains: Nicolas Higman and Simon Vostre have found 25 out of 26 texts in this one source, the printed Parisian Danse Macabre. In some cases (pictures 7,20,25,26) they have even copied errors that originate from Marchant's book.
This leads to another point: There is no connection between text and images. Admittedly, the texts were not picked totally at random — as the above table shows, there is sometimes a parallel between text and image, but this is no stronger than the Bible quotes that accompany Hans Holbein's dance of death.
It's clear then (in my opinion) that Higman and Vostre have taken an existing series of images and added these Latin bon mots from Marchant's book. Read more about the Latin texts from La Danse Macabre.
Let us now look at another version, in which there is a far more coherent text, namely Accidens de l'Homme.
The next chapter is about the same woodcuts but with a text that's more coherent: Accidens de l'Homme.
The previous subject was English books of hours and prayers.
This book fits Douce's description perfectly. The title is the same, and it is printed by Simon Vostre and Nicolao Higmã (Nicolas Higman). The unusual sequence with la Bergere, la Femme aux Potences and la Femme de Village after la Sot[t]e is the same. At the same time the child, the clerk and the hermit are located at the end of the dance among the women, which fits with Douce's words, »to which are added, l'Enfant, le Clerc, l'Ermite«.
The only apparent divergence is that Douce's exemplar is from 1495, while the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica claim their exemplar is from 1520.
I believe it's the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica that are mistaken in this respect (they have put a question mark after the year). The year 1495 appears in the almanac page 14: »Año del nascimiento de nuestro señor de mill. ccccxcv«.
The National Library of Florens / Firenze claims the book is from 1507, but this is hardly correct. The title page is missing, but one of the calendars says: »anno a nativitate domini M.cccc.xcv«, i.e. 1495 like the other copy.
A la place de ces deux derniers sujets, M. Douce décrit les deux suivants:
La Mort met en fuite un groupe de musiciens de l'un desquels elle a saisi le luth.
La Mort conduit un ermite suivi par quelques autres personnages.