La Danse Macabre, The Men

Monk and Usurer. To the right: The usurer's unnamed customer.
Guy Marchant, Monk and usurer

We know the text from a number of manuscripts from the 15th century and the text is surprisingly stable. Naturally there are deviations in single words between the various sources, but the participants are the same, arrive in the same order and speak the same lines.(1)

The participants have the same titles in all the various sources, e.g. Le patriarche and Le connestable.(2) However there are few exceptions: The usurer's customer is called "Le povre", "Le poure homme", "Lomme qui emprunte" and even "Lacteur". In the same way the dead king is usually called "Le roy mort" or "Vng roy mort", but sometimes he is described instead: "Vng roy mort tout nu couchie en uers" ("A dead king totally nude lying on his back") or "Le roy mort que vers mignent" ("The dead king, whom the worms burrow"). The authority at the end is usually called "Lacteur", but also "Machabre docteur" and "ung maistre qui est au bout de la dance" ("a master, who is at the end of the dance"). The astrologer also alternates between named "Lastrologien" and "Le maistre".

The halberdier and fool only appear in the (later) printed books.
Guy Marchant, Halberdier and fool

This could indicate that a few of the figures had no titles on the mural, so that each writer had to resort to a description instead. If this is correct, it means that the scribes must have checked the other dancers by consulting the painting in St. Innocents.(3)

In 1485 Guy Marchant published the text for the first time illustrated with large, elegant woodcuts, and somewhat paradoxically it was only from now on that the text was fundamentally changed.

Only a few months later Marchant expanded the text extensively. He added the four cadaver musicians at beginning, ten extra men (legate, duke, school master, soldier, promotor, jailor, pilgrim, shepherd, halberdier and fool (picture to the left)), and the final authority was allotted one more verse. At the same time the book was padded with mote poems about the transitoriness of life.

With less than a year the text had been expanded into two volumes that also included the women's dance. The text had by now grown from simply reproducing the 30 men from St. Innocent's cemetery to become a "Mirror of Salvation": Miroer Salutaire.

On the present website, the 1486-edition has been written below all the male dancers.

Guy Marchant 1486: Authority
Guy Marchant 1486: Musicians
Pope and emperor
Guy Marchant 1486: Pope and emperor
Cardinal and king
Guy Marchant 1486: Cardinal and king
Legate and duke
Guy Marchant 1486: Legate and duke
Patriarch and constable
Guy Marchant 1486: Patriarch and constable
Archbishop and knight
Guy Marchant 1486: Archbishop and knight
Bishop and esquire
Guy Marchant 1486: Bishop and esquire
Abbot and bailiff
Guy Marchant 1486: Abbot and bailiff
Astrologer and citizen
Guy Marchant 1486: Astrologer and citizen
Canon and merchant
Guy Marchant 1486: Canon and merchant
Schoolmaster and soldier
Guy Marchant 1486: Schoolmaster and soldier
Carthusian and sergeant
Guy Marchant 1486: Carthusian and sergeant
Monk and usurer
Guy Marchant 1486: Monk and usurer
Physician and suitor
Guy Marchant 1486: Physician and suitor
Lawyer and minstrel
Guy Marchant 1486: Lawyer and minstrel
Parish priest and peasant
Guy Marchant 1486: Parish priest and peasant
Promoter and jailor
Guy Marchant 1486: Promoter and jailor
Pilgrim and shepherd
Guy Marchant 1486: Pilgrim and shepherd
Franciscan monk and child
Guy Marchant 1486: Franciscan monk and child
Clerk and hermit
Guy Marchant 1486: Clerk and hermit
Halberdier and fool
Guy Marchant 1486: Halberdier and fool
Authority and dead king
Guy Marchant 1486: Authority and dead king
Three living
Guy Marchant 1486: Three living
Three dead
Guy Marchant 1486: Three dead
Guy Marchant 1486: Women
Chorea ab Eximio
Guy Marchant 1490: Chorea ab Eximio
Chorea ab Eximio
Guy Marchant 1490: Chorea ab Eximio
Authority 1491
Guy Marchant 1491: Authority 1491

Resources on this website

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

As a comparison one can take the dance of death in Lübeck. In the 18th and 19th century in a city where the level of education was high and the painting was fully accessible, there were still great deviations between the various publications, and the author himself seems to have deviated most.

See for instance the three versions of the clerc and the many variants of the child.

Again one might compare with the dance of death in Lübeck, where each book has its own spelling: "Kaiserin" (Schmidt), "Der Kaiserin"(!) (Thomas King), "Kayserin" (Suhl), "Keyserin" (Milde), "Kaiserinn" (Schlott 1701), "Käyserin" (Schlott 1702) og "Käyserinn" (von Melle 1713).

See this handy table.

As far as I know, the first to point this out was Hanno Wijsman in the article "La Danse macabre du cimetière des Saints-Innocents et un manuscrit de Philippe le Bon".

I have expounded on the subject here: Headlines and titles.