Headlines and Titles

The usurer's client is squeezed into the right side.
(This example is by Antoine Vérard)
Antoine Vérard, Monk and usurer

The different old manuscripts featuring the men's dance are surprisingly similar. The same 30 men appear in the same order and have the same dialogue with Death. Only a few words separate one manuscript from another. This is in contrast to the women's dance, where during a much shorter period and with far fewer manuscripts there are far greater variations. The number of women grow from 30 to 32 to 34 to 36, the sequence changes, and several lines are rewritten.

The reason for this difference might be that the men's dance was a copy of the mural in the cemetery of St. Innocents, so that each scribe could check with the original.

The variations are most numerous when we look at the beginning, the end, and the headings: Are the Latin texts included? What is the authority called? What are the two "cramped" figures called, viz. the usurer's client (to the right) and the last cadaver?

One could suggest that the scribes had copied the titles from the mural, but that the persons at the beginning and at the end, as well as the two "cramped" persons didn't have titles and that each scribe instead had to describe these participants.(1)

Here is a table of those manuscripts that are either available or thoroughly described. At the bottom of the table are the two first printed versions by Guy Marchant.

Manuscript
Hec Pictura
Hide
Discite vos choream
Hide
1. Authority
Hide
2. Authority
Hide
Death to the pope
Hide
The astrologer
Hide
The poor man
Hide
Death after the hermit
Hide
The dead king
Hide
1. Authority
Hide
2. Authority
Hide
Mortales Cunctis
Hide
Explicit
Hide
Latin 14904
-
-
-
-
Le mort
Le maist[r]e
Le poure
Le mort
Vng roy mort tout nu couchie en[uers]
Vng maistre qui est au bout de la da[nce]
-
Versus magistrales
Explicit la dance macabre & a dieu graces
Fr. 25550
-
-
-
-
Le mort
Le maistre
Le poure
Le mort
Vng roy mort tout nu couchie enuers
Vng maistre qui est au bout de la dance
-
Versus magistrales
Explicit deo gracias
Fr. 14989
-
Doctor loquitur
Le docteur
Le docteur
Le mort au pappe
Lastrologien
Lomme qui emprunte
Le mort lui respont
Le roy mort qui vers mignent
Machabre docteur
Le docteur encor
Angelus et doctor loquntur
Explicit
Fr. 1055
Angelus loquitur
Doctor loquitur
Doctor
Doctor
Mors loquitur pape
Astrologus
Ille qui mutuat
Mors
Cadaver
Idem
Idem
(not included)
Explicit deo gracias
NAF 10032
Angelus loquitur
-
?
?
?
Lastrologien
La mort
La mort luy respond
Le roy que vers menguent
Macabre le docteur
Le docteur
Angelus et doctor loquntur
Explicit hoc opus
Add 38858
(not included)
(not included)
Le docteur
Le docteur
Le mort
Lastrologien
Lomme qui empru[n]te.
Le mort
Le roys mort qui gis envers.
Le docteur.
-
(not included)
(none)
Lille 139
(not included)
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
(none)
Fr. 25434
(not included)
(not included)
Lacteur
-
La mort
Le docteur
Lacteur
La mort
Le roy mort
Lacteur
-
(not included)
Explicit
Fr. 1186
(not included)
(not included)
-
-
La mort
Lastrologien
Le bon homme qui emprunte a vsure
La mort
Le roy mort
Lacteur
-
(not included)
Amen
Fr. 995
(not included)
(not included)
-
-
-
-
(not included)
(not included)
-
-
-
-
-
St. Omer 127
(not included)
(not included)
-
-
Le mort parle au pappe
Lastrologien
Lemprunteur
Le mort
Le roy mengie
Mac<r>abre
-
(not included)
Che liure est a guilbert de de terremonde […]
Marchant (1485)
-
-
?
?
?
Le maistre
Le poure homme
Le mort
Vng roy mort
Lacteur
-
-
Cy finit la danse macabre imprimee […]
Marchant (1486)
-
-
Lacteur
-
Le mort
Lastrologien
Le poure homme
Le mort
-
Lacteur
-
-
(none)

Click the Hide to hide each column.

Ms Fr. 14989.
This manuscript from ca. 1428 starts with two lines in Latin (but without reference to any angel.
Then four lines of Latin text and the heading "Doctor Loquitur"
Then the French text is introduced by "Le docteur".
Français 14989
Marchant 1485, The Authority
Guy Marchant, The Authority

Two of the oldest manuscripts, those from the abbey of St. Victor, Latin 14904 and Fr. 25550, are wholly identical, except for their "explicit".

Fr. 1055 deviates from the others by having Latin headings — all the way from the headline "Incipit chorea macabre" to the "Explicit deo gracias". Lille 139 and Fr. 995 deviate by not having any headings at all.

Seven of the sources include the two first lines of the Latin text. Two of the manuscripts tell us that these lines are spoken by an angel; the two printed books show it. Strictly speaking the printed version from 1485 doesn't show an angel because almost the entire first leaf after the title page is missing in the only existing copy (picture to the right). However one can just glimpse a corner of the angel's scroll (indicated by the red arrow), so the angel has been there once.

Eight of the sources have the next four lines of Latin texts. Two of the manuscripts tell that the words are spoken by a "doctor"; the two printed books show it. The four lines are also featured in an old Catalan manuscript and an English manuscript. The two printed books deviate by replacing "gaudia" in »Quantum prosit honor gaudia diuicie« with "gloria".

The authority at the beginning varies between "Docteur" and "Acteur". Towards the end of the dance the descriptions become more detailed: »Vng maistre qui est au bout de la dance« (a master, who is at the end of the dance). Fr. 1055 puts the words in the mouth of the preceding dead king and write »Idem« ("the same") over both verses.

Three of the manuscripts call the last authority for "Macrabre" (sic), "Machabre docteur" or "Macabre le docteur". The English translation by Lydgate has the heading »Machabre the Doctoure«.

A fifth verse has been jammed into the right side after the hermit.
(This example is by Antoine Vérard)
Antoine Vérard, Clerk and hermit

The most colourful descriptions concern the dead king: From the short »cadaver« and »le roy mort« to »Le roy mengie« ("the eaten king"), »Le roy que vers menguent« ("the king whom worms are eating), »Le roy mort qui vers mignent« ("the dead king whom worms burrow") and »Vng roy mort tout nu couchie enuers« ("a dead king all nude lying in worms"). We encounter the same description in Lydgate's translation: »The kynge liggyng dede & eten with wormes«. The Catalan translation says: »Aquestes paraules diu un Rey que jau dins una tomba o moniment« ("these words are spoken by a king who lies in a tomb or a monument").

The usurer's cramped client has many names too: »le poure« / »Le poure homme« ("the poor man"), »Lemprunteur« (the borrower), »Lomme qui emprunte« (the man who borrows) and »Le bon homme qui emprunte a vsure« ("the good man, who borrows at the usurer"). Two of the manuscripts seem to have misunderstood who's speaking and calls him »La mort« respectively »Lacteur«. Fr. 995 doesn't include the customer's words.

In fact the only oddity is the astrologer. He is alternatingly called "Le maistre", "Lastrologien" and "Le docteur", which is inexplicable since he wasn't cramped like the usurer's customer. In the 1485-version Guy Marchant called him "Le maistre", but the next year he had a change of mind and instead called him "Lastrologien".

 

Conclusion: Our hypothesis cannot explain why the astrologer sometimes changes his title,(2) but apart from this anomaly it seems to be correct: Each scribe has copied headings and titles from the original mural at St. Innocents' cemetery. In those cases where the mural did not feature a title, each scribe has instead supplied a description of what he saw.

External links

Further information

Footnotes: (1) (2)

This argument is presented by Hanno Wijsman. However he only checks a few manuscripts.

I don't know whether Hanno Wijsman was the first to do so. See the external link.

Hanno Wijsman suggests that for his 1485-edition Marchant had copied the title "Le maistre" from a manuscript, but that he later consulted the mural and corrected the title to "Lastrologien" for the 1486-edition.

However this doesn't explain why the astrologer has three different titles.


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