Pope and Emperor

Pope and emperor.
Pope and emperor

Dethe to the Pope

O ȝe that ben sette / moste hye In dygnite
Of al estatis / in erthe spiritual
And liche as Petur / had the souerente
Ouer the churche / and states temporal
Vp-on this daunce / [ȝe] firste begyn shal
As moste worthi lorde / and gouernowre
For al the worschip / of ȝowre astate papal
And of lordschip / to god is the honowre.
ben: be, are
erthe: world
liche as Petur: like St. Peter(1)

ȝowre: your

The Pope answereth

FIrst me be-houeth / this daunce for to lede
Whiche sate yn erthe / hyest yn my see
The state ful parilous / who so taketh hede
To occupie / Petirs dignitie
But for al that / deth I mai not flee
On his daunce / with other for to trace
For whiche al honoure / who prudentely can see
Is litel worthe / that doth soo sone pace.
I must lead this dance
see: seat

pace: go

Dethe to the Emperowre

SIr Emperowre / lorde of al the grounde
Soueren Prince / ande hyest of noblesse
Ȝe most forsake / of golde ȝowre appil rounde
Sceptre and swerde / & al ȝowre hie prouesse
Be-hinde leue / ȝowre tresowre & richesse
And with other / to my daunce obeie
Aȝens my myght / is worth noon hardynesse
Adames children / alle thei mosten deie.

appil rounde: Round apple = imperial orb

leue: leave

Aȝens: Against
All Adam's children must die.(2)

The Emperowre answereth

I not to whom / that I mai appele
Towchyng dethe / whiche dothe me so constreyne
Ther is no geyne / to helpe my quarele
But spade & picoys / my graue to atteyne
A simple shete / ther is no more to seyne(3)
To wrappe yn / my bodi and visage
Ther-vp-on sore / I may compleyne
That lordes grete / have [so] litle a-vauntage.
not: know not

picoy: pickaxe

visage: face


The first dancers are the pope and the emperor - the two mightiest mortals. The dancers are alternating representations of ecclesiastical and secular society.

The illustration is taken from the danse macabre of Paris.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

Like St. Peter . . .: The pope is St. Peter's successor.
Adam's children . . .: See the page about the original sin.

Spade, pickaxe, and a simple sheet.

If you compare with the picture at the top of this page from La Danse Macabre in Paris, it's clear that the emperor has given a fitting description of the cadaver in front of him.

This is an example of how the dance of death is a mirror. The corpse shows the emperor what he will shortly become.