In this section:
Reynke de Vos is regarded as one of the highlights of German literature and the greatest of the beast epics. Praised by all from Martin Luther to Goethe.
In 1652, the poet Johann Lauremberg wrote.(1)
Doch möge gi weten und gelöven gewis,
However, you must know and trust for sure,
Lauremberg may have been right that there were no good High German translations in his day, but this has since been remedied. What is perhaps more important is that the Low German Reynke de Vos is not an original work.
Animal fables are thousands of years old, and stories of the wolf Ysegrym and the fox Reynaert have been written for almost a thousand years.
The fox has always played the role of the cunning protagonist who fools the stronger animals. As early as the 12th century, the Latin "Ysengrimus" was written, which was about the dumb wolf Ysengrim, who is repeatedly outwitted by the fox Renardus and eventually meets an ignominious end. Here the greedy wolf is a bishop or abbot, while the fox is a lay person.
The story branched off in the 12th or 13th centuries, especially in France in "Le Roman de Renart" and many of these "branches" (this is the term used by scholars) such as the crane and the sick wolf (picture to the left) have been worked into Reynke de Vos as stories within the story.
Lauremberg has of course been aware of all this, but even with these reservations Reynke de Vos is not an original work, and its roots are not Low German, but Middle Dutch.
The Dutch "Van den vos Reynaerde" exists in five manuscripts: Two complete and 3 fragments. The story is pretty much the same as the first (and by far largest) of the four books of the Lübeckian Reynke de Vos.
One of the complete manuscripts is the Dyck manuscript, so called because it was discovered at the Schloss Dyck in Rhineland-Westphalia. It was written in the years 1330-1360, and the story of Reynaerde takes up 3,393 lines (see external link).
The second complete manuscript was found in Comburg. The story fills 3,469 lines and was copied in the early 15th century (see external link).
The author begins by introducing himself as »Willam die matocke makede«, i.e. the Villam / Willem, who had also written a work named "Matock". Unfortunately, we do not know of such a work, and in the manuscript from Comburg the text is changed to »Willem, die vele bouke maecte«, (i.e.: "Willem, who made many books"), so evidently the reference has from very early on been incomprehensible.(2)
The manuscript ends with an acrostic, "BI WILLEME", but this is only included in the manuscript in Comburg and must almost be excavated.(3)
Even though the manuscript is in Dutch, the reader is still expected to be familiar with the French Renart-tradition. King Nobel appears already in line 44 ("Nobel die coninc"), but almost 1,800 lines pass before we are told that the king is a lion: "Coninc lyoen".
There is an expanded version: "Reynaerts historie". The first part is pretty much identical to "Van den vos Reynaerde", but after that, 4,300 lines have been added for a total of ca. 7,800 lines.
This addition corresponds to books 2, 3 and 4 in the lübeckian Reynke de Vos. Reynke's enemies have not given up; animals and birds complain about him, and Reynke must again appear before the king. Here he spends a lot of time describing the incredible treasures of his fictitious treasure. As the trial leads nowhere, the wolf Ysengrim chooses instead to challenge Reynaert to a duel.
"Reynaerts historie" exists in a manuscript in Brussels, which unfortuntaely is not available online (HS 14601). The last 1,000 lines also survive in another manuscript (Hague KB 75 B 7).
The Brussels-manuscript ends with a greeting from "the one who wrote this". The man is named Claes van Aken (i.e. he presumably hails from the German town of Aachen). However, it is not clear whether "the one who wrote it" is the author, or just a scribe who has copied the text.(4) This greeting is not included in the fragment in The Hague, which instead ends with a somewhat obscure text stating that it was written down in 1475 or perhaps 1477.
"Reynaerts historie" was also published in prose. There are two printed books in Dutch with a slightly rewritten prose: "Historie van Reynaert die vos". The one was published by Gheraert Leeu, Gouda, 1479 (picture to the right above), the other by Jacob Jacobsz ver der Meer, Delft 1485.(5)
The story has been sectioned into 45 chapters, and it was probably on the 1479-edition that Caxton based his English translation in 1481, "the historye of reynart the foxe".
From approx. the same time there exists 7 leaves from a printed, versified edition: The so-called Culemann fragments. Senator Friedrich Culemann of Hannover had bought these 7 leaves from Edwin Tross, who had found them in the binding of an old book.(6) It is believed that this book was printed in 1487 by Gheraert Leeu, i.e. the same person who printed one of the prose versions in 1479.
The leaves contain four illustrations (left), 198 full and 24 half verses, and show, that neither the rhymes, the headings nor the instructive explanations at the end of the chapters (the "glosses") were invented in Lübeck.
It was probably a book in the same family as the Culemann fragments that formed the basis of the Low German translation of Lübeck in 1498.
The front page (to the left) shows a crown that was also used for other publications from the Mohnkopf-printery: De salter to dude, 1493, Speygel der leyen, 1496, Dat narren schyp, 1497, and Sunte Birgitten Openbaringe, 1496. It was later used for Dodendantz, 1520. The same thing is true for the skull and the little shields on last page. The skull (along with two others) was used for Dodendantz.
Apart from these introductory and concluding pictures that could have been used in any other book, the illustrations fall into three groups:
Six of the woodcuts are reused from "Aesopus, Vita et Fabulae" printed around 1492 in Magdeburg by Moritz Brandis or Simon Koch.
Thirteen of the woodcuts — especially those with birds — are taken from "Dialogus Creaturarum", published by Gheraert Leeu, 1480 — i.e. the same publisher, who made the prose-version and the Cullmann fragments. Oddly enough, they are not Leeu's woodcuts, but copies published by Johannem Snell in Stockholm, 1483.
Thirty pictures are about the Reynke story itself. The picture of Reynke in front of the monastery with the fat chickens is strongly inspired by the illustration in the Culemann fragments (pictured above). However, the other images, which typically depict scenes from the lion's court, are in a different style and may be presumed to be original.
A few years later — in 1510 — Reyneke de Vos was reprinted in Rostock. This book no longer exists, but the publisher Hermann Barckhusen wrote a letter to the Count of Mecklenburg on July 24th, 1510. The count wanted Barckhusen to work on a project, and Barckhusen sent him two books, so the count could choose which fonts he liked best:
Ik sende ok Juwer f. g. hyrbeneuen eyn dutzsch halsgerichte, so ik ok uth dem hoechdutzschen getegen vnd kortes gedrugket hebbe vnde eyn ander boek von schympliken reden vnd schwengken, Reyneke Voss genompt: dar inne de dutzschen schriffte to beseende,
Barckhusen tells about the first book about "halsgerichte" (i.e. courts for serious crimes), that he has both translated it from High German and printed it. In contrast, he gives no details about the second book of shameful tales, and it no longer exists. The only thing we can conclude is that Barckhusen in 1510 possessed the fonts that had been used to print a version of Reyneke Voss.
In 1517 such a book was (yet again?) published in Rostock: »Van Reyneken dem Vosse«. The book contains the same text as in Lübeck, including prefaces, introductions, and "glosses" (the explanations that end about half of the chapters). There is no indication of publisher, only: »Impressum Rostochij. Anno M.CCCCC.xvij«. but it is obvious that it could have been published by Barckhusen, or perhaps rather by Barckhusen's type setter, Ludwig Dietz, who had taken over Barckhusen's business.
In 1539 Ludwig Dietz published the famous edition, "Reynke Vosz de Olde" with beautiful copper engravings attributed to Erhard Altdorfer (see external link).
The text itself is the same as in Lübeck, but the many instructive "glosses" that end the chapters, was replaced by a "Jüngere Glosse" to give the reader the proper Protestant understanding of the story. In the margins are added quotes by Sebatian Brant, Freidank, and small figures (right).
The Protestant "younger Glosse" is six times as voluminous as the Catholic one from Lübeck and is over 2,700 lines. Although the story of Reynke de Vos fills 6,844 verses, it almost drowns in a sea of prefaces, headlines, "glosses" and marginal commentaries.
This edition became popular and was reprinted several times. In 1544 it was translated into High German — with 21 editions before 1621, where each print run may have been up to 10,000 copies. Perhaps it was one of those editions, which Lauremberg thought sounded like throwing an old pot against the wall"?(7)
It was then translated into Danish (1555), Latin (1567) and Swedish (1621).
The Danish edition was published by Hermen Weigere: »En Ræffue Bog som kaldes paa Tyske Reinicke Foss […] som aldri føre haffuer værid paa danske / nu Nylige fordanskit aff Hermen Weigere / Borgere udi Cøbnehaffn« i.e.: "A fox book, which in German is called Reinicke Foss […] which never before has been in Danish / now recently translated into Danish by Hermen Weigere / citizen of Copenhagen« (see external link).
Even though Weigere was "Borgere udi Cøbnehaffn", the book was printed by Jürgen Richolff der Jüngere of Lübeck. The book ends: »Prentet i Lybeck aff Jørgen Richolff / Aar effter Gudz byrd M. D. LV.« i.e.: "printed in Lübeck by Jürgen Richolff / the year after God's birth 1555".
The pictures are skilled mirrored copies of those from Rostock, and the small figures have also been copied (picture to the right).
The front page showing a man with a pointed hat selling fox tails has also been copied from Rostock. Strictly speaking, the title says "En Eæffue Bog", and the androgynous figure with the hurdy-gurdy to the left (to the right in the original) has been fitted with penis and testicles.
The book was published again in Copenhagen 1656: »Reynicke Fosz, oc er en deylig oc lystig bog […] som for 105 Aar [sic] er fordansket aff Herman Weigere / Nu paa ny igjen tryckt«. I.e.: "Reynicke Fosz, and is a lovely and merry book […] which 105 years ago [sic] has been translated by Herman Weigere / now again printed".
This time the book was printed in Copenhagen by Peder Hake: »Prentet i Kiøbenhafn / paa Peter Hakis Bogtryckers / oc Christian Eckhorsts Bogbinders Bekostning […] M DC LVI«, but the strange thing is that the large illustrations (including the front page) are the original copperplates from Rostock, 1539.
This however is not true for the little marginal figures, which are rather clumsy copies of the 1555-edition, e.g.: Death.
The first of the four books is about a trial against the fox. The content is pretty much the same as in the Dutch "Van den vos Reynaerde".
The story starts poetically enough. At Whitsuntide when the weather was great:
ID gheschach vp eynen pynxstedach,
IT happened on a day of Pentecost,
But the idyll stops right here. Nobel the Lion, king of all animals, holds a court day — this means that we are in a feudal society, where the liege lord every spring must settle disputes between his vassals. In this version, Reynke, the wolf Ysegrym, the bear Brun and the other animals are all barons. Reynke even lives in a castle called Malepertus: »dat castel to Malepertuß«.
In this context, "animals" is to be understood as four-legged animals — after all, the happy birds are busy singing in hedges and on trees. All the animals show up — except for the fox — and it soon turns out that pretty much all the animals have complaints about the fox.
The only one who defends him is the badger Grimbart, who by the way is Reynke's brother-son. The badger gives a different twist to all the accusations, and explains how their ill fates was in fact their own fault.
Unfortunately, the badger's career as a spin doctor comes to an abrupt end when the trial is interrupted by Hennynck, the rooster, who has brought one of his daughters — lying dead on a stretcher. She has obviously been killed by Reynke. The court holds a death mass over the dead hen, led by Bellin the ram.
The king sends Brun the bear away to summon Reynke. Reynke tempts the bear with the promise of delicious honey in a tree trunk, but when the bear has stuck his head in, the fox removes the wedges so that the bear is stuck while everyone in the yard comes rushing and beats him. The bear escapes by tearing himself loose, but at the cost of his claws and part of the skin.
Then the king sends the cat Hyntze, but he fares just as badly. Hyntze is lured into the priest's hen house, where he is caught in a snare. The entire rectory comes rushing in and beats the captured cat, who only escapes after losing an eye.
When the king sees how badly his envoys have been treated, he decides instead to send one of Reynke's friends, namely the badger.
This time Reynke follows along, but on the way he feels like "confessing" his sins, and he tells the badger about his many villainous tricks that have especially targeted the wolf. This confession, however, has more the character of boasting. We see the depth of his "remorse" as they pass a monastery filled with fat chickens, where Reyneke can not turn his head away.
Reynke arrives at the court, but if the reader thinks we are abut to get an equilibrist display of lies and falsities, the reader will be disappointed. Chapter 20 is very short. Reyneke is sentenced to death and we are not told at all what Reynke has said, only that his wise words did not help him much: »Syne kloken worde hulpen nicht vele«.
Reynke is sentenced to death, but on the way up the ladder to the gallows, he tells the king about a conspiracy. Not only the wolf and the bear, but also Reynke's friend, the badger, and Reynke's own family have conspired to kill the king. Fortunately for the king, Reynke has thwarted the conspiracy by hiding the treasure that should have financed the coup.
The king is both startled by the conspiracy and curious about the treasure. Reynke gives a vague description of the hiding place, but "unfortunately" he can not accompany the king because he will first have to make a pilgrimage to atone for his sins.
The king approves of this, and since Reynke needs shoes for the long journey, the king lets the fur be skinned off the wolf and its wife. Since Reynke also needs a satchel, it is cut out from the other member of the "conspiracy", the bear.(8)
Reynke is accompanied on his pilgrimage by the hare Lampe and the ram Bellin. Along the way, they pass Reynke's castle, Malepertus. Reynke invites Lampe inside and kills him immediately.
Reynke goes outside to Bellin the ram and gives him his satchel. It contains an important letter to the king, and Bellin must make sure to say that it was he who wrote it so that he may share in the glory. When Bellin arrives at the court, the satchel turns out to contain Lampe's head.
The king becomes furious, but must realize that his greed has led him to maltreat his faithful vassals, the wolf and the bear. As compensation, he allows them to hunt Bellin's family, the sheep, wherever they meet them in the future. To reconcile with two of his vassals, he must sacrifice a third. Thus, the king's failure is total.
Books 2, 3 and 4 might as well have been assembled into one book. Combined they are only slightly larger than book 1.(9)
Reynke's enemies do not give up, and the king gets complaints from the birds. The king calls all the animals and birds (and if the picture to the left is to believed: a griffin) to arms.
Reynke arrives at the court again and tells in great detail about the precious objects in the treasure he claims to have hidden. Here, other stories from the French Renart tradition are intertwined.
Among the valuables was a mirror with incised stories. The mirror has "unfortunately" disappeared, but Reynke can remember several of these stories.
One of them is about how the king's father was once deadly ill. Reynke's father appeared in court to prescribe the only remedy: »Eines wulves liver van seven jaren«, the liver of a wolf of seven years. The wolf tries to excuse himself by claiming that he is only five years old, but to no avail: The fox will see the liver first, and the wolf ends up in the kitchen.(10)
This is a retelling of the very oldest story that go back to Aesop. In the original story, the sick king had to wrap himself in the warm skin of a flayed wolf. In the Latin "Ysengrimus" it is the wolf, who suggests that the king eats the liver of a ram and a Billy-goat, before the fox arrives and turns the tables on him.
Ysengrim realizes that getting Reynke convicted in court will not work, so the wolf chooses instead to challenge Reynke to a duel.
Here we see again how old the roots of the legend are when the wolf gives the fox his glove, and the author in 1498 must explain in the headline that »this was customary from ancient times« when someone was challenged to a duel.
The fox wins over his stronger opponent (among other things by pissing out one of the wolf's eyes), and all the animals now pay tribute to Reynke as their very best friend.
But let the story begin: It happened on a day of Pentecost, […]
The number of resources on Reynke de Vos available on the Net is immense. The follwing is a very limited selection:
Reynke de Vos. Nach der Lübecker Ausgabe von 1498 herausgegeben und im Neuhochdeutsche übertragen, 1987.
All 6,844 verses from the Lübeckian version with a parallel translation into modern High German by Hans Joachim Gernentz.
Of Reynaert the Fox, Text and Facing Translation of the Middle Dutch Beast Epic Van den vos Reynaerde Edited with an introduction, notes and glossary by André Bouwman and Bart Besamusca Translated by Thea Summerfield.
The entire text from "Van den vos Reynaerde" (3,470 lines) with a parallel translation into English. Glossary, comments, introduction to Middle Dutch, overview of manuscripts, and much more.
Reveboken - folkeboken om Reineke rev (Norwegian website)
A more faithful transcription. I have digitized Prien's text.
Reynke de Vos - one of the three surviving copies from Lübeck 1498. Unfortunately, a number of pages are missing. For some reason, the Berlin library calls the book: "Reynaert die vos".
The images on this website are taken from the Berlin-exemplar. For the missing pages I have used the facsimiles from Der Bilderschmuck der Frühdrucke, vol. 12, 1929, by Albert Schramm.
Die Dycksche Handschrift. - (Cod. 59). The first part is "Der naturen bloeme" - the second part is "Van den Vos Reynaerde". The link points to the preface with "Willam die matocke makede".
Van den Vos Reynaerde Comburger Handschrift - Cod.poet.et phil.fol.22. The second of the two complete versions of "Van den Vos Reynaerde".
Historie van Reynaert die vos - Dutch prose version from 1479.
Reynke Vosz de olde - Rostock, 1539
En Ræffue Bog som kaldes paa Tyske Reinicke Foss - Copenhagen 1555. The Internet Archive has no less than six copies of this edition.
Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)
Quoted from Veer Scherzgedichte
The quoted lines have been translated into High German in the book "Reynke de Vos" by Hans Joachim Gernentz, 1987.
Eight of these lines were printed (in Low German) on the back of the title page of a Danish translation from 1827: "Mikkel Ræv. Et æventyr i femten bøger, efter det gamle nedertyske digt".
Some scholars, e.g. Jacob Grimm, instead assume that Matock was the author's nickname.
(Jacob Grimm, Reinhart Fuchs, 1834, pages: clxiii, clxiv, clxvii, clxxv, ccviii etc.)
The manuscript in Comburg ends:
Bi Gode, ic dart u wel raden!'
Ysingrijn sprac toten beere:
Wat sechdire toe, Brune heere?'
Brune sprac: 'Ic hebbe lievere in de rijsere
Dan hier te ligghene int ysere.
Laet ons toten coninc gaen
Ende sinen pays daer ontfaen.'
Met Fyrapeel datsi ghinghen
Ende maecten pays van allen dinghen.
In order to read Willem's greeting, one must therefore assume that the words "Brune sprac" are a later (superfluous) addition, and that in the next line the words "Ligghen dan hier in dysere" have been transposed (i.e, there is also an error that replaced "in dysere" with "int ysere").
After the story itself comes this rhyme, where the last letter in each half verse gives the name twice - read from the bottom up.
Nu int gemein
Vint men certein,|
Nu volgen me,
Ic geef die wraec,
Den heer hier na,
Die alle pyn
Bi sinen ra,
Dien syn niet ru,
Maar syt des wis,
Wie menschen le,
Die uten pa
God brengse wel.
Int hemels sanc!
The 1479-version can be seen at the Internet-archive (see external link).
The 1485-version was reprinted by Ludewig Suhl in 1783. On this website, we know Ludewig Suhl because he — in the same year, 1783 — was the first to publish the Low German text from Lübeck's dance of death, and to publish eight copperplate prints with the whole painting.
On this website, we know Edwin Tross because he has published "L'alphabet de la mort de Hans Holbein" with Heinrich Lödel's copies of Holbein's dance of death alphabet and Maire's copies of Vostre's books of hours.
I'm not going to judge the quality of a High German translation, but in Jacob Grimm's opinion, the first High German translations were very bad and almost unintelligible:
Als das gedicht durch die dietzischen drucke verbreitet in Deutschland aufsehen zu erregen begann, wurde ihm eine schlechtgerathene hochdeutsche übersetzung zu theil von Mich. Beuther (gb. 1522 † 1587), dessen arbeit durch auslassungen und ungeschickte behandlung so sehr sündigt, dass sie fast unlesbar ist und alle anmut der dichtung verwischt.
(Jacob Grimm, Reinhart Fuchs, 1834, page clxxviii.)
Two shoes are cut from the wolf's forepaws and two from his wife's hindpaws.
Reynke needs two pairs of shoes because foxes walk on four legs.
Don't left Disney's anthropomorphized Br'er Fox and Robin Hood fool you.
One may wonder, why the story is divided into four books. In fact the second preface tries to answer this question: »Wo dyt boek wert ghedelet in IIII part« How this book has been separated into four parts.
The answer is rather odd: Humanity is divided into four classes, and so are the animals in the fable.
This "answer" is similar to the church father Irenaeus, who determined that there were four and only four canonical gospels, because there are four corners of the earth and four winds.
In the Dutch Reynaert-tradition the unlucky wolf is also named Ysengrim. This is also true for the prose-versions that were printed in 1479 and 1485: »die coninck hem sinen noot claghede. ende seide heer ysegrym«.
The fox is also named Reynart, and the recovered king commands his subjects that henceforth they must — under pain of death — address the fox as Master Reynaert: »op hoer lijf dat si hem nae dyer tijt voert meyster reynaert hieten«.
On the one hand it is not unheard of that one generation of barons take the name of their fathers. On the hand, the Lübeckian author never gives us the name of the wolf. Maybe because Ysengrim is the main antagonist in the story, so it won't do to have him killed in the king's kitchen years ago.
Reynke ends the lübeckian tale by saying the "everyone had to call my father "Doctor": »dat ein islik minen vader doctor hete« (line 5.343). We are not told his name.