The Physician

The physician

The physician in a dance of death always has a glass with urine in his hand, which he holds against the light in order to make a diagnosis (cf. the text: "dein Krankenglas" / "that polish'd glass"). Check out the other images of physicians in dances of death.

Ludewig SuhlThomas Nugent

    der Tod
Beschaue dich nun selbst, und nicht dein Krankenglas,
Du bist den Cörper nach so dauerhaft als das,
Ein Stoß zubricht das Glas, der Mensch zerbricht im Sterben
Was findet man hernach von beyden? nichts als Scherben.

    XXVIII. Death to the Physician.
Set down thy bottles quick, my friend,
And think upon thy latter end;
Does not thy body far surpass
In brittleness that polish'd glass ?
One blow the glass in pieces breaks,
A breath of wind thy fabric shakes.
And what remains of both when broke,
But dirt and fragments, atoms, smoke.


    der Doctor
Verlæst mich meine Kunst, alsdenn gesteh ich frey,
Daß zwischen Glas u. Mensch kein Unterschied mehr sey,
Ihr Brüder sucht umsonst die Gærten, Thæler, Gründen,
Um für die letzte Noth ein Recipe zu finden.

    XXIX. The Physician's answer.
If vain my art, you may compare
Frail man to glass and brittle ware.
O what's my physic, art or pill,
To heaven's decree, and sacred will!
When death commands we all must go,
"Kings, sons of kings, and doctors too!"

The physician seems to break the over-all sequence with alternating clergy and laity. This is because the physician is considered a cleric — having studied at the university. The same thing holds true in Des Dodes Dantz for the physician and the student, and in Paris and London for the astronomer, the physician and the lawyer.

This distinction is even clearer in Berlin's dance of death. All the 14 clerics are placed to the left of Christ and here we find the doctor with the urine glass among priests and monks.

The opposite is true for the "lowly" barber-surgeon / bonesetter, who is regarded as a craftsman. In Des Dodes Dantz there is a long Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque list of craftsmen, and this is where we meet the barber (High German: "(Bart)scherer" i.e. beard-cutter) and the apothecary / surgeon (High German: "(Pflaster)schmierer") i.e. one who spreads a medicated substance on a plaster): »[…] Eyn weuer. eyn packer. eyn bruwer. eyn sacker. eyn scherer. eyn smerer. eyn vorsprake. efte eyn ander kreter […]«.