Lübeck's Dance of Death

The dance of death, part 5
Suhl, part 5: Nobleman, physician and usurer.


Der Edelmann zum Tode.

Ich war auf nichts so sehr, als auf die Jagd verpicht,
Die Sonne fand mich zwar, doch in den Federn nicht,
Kein Wild entwischte mir in dick belaubten Büschen,
Jetzt kann ich leider selbst dem Tode nicht entwischen.

XXVII. The Nobleman's answer.

Hunting indeed's my fav'rite sport,
I lik'd it better far than court:
The rising sun with blushing face,
Ne'er found me absent from the chace;
The hounds the fallow deer pursue,
But now I am o'ertook by you.

Der Tod zum Doctor.

Beschaue dich nun selbst, und nicht dein Krankenglas,
Du bist dem Körper nach so dauerhaft als das;
Ein Stoß zerbricht das Glas, der Mensch zerbricht im Sterben,
Was findet man hernach von beiden? 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 ?(1)
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 zum Tode.

Verläßt mich meine Kunst, alsdann gesteh' ich frey,
Daß zwischen Glas und Mensch kein Unterschied mehr sey.
Ihr Brüder sucht umsonst in Gärten, Thälern, 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!"

Der Tod zum Wucherer.

Ich ford're deinen Rest, als meinen Zins, von dir,
Zahl ab, und laß die Last des schweren Beutels hier;
Ein Geizhals hat noch nie den Geldsack mitgenommen,
Warum? weil kein Kamel durchs Nadelöhr kann kommen.(2)

XXX. Death to the Usurer.

Come down my friend, with all your pelf,
I claim the principal myself:
The interest too I'll not abate,
However I incur your hate.
I know thy narrow soul doth cry,
To part with that more than to die;
Yet never miser came this way,
But down his dearest gold must lay.


Der Wucherer zum Tode.

Wahr ist's, ich liebte nichts, als Wucher und Gewinn,
Und merke, daß ich arm beim Reichthum worden bin,
Mein Capital ist fort, die Zinsen sind zerstoben.
Ach! hätt' ich einen Schatz im Himmel aufgehoben.(3)

XXXI. Usurer's answer.

In truth, I own my thought were such,
They ran on usury too much;
But with immensity of store,
The wretch that begs from door to door,
Was ne'er so miserably poor.
Ah were my soul once more to rise,
I'd set my wealth above the skies,
Where Death and all his ghastly train
Should seek for treasure all in vain.

After the physician comes a little group consisting of two cadavers, one of which is playing the fiddle, and a woman.
Milde shows it correctly.
Milde, three figures
Suhl incorrectly shows one cadaver playing the flute and two living persons.
Suhl, three figures

Ludewig Suhl has many small deviations and errors, when compared with the original painting. The most glaring one is the three little figures to the right of the physician (picture left and right).


The English translations are those of Thomas Nugent.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

Physician with a urine glass from Lübeck's dance of death.
Physician with a urine glass

polish'd glass...: Urine glass. Indispensable part of medical science in the Middle ages. See the picture to the right.

This famous quote about the camel and the needle is from Matthew 19:24, "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (also Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25).
lay up a treasure in Heaven. . .: Popular subject in the Bible (and the church!). See for instance Matthew 19:21, "Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me" (see also Matthew 6:19-20, Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33 and Luke 18:22).

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