Lübeck's Dance of Death

Lübeck's dance of death, Usurer, curate and merchant
Usurer, curate and merchant.

The usurer

O du aller unvormodeste Dot,
Up di en dacht ik klene noch grot.
Ik hebbe al min Gut vorsaden,
Mine Böne sint vul Kornes geladen.
Mot ik nu sterven, dat is mi swar,
Unde latent hir, unde wet nicht, war.
Ik en wet nicht, war ik henne mot,
Vorbarme miner Her dor dinen Dot.
Oh, you most unexpected Death,
I have thought [neither] little nor much of you.
I have all my goods [to] satisfy [me];
my warehouse is full of corn.
Must I die now, that is hard for me,
and leave everything, and know not where.
I don't know where I must go.
Have mercy on me, Lord, by your death!

Death answers the usurer

Vorkerde Dor, olt van Iaren,
Anders hefstu nicht uterkaren,
Den dat Gut up desser Erden,
Ik wet nicht, wat van di sal werden.
Up mi so haddestu klene Acht,
Noch to stervende nicht gedacht.
Nu mustu int ander Lant,
Herr Kappelan, lange her de Hant
Mad fool, old of years.
You have not chosen anything
[else] than the goods of this world.
I know not, what shall become of you.
You payed [too] little heed to me.
and neither did you think of dying.
Now you must into the other land.
Mr Curate, give me the hand!

The curate

Ach leider, wo quelet mi de Dot!
Ik hebbe Last van Sorgen grot.
Slaplik hebbe ik gequiten,
Ik vruchte, God schalt nummer witen,
De Werelt, de Viant, unde dat Vlesch,
Hebbet bedraghen minen Gest.
Wat schal mi nu dat Gut,
Wente ik it hir al laten mot?
Oh woe! How Death torments me.
I have a great load of sins.
Sleepingly I gave absolution,
I fear God shall punish me now.
The world, the devil and the flesh
have deceived my spirit(1).
What shall I do now with these goods,
When I must leave it all?

Death answers the curate

Haddestu van Jöget up Gade bet
Recht vor di geset,
Unde vlitliken gelert,
Dar du mennich Wort hefst vorkert,
Dat Volk bracht to Gude,
Dat were got, nu schedestu unnode.
It mot sin sunder leiden,
Kopman, wilt di ok bereiden.
Had you, from your youth, on God better
set yourself right
and diligently learned -
where you [instead] have twisted many [of God's] words -
and brought the people to God,
that would be good! Now you part [from life] unwillingly.
It must happen without hesitation.
Merchant, will you too prepare yourself.

The merchant

It is mi verne, bereit to sin,
Na Gude hebbe ik gehat Pin,
To Lande unde tor See,
Dor Wind, Regen unde Snee,
Na Reise wart mi so swar,
Mine Rekenscop is nicht klar.
Hadde ik mine Rekenscop ghedan,
So mochte ik vrolik mede ghan.
It's far from me to be prepared.
I have had great pains [to obtain] goods.
By land and by water
trough wind, rain and snow.
No travel has been so hard for me
my reckoning(2) is not ready.
Had I done my reckoning
then I would gladly go with you.

The "Amtmann" in Lübeck is really a merchant with cloak and spurs.
The merchant with spurs
The merchant (with cloak and spurs) from Des dodes dantz.
The merchant with spurs
About the sequence:

That's another fine mess. Both the text of Jacob von Melle and the High German text from 1701 change the merchant and the craftsman about.

The error is probably caused by the fact that in 1463 Low German "Amtman" meant "craftsman". When replacing the painting in 1701 he was interpreted as a High German "Amtmann" (civil servant) and was placed before the merchant in order to keep the hierarchical order. For lots of details about this puzzle, see the pages about von Melle who wrote down the verses and Mantels who made sense of it.

Notice that it is only the text that is shuffled. The picture to the left is subtitled "Der Amptman" but still shows a merchant wearing spurs and with his ships in the background - ready to travel "To Lande unde tor See". The picture to the right is from Des dodes dantz and here too the travelling merchant is wearing spurs and a cloak to protect him from "Wind, Regen unde Snee". Compare with Berlin's dance of death, where the merchant is told to take off his spurs.

So to sum up: Jakob von Melle and the High German text below the painting put civil servant before merchant. The Low German text on these pages has been restored to follow the painting and puts merchant before craftsman.

The problem continues with the usurer, who in all probability originally was a citizen. More details on the page about von Melle: Usurer or Citizen?

Footnotes: (1) (2)

The world, the devil and the flesh. The same deceiving triplet appear in The Small Catechism of Martin Luther in his description of the Lord's prayer:

"[…] but we pray in this request that God will protect us and save us, so that the Devil, the world and our bodily desires will neither deceive us nor seduce us into heresy, despair or other serious shame or vice […]".

Ronneby Church.
Ronneby Church

Luther's Catechism is from 1529 and thus 66 years younger than Lübeck's dance of death. The original inspiration probably comes from the chapters in the Bible where the Devil is tempting Christ in the desert e.g.: Luke chapter 4:

" And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. […] And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and+ the glory of them […] "

Look at the fresco from Ronneby Church. The man in the net is caught, not only by Death (MORS), but also by the Devil (DIABOLUS), the flesh in the form of a nude woman (CARO) and a woman with worldly goods (MUNDUS).

reckoning...: The dead were expected to present a factual report of their life, works, duty, actions, & accomplishments. Compare with Romans 14:12: "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God" and 1st Peter 4:5: "Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead".

The merchant is troubled that he hasn't finished his accounts — and a very similar concern was voiced by merchant in Berlin.


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