St Aiden’s Homeschool
The History of The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Source & Credits: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The oldest picture of
Pied Piper (watercolour) copied from the glass window
of Marktkirche in Hamelin by Freiherr
Augustin von Moersperg.
redirects here. For other uses, see Pied Piper (disambiguation).
The Pied Piper of
Hamelin is a legend, documented by the Brothers
Grimm (Der Rattenfänger von Hameln, which translates to "The Ratcatcher of Hamelin"), which tells of an unusual
disaster that occurred in the town of Hamelin (Hameln), Germany, 26 June 1284.
In 1284, the town of Hamelin was suffering
from a rat infestation. One day, a man claiming to be a rat-catcher
approached the villagers with a solution. They promised to pay him for the
removal of the rats. The man accepted, and thus played a musical pipe to
lure the rats with a song into the Weser river, where all of them drowned.
Despite his success,
the people reneged on their promise and refused to pay the rat-catcher. The man
left the town angrily, but returned some time later, on June 26th, seeking
While the inhabitants
were in church, he played his pipe again, this time attracting the children of
Hamelin. One hundred and thirty boys and girls followed him out of the town,
where they were lured into a cave and never seen again. Depending on the
version, at most two children remained behind (one of whom was lame and could
not follow quickly enough) who informed the villagers what had happened when
they came out of the church.
Other versions (but
not the traditional ones) claim that the Piper returned the children after the
villagers paid several times the original amount of gold.
The rats of Hamelin
The earliest mention
of the story seems to have been on a stained
glass window placed in the church
of Hamelin c. 1300. The window was
described in several accounts between the 14th
century and the 17th century but it seems to have been
destroyed. Based on the surviving descriptions, a modern reconstruction of the
window has been created by Hans Dobbertin. It
features the colorful figure of the Pied Piper and several figures of children
dressed in white.
This window is
generally considered to have been created in memory of a tragic historical
event for the city. But although there has been a lot of research, no clear
explanation can be given of what historical event is behind the reports, see an
external link with a list of hypotheses. However, the rats were first added
to the story in the late 16th century; they are absent from all
previous accounts. Some traumatic event must have given rise to the tale;
Hamelin town records are dated from this time.
Theories that have
gained some support can be grouped into the following categories:
- The children fell victim to
an accident, either drowning in the river Weser or being buried in a landslide.
- The children contracted some disease during an epidemic
and were led out of town to die in order to protect the rest of the city's
population from contracting it.
- An early form of Black
Death has been suggested.
- Others attribute the dancing of
the children to be an early reference to Huntington's disease; however, this is
an inherited disorder, and the statistical probability of that many
unrelated children having the same genetic condition is very low.
- Another possibility would be the outbreaks of chorea, or communal dancing mania, which are
recorded in a number of European towns during the period of general distress
which followed the Black Death. The 'Verstegan/Browning'
would be consistent with this. These theories perceive the Piper as a
symbolic figure of Death. Death is often portrayed
dressed in motley, or "pied." Analogous themes which are
associated with this theory include the Dance
of Death, Totentanz or Danse Macabre, a common medieval type.
Various ecstatic outbreaks were associated with the Plague, such as the Flagellants,
who wandered from place to place while scourging themselves in penance
for sins that presumably brought the plague upon Europe.
The rat is the preferred host for the plague vector, the rat flea. When
the rats die, the fleas seek humans as a substitute host. Children might
be especially vulnerable to the disease.
The Pied Piper leads
- The children left the city to be part of a pilgrimage,
a military campaign, or even a new Children's crusade (which occured in 1212, not long before) but never returned
to their parents. These theories see the unnamed Piper as their leader or
a recruiting agent.
- The children willingly abandoned their parents and
Hamelin in order to become the founders of their own villages during the colonization
of Eastern Europe. Several European villages and cities founded around
this time have been suggested as the result of their efforts as settlers.
This claim is supported by corresponding placenames
in both the region around Hamelin and the eastern colonies where names
such as Querhameln ("mill village
Hamelin") exist. Again the Piper is seen as their leader.
- There have also been stories that a few months after
the disappearance of the children, in a forest nearby there were bodies of
children found underneath the trees. Meaning the Pied Piper could actually
have been a real person who killed the children.
The tradition that
the children emigrated in 1284 is so old and well-reported that explanations
associated with the Black Death seem unlikely (there is an alternative,
post-Black Death, date 1376 , but it is documented far away from Hamelin and as
late as 1605 - see below). Modern scholars regard the emigration theory to be
the most probable,
i.e. that the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a recruiter for the colonization of
Eastern Europe which took part in the 13th
century and that he led away a big part of the young generation of Hamelin
to a region in Eastern Germany.
Decan Lude of Hamelin was
reported ca. 1384
to have in his possession a chorus book
containing a Latin
verse giving an eyewitness account of the event. The verse was reportedly written
by his grandmother. This chorus book is believed to have been lost since the
late 17th century. The odd-looking name ‘Decan
Lude’ may possibly indicate a priest holding the
position of Dean (Latin decanus, modern German
Dechant) whose name was Ludwig; but as yet he
has proved impossible to trace.
The Lueneberg manuscript (c. 1440-1450) gives an early German account of the event:
Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli
war der 26. junii
piper mit allerlei farve bekledet
kinder verledet binnen Hamelen gebo[re]n
to calvarie bi den koppen
the year of 1284, on the day of Saints
John and Paul
on the 26th of June
130 children born in Hamelin were seduced
By a piper, dressed in all kinds of colors,
and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.
This appears to be
oldest surviving account. Koppen (Old German
meaning "hills") seems to be a reference to one of several hills
surrounding the city. Which of them was intended by the
verse's author remains uncertain.
Reportedly, there is
a long-established law forbidding singing and music in one particular street of
Hamelin, out of respect for the victims: the Bungelosenstrasse
adjacent to the Pied Piper's House. During public parades which
include music, including wedding processions, the band will stop playing upon
reaching this street and resume upon reaching the other side.
In 1556 De miraculis sui
temporis (Latin: Concerning the Wonders of his Times)
by Jobus Fincelius
mentions the tale. The author identifies the Piper with the Devil.
The Lame Child
The earliest English account is that of Richard Rowland Verstegan
(1548-c. 1636), an antiquary and
religious controversialist of partly Dutch
descent, in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence (Antwerp, 1605); unfortunately he
does not give his source. He includes the reference to the rats and the idea
that the lost children turned up in Transylvania.
The phrase 'Pide [sic] Piper' occurs in his version
and seems to have been coined by him. Curiously enough his date is entirely
different from that given above: July 22, 1376. Verstegan's account was copied
in Nathaniel Wanley's Wonders of
the Visible World (1687),
which was the immediate source of Robert
Browning's well-known poem (below). Verstegan's
account is also repeated in William Ramesey's Wormes (1668) - "...that
most remarkable story in Verstegan, of the Pied
Piper, that carryed away a hundred and sixty
Children from the Town of Hamel in Saxony, on the 22. of July,
Anno Dom. 1376. A
wonderful permission of GOD to the Rage of the Devil".
In 1803, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem
based on the story. He incorporated references to the story in his version of Faust. The first part
of the Drama was first published in 1808 and the second in 1832
Jakob Grimm and Wilhelm
Grimm, siblings known as the Brothers
Grimm, drawing from eleven sources included the tale in their collection
"Deutsche Sagen", first published in 1816 . According to their account two children were left
behind as one was blind and the other lame, so neither could follow the others.
The rest became the founders of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania).
Using the Verstegan/Wanley version of the tale and adopting the 1376
date, Robert Browning wrote a poem of that name which was published in 1842.
Browning's verse retelling is notable for its humor, wordplay, and jingling
“When, lo, as they
reached the mountain's side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.”
This location is
located on Coppenbrügge mountain and is known as an ancient site of pagan worship.[citation
pied-piping is the common, informal name for the ability of question
words and relative pronouns to drag other words along with them when brought to
the front, as part of the phenomenon called Wh-movement. For example, in "For whom are the
pictures?", the word "for" is pied-piped by
"whom" away from its declarative position ("The pictures are for
me"), and in "The mayor, pictures of whom adorn his office
walls" both words "pictures of" are pied-piped to in front of
the relative pronoun, which normally starts the
believe that the tale has inspired the common English phrase "pay the
piper", although others
disagree. To "pay the piper" means to face the inevitable
consequences of one's actions, possibly alluding to the story where the
villagers broke their promise to pay the Piper for his assistance in ridding
the town of the rats. The phrase sometimes refers to a financial transaction
but often does not.
Also, some experts on
such as Ken Lanning, in writing about the seduction of children by some
pedophiles, have used the term the "Pied Piper effect" to describe a
"unique ability to identify with children." [A Behavioral Profile of
- The military interpretation of the Pied Piper story
is used as a foreshadowing device in Rainbow
Valley (1919) by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The story is told
on two occasions by young Walter Blythe, son of Anne of Green Gables, who will later be
called to fight in World War I, and fall in the Battle of the Somme (1916).
- The Pied Piper story is heavily referenced by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva in
her poem The Ratcatcher, first published
- The story provides the basis for the central plot
and several characters in the 1998 debut novel King Rat by China Miéville.
- Breath by Donna
Jo Napoli tells the tale from the point of
view of the lame child left behind when the Piper takes the children into
- Eric Frank Russell's short story "The
Rhythm of the Rats", published in the July 1950 issue of Weird
Tales, is a retelling of the Pied Piper legend as a 20th century horror
- After Hamelin by Bill
Richardson is a unique story that picks up the story where Browning's poem
left off. It is written in the voice of the deaf child in the poem, whom Richardson names
- Michael Moorcock produces his own theory of
the Hamelin tale in his book, The Dreamthief's Daughter, where the cavern
that the children escape into is actually a secret entrance to the Mittelmarch.
- The Ratastrophe
Catastrophe by David Lee Stone is a parody based on the Pied
Piper about a boy called Diek who takes away the
children of a town because a voice in his head told him to.
- In his poem, "The One Who Stayed," Shel Silverstein
tells the story of a kid who stayed behind while the rest of Hamlin's
children followed the piper's song. ("Where the Sidewalk Ends")
- In the fifth book of The
Dark Tower Series, Wolves of the Calla, by Stephen
King, the town robot Andy leads the children through the town playing
a song, and a reference is made to the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Andy turns
out to be the one helping the Wolves take the children away.
Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice
and His Educated Rodents is a humorous take on the Pied Piper. A
talking cat engineers the plagues (and subsequent removals by his sidekick
piper). The story lampoons the fairy tale conventions of the original tale
while providing thoughtful commentary on the motives that drive people to
act as they do in the real world.
- In 2005 , children's author
Jane Yolen wrote a young adult novel about the tale: Pay
the Piper, a rock and roll fairy tale.
- In 2005, Adam
McCune and Keith McCune, a father-son writing team,
published The Rats of Hamelin, in which an
eighteen-year-old Pied Piper faces a hidden enemy with powers like his
- What Happened in Hamelin (1993) by Gloria Skurzynski is a young adult novel in which ergotism from contaminated rye crops helps explain the
mystery of what happened there
- An allusion to the folk tale appears in the poem The Drunk in
the Furnace by W.
S. Merwin. Children "flock like piped
rats" to the noises of a drunk in a furnace while their parents are
- The Piper is also mentioned as an antagonist in Garth Nix's
series, the Keys to the Kingdom.
- In the Mary Higgins Clark novel "Two Little
Girls in Blue", the main antagonist is until the end
referred to as the Pied Piper, for his plot involves the kidnapping of a
pair of twin children.
- In the Diana Jo Napoli novel "Breath"
the main antagonist, Sal, is the lame boy who did not catch up with the
- The 2006 DVD version "O Flautista",
choreographer by Iolanda Rodrigues,
dance show performed by CeDeCe - Companhia de Danca Contemporanea. This dvd was directed by Joao Tocha.
- In the play The
Pillowman, the main character had
written a story explaining the origin of the lame child who could not
follow the Piper. He claimed that it was the Piper himself who chopped off
the child's toes, because the child had showed him kindness, and the Piper
did not want to punish the child.
- Mark Alburger's opera, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"
(2004), with a libretto after the Robert
Browning poem, was premiered at Thick House Theater in San Francisco
(2006), with the Piper in the guise of George
W. Bush and the Rats as terrorists.
- The story has been depicted many times on film: 1903, 1911, 1913, 1918, 1924, 1926, 1933, 1957, 1972, 1982 and 1985 .
- Nevil Shute's novel Pied Piper was set in Nazi-occupied France and was
only very loosely connected with the original story. It was filmed as The
Pied Piper in 1942 and 1990 . The 1990 film
went directly to U.S.
television instead of being shown in American theatres, and was retitled Crossing to Freedom for its U.S.
- Atom Egoyan's 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter (based on the
novel by Russell Banks) makes extensive metaphorical use
of the Pied Piper legend. Browning's poem forms the narration for the
film, delivered by a young girl who was crippled in a school bus accident
that killed all of the other children in her small Canadian town. The
script adds several lines that are not in Browning's poem.
- Katy Towell's 2006 animated short El Despertar
is based on the "Pied Piper" with a Spanish, darker influence,
replacing the rats with zombies.
- ^ Nobert Humburg, Der Rattenfänger von Hameln. Die
in Geschichte und Literatur, Malerei
und Musik, auf der Bühne
und im Film. Niemeyer, Hameln 2. ed.
1990, p. 44. ISBN
3-87585-122-6. - Jürgen Udolph,
Zogen die Hamelner
Aussiedler nach Mähren? Die Rattenfängersage
aus namenkundlicher Sicht, in: Niedersächsisches
Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 69 (1997), p. 125-183, here p.
126. ISSN 0078-0561
- ^ The
website www.triune.de cites the Lueneberg manuscript and gives the dates 1440-1450.
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