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The Legend of the Pied Piper in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

By Mary Troxclair Adamson

[Snip] The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is not without historical basis. Reportedly, the earliest recordings that were referenced, but have since been lost, are the Hamelin town chronicle, “Donat,” circa 1311 (Skurzynski 174) and a stained glass window in the town’s church of St. Nicholas (Wilkening 180). These refer to the disappearance of 130 children in the year 1284 A.D. after the appearance of a piper in the town of Hamelin, Germany.

In the nearly ninety years from the time of the supposed incident to the first preserved written account, changes in the legend may have been due to who was telling the tale. The earliest surviving record, according to Bernard Queenan in “Evolution of the Pied Piper,” is estimated to have originated around 1370, as a Latin endnote in a copy of the “Catena Aurea” of Heinrich von Herod. It is written in the style of a monk scribe and juxtaposes Arabic and Roman numerical figures, a feature of 14th century writings that were influenced by Mediterranean areas that spread across Europe (Queenan 108).

Although subsequent literary versions of the Pied Piper vary, explicit intertextual references to the Bible in some form can be seen as significant in the texts chosen and can be found in the early Latin text. The English translation by Heinrich Spanuth establishes a point of reference as the earliest written record of the ‘event’:

To be noted is a marvellous and truly extraordinary event that occurred in the town of Hamelin in the diocese of Minden in the year of the Lord 1284, on the very feast-day of Saints John and Paul. A young man of 30 years, handsome and in all respects so finely dressed that all who saw him were awestruck by his person and clothing came in by way of the bridge and the Weser Gate. On a silver pipe which he had, of wonderful form, he began to play through the whole town, and all the children hearing him, to the number of 130, followed him beyond the eastern wall almost to the place of the Calvary or Gallows field, and vanished and disappeared so that nobody could find out where any one of them had gone. Indeed, the mothers of the children wandered from city to city and discovered nothing. A voice was heard in Rama and every mother bewailed her son. And as people count by the years of the Lord or by the first, second and third after a jubilee, so they have counted in Hamelin by the first, second and third year after the exodus and departure of the children. This I have found in an old book. And the mother of Herr Johann de Lude, the deacon, saw the children going out. (Queenan 108)

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