(From Fall 2017–Intersections: Science Fiction, Fairy Tales and Myth–MODULE EIGHT: Pied Piper and Parasites)
The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is based on real events in the town of Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany when a large number of the town’s children disappeared in 1284. The earliest known record of this story is from the town of Hamelin itself depicted in a stained glass window created for the church of Hamelin, which dates to around 1300 AD. Although it was destroyed in 1660, several written accounts have survived. The oldest comes from the Lueneburg manuscript (c 1440 – 50), which stated: “In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colours, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.”
There are numerous theories explaining the possible turn of events that led to the mass disappearance of the town’s children. Theories exploring natural causes are linked to starvation or disease and the Pied Piper being the personification of Death. Other theories hint the exodus to the sale of the children to a recruiter from the Baltic region of Eastern Europe with the unnamed Piper as the leader or the recruitment of the town’s youth for the doomed “Children’s Crusade.” One of the interesting evolutions of this tale are the introduction of the rats, which are found in a version of the story in 1559, but are absent from earlier accounts:
“Among the various interpretations, reference to the colonization of East Europe starting from Low Germany is the most plausible one: The ‘Children of Hameln’ would have been in those days citizens willing to emigrate being recruited by landowners to settle in Moravia, East Prussia, Pomerania or in the Teutonic Land. It is assumed that in past times all people of a town were referred to as ‘children of the town’ or ‘town children’ as is frequently done today. The ‘Legend of the children’s Exodus’ was later connected to the ‘Legend of expelling the rats.’ This most certainly refers to the rat plagues being a great threat in the medieval milling town and the more or less successful professional rat catchers.”
“When, lo! as they reached the mountain-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.”
—Robert Browning, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child’s Story”
THE CHILDREN OF HAMELN
In the year 1284 a mysterious man appeared in Hameln. He was wearing a coat of many colored, bright cloth, for which reason he was called the Pied Piper. He claimed to be a ratcatcher, and he promised that for a certain sum that he would rid the city of all mice and rats. The citizens struck a deal, promising him a certain price. The ratcatcher then took a small fife from his pocket and began to blow on it. Rats and mice immediately came from every house and gathered around him. When he thought that he had them all he led them to the River Weser where he pulled up his clothes and walked into the water. The animals all followed him, fell in, and drowned.
Now that the citizens had been freed of their plague, they regretted having promised so much money, and, using all kinds of excuses, they refused to pay him. Finally he went away, bitter and angry. He returned on June 26, Saint John’s and Saint Paul’s Day, early in the morning at seven o’clock (others say it was at noon), now dressed in a hunter’s costume, with a dreadful look on his face and wearing a strange red hat. He sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn’t rats and mice that came to him, but rather children: a great number of boys and girls from their fourth year on. Among them was the mayor’s grown daughter. The swarm followed him, and he led them into a mountain, where he disappeared with them.
All this was seen by a babysitter who, carrying a child in her arms, had followed them from a distance, but had then turned around and carried the news back to the town. The anxious parents ran in droves to the town gates seeking their children. The mothers cried out and sobbed pitifully. Within the hour messengers were sent everywhere by water and by land inquiring if the children—or any of them— had been seen, but it was all for naught.
In total, one hundred thirty were lost. Two, as some say, had lagged behind and came back. One of them was blind and the other mute. The blind one was not able to point out the place, but was able to tell how they had followed the piper. The mute one was able to point out the place, although he [or she] had heard nothing. One little boy in shirtsleeves had gone along with the others, but had turned back to fetch his jacket and thus escaped the tragedy, for when he returned, the others had already disappeared into a cave within a hill.
Source: “The Children of Hameln” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by D.L. Ashliman
PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN STORY LINKS
“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning
RELATED WORK AND RETELLINGS
- “Rat Catcher’s Yellows” by Charlie Jane Anders
- Pay the Piper: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
- “The Lost Children of Hamelin” (Fortean Times)
- “Godfather Death: Death in Fairy Tales” by Terri Windling (The Journal of Mythic Arts)
- “The Tomb and the Womb: Death and Rebirth in World Myth and Mythic Fiction” by Hal Duncan (The Journal of Mythic Arts)
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles.
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.”
― Robert Browning, The Pied Piper of Hamelin
In biology, parasitism is a non-mutual relationship between species, where one species, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. Traditionally parasite primarily meant an organism visible to the naked eye, or a macroparasite (such as a helminth). Microparasites are typically far smaller, such as protozoa, viruses, and bacteria. Examples of parasites include the plants mistletoe and cuscuta, and animals such as hookworms.
Unlike predators, parasites typically do not kill their host, are generally much smaller than their host, and often live in or on their host for an extended period. Both are special cases of consumer-resource interactions. Parasites show a high degree of specialization, and reproduce at a faster rate than their hosts. Classic examples include interactions between vertebrate hosts and tapeworms, flukes, the Plasmodium species, and fleas. Parasitoidy is an evolutionary strategy within parasitism in which the parasite eventually kills its host.
Parasites reduce host biological fitness by general or specialized pathology, from parasitic castration and impairment of secondary sex characteristics, to the modification of host behavior. Parasites increase their own fitness by exploiting hosts for resources necessary for their survival, in particular transmission. Although parasitism often applies unambiguously, it is part of a continuum of types of interactions between species, grading via parasitoidy into predation, through evolution into mutualism, and in some fungi, shading into being saprophytic.
In human culture, parasitism has negative connotations. These were exploited to satirical effect in Jonathan Swift’s 1733 poem “On Poetry: A Rhapsody,” comparing poets to hyperparasitical “vermin.” In fiction, Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula and its many later adaptations featured a blood-drinking parasite. Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien was one of many works of science fiction to feature a terrifying parasitic alien species.
PARASITES SCIENCE LINKS
- “Parasites” (CDC)
- “Mindsuckers: Meet Nature’s Nightmare” by Carl Zimmer (National Geographic Magazine)
- “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy” by Kathleen Mcauliffe (The Atlantic)
- “The Parasite Underground” by Moises Velasquez-Manoff (The New York Times Magazine)
- “The deadly brainwashing power of parasites” by Jamie Morton (New Zealand Herald)
- “Bloodsucking parasitic hookworms could help make millions of people healthier” by Sarah Kaplan (The Washington Post)
- “Brain-Infecting Parasite May Be More Common in NY Than Experts Thought” by Sara G. Miller (Live Science)
- “On Veterans Day: A rare cancer linked to parasites in raw fish is quietly killing Vietnam vets” (Chicago Tribune)
MYTHIC MUSINGS/WRITING WARM-UP
If you are feeling stuck, pick one or more of the options below and freewrite for ten minutes. Set a timer and make sure you write until the alarm sounds. Another option is to free associate the story and/or theme to create a word list, which can then be mined for inspiration.
Words: channel, transmit, drowned, elegy
Quote: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” –English proverb
Genre mash-up: immortality/cyberpunk
Trope: Dances and Balls
Movie mash-up: World War Z
Myth Tale mash-up: “Orpheus and Eurydice”
Pinterest: Pied Piper and Parasites
Symbolism: RATS: A plague animal, death, decay, the underworld. PIPE: Harmony; the pipes of Pan represent universal harmony in nature.
- Until the middle of the eighteenth century, and probably still today, the street through which the children were led out to the town gate was called the bunge-lose (drumless, soundless, quiet) street, because no dancing or music was allowed there. Indeed, when a bridal procession on its way to church crossed this street, the musicians would have to stop playing. The mountain near Hameln where the children disappeared is called Poppenberg. Two stone monuments in the form of crosses have been erected there, one on the left side and one on the right. Some say that the children were led into a cave, and that they came out again in Transylvania.
- In the year 1572 the Hameln mayor had the story portrayed in the church windows. The accompanying inscription has become largely illegible. In addition, a coin was minted in memory of the event.
- Von Goethe incorporated references to the Pied Piper story in his version of Faust. (The first part of the drama was first published in 1808 and the second in 1832.)
- In the year 1257 a miraculous event occurred in the city of Erfurt. More than 1000 children assembled there, and then all together they left the city, dancing and singing. They went through the Löber Gate and along Steiger Way. They finally arrived at Arnstadt, where the citizens there took them in. The people of Erfurt did not know where their children were until the people of Arnstadt notified them. Then the people of Erfurt brought their children back in carriages. No one ever discovered who had led them away. – from “The Dancing Children of Erfurt” as recorded by literary historian G. Th. Grässe.
- The Dancing Plague (or Dance Epidemic) of 1518 was a case of dancing mania that occurred in Strasbourg, Alsace (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) in July 1518. More than 400 people were afflicted. Modern theories include food-poisoning caused by the toxic and psychoactive chemical products of ergot fungi (which was known as St. Anthony’s fire in the Middle Ages) and/or “stress-induced psychosis” by people plagued with superstition in times of extreme hardship. (“What Was the Dancing Plague of 1518?” by Evan Andrews at Ask History)
- A papal bull (Vox in Rama) issued by Pope Gregory IX in the early 1230s, condemned a German heresy known as Luciferian, a form of devil worship. The church condemned the black cat as an incarnation of Satan and demanded the extermination of cats in general. Some claim this mass execution of cats was linked to the Black Death and other diseases as the rat population was left unchecked due to the decline in the numbers of cats.
- As metaphor: The Merriam-Webster definitions of pied piper is 1) a charismatic person who attracts followers, 2) one that offers strong but delusive enticement, and 3) a leader who makes irresponsible promises.
- “In the late 15th C., one particular outbreak in the town of Taranto in Southern Italy gave rise to an actual dance form. Here, it was believed that the manic dancing was caused by the bite of a local spider. Again, music was employed to try to cure the dancers, and a dance that mimicked their actions was developed – possibly out of empathy for those afflicted, or out of subtle protest against the local government, or possibly through the influence of a local cult of Dionysus that may have existed there. The name of the local dancing mania became known as tarantism, after the town of Taranto, and the indigenous spider called the tarantula. Like other tarantulas, the Apulian tarantual is not truly poisonous, although it can give a painful bite, and could not have been responsible for the mania. But the dance developed after the outbreak of dancing mania lived on as the tarantella.” –From “Dancing Manis,” excerpted from volume 3 of the “Letter of Dance”
“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” From Grimms’ Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm
There was a king who had twelve beautiful daughters. They slept in twelve beds all in one room; and when they went to bed, the doors were shut and locked up; but every morning their shoes were found to be quite worn through as if they had been danced in all night; and yet nobody could find out how it happened, or where they had been.
Then the king made it known to all the land, that if any person could discover the secret, and find out where it was that the princesses danced in the night, he should have the one he liked best for his wife, and should be king after his death; but whoever tried and did not succeed, after three days and nights, should be put to death.
A king’s son soon came. He was well entertained, and in the evening was taken to the chamber next to the one where the princesses lay in their twelve beds. There he was to sit and watch where they went to dance; and, in order that nothing might pass without his hearing it, the door of his chamber was left open. But the king’s son soon fell asleep; and when he awoke in the morning he found that the princesses had all been dancing, for the soles of their shoes were full of holes. The same thing happened the second and third night: so the king ordered his head to be cut off. After him came several others; but they had all the same luck, and all lost their lives in the same manner.
Now it chanced that an old soldier, who had been wounded in battle and could fight no longer, passed through the country where this king reigned: and as he was travelling through a wood, he met an old woman, who asked him where he was going. ‘I hardly know where I am going, or what I had better do,’ said the soldier; ‘but I think I should like very well to find out where it is that the princesses dance, and then in time I might be a king.’ ‘Well,’ said the old dame, ‘that is no very hard task: only take care not to drink any of the wine which one of the princesses will bring to you in the evening; and as soon as she leaves you pretend to be fast asleep.’
Then she gave him a cloak, and said, ‘As soon as you put that on you will become invisible, and you will then be able to follow the princesses wherever they go.’ When the soldier heard all this good counsel, he determined to try his luck: so he went to the king, and said he was willing to undertake the task.
He was as well received as the others had been, and the king ordered fine royal robes to be given him; and when the evening came he was led to the outer chamber. Just as he was going to lie down, the eldest of the princesses brought him a cup of wine; but the soldier threw it all away secretly, taking care not to drink a drop. Then he laid himself down on his bed, and in a little while began to snore very loud as if he was fast asleep. When the twelve princesses heard this they laughed heartily; and the eldest said, ‘This fellow too might have done a wiser thing than lose his life in this way!’ Then they rose up and opened their drawers and boxes, and took out all their fine clothes, and dressed themselves at the glass, and skipped about as if they were eager to begin dancing. But the youngest said, ‘I don’t know how it is, while you are so happy I feel very uneasy; I am sure some mischance will befall us.’ ‘You simpleton,’ said the eldest, ‘you are always afraid; have you forgotten how many kings’ sons have already watched in vain? And as for this soldier, even if I had not given him his sleeping draught, he would have slept soundly enough.’
When they were all ready, they went and looked at the soldier; but he snored on, and did not stir hand or foot: so they thought they were quite safe; and the eldest went up to her own bed and clapped her hands, and the bed sank into the floor and a trap-door flew open. The soldier saw them going down through the trap-door one after another, the eldest leading the way; and thinking he had no time to lose, he jumped up, put on the cloak which the old woman had given him, and followed them; but in the middle of the stairs he trod on the gown of the youngest princess, and she cried out to her sisters, ‘All is not right; someone took hold of my gown.’ ‘You silly creature!’ said the eldest, ‘it is nothing but a nail in the wall.’ Then down they all went, and at the bottom they found themselves in a most delightful grove of trees; and the leaves were all of silver, and glittered and sparkled beautifully. The soldier wished to take away some token of the place; so he broke off a little branch, and there came a loud noise from the tree. Then the youngest daughter said again, ‘I am sure all is not right—did not you hear that noise? That never happened before.’ But the eldest said, ‘It is only our princes, who are shouting for joy at our approach.’
Then they came to another grove of trees, where all the leaves were of gold; and afterwards to a third, where the leaves were all glittering diamonds. And the soldier broke a branch from each; and every time there was a loud noise, which made the youngest sister tremble with fear; but the eldest still said, it was only the princes, who were crying for joy. So they went on till they came to a great lake; and at the side of the lake there lay twelve little boats with twelve handsome princes in them, who seemed to be waiting there for the princesses.
One of the princesses went into each boat, and the soldier stepped into the same boat with the youngest. As they were rowing over the lake, the prince who was in the boat with the youngest princess and the soldier said, ‘I do not know why it is, but though I am rowing with all my might we do not get on so fast as usual, and I am quite tired: the boat seems very heavy today.’ ‘It is only the heat of the weather,’ said the princess: ‘I feel it very warm too.’
On the other side of the lake stood a fine illuminated castle, from which came the merry music of horns and trumpets. There they all landed, and went into the castle, and each prince danced with his princess; and the soldier, who was all the time invisible, danced with them too; and when any of the princesses had a cup of wine set by her, he drank it all up, so that when she put the cup to her mouth it was empty. At this, too, the youngest sister was terribly frightened, but the eldest always silenced her. They danced on till three o’clock in the morning, and then all their shoes were worn out, so that they were obliged to leave off. The princes rowed them back again over the lake (but this time the soldier placed himself in the boat with the eldest princess); and on the opposite shore they took leave of each other, the princesses promising to come again the next night.
When they came to the stairs, the soldier ran on before the princesses, and laid himself down; and as the twelve sisters slowly came up very much tired, they heard him snoring in his bed; so they said, ‘Now all is quite safe’; then they undressed themselves, put away their fine clothes, pulled off their shoes, and went to bed. In the morning the soldier said nothing about what had happened, but determined to see more of this strange adventure, and went again the second and third night; and everything happened just as before; the princesses danced each time till their shoes were worn to pieces, and then returned home. However, on the third night the soldier carried away one of the golden cups as a token of where he had been.
As soon as the time came when he was to declare the secret, he was taken before the king with the three branches and the golden cup; and the twelve princesses stood listening behind the door to hear what he would say. And when the king asked him: ‘Where do my twelve daughters dance at night?’ he answered, ‘With twelve princes in a castle underground.’ And then he told the king all that had happened, and showed him the three branches and the golden cup which he had brought with him. Then the king called for the princesses, and asked them whether what the soldier said was true: and when they saw that they were discovered, and that it was of no use to deny what had happened, they confessed it all. And the king asked the soldier which of them he would choose for his wife; and he answered, ‘I am not very young, so I will have the eldest.’—And they were married that very day, and the soldier was chosen to be the king’s heir.
Additional Reading for “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”