Little Bits of History

Pied Piper

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 26, 2011

Oldest surviving picture of the Pied Piper, painted in 1592

June 26, 1284: The Pied Piper leads 130 children away from Hamelin, Germany. This is the traditional date given the legendary tale. According to the story, Hamelin was inundated with rats when fortuitously, a man dressed in multi-colored [pied] clothing appeared. He said he was a rat catcher and promised to rid the town of rats for a fee. The man played a musical pipe and led the rats to the Weser River, where all but one of the rats drowned. At that point, the townspeople were rid of the rats and so refused to pay the piper.

Infuriated and seeking revenge, the Pied Piper waited for Saint John and Paul’s day or June 26. While the adults were in church, the Piper all dressed in green, began to play his pipe. The 130 boys and girls of the town followed the man out of town and into a cave and they were never seen again. One poor lame child could not keep up and was saved. A deaf child could not hear the music and was saved. A blind child could not see where everyone was going and was saved. These three children told the adults what had happened. There are different ending, depending on the version. In some, the children are returned after payment is met and in some the children are not.

The earliest evidence of this tale is found in a stained glass window placed in the Church of Hamelin around 1300. The window was destroyed in 1660, but we have records of what was depicted. The window is said to have been created in memory of the tragic event. There is no record, other than the window, telling of actual events. Modern day scholars have tried to make sense of the story. They believe it may be allegorical in nature. A plague of some sort carried off the children and the Pied Piper is simply Death.

Another theory is the “emigration” theory. This is widely held and seems supported by outside sources. In the Middle Ages, older children would willingly abandon their parents and move away and found their own village. This was especially true in Eastern Europe. Several villages are known to have been founded in this manner. In this case, the Piper would be the leader of the children. It is also possible that the village of Hamelin was depopulated as destitute or greedy parents sold their children to a recruiter who took the children elsewhere. Orphans and illegitimate children could be off-loaded in this manner.

“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.” – from the official website for the town of Hameln

“Pied Piper: As a rule / I refrain from calling any man a fool. Heed me now. / I’ll wait until yon clock strikes the hour. / Don’t let me go away / Without my pay.” – from The Pied Piper of Hamelin [1957  TV show]

Pied Piper: [speaking of the plague of rats] Leaders of virtue; character builders, / To rid your town of this verminous pox, / My fee is fifty thousand guilders.
First Counselor: Fifty thousand guilders?
Second Counselor: You’ve lost your mind! – from The Pied Piper of Hamelin [1957  TV show]

Mayor of Hamelin: You have an invention?
Pied Piper: I attract attention/ Chiefly with a secret charm/ On creatures that do people harm;/ The mole, the toad, the newt and viper./
Pied Piper: Who doesn’t know of the Pied Piper? – from The Pied Piper of Hamelin [1957  TV show]

Also on this day:
Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter is flown for the first time.
Cyclone – In 1927, Coney Island opened a new ride.

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