Monday, 25 October 2010
12:43:39 PM (GMT)
The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the subject of a legend concerning the departure or
death of a great many children from the town of Hamelin (Hameln), Germany, in the
Middle Ages. The earliest references describe a piper, dressed in pied (multicolored)
clothing, leading the children away from the town never to return. In the 16th
century the story was expanded into a full narrative, in which the piper is a
rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the
citizenry refuses to pay for this service, he retaliates by turning his magic on
their children, leading them away as he had the rats.
The story may reflect a historical event in which Hamelin lost its children. Theories
have been proposed suggesting that the Pied Piper is a symbol of the children's death
by plague or catastrophe. Other theories describe him as a serial killer, or liken
him to figures like Nicholas of Cologne, who lured away a great number of children on
a disastrous Children's Crusade. A recent theory ties the departure of Hamelin's
children to the Ostsiedlung, in which a number of Germans left their homes to
colonize Eastern Europe.
A serial killer of children
William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire proposes that the Pied Piper was a
psychopathic paedophile. Manchester asserts (apparently drawing on Robert Burton's
1621 account; see below) that on June 20, 1484, this criminal kidnapped 130 children
from the Saxon village of Hammel and used them in "unspeakable ways." He adds that
"some of the children were never seen again. Others were found dismembered and
scattered in the forest underbrush or hanging from tree branches."
A number of theories suggest that children died of some natural causes and that the
Piper was a symbolic figure of Death. Death is often portrayed dressed in motley, or
"pied" clothing. Analogous themes which are associated with this theory include the
Dance of Death, Totentanz or Danse Macabre, a common medieval type. Some of the
scenarios that have been suggested as fitting this theory include that the children
drowned in the river Weser, were killed in a landslide, or contracted some disease
during an epidemic.