Many are familiar with the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Few realise however, that the story is based on real events, which evolved over the years into a fairy tale made to scare children. (what a nice lot we are)
The Pied Piper of Hamelin (German: Rattenfänger von Hameln, also known as the Pan Piper or the Rat-Catcher of Hamelin) is the titular character of a legend from the town of Hamelin (Hameln), Lower Saxony, Germany.
The legend dates back to the Middle Ages, the earliest references describing a piper, dressed in multicoloured (or "pied") clothing, who was a rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe.
He promised the mayor a solution to their problem with the rats. The mayor, in turn, promised to pay him for the removal of the rats. (According to some versions of the story, the promised sum was 1000 guilders.)
The stranger then produced a flute or pipe and began playing a tune, at which time all the rats in town followed him out through the gates of the city and either into nearby mountain caves or into the river, depending upon which version you encounter.
In both versions, the rats perished, never to be seen again.
When the Piper returned for his reward, the mayor refused payment, The villagers had seen how easy it was for the man to rid them of their problem, and regretted offering so much the village could ill afford.
So they offered him less money than before (reputedly reduced to a sum of 50 guilders)
even going so far as to blame the piper for bringing the rats himself in an extortion attempt.
Enraged, the piper stormed out of the town, Furious that he had been cheated, the piper vowed revenge. vowing to return later, which he did.
On Saint John and Paul's day, (June 26th) while the adults were in church, the piper returned dressed in green like a hunter playing his pipe.
In so doing, he attracted the town's children. One hundred and thirty children followed him out of town.
through the town’s east gate and up to the nearby mountain which, in most accounts, opened wide to swallow them up and they disappeared, never to be seen again.
Depending on the version, at most three children remained behind: one was lame and could not follow quickly enough, the second was deaf and therefore could not hear the music, and the last was blind and unable to see where he was going. These three informed the villagers of what had happened when they came out from church.
The story is a familiar one, but what most of us probably don’t know is that it has its feet at least somewhat planted in an apparently true event that took place in the real-life town of Hamelin, Germany in 1284. The earliest accounts of the story don’t include the rats, which wouldn’t show up until around the year 1559, but they do include the piper, dressed in his “clothing of many colors.”
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 and 17th centuries.
It was destroyed in 1660. Based on the surviving descriptions, a modern reconstruction of the window has been created by historian 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 town. Also, Hamelin town records start with this event. The earliest written record is from the town chronicles in an entry from 1384 which states: "It is 100 years since our children left"
Although research has been conducted for centuries, no explanation for the historical event is universally accepted as true. In any case, the rats were first added to the story in a version from c. 1559 and are absent from earlier accounts.
While there is not enough historical data to ascertain for certain what happened in the town of Hamelin in 1284, there is little doubt that something occurred there which left a heavy mark on the town, and on world folklore. Theories advanced over the years
If the children’s disappearance was not an act of revenge, then what was its cause? There have been numerous theories trying to explain what happened to the children of Hamelin. For instance, one theory suggests that the children died of some natural causes, and that the Pied Piper was the personification of Death. By associating the rats with the Black Death, it has been suggested that the children were victims of this plague. Yet, the Black Death was most severe in Europe between 1348 and 1350, more than half a century after the event in Hamelin. Another theory suggests that the children were actually sent away by their parents, due to the extreme poverty that they were living in. Yet another theory speculates that the children were participants of a doomed ‘Children’s Crusade’, and might have ended up in modern day Romania, or that the departure of Hamelin's children is tied to the Ostsiedlung, in which a number of Germans left their homes to colonize Eastern Europe. One of the darker theories even proposes that the Pied Piper was actually a paedophile who crept into the town of Hamelin to abduct children during their sleep.
Whatever the facts of the story, it is far from forgotten in the town of Hamelin. In the 16th century, when a new gate was built in the wall around the town, it was inscribed with the following legend: “In the year 1556, 272 years after the magician led 130 children out of the town, this portal was erected.”
Historical records suggest that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a real event that took place. Nevertheless, the transmission of this story undoubtedly evolved and changed over the centuries, although to what extent is unknown, and the mystery of what really happened to those children has never been solved.
The story also raises the question, if the Pied Piper of Hamelin was based on reality, how much truth is there in other fairy tales that we were told as children?
Incidentally, it is said that the rats were absent from earlier accounts, and only added to the story around the middle of the 16 th century. Moreover, the stained glass window and other primary written sources do not speak of the plague of rats.
Today, the town of Hamelin, which is now home to a population of around 56,000, maintains information about the legend of the pied piper on its website, which I urge you to read (after you are finished at shadezofblack of course)
the link to the pied piper bit of their website is HERE
During the summer months actors perform interpretations of the story in the town square. The road along which the children supposedly passed on their way out of the East Gate, never to be seen again, is called the Bungelosenstrasse, or “street without drums.” According to an article published in the Fortean Times, it is against the law to play music or dance on that street to this very day.
Below you will find a video for your pied piper viewing.
Walt Disney's Fables - Pied Piper
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