Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pied Piping

Today is Rat Catcher's Day . Little known fact?

Rat Catcher's Day commemorates the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Two dates: June 26 and July 22 are involved. 26 June 1284 is thought to have been the actual day when, as legend tells, a mysterious piper arrived in the town of Hamelin in Germany, promising to lure away the rats then infesting the town, using his music - but for a price. The town's mayor didn't hold up his end of the bargain, the piper left but returned later to take revenge. He again played his music but this time lured away 130 of the town's children, most of whom were never seen again.

22 July 1376 is the date mentioned in a poem about the legend written by Robert Browning. It's said this date was used as poetic license, for reasons of rhyme:
...They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly
If, after the day of the month and year,
These words did not as well appear:
“And so long after what happened here
On the twenty-second of July,
Thirteen hundred and seventy-six;"
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children’s last retreat,
They called it the Pied Piper’s Street......

Whether the legend has a basis in fact has been investigated over the centuries. We'll never know for sure if the piper was a metaphor, or a fact, but it seems from ancient records that a loss of many children from the town did occur at that time. An article at Ancient Origins outlines some theories, including suggestions that the children might have died from natural causes - some kind of epidemic, the piper being a metaphor/personification of Death. Or that the children were sent away by parents due to extreme poverty (sounds unlikely to me). Or
"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."

Robert Browning's poem - at least the first couple of verses - have lodged themselves into my memory. In High School some of us were tasked to learn and sing a choral version of the poem. We rehearsed it over and over...and over, so many times that it must have deeply engraved itself into my grey matter. It begins like this:
Hamelin Town’s in Brunswick,
By famous Hanover city;
The river Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.

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 cooks’ own ladle’s,
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...........................

Those last two lines probably also described the sound of we schoolgirls, as we sang the ditty!


mike said...

Intriguing the distinctions we make between vermin and food. Mice and rats have long been considered pestilence by Anglos, but a food source in many other races and cultures. Same for insects. The USA had a locust invasion from about 1850 to 1890 that decimated crops and caused widespread food shortages and death. Again, the locusts were not seen as a food source, as they are in many other cultures. The roasted, fried, or boiled locusts can be dried for later consumption. Like mice and rats, locust and other insects are very nutritional with a high percentage of protein.

Reminds me of a MasterCard commercial from several years ago. An American couple are shown attending a tribal feast in probably Africa. The chief of the tribe offers the Americans a large grub that had been roasted...the American husband is perturbed, but eats it, then exclaims in delight that it tastes just like chicken! Then the scene switches to the American couple's backyard BBQ and the the tribal chief is offered some BBQ chicken. He eats it suspiciously, then exclaims in delight that it tastes just like grub!

No telling what happened to the village's children, if anything. I assume that Pied Piper was a metaphor for death-by-disease. The early middle ages had many transmissible diseases introduced, because of new routes of trade and migration out of Africa and Asia. Maybe the tale of Pied Piper was simply a fictional story. We'll not know.

I have my GiGi, a Yorkshire terrier, originally bred as a rat and small animal eliminator. She is completely fascinated by small creatures. I suppose she could hold her own against rats as large as a cat, but she'll never get the chance...LOL. Squirrels and frogs are currently on her visual plate and I'm always restraining her attempts.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Your first two paragraphs reminded me of a scene I often think about from the movie "Crocodile Dundee". While escorting a female New York journalist, eager to experience life in the raw, through the Australian outback, Mick Dundee (a wily crocodile hunter) offers the journalist a selection of insects and grubs to eat. He tells her they are thought of as delicacies by the aboriginal population. She looks at them in horror, and then surprise as she sees Mick Dundee opening a can of food. Asking why he doesn't eat the bugs and grubs himself he replies "We-elll...ya can live on 'em - but they taste like shit!" ;-D

Historical records do prove a loss of many children from Hamelin at a certain point in the 1200s. Like you, I suspect the loss was caused by disease - maybe even disease carried (or thought to have been carried) by rats.

Good little GiGi! Husband's son's now aged Jack Russell, Casey, can't wait to get out in our backyard to chase, search for... and dig holes looking for..whatever, when she's visiting us. Our local squirrels go immediately into deep hiding!

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I was living in a ground floor flat in the centre of a large city and one day, thanks to clues from my two cats, I spotted a large rat in the livingroom. Being alone at the time, I phoned the landlord, an ancient and miserable German, who told me he'd be over soon with his ratcatcher. In the meantime, the rat had beelined behind a benchseat up against the wall. Armed with a large shoebox and its lid, I stationed a cat at either end of the bench and slowly drew it out from the wall. Et voila! As the cats advanced from either end, the rat sprang straight into the air and into the box! I - rapidly - lidded the box and released the rat in the back garden. When the landlord arrived, I was quite disappointed to see that the ratcatcher was not wearing a belt from which his previous victims were dangling - echoes of some childhood poem or fable illustration?

My sister owned a Scottish terrier and, indeed, my current next-door-neighbour has a Westie, and I can certainly vouch for their assuidity in respect of rodent hunting. My Nana, a native of Derbyshire born in 1896, used to regale us with stories of how, after the stooks were piled in the barns, the terriers would be released therein and would kill the fleeing rodents with a quick shake each.

I was visiting Australia not long after Crocodile Dundee was filmed and travelled by coincidence to many of the film's locations. The infamous Wichetty grubs do, when roasted, taste like buttered popcorn; I, however, drew the line at eating them alive as demonstrated by our desert guide, who informed us they were a valuable source of water when eaten raw. Goodonya, Mate!

Anonymous said...

Those dirty rats
-You can try
- scrubbing them out
- chasing them out
- leading them out
But you shtill end up vit rat around ze caller!


Twilight said...

Sabina ~ That was a very clever and cleverly organised capture of Mr Rat! I expect the two cats demanded treats afterwards.

Yes, terriers must have in their DNA a similar kind of fighting/killing instinct to that we humans have too much of. To their friends, though, they are total darlings (terriers, and some humans, I mean). :-)

Ew, ew,ew!

Twilight said...

Anon/kidd ~ Yep! :-)
I wouldn't mind the rat race - if the rats would lose once in a while. (Tom Wilson).