True Story The Pied Piper of Hamelin Never Piped

About the true story behind the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.


The Pied Piper of Hamelin Never Piped.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin piped only in legend, never in fact. For centuries it was widely believed that in 1284 a piper called Bunting (because of his multicolored clothes) appeared in the Westphalian town of Hamelin and offered to rid the community of its rats in exchange for a fee of 1,000 guilders. The piper then walked through the streets and with his enchanting music lured the rodents to a mass drowning in the Weser River, only to have the townspeople renege on their part of the contract. In retaliation the piper returned to Hamelin on St. John's Day (June 26) and with his playing similarly lured its children into a cave in the Koppenberg Mountain. As soon as they had entered, the entrance of the cave was sealed behind them, and all 130 were trapped forever.

Like all great myths, the Pied Piper of Hamelin has appeared and reappeared in innumerable variations throughout the world. Some point to the ancient literature of China and Persia as the source of the tale. The Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould believed that parts of the story originated in Greek and Sanskrit mythology. The irresistible influence of the sirens' song in Homer's Odyssey may have been another inspiration.

Other versions are plentiful. In one, the children are led, not into the mountain, but around it and into Transylvania, where they establish a German colony. In another, the action switches to Brandenburg and the musical charmer is a violinist. Yet another takes place over a three-year period in the town of Lorch, which has become overrun with ants. The first year, a hermit offers to pipe the vermin into a nearby lake, the townspeople withhold payment, and the angered hermit does his musical death number on the town's pigs. The following year a charcoal burner is hired to purge Lorch of its crickets, and again the locals renege. This time it's the sheep that are destroyed. Finally, a year later, an old man charms the town's rats out of their senses to a watery death. Unpaid, he takes his revenge on the children.

The actual historical inspiration of the Pied Piper legend may have been the infamous Children's Crusade of 1212, in which 20,000 young crusaders, led by a German youth named Nicholas, died.

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