For over six hundred years history has said the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a vengeful ratcatcher who, being unpaid for his services to the town, settled the debt by leading a group of local children to a mysterious fate.
According to common opinion, the children were captivated by the sound of the piper's instrument which, some sources suggested, had magic powers.
There seems little doubt that an extraordinary event involving some 130 children did take place in Hamelin in the 13th or 14th Century, and a musician was involved. But is there a possible alternative to the ratcatcher story that has been passed down to us? Many obvious questions appear to have been overlooked. Here are some of them:
- Putting aside the "magic flute", is there a logical reason for 130 children to follow the piper through the streets of Hamelin and out into the surrounding countryside?
- Records indicate that the procession did not go unnoticed. And even if all the parents were in church, as one recent writer has alleged, surely another onlooker should have raised the alarm? Or did the procession depart with everyone's approval?
- The procession of the piper and the children is said to have taken place on June 26th, the Feast of Saints John and Paul. Were the parents in church to celebrate the feast day or were they praying to escape a threat - perhaps of war, or plague? Could that have any bearing on the piper's actions?
- Did the piper have an accomplice? The street in Hamelin along which the procession traveled was later named "Bungelose Strasse", because no drumming or dancing was subsequently allowed there. If the piper played a bagpipe a second person would have had to be the drummer - unless an alternative instrument combination was available.
- When did the procession take place? There are reports of a dated commemorative stone being laid in the city wall to mark the loss of the children. Where is that stone now? What does it tell us about the piper?
- And what of the piper's "pied" clothing - a symbol of a ratcatcher or of a musician, or of some other occupation?
- Is it true that the first record of the event to mention the catching of rats only surfaced some three centuries later? Was this the beginning of the revenge myth?
- Did the Hamelin episode have anything to do with the Children's Crusade of 1222, as some recent scholars have suggested?
Taking these questions as a starting point for further research, it seems that History's judgement of the Pied Piper of Hamelin may well be erroneous.
Two questions beg to be answered. Is there a simple reason why parents and onlookers might have consented to the procession of the children from the town in the company of a piper who, given that consent, must have been considered trustworthy?
Is there an equally simple explanation for the failure of the children to return - an explanation that does not have them "swallowed by a hill", traveling to a distant land through subterranean passages, or embarking on a crusade that appears to have taken place at least sixty years earlier?
As Shakespeare commented, "truth will see the light". The time has come for a major research effort to shed light on the strange story from Hamelin. It's time History paid the Piper.
Your comments of the Pied Piper of Hamelin will be welcomed by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This discussion paper has been prepared by the Early Arts Guild of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.