The Pied Piper (simply the "Ratcatcher" in German) lured the rats of medieval Hamelin, Germany, to their deaths with an alluring tune. Did he do the same for the town's children?

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    On July 22, 1376, legend holds that the “Pied Piper,” a ratcatcher, led more than a hundred children out of their homes in Hamelin, Germany, never to be seen again. This fairy tale, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” (in German called the “Ratcatcher of Hamelin”) has been re-told dozens of times, although scholars cannot agree if the piper and the missing children are symbols of a natural disaster, religious pilgrimage, or migration. In any case, Ratcatcher’s Day recognizes these medieval exterminators.
     
    “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” tells the tale of a ratcatcher who is hired by the town of Hamelin to exterminate rats that have overrun the town. The ratcatcher, dressed in multicolored (pied) clothes, does this by playing an alluring song on his pipe. After successfully ridding the town of rats, the people of Hamelin refused to pay the piper. As a consequence, the piper plays a song for the town’s children, luring them away from their homes. The children, and the piper, are never seen again. The earliest mention of the piper is on a Hamelin church window from 1384, reading “It is 200 years since our children left.” The British poet Robert Browning, writing in 1842, placed the date as 1376.
     
    Early historians thought the Pied Piper legend may have hinted at an epidemic, such as the plague (which would explain the involvement of rats in the story). Others thought the story might explain deaths due to a natural hazard, such as a flood or landslide. Still others thought the story alluded to “children’s crusades,” where hundreds of children were recruited to combat Muslim armies in the Holy Land.
     
    Today, most historians and mythologists think the Pied Piper of Hamelin symbolizes the Ostsiedlung, or expansion of German settlement to the north and east. Thousands of young people emigrated out of the central German territory of Saxony (where Hamelin is located) to eastern regions such as Transylvania (now part of Romania), Pomerania (now part of Poland), Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic), and Prussia (now part of Germany).
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    allude Verb

    to refer to.

    alluring Adjective

    very tempting and attractive.

    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    combat Verb

    to fight.

    consequence Noun

    result or outcome of an action or situation.

    Crusades Plural Noun

    series of wars in which medieval European kingdoms attempted to gain control of the Middle East or "Holy Land."

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    dozen Noun

    a group of 12.

    drown Verb

    to die or suffocate in a liquid.

    emigrate Verb

    to move from one's native land to another.

    epidemic Noun

    outbreak of an infectious disease able to spread rapidly.

    expansion Noun

    process of enlarging.

    exterminate Verb

    to completely destroy.

    fairy tale Noun

    folk story often involving magic or supernatural creatures, such as elves or dragons.

    flood Noun

    overflow of a body of water onto land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: flood
    hint Verb

    to provide a clue or indirect suggestion.

    hire Verb

    to employ, or put to work for money or other goods.

    Holy Land Noun

    ancient kingdom on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, of historic significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

    involve Verb

    to include.

    landslide Noun

    the fall of rocks, soil, and other materials from a mountain, hill, or slope.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landslide
    legend Noun

    traditional or mythical story.

    lure Noun

    object used to attract an animal or other organism.

    medieval Adjective

    having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.

    mention Verb

    to briefly name or allude to.

    migration Noun

    movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

    Muslim Adjective

    having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

    myth Noun

    legend or traditional story.

    mythologist Noun

    person who is an expert in the development of cultural myths, fairy tales, and legends.

    natural disaster Noun

    an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.

    natural hazard Noun

    event in the physical environment that is destructive to human activity.

    pied Adjective

    having patches of two or more colors.

    pilgrimage Noun

    spiritual journey or travel to a sacred place.

    plague Noun

    very infectious, often fatal, disease caused by bacteria.

    plentiful Adjective

    abundant or full.

    recruit Verb

    to work to supply a group with new members.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    revenge Noun

    punishment for an insult or wrongdoing from the person or group who is insulted.

    rid Verb

    to eliminate.

    river Noun

    large stream of flowing fresh water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: river
    rodent Noun

    order of mammals often characterized by long teeth for gnawing and nibbling.

    scholar Noun

    educated person.

    settlement Noun

    community or village.

    symbolize Verb

    to represent an object, idea, organization, or geographical region.

    territory Noun

    land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.