Der Ackermann und der Tod (eThe Ploughman and Deathf or eThe Husbandman and Deathf – both titles have much to commend them), also known as Der Ackermann aus Böhmen (eThe Bohemian Ploughmanf), was composed around 1401 by Johannes von Tepl (1342/50-c.1414), a public official in Saaz in Bohemia.  It may represent his reaction to the death of his wife Margaretha, who died giving birth on August 1, 1400; the fact that Tepl employed a highly rhetorical style, displaying his learning through numerous allusions and the frequent use of legal phraseology, does not necessarily make his work eartificialf or a purely artistic construct.  He may be utilising the rhetorical tropes he learnt at school and the popular genre of the altercatio (eThe Owl and the Nightingalef etc.) to channel his grief and control his reaction to a shattering personal experience.  The work is a learned and lively dialogue with a rhythm that calls for it to be read out loud, and it provides an excellent treatment of a theme that can be found in literature from Gilgamesh to the present, and which will always haunt the thoughts of mankind: the human confrontation with death.


Although this text has excited a substantial amount of critical comment, especially with regard to its relation to the mediaeval tradition and Renaissance humanism, it has seldom been translated into English.  Teplfs language is that of the Saxon Chancery in Prague, the south-eastern German dialect on which Luther partly based the language of his Bible.  The edition used for my translation is the parallel-text version with a translation into modern German by Felix Genzmer.  I followed the original, its rhetorical intent, and its rhythm, as much as possible; and I did not shirk the subjunctive.



Der Ackermann und der Tod / The Husbandman and Death





Other translations:

  • K.W. Maurer, Death and the Ploughman: An Argument and a Consolation from the Year 1400 (London, 1947).

  • Rosalind Hibbins, Death and the Ploughman: A Confrontation between Man and Death, Resolved by the Judgement of God (Oxford, 2000).