Gross roguery for guilders

Till Eulenspiegel is a folk fool and trickster whose exploits were recounted across Europe and translated into multiple languages.  He moved freely, sometimes as a jester, sometimes a wandering rogue.  There are cheeky children’s tales about him and then more roguish and scatological stories, such as this one.  

Lindow, Wolfgang, ed., Ein Kurzweilig Lesen von Dil Ulenspiegel (1515) (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1966), p. 72.  Image credit: front cover, George Petersen, Till Eulenspiegel's Lustige Streiche (Stuttgart: Loewes Verlag, 1931).

A Polish king set his own jester up in competition with Eulenspiegel: whoever could outdo the other in foolery would win a new outfit and twenty guilders.  They went through a whole gamut of tricks and tales and were able to match each other at every turn, while the king and his knights laughed at the display.  Finally Eulenspiegel decided the prize was so good that he calculated what it would take to win, a `gross roguery’ (`grober Schalkheit’) and having won his guilders he left the court showered with the king’s praise.

Jesters and related characters often push boundaries and can themselves occupy a liminal position even while enjoying an intimate and protected place at the centre of power.  In this story, Eulenspiegel goes beyond ‘decent’ boundaries and he wins the prize because the fool who is the formally acknowledged court jester isn’t willing to do anything so indecent (and who blames him).  A curious story of a folk fool stretching a boundary even beyond the comfort zone of a court fool. 

So Eulenspiegel went to the middle of the room and took his trousers down and did a pile of shit right there in the middle of the room and took a spoon and divided the pile exactly in two and shouted to the other one saying, `Fool, come here and make me a delicacy like I’ve made for you!’  Then he took the spoon and stuck it in his half and ate it up and offered the spoon to the jester and said, `See there, you eat the other half and then do me another pile and divide that so I can have it for dessert’.  Then said the king’s fool, `No, no way!  You take after the devil with your tricks.  I would rather spend my whole life going naked than eat your shit, or even mine!’


Also gieng Ulenspiegel mitten in den Sal und hub sich hinden uff und scheiß ein Huffen mitten in den Sal und nam ein Löffel und teilet den Treck recht mitten entzwei und rufft dem andern und sprach: “Narr, kum her und thu mir die Leckerei auch nach, als ich dir vor wil thun!” und nam den Löffel und faßte den halben Treck darein und ißt den uff unnd bote den Löffel dem Schlackßnarren [sic] unnd sprach: “See hin, iß du das ander halb Teil und darnach so mach du auch ein Hauffen und teil den auch voneinander, so wil ich dir auch nachessen.”  Da sprach der Künignar: “Nein, nit also!  Daz thu dir der Tüffel nach.  Solt ich all mein Lebtag nacken gon, ich iß von dir oder von mir nit also!”

Noting that Eulenspiegel’s name means Owlglass, hinting at the wisdom of the fool and their capacity to hold a mirror up to the rest of us, he might be playfully asking others where they would – or would not – draw the line, if the prize were big enough.  That said, the original German text rattles along at such a merry canter that the scene reads comically, aided by the woodcut illustration which often accompanies it. 

Source: Lindow, Wolfgang, ed., Ein Kurzweilig Lesen von Dil Ulenspiegel (1515) (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1966), p. 72.  The court jester is also called a Spilman (p. 71), the same word used in Russia.

Image credit: front cover, George Petersen, Till Eulenspiegel’s Lustige Streiche (Stuttgart: Loewes Verlag, 1931).


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