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THE TILL EULENSPIEGEL SERIES : TALE 22
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The 22nd story tells of how Eulenspiegel became an eyeglass maker and could not find work anywhere.

In the Holy Roman Empire the title of Emperor was not hereditary at all. The emperor was elected by a set of high-ranking nobles and clerics known as the Electors (Kurf├╝rsten) who often were also candidates. Naturally this gave ample opportunity for intrigue and strife and the new emperor, even though he had gained little more than a fancy title, often had to defend his election with force.

This story was probably attributed to Eulenspiegel at a later date, likely by the author of the Eulenspiegel tales himself. It may even have been invented by the author. Lothar III, a Saxon king, was the only Holy Roman Emperor to come from the house of Supplinburg and was elected in 1133, over 150 years before Eulenspiegel was born. It's an unusual tale for Eulenspiegel in that he makes a genuine social commentary which is rather uncharacteristic of him. The reference to the purchase of books implies an availabity of books which didn't exist until the author's lifetime--the printing press was not introduced until nearly a hundred years after Eulenspiegel's death.

These historical inconsistencies make me pretty confident that this is not an original Eulenspiegel tale. The bishop in the story would have to be Albero de Montreuil, reformist archbishop of a very influential diocese, an important powerbroker of that age and an active campaigner for Lothar's election.


The Electors were irate and divided among themselves and no Roman king or Emperor was chosen. Finally, they elected the Duke of Supplinburg to be King of the Romans. But there were also others there who thought they could take the land by force. So the newly elected king had to set up camp outside Frankfurt for six months to see if someone could drive him away from there.

When Eulenspiegel saw that many people would be gathering on foot and on horseback he considered what there might be for him to do there: "There come many foreign lords, they will not leave me without gifts. Should I be taken into their circle I will do well." So he set out to go there.

Then the lords of all lands started arriving. And it happened so that, at Friedberg in the Wetterau region, Eulenspiegel met with the bishop of Trier. Because he was so strangely dressed, the bishop asked him what sort of a fellow he might be. Eulenspiegel replied saying: "Your Grace, I am an eyeglass maker and come from Brabant. But there is no work for me there so I wander in search of work. Things are not well for our trade." The bishop said: "I would have thought it would be getting better by the day for your craft. After all, people are getting sicker from day to day and lose their good eyesight so there should be much need for eyeglasses."

Eulenspiegel answered the bishop saying: "Yes, milord, Your Grace speaks the truth but there is one thing that spoils my work." The bishop asked him: "What is that thing?" Eulenspiegel said: "May I say it without Your Eminence being angry with me for it?" "Yes," the bishop said, "We are used to it from you and your likes. Speak freely and spare nothing." "Milord, here's what plagues the profession of the eyeglass maker and it might even mean it could die out: That you and the other distinguished lords, the Pope, the Cardinal, the bishop, the Emperor, the king, the lord, the councillor, governor and judge of the cities and lands (God have mercy!) turn a blind eye, and only for the sake of money and gifts. But it is written that, in the old times, the lords and gentlemen, as many as there were of them, tended to read and study their books of Law, so that no man would be denied justice. For this they needed many eyeglasses and our craft throve. The priests also used to study more than they do now. So eyeglasses sold, just like that. Now they have become so learned from the books they buy that they know everything they need for their daily use by heart. The books, though, don't get opened more than once in a month. That's why our trade has gone bad and I'm walking from one land to the next and can find no employ. This downfall has gone so far that even the landsfolk show indifference and turn a blind eye."

The bishop understood the sharp meaning of his words and said to Eulenspiegel: "Come, follow Us to Frankfurt, We shall give your Our coat of arms and Our clothes." This Eulenspiegel did and he remained with this lord until the Duke was confirmed as emperor. Then he moved on, back to Saxony.

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English translation created for E2 from public domain text.

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