Eulenspiegel was a legendary citizen of 14th century Mölln in Germany and one of folklore's more infamous tricksters. He was born in the village of Kneitlingen in Saxony ca. 1300 and died in Mölln in 1350. The city honours him as one of its most famous citizens and maintains an Eulenspiegel museum. His name is originally mentioned as Dyl Ulenspiegel, which is probably consistent with the dialect of Lower Saxony, but he is best known by his modern German name.
We're not sure who exactly Eulenspiegel was but it's generally accepted that he was an actual person, if not quite as well-known in his time as he is today. Whatever his exploits may have been, they were, over time, exaggerated and became folklore. They take place all over the German lands, including cities like Braunschweig, Magdeburg and Nürnberg and in several foreign countries... he had the tendency to outstay his welcome. Books recording his deeds and sayings were printed as early as 1500 and became known throughout Europe. In German folklore, Eulenspiegel is the archetypical trickster and appears to be sort of a cross between Loki and Nasrudin.
Eulenspiegel ranks as one of the top practical jokers of all times. His pranks usually resulted in someone being embarrassed or cheated, be it merely by exposing their gullibility or stupidity, as was usually the case, or by literally interpreting things that should not be, leading to seriously farcical situations. Quite often he could be found swindling some prominent citizen who could afford it or some lazy bugger who deserved it, though even the innocent were sometimes not spared. Starting with his baptism, where he was accidentally baptised three times in different kinds of water and ending with his funeral, when his coffin accidentally stood upright and they decided it would be suitable to leave him in that position, bizarre happenings were his trademark. The name Eulenspiegel (pronounced "Oy-len-shpee-gel") literally means "owl mirror" and he signed some of the more successful pranks that he pulled off in disguise by leaving a picture of an owl and a mirror at the scene of the crime.
His stories include everything from pretending to teach a donkey to read to laughing at a town that came to see him fly to winning a bet by gaining audience with the Pope. Even after his death, the last story tells of him leaving a locked chest to the city, its contents to be divided fairly among the good citizens of his town a month after his departure. Naturally the chest was filled with worthless stones but Till got the last (posthumous) laugh from the people squabbling over who stole the chest's valuable contents. It's surprising (to us in the 21st century) how many of the stories contain explicit scatology. The humour is, at times, crude.
While it's possible that some of the pranks and practical jokes in the book were perpetrated by an actual person whose name may have been Dyl Ulenspiegel, I'd say that most of them are items of general folklore that have been attributed to this person by Bote or by his sources, and that some are made up by the compiler of the Eulenspiegel book himself. Several of the tales reveal clear historical inconsistencies when actual historical figures and the places that appear in them don't tally with the timeframe that we're talking about, which is the first half of the 14th century.
Till Eulenspiegel was the subject of a film by Christa Wolf and numerous books over the last 500 years, including one by Erich Kästner, and a musical portrait by Richard Strauss. The original book was translated into other European languages as early as the 16th century and it remains a staple of Central European folklore to this date. If it's sometimes hard to follow and the humour really weird, picture a 25th century reader trying to figure out Laurel and Hardy.
I hope to node a complete, if not brilliant, translation of the 96 Eulenspiegel tales written by Hermann Bote in 1515 (1510 according to other sources) from the text at the German project Gutenberg since I can't seem to find any public domain version in English. If someone has the language skills and time to assist me with Project Eulenberg, please send me a message. I'd also be grateful if someone familiar with mediaeval customs and life could give me a hand. In the meantime, I'll make a beginning. This is a long-term project.
There have been some changes to the format and writing in many of these nodes. Following Gone Jackal's brilliant work on story number 31, I feel compelled to do better myself. The older stories are being improved to match.
These tales tell of:
- The birth of Till Eulenspiegel
- Young Eulenspiegel plays innocent
- Till Eulenspiegel walks the tightrope
- How Eulenspiegel talked two hundred boys out of their shoes
- How Till Eulenspiegel's mother told him to learn a trade
- How Eulenspiegel cheated a baker out of a sack of bread
- How Eulenspiegel, along with the other boys, was made to eat too much bread
- How Eulenspiegel made the chickens fight over bait
- How Eulenspiegel crept into a beehive
- How Eulenspiegel became a page
- How Eulenspiegel found work as a cook and hearth tender
- How Eulenspiegel cleared out the merchant's house
- How Eulenspiegel ate the roasted chickens off the spit
- How Eulenspiegel became a sexton
- How Eulenspiegel staged a play for Easter Mass
- How Eulenspiegel announced he wanted to fly
- How Eulenspiegel treated the bishop's physician
- How Eulenspiegel bought bread
- How Eulenspiegel always rode a dun horse
- How a farmer wanted to take plums to market
- How Eulenspiegel became a trumpeter
- How Eulenspiegel became an eyeglass maker
- How Eulenspiegel had his horse shod with silver and gold
- Till Eulenspiegel and the King of Poland's jester
- How Eulenspiegel placed himself inside his horse
- Till Eulenspiegel and his Kingdom-in-a-box
- Till Eulenspiegel paints for the Count of Hesse
- Till Eulenspiegel at the High School of Prague (next)
- Till Eulenspiegel teaches a donkey to read
- How Eulenspiegel washed the womens furs
- How Till Eulenspiegel Travelled around with a Skull (by Gone Jackal)
- How Eulenspiegel annoyed the city watchmen
- How Eulenspiegel ate for money
- How Eulenspiegel went to Rome and saw the Pope
- How Eulenspiegel swindled the Jew
- How Eulenspiegel bought chickens
- How the pastor got to eat Eulenspiegel's sausage
- How Eulenspiegel talked the pastor out of his horse
- How Eulenspiegel helped a sick child shit
- How Eulenspiegel did as a blacksmith's assistant
- How Eulenspiegel welded together a blacksmith's tools
- How Eulenspiegel pronounced a truth in front of the house
- How Eulenspiegel served a cobbler
- How Eulenspiegel sold a cobbler dirt as talc