Doctor Schnabel (1656) – Image and Background

The image is by Paul Fürst. It was a copper engraving of a plague doctor, accompanied by a satirical poem.

Doctor Schnabel (1656) - Image and Background

Poem- Translated by The Leery

For you, Do you believe as a fable
Doctor Schnabel written from
The past contagion.
He authorizes fine reward of this
The corpses he seeks to fisting
Same as Joe on the crap
Ah Believe, do not go there
Then Rome, ruled by the Plague.

Who would not be very scared
The thief slashes or stretches
Where floods, as if he was dumb
And interprets as his plan
How many a credit without doubts
That makes him a black devil
Pouch(purse) is called fine Hott
And arum the fetched soul.


‘Doctor Schnabel’ means ‘Doctor Beck. ‘Schnabel’ means bill or pecker, which is what the doctor’s mask looks like. Also, ‘Schnabel’ was used in a derogatory manner. Now we might say something like ‘Shut your mouth!’, in the past it would be ‘Halt den Schnabel!’.

The corpses he seeks to fist, refers to his interest in probing the dead infected. The next line refers to this as bullshit. Instead of the doctor wanting to find clues to cures, he fondles the corpses for pleasure. ‘Joe on the crap’, is like saying now “Full of crap”. Joe is a general name for males.

‘Where floods’ refers to the swelling lymph nodes on plague victims. The doctor cuts the bumps open and stretches the skin of the patient. The purpose of doing this is to relieve the patient of the pressure and remove puss.

The pouch, or purse, is referring to the bags of strong scented organic contents, that the Plague Doctors would carry around. The belief was the disease was carried through the stink and smell.

The current and only definition I could find on ‘Hott’ is an extractor hood. This is an electrical Kitchen device fitted over cooking areas. The hood sucks off vapors from cooking. During the plague times, there were no such things as electrical extractor hoods.

I have two guesses as to what the text on the image means by ‘Hott’. Firstly, it could be simply a way of stating the pouches took in the bad air, and exhausted it as good air.

Secondly, the ‘Hott’ could had meant the doctors hood. It would also be good at preventing vapors. Although it would do this be preventing the vapors from entering vs exhausting. Also, ‘Extractor hood’ literally has hood in it.

Arum is gold. So maybe the last line was saying the doctor turns the sick wretched souls into money.

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