|The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut.|
The most immediate source for macabre is the medieval French Danse Macabré, literally "Dance of Death." The Dance of Death was a late medieval allegory that dramatizes life's fragility and death's universality as it warns against the vanity of earthly glories. Often depicted in murals but possibly in plays as well, Death personified summons representatives from various stations in life--a pope, king, child, and laborer, for example--to dance on a path to the grave. Death often has a dialogue with each of the victims. The famines, wars, and outbreaks of the Black Death in 14th century Europe were assimilated into European culture and the Dance of Death is considered a representation of those fears. The allegory also has strong elements of social satire.
A possible source for the French term danse macabre is the Latin phrase Chorea Machabæorum, literally "dance of the Maccabees." Maccabees was the surname given to Judas, the third son of Mattathias the Hasmonean. The name derives from the Hebrew maqqabh, meaning "hammer," or the Hebrew matzbi, meaning "leader of an army." Judas was known for being particularly ferocious in battle. In 166 BCE, Judas led a religious revolt against the Seleucid Empire then ruled by Antiochus IV. The Selucids were an offshoot of the empire created by Alexander the Great. From the time of Alexander, Greek (Hellenistic) culture had spread through the near East. Many Jews had become Hellenized and given up Jewish customs and religious practices in favor of Hellenistic traditions. The revolt against the faltering Seleucid Empire succeeded. The Maccabeans ritually cleansed and re-dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates, and reestablished traditional Jewish worship. The Hasmonean dynasty ruled Israel for over a century (164 BCE to 63 BCE), expanding the nation's boundaries and slowing the spread of Hellenism.
|Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees|
|(1863) by Antonio Ciseri.|