Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen (11 May 1720 – 22 February 1797) (sometimes spelled Munchausen in English) was a German baron born in Bodenwerder, who in his youth was sent to serve as page to Anthony Ulrich II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and later joined the Russian military. He served until 1750, in particular taking part in two campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. Returning home, Münchhausen supposedly told a number of outrageous tall tales about his adventures. He finally died in his birthplace of Bodenwerder.
According to the stories, as retold by others, the Baron's astounding feats included riding cannonballs, travelling to the Moon, and escaping from a swamp by pulling himself up by his own hair (or bootstraps, depending on who tells the story).
Born in Bodenwerder
, Electorate of Hanover
, Münchhausen was page to Anthony Ulrich II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
, and moved with his employer to the Russian Empire
. He was named a cornet
in the Russian cavalry when Anthony Ulrich became Russian generalissimo
in 1739. In 1740, he was promoted to lieutenant
. He was stationed in Riga
, but participated in two campaigns against the Ottoman Empire
in 1740 and 1741. When Anthony Ulrich was imprisoned in 1741, Münchhausen remained in the service of the Russian military. In 1750, he was named a Rittmeister
, a cavalry captain
In 1744, he married Jacobine von Dunten at Pernigel (Liepupe) near Dunteshof (Duntes muiža) in Livonia (modern-day Latvia). After his retirement, he lived with his wife at his manor in Bodenwerder until her death in 1790. Here, he acquired a reputation for his witty and exaggerated tales; at the same time, he was considered an honest man in business affairs. Münchhausen remarried in 1794; the marriage ended in a contested, ruinous divorce. Münchhausen died childless in 1797.
The stories about Münchhausen were first collected and published by an anonymous author in 1781. An English version was published in London in 1785, by Rudolf Erich Raspe, as Baron Munchhausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia, also called The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchhausen. However, much of the humorous material in them is borrowed from other sources. Indeed, the Baron himself was not notable for immodesty within his profession and relative to his accomplishments, and Raspe's publication rather damaged his reputation. Most historians agree that Munchhausen disapproved of some of the more outrageous of the tall tales that Raspe's book attributed to him.
In 1786, Gottfried August Bürger translated Raspe's stories back into German, and extended them. He published them under the title of Wunderbare Reisen zu Wasser und zu Lande: Feldzüge und lustige Abenteuer des Freiherrn von Münchhausen ("Marvellous Travels on Water and Land: Campaigns and Comical Adventures of the Baron of Münchhausen"). Bürger's version is the one best known to German readers today.
In the 19th century, the story had undergone expansions and transformations by many notable authors and had been translated into numerous languages, totalling over 100 various editions. Baron Munchhausen's adventures have also been published in Russia, where they are quite commonly known, especially the versions adapted for children. In 2005 a statue of Munchhausen was erected in the city of Kaliningrad (Königsberg).
It is not clear how much of the story material derives from the Baron himself; however, it is known that the majority of the stories are based on folktales that have been in circulation for many centuries before Münchhausen's birth.
Münchhausen was an object of numerous works of art, but the final say to his visual image belongs to an edition of the book produced in 1862 and illustrated by the artist Gustave Doré.
The 1895 edition
Table of contents of the 1895 edition
Title: The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolph Erich Raspe
Chapters 1-20: Volume 1, Chapters 21-34: Volume 2.
- Chapter 1: The Baron relates an account of his first travels — The astonishing effects of a storm — Arrives at Ceylon; combats and conquers two extraordinary opponents — Returns to Holland.
- Chapter 2: In which the Baron proves himself a good shot — He loses his horse, and finds a wolf — Makes him draw his sledge — Promises to entertain his company with a relation of such facts as are well deserving their notice
- Chapter 3: An encounter between the Baron's nose and a door-post, with its wonderful effects — Fifty brace of ducks and other fowl destroyed by one shot — Flogs a fox out of his skin — Leads an old sow home in a new way, and vanquishes a wild boar
- Chapter 4: Reflections on Saint Hubert's stag — Shoots a stag with cherry-stones; the wonderful effects of it — Kills a bear by extraordinary dexterity; his danger pathetically described — Attacked by a wolf, which he turns inside out — Is assailed by a mad dog, from which he escapes — The Baron's cloak seized with madness, by which his whole wardrobe is thrown into confusion
- Chapter 5: The effects of great activity and presence of mind — A favourite hound described, which pups while pursuing a hare; the hare also litters while pursued by the hound — Presented with a famous horse by Count Przobossky, with which he performs many extraordinary feats
- Chapter 6: The Baron is made a prisoner of war, and sold for a slave — Keeps the Sultan's bees, which are attacked by two bears — Loses one of his bees; a silver hatchet, which he throws at the bears, rebounds and flies up to the moon; brings it back by an ingenious invention; falls to the earth on his return, and helps himself out of a pit — Extricates himself from a carriage which meets his in a narrow road, in a manner never before attempted nor practised since — The wonderful effects of the frost upon his servant's French horn
- Chapter 7: The Baron relates his adventures on a voyage to North America, which are well worth the reader's attention — Pranks of a whale — A sea-gull saves a sailor's life — The Baron's head forced into his stomach — A dangerous leak stopped а posteriori
- Chapter 8: Bathes in the Mediterranean — Meets an unexpected companion — Arrives unintentionally in the regions of heat and darkness, from which he is extricated by dancing a hornpipe — Frightens his deliverers, and returns on shore
- Chapter 9: Adventures in Turkey, and upon the river Nile — Sees a balloon over Constantinople; shoots at, and brings it down; finds a French experimental philosopher suspended from it — Goes on an embassy to Grand Cairo, and returns upon the Nile, where he is thrown into an unexpected situation, and detained six weeks
- Chapter 10: Pays a visit during the siege of Gibraltar to his old friend General Elliot — Sinks a Spanish man-of-war — Wakes an old woman on the African coast — Destroys all the enemy's cannon; frightens the Count d'Artois, and sends him to Paris — Saves the lives of two English spies with the identical sling that killed Goliath; and raises the siege
- Chapter 11: An interesting account of the Baron's ancestors — A quarrel relative to the spot where Noah built his ark — The history of the sling, and its properties — A favourite poet introduced upon no very reputable occasion — queen Elizabeth's abstinence — The Baron's father crosses from England to Holland upon a marine horse, which he sells for seven hundred ducats
- Chapter 12: The frolic; its consequences — Windsor Castle — St. Paul's — College of Physicians — Undertakers, sextons, &c., almost ruined — Industry of the apothecaries
- Chapter 13: The Baron sails with Captain Phipps, attacks two large bears, and has a very narrow escape — Gains the confidence of these animals, and then destroys thousands of them; loads the ship with their hams and skins; makes presents of the former, and obtains a general invitation to all city feasts — A dispute between the Captain and the Baron, in which, from motives of politeness, the Captain is suffered to gain his point — The Baron declines the offer of a throne, and an empress into the bargain
- Chapter 14: Our Baron excels Baron Tott beyond all comparison, yet fails in part of his attempt — Gets into disgrace with the Grand Seignior, who orders his head to be cut off — Escapes, and gets on board a vessel, in which he is carried to Venice — Baron Tott's origin, with some account of that great man's parents — Pope Ganganelli's amour — His Holiness fond of shell-fish
- Chapter 15: A further account of the journey from Harwich to Helvoetsluys — Description of a number of marine objects never mentioned by any traveller before — Rocks seen in this passage equal to the Alps in magnitude; lobsters, crabs, &c., of an extraordinary magnitude — A woman's life saved — The cause of her falling into the sea — Dr. Hawes' directions followed with success
- Chapter 16: This is a very short chapter, but contains a fact for which the Baron's memory ought to be dear to every Englishman, especially those who may hereafter have the misfortune of being made prisoners of war
- Chapter 17: Voyage eastward — The Baron introduces a friend who never deceived him: wins a hundred guineas by pinning his faith upon that friend's nose — Game started at sea — Some other circumstances which will, it is hoped, afford the reader no small degree of amusement
- Chapter 18: A second visit (but an accidental one) to the moon — The ship driven by a whirlwind a thousand leagues above the surface of the water, where a new atmosphere meets them and carries them into a capacious harbour in the moon — A description of the inhabitants, and their manner of coming into the lunarian world — Animals, customs, weapons of war, wine, vegetables, &c
- Chapter 19: The Baron crosses the Thames without the assistance of a bridge, ship, boat, balloon, or even his own will: rouses himself after a long nap, and destroys a monster who lived upon the destruction of others
- Chapter 20: The Baron slips through the world: after paying a visit to Mount Etna he finds himself in the South Sea; visits Vulcan in his passage; gets on board a Dutchman; arrives at an island of cheese, surrounded by a sea of milk; describes some very extraordinary objects — Lose their compass; their ship slips between the teeth of a fish unknown in this part of the world; their difficulty in escaping from thence; arrive in the Caspian Sea — Starves a bear to death — A few waistcoat anecdotes — In this chapter, which is the longest, the Baron moralises upon the virtue of veracity
- Chapter 21: The Baron insists on the veracity of his former Memoirs — Forms a design of making discoveries in the interior parts of Africa — His discourse with Hilaro Frosticos about it — His conversation with Lady Fragrantia — The Baron goes, with other persons of distinction, to Court; relates an anecdote of the Marquis de Bellecourt
- Chapter 22: Preparations for the Baron's expedition into Africa — Description of his chariot; the beauties of its interior decorations; the animals that drew it, and the mechanism of the wheels
- Chapter 23: The Baron proceeds on his voyage — Convoys a squadron to Gibraltar — Declines the acceptance of the island of Candia — His chariot damaged by Pompey's Pillar and Cleopatra's Needle — The Baron out-does Alexander — Breaks his chariot, and splits a great rock at the Cape of Good Hope
- Chapter 24: The Baron secures his chariot, &c., at the Cape and takes his passage for England in a homeward-bound Indiaman — Wrecked upon an island of ice, near the coast of Guinea — Escapes from the wreck, and rears a variety of vegetables upon the island — Meets some vessels belonging to the negroes bringing white slaves from Europe, in retaliation, to work upon their plantations in a cold climate near the South Pole — Arrives in England, and lays an account of his expedition before the Privy Council — Great preparations for a new expedition — The Sphinx, Gog and Magog, and a great company attend him — The ideas of Hilaro Frosticos respecting the interior parts of Africa
- Chapter 25: Count Gosamer thrown by Sphinx into the snow on the top of Teneriffe — Gog and Magog conduct Sphinx for the rest of the voyage — The Baron arrives at the Cape, and unites his former chariot, &c., to his new retinue — Passes into Africa, proceeding from the Cape northwards — Defeats a host of lions by a curious stratagem — Travels through an immense desert — His whole company, chariot, &c., overwhelmed by a whirlwind of sand — Extricates them, and arrives in a fertile country
- Chapter 26: A feast on live bulls and kava — The inhabitants admire the European adventurers — The Emperor comes to meet the Baron, and pays him great compliments — The inhabitants of the centre of Africa descended from the people of the moon proved by an inscription in Africa, and by the analogy of their language, which is also the same with that of the ancient Scythians — The Baron is declared sovereign of the interior of Africa on the decease of the Emperor — He endeavours to abolish the custom of eating live bulls, which excites much discontent — The advice of Hilaro Frosticos upon the occasion — The Baron makes a speech to an Assembly of the states, which only excites greater murmurs — He consults with Hilaro Frosticos
- Chapter 27: A proclamation by the Baron — Excessive curiosity of the people to know what fudge was — The people in a general ferment about it — They break open all the granaries in the empire — The affections of the people conciliated — An ode performed in honour of the Baron — His discourse with Fragrantia on the excellence of the music
- Chapter 28: The Baron sets all the people of the empire to work to build a bridge from their country to Great Britain — His contrivance to render the arch secure — Orders an inscription to be engraved on the bridge — Returns with all his company, chariot, etc., to England — Surveys the kingdoms and nations under him from the middle of the bridge
- Chapter 29: The Baron's retinue is opposed in a heroic style by Don Quixote, who in his turn is attacked by Gog and Magog — Lord Whittington, with the Lord Mayor's Show, comes to the assistance of Don Quixote — Gog and Magog assail his Lordship — Lord Whittington makes a speech, and deludes Gog and Magog to his party — A general scene of uproar and battle among the company, until the Baron, with great presence of mind, appeases the tumult
- Chapter 30: The Baron arrives in England — the Colossus of Rhodes comes to congratulate him — Great rejoicings on the Baron's return, and a tremendous concert — The Baron's discourse with Fragrantia, and her opinion of the Tour to the Hebrides
- Chapter 31: A litigated contention between Don Quixote, Gog, Magog, &c. — A grand court assembled upon it — The appearance of the company — The matrons, judges, &c. — The method of writing, and the use of the fashionable amusement quizzes — Wauwau arrives from the country of Prester John, and leads the whole Assembly a wild-goose chase to the top of Plinlimmon, and thence to Virginia — The Baron meets a floating island in his voyage to America — Pursues Wauwau with his whole company through the deserts of North America — His curious contrivance to seize Wauwau in a morass
- Chapter 32: The Baron harangues the company, and they continue the pursuit — The Baron, wandering from his retinue, is taken by the savages, scalped, and tied to a stake to be roasted; but he contrives to extricate himself, and kills the savages — The Baron travels overland through the forests of North America, to the confines of Russia — Arrives at the castle of the Nareskin Rowskimowmowsky, and gallops into the kingdom of Loggerheads — A battle, in which the Baron fights the Nareskin in single combat, and generously gives him his life — Arrives at the Friendly Islands, and discourses with Omai — The Baron, with all his attendants, goes from Otaheite to the isthmus of Darien, and having cut a canal across the isthmus, returns to England
- Chapter 33: On his way to Petersburgh a snow storm arrives and covers the entire landscape, the Baron succeeds to tie his horse to the single post outstanding in the landscape. On the next mormimg the snow has melted and he realizes that his horse is tied to a steepletop high above in the air. Arriving in Russia the Baron converses with the Empress — Persuades the Russians and Turks to cease cutting one another's throats, and in concert cut a canal across the Isthmus of Suez — The Baron discovers the Alexandrine Library, and meets with Hermes Trismegistus — Besieges Seringapatam, and challenges Tippoo Sahib to single combat — They fight — The Baron receives some wounds to his face, but at last vanquishes the tyrant — The Baron returns to Europe, and raises the hull of the "Royal George"
- Chapter 34: The Baron makes a speech to the National Assembly, and drives out all the members — Routs the fishwomen and the National Guards — Pursues the whole rout into a Church, where he defeats the National Assembly, &c., with Rousseau, Voltaire, and Beelzebub at their head, and liberates Marie Antoinette and the Royal Family
In 1943 Raspe's book was adapted into a German language film Münchhausen directed by Josef von Báky, with Hans Albers in the title role and Brigitte Horney as the empress Katherine the Great, written by Erich Kästner. This was Germany's fourth full-color motion picture, lushly filmed with amazing effects for the time, and produced at UFA studios.
In 1961, the Czech director Karel Zeman made an 83 minute film "Baron Prášil" (Baron Munchhausen), using his unique combination of animation and live actors, starring Miloš Kopecký as the Baron.
In 1979 Mark Zakharov shot the Russian film, based on the play written by Grigori Gorin, That Very Munchausen relaying the story of the baron's life after the adventures portrayed in the book, particularly his struggle to prove himself sane. In the movie, baron Munchausen is portrayed as multi-dimensional, colorful, non-conformist man living in a gray, plain, dull and conformist society that ultimately tries to destroy him.
In 1983 a French cartoon version was made, called Le Secret des sélénites. It subsequently became available in English under the title Moon Madness.
Terry Gilliam adapted the stories into the 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, shot in Belchite, Spain, and at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome. The film starred John Neville as the Baron and nine-year-old Sarah Polley as Sally Salt. Supporting the Baron as his faithful crew were Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis and Jack Purvis. The film also featured Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed, Jonathan Pryce, Sting and Robin Williams (credited as Ray D. Tutto).
Various shorts are also known to have been made about the baron's life, including one by George Méliès.
Role-playing game (RPG)
a multi-player storytelling
game entitled The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Münchhausen
was produced by James Wallis of Hogshead Publishing.
Players of the role-playing game assume the role of a noble person and challenge one another to relate an improvised
tale based on an opening line given by another player (for example: "Grand Poobah, please tell our assemblage about the time you singlehandedly defeated the entire Turkish army using only a plate of cheese and a corkscrew!"). Players are able to interject and introduce a limited number of complications to the tall tale at any time ("But, my dear Grand Poobah, is it not true that you have a horrible allergy to cork?"), and eventually all vote for the best storyteller. The game has several adaptations into drinking games
In 1999 Pyramid magazine named The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Münchhausen as one of the Millennium's Best Games. Editor Scott Haring said it "is the roleplaying game that comes closest of them all to pure storytelling. In fact, it disregards so many conventions of 'traditional' RPGs ... that many folks argue it's not a roleplaying game at all. ... But who cares? It's huge fun.
In his 2007 essay, game designer and writer Allen Varney said that the game "can be beastly in play" since it "requires improvisation worthy of its namesake, and thus you need a particular kind of player and a particular mood for a session to proceed smoothly." However, he also described it as a "strikingly original exercise in competitive storytelling".
There is a club "Munchhausen's Grandchildren" (Внучата Мюнхаузена) in Kaliningrad, Russia. With the help of its sister city Bodenwerder, the birthplace of the Baron, the club amassed a number of "historical proofs" of presence of the Baron in Königsberg: an ancient silver thaler "returned" to Kaliningrad by Bodenwerder's mayor as a debt for a mug of beer drunk by Munchhausen, Order of Saint Anna issued to the Baron by Paul I of Russia for his "faultless service", and the skeleton of the whale in whose belly the Baron was entrapped for a while. On 18 June 2005 there was the grand opening of a monument of the Baron, which was presented to Kaliningrad by Bodenwerder. The monument portrays the Baron's cannonball ride.
A monument of the Baron is also installed in his city of birth.
An international tour over the places visited by Baron Munchhausen is established as a joint venture of Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, and Kaliningrad.
Additionally, the Baron lends his name to the psychological Munchausen syndrome
in which a patient will feign illness in order to receive the sympathy and attention of others; and also Munchausen syndrome by proxy
in which a patient is someone (usually a child) in the care of the person suffering the disorder. The patient in the latter case may suffer abuse at the hands of the sufferer in order for the patient to receive medical attention, whilst the sufferer receives the sympathy of others.