Mór Jókai’s 1879 Told by the Death’s Head: A Romantic Tale was inspired by an encounter the author was kind enough to describe in his preface:
In Part II, Vol. 2, of the Rhenish Antiquarius, I once came across a skull that is said — see page 612 — to swing, enclosed in a metal casket, from an iron bar in the foundry of Ehrenbreitstein fortress. Distinction of this order does not fall to an ordinary mortal. Yon empty shell of human wisdom once bore the burden of no less than twenty-one mortal sins — the seven originalia trebled. Each crime is noted. The criminal confessed to the entire three-times-seven, and yet the death sentence was not passed upon him because of the twenty-one crimes. His fate was decided by the transgression of a military regulation.
What if this skull could speak? What if it could defend itself? — relate, with all the grim humor of one on the rack, the many pranks played — the mad follies committed, from the banks of the Weichsel to the delta of the Ganges!
If my highly esteemed readers will promise to give me their credulous attention, I will relate what was told to me by the death’s head.
And so he does, in a tale that takes us across Europe and beyond, a tale of love, adventure, and casual anti-Semitism.