Nibelungenlied: Wikis


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The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem in Middle High German. The story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild's revenge.

The Nibelungenlied is based on pre-Christian Germanic heroic motifs (the "Nibelungensaga"), which include oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries. Old Norse parallels of the legend survive in the Völsunga saga, the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, the Legend of Norna-Gest, and the Þiðrekssaga.

In 2009, the three main manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied were inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in recognition of their historical significance. [1]

First page from Manuscript C (ca. 1230)


Manuscript sources

The poem in its various written forms was lost by the end of the 16th century, but manuscripts from as early as the 13th century were re-discovered during the 18th century. There are thirty-five known manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied and its variant versions. Eleven of these manuscripts are essentially complete.[2] The oldest version however seems to be the one preserved in manuscript "B". Twenty-four manuscripts are in various fragmentary states of completion, including one version in Dutch (manuscript 'T'). The text contains approximately 2,400 stanzas in 39 Aventiuren. The title under which the poem has been known since its discovery is derived from the final line of one of the three main versions, "hie hât daz mære ein ende: daz ist der Nibelunge liet" ("here the story takes an end: this is the lay of the Nibelungs"). Liet here means lay, tale or epic rather than simply song, as it would in Modern German.

The manuscripts sources deviate considerably from one another. Philologists and literary scholars usually designate three main genealogical groups for the entire range of available manuscripts, with two primary versions comprising the oldest known copies: *AB and *C. This categorization derives from the signatures on the *A, *B, and *C manuscripts as well as the wording of the last verse in each source: "daz ist der Nibelunge liet" or "daz ist der Nibelunge nôt". Nineteenth century philologist Karl Lachmann developed this categorisation of the manuscript sources in Der Nibelunge Noth und die Klage nach der ältesten Überlieferung mit Bezeichnung des Unechten und mit den Abweichungen der gemeinen Lesart (Berlin: Reimer, 1826).


Prevailing scholarly theories strongly suggest that the written Nibelungenlied is the work of an anonymous poet from the area of the Danube between Passau and Vienna, dating from about 1180 to 1210, possibly at the court of Wolfger von Erla, the bishop of Passau (in office 1191–1204). Most scholars consider it likely that the author was a man of literary and ecclesiastical education at the bishop's court, and that the poem's recipients were the clerics and noblemen at the same court.

The "Nibelung's lament" (Diu Klage), a sort of appendix to the poem proper, mentions a "Meister Konrad" who was charged by a bishop "Pilgrim" of Passau with the copying of the text. This is taken as a reference to Saint Pilgrim, bishop of Passau from 971–991.

The search for the author of the Nibelungenlied in German studies has a long and intense history. Among the names suggested were Konrad von Fußesbrunnen, Bligger von Steinach and Walther von der Vogelweide. None of these hypotheses has wide acceptance, and mainstream scholarship today accepts that the author's name cannot be established.


Though the preface to the poem promises both joyous and dark tales ahead, the Nibelungenlied is by and large a very tragic work, and these four opening verses are believed to have been a late addition to the text, composed after the body of the poem had been completed.[citation needed]

Middle High German original Shumway translation

Uns ist in alten mæren wunders vil geseit
von helden lobebæren, von grôzer arebeit,
von freuden, hôchgezîten, von weinen und von klagen,
von küener recken strîten muget ir nu wunder hœren sagen

Full many a wonder is told us in stories old,
of heroes worthy of praise, of hardships dire,
of joy and feasting, of weeping and of wailing;
of the fighting of bold warriors, now ye may hear wonders told.

The original version instead began with the introduction of Kriemhild, the protagonist of the work.

The epic is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the story of Siegfried and Kriemhild, the wooing of Brünhild and the death of Siegfried at the hands of Hagen, and Hagen's hiding of the Nibelung treasure in the Rhine (Chapters 1-19). The second part deals with Kriemhild's marriage to Etzel, her plans for revenge, the journey of the Nibelungs to the court of Etzel, and their last stand in Etzel's hall (Chapters 20-39).


Siegfried and Kriemhild

Siegfried and Kriemhild
Gunther's wedding night (Johann Heinrich Füssli 1807)

The first chapter introduces the court of Burgundy. Kriemhild (the virgin sister of King Gunther, and his brothers Gernot and Giselher) has a dream of a falcon that is killed by two eagles. Her mother interprets this to mean that Kriemhild's future husband will die a violent death, and Kriemhild consequently resolves to remain unmarried.

The second chapter tells of the background of Siegfried, crown prince of Xanten. His youth is narrated with little room for the adventures later attributed to him. In the third chapter, Siegfried arrives in Worms with the hopes of wooing Kriemhild. Upon his arrival, Hagen von Tronje, one of King Gunther's vassals, tells Gunther about Siegfried's youthful exploits that involved winning a treasure and lands from a pair of brothers, Nibelung and Schilbung, whom Siegfried had killed when he was unable to divide the treasure between them and, almost incidentally, the killing of a dragon. Siegfried leaves his treasure in the charge of a dwarf named Alberich.

After killing the dragon, Siegfried then bathed in its blood, which rendered him invulnerable. Unfortunately for Siegfried, a leaf fell onto his back from a linden tree, and the small patch of skin that the leaf covered did not come into contact with the dragon's blood, leaving Siegfried vulnerable in that single spot. In spite of Hagen's threatening stories about his youth, the Burgundians welcome him, but do not allow him to meet the princess. Disappointed, he nonetheless remains in Worms and helps Gunther defeat the invading Saxons.

In chapter 5, Siegfried finally meets Kriemhild. Gunther requests Siegfried to sail with him to the fictional city of Isenstein in Iceland to win the hand of the Iceland's Queen, Brünhild. Siegfried agrees, though only if Gunther allows him to marry Gunther's sister, Kriemhild, whom Siegfried pines for. Gunther, Siegfried and a group of Burgundians set sail for Iceland with Siegfried pretending to be Gunther's vassal. Upon their arrival, Brünhild challenges Gunther to a trial of strength with her hand in marriage as a reward. If they lose, however, they will be sentenced to death. She challenges Gunther to three athletic contests, throwing a javelin, tossing a boulder, and a leap. After seeing the boulder and javelin, it becomes apparent to the group that Brünhild is immensely strong and they fear for their lives.


Siegfried quietly returns to the boat his group arrived on and takes his special cloak, which renders him invisible and gives him the strength of 12 men (Chapters 6-8). Siegfried, with his immense strength, invisibly leads Gunther through the trials. Unknowingly deceived, the impressed Brünhild thinks King Gunther, not Siegfried, defeated her and agrees to marry Gunther. Gunther becomes afraid that Brünhild may yet be planning to kill them, so Siegfried goes to Nibelungenland and single-handedly conquers the kingdom. Siegfried makes them his vassals and returns with a thousand of them. Siegfried then goes ahead as messenger. The group of Burgundians, Gunther and Gunther's new wife-to-be Brünhild return to Worms, where a grand reception awaits them and they marry to much fanfare. Siegfried and Kriemhild are also then married with Gunther's blessings.

"Siegfried's Departure" (Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, ca. 1843)
"Siegfried's Death" (Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1847)
Gunther orders Hagen to sink the hoard in the Rhine (Peter von Cornelius, 1859)

However, on their wedding night, Brünhild suspects something is amiss with her situation, particularly suspecting Siegfried a potential cause. Gunther attempts to sleep with her and, with her great strength, she easily ties Gunther up and leaves him that way all night. After telling Siegfried of this, Siegfried again offers his help. Siegfried proposes that he slip into their chamber at night with his invisibility cloak and silently beat Brünhild into submission. Gunther agrees but says that Siegried must not sleep with Brünhild. Siegfried slips into the room according to plan and after a difficult and violent struggle, an invisible Siegfried defeats Brünhild. Siegfried then takes her ring and belt, which are symbols of defloration. Here it is implied that Siegfried sleeps with Brünhild despite Gunther's request. Afterwards, Brünhild no longer possesses her once-great strength and says she will no longer refuse Gunther. Siegfried gives the ring and belt to his own newly wed, Kriemhild, in chapter 10.

Years later, Brünhild, still feeling as if she had been lied to, goads Gunther into inviting Siegfried and Kriemhild to their kingdom. Brünhild does this because she is still under the impression that Gunther married off his sister to a low-ranking vassal (while Gunther and Siegfried are in reality of equal rank) yet the normal procedures are not being followed between the two ranks combined with her lingering feelings of suspicion. Both Siegfried and Kriemhild come to Worms and all is friendly between the two until, before entering the Worms Cathedral, Kriemhild and Brünhild argue who should have precedence according to their husbands' perceived ranks.

Having been earlier deceived about the relationship between Siegfried and Gunther, Brünhild thinks it is obvious that she should go first per custom of her perceived social rank. Kriemhild, unaware of the deception involved in Brünhild's wooing, insists that they are of equal rank and the dispute escalates. Severely angered, Kriemhild shows Brünhild first the ring and then the belt that Siegfried took from Brünhild on her wedding night, and then calls her Siegfried's kebse (mistress or concubine). Brünhild feels greatly distressed and humiliated. She bursts into tears.

The argument between the queens is both a risk for the marriage of Gunther and Brünhild and a potential cause for a lethal rivalry between Gunther and Siegfried, which both Gunther and Siegfried attempt to avoid. Gunther acquits Siegfried of the charges. Despite this, Hagen von Tronje decides to kill Siegfried to protect the honor and reign of his king. Although it is Hagen who does the deed, Gunther - while first objecting to the plot - and his brothers know of the plan and quietly assent. Hagen contrives a false military threat to Gunther and Siegfried, considering Gunther a great friend, volunteers to help Gunther once again.

Under the context of this threat of war, Hagen persuades Kriemhild, who still trusts Hagen, to mark Siegfried's single vulnerable point on his clothing with a cross under the premise of protecting him. Now knowing Siegfried's weakness, the fake campaign is called off and Hagen then uses the cross as a target on a hunting trip, killing Siegfried with a spear as he is drinking from a brook in chapter 16. This perfidious murder is particularly dishonorable in medieval thought, as throwing a javelin is the manner in which one might slaughter a wild beast, not a knight. We see this in other literature of the period, such as with Parsifal's unwittingly dishonorable crime of combatting and slaying knights with a javelin (transformed into a swan in Wagner's opera). [3] Further dishonoring Siegfried, Hagen steals the hoard from Kriemhild and throws it into the Rhine (Rheingold), to prevent Kriemhild from using it to establish an army of her own.[4]

Kriemhild's revenge

Kriemhild swears to take revenge for the murder of her husband and the theft of her treasure. Many years later, King Etzel of the Huns (Attila the Hun) proposes to Kriemhild, she journeys to the land of the Huns, and they are married. For the baptism of their son, she invites her brothers, the Burgundians, to a feast at Etzel's castle in Hungary. Hagen does not want to go, but is taunted until he does: he realises that it is a trick of Kriemhild in order to take revenge and kill them all. As the Burgundians cross the Danube, this fate is confirmed by Nixes, who predict that all but one monk will die. Hagen tries to drown the monk in order to render the prophecy futile, but he survives.

Kriemhild showing Gunther's head to Hagen (Johann Heinrich Füssli, ca. 1805)

The Burgundians arrive at Etzel's castle and are welcomed by Kriemhild "with lying smiles and graces". But the lord Dietrich of Bern, an ally of Etzel's, advises the Burgundians to keep their weapons with them at all times, which is normally not allowed. The tragedy unfolds. Kriemhild comes before Hagen, reproaches him for her husband Siegfried's death, and demands the return of her Nibelungenschatz. Hagen answers her boldly, admitting that he killed Siegfried and sank the Nibelungen treasure into the Rhine, but blames these acts on Kriemhild's own behaviour.

King Etzel then welcomes his wife's brothers warmly. But outside a tense feast in the great hall, a fight breaks out between Huns and Burgundians, and soon there is general mayhem. When word of the fight arrives at the feast, Hagen decapitates Kriemhild and Etzel's little son before his parents' eyes. The Burgundians take control of the hall, which is besieged by Etzel's warriors. Kriemhild offers her brothers their lives if they hand over Hagen, but they refuse. The battle lasts all day, until the queen orders the hall to be burned with the Burgundians inside.

All of the Burgundians are killed except for Hagen and Gunther, who are bound and held prisoner by Dietrich of Bern. Kriemhild has the men brought before her and orders her brother Gunther to be killed. Even after seeing Gunther's head, Hagen refuses to tell the queen what he has done with the Nibelungen treasure. Furious, Kriemhild herself cuts off Hagen's head. Old Hildebrand, the mentor of Dietrich of Bern, is infuriated by the shameful deaths of the Burgundian guests. He hews Kriemhild to pieces with his sword. In a fifteenth century manuscript, he is said to strike Kriemhild a single clean blow to the waist; she feels no pain, however, and declares that his sword is useless. Hildebrand then drops a ring and commands Kriemhild to pick it up. As she bends down, her body falls into pieces. Dietrich and Etzel and all the people of the court lament the deaths of so many heroes.

Historical background

A historical nucleus of the saga lies in events of the Germanic Migration Period, in particular the defeat of the Burgundians by Flavius Aëtius with the aid of Hunnic mercenaries near Worms in ca. AD 436. Other possible influences are the feud between the 6th century Merovingian queens Brunhilda and Fredegunde, as well as the marriage of Attila with the Burgundian princess Ildikó in AD 453.

These events became conflated with common Germanic mythological material concerning Niflheim and the Nibelungs, originally likely a race of dwarfs guarding treasure, but from the evidence of Waltharius also a name for a Frankish or Burgundian dynasty. The Nibelungenlied combines a first mythological part dealing with Gunther's wooing of Brünhild, with a second political part taking place in specific locations like Worms, the capital of Burgundy, describing the journey of the Nibelungs east across the Danube to Etzelburg, the residence of Attila the Hun (Etzel), the location of the catastrophe.

Arminius (Hermann)

The Nibelungenlied arranges these traditional materials in a composition aiming at a High Medieval audience that was familiar with the epic Matter of Britain and Matter of France, casting the inherited Germanic theme in his contemporary terms of courtly Christian chivalry. Consequently, Siegfried changes from a dragon killer to a courting man who will express his love to Kriemhild explicitly only after he has won the friendship of the Burgundian king Gunther and his brothers, Gernot and Giselher. Some situations, which exaggerate the conflict between the Germanic migrations and the chivalrous ethics (such as Gunther's embarrassing wedding night with Brunhild) may be interpreted as irony. The notoriously bloody end that leaves no hope for reconciliation is far removed from the happy ending of typical courtly epics.

Some scholars, particularly Delbrück, consider the historical figure of Arminius (Hermann), who defeated the Roman imperial legions (clad in scale armour) at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, a possible archetype for the dragon-slayer Siegfried.[5]


An early critic labeled it a German Iliad, arguing that, like the Greek epic, it goes back to the remotest times and unites the monumental fragments of half-forgotten myths and historical personages into a poem that is essentially national in character. However, others criticised the work for being inferior to the Greek classics and not worthy of the status of a national epic.

Despite its many critics, imagery from the Nibelungelied was used in many poems, essays, posters and speeches at every stage in the development of German nationalism, from the Befreiungskriege (Wars of Liberation) to the period of Nazi rule, to less jingoistic interpretations and references today.

For example, the faithfulness among the Burgundian king and his vassals, ranked higher than family bonds or life, is called Nibelungentreue. This expression was used in Germany, prior to World War I to describe the alliance between the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, as well as by Nazi propaganda, e.g. when referring to the Battle of Stalingrad.

The word Nibelungen is transferred from a legendary race of Germanic dwarfs and their treasure, to the followers of Siegfried and finally to the Burgundians which are portrayed in the poem.

In October 2006, USA Today listed Siegfried as #7 on their list of Imaginary Luminaries: the 101 most influential people who never lived. [2]

However, it is very difficult to separate the influence of the Nibelungenlied itself from that of other works of art and propaganda dealing with the Siegfried myths. Often, images which clearly refer to part of this story differ in some way. For example, one famous poster from the 1930s links Siegfried's death with the Dolchstosslegende (the idea that German soldiers were stabbed in the back by the peace treaties of 1918) and shows a Siegfried-like figure stabbed with a dagger, not a spear.


The Nibelungenlied, Thidreks saga and the Völsunga saga served as source materials for Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (English: The Ring of the Nibelung), a series of four music dramas popularly known as the "Ring Cycle".

In 1924, Austrian-American director Fritz Lang made a duology of silent fantasy films of the epic: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache. Lang and Thea von Harbou wrote the screenplay for the first film; von Harbou has the sole screenwriting credit on the second. Remakes were made in 1966.

The premise of the Nibelungenlied was made into a miniseries called Ring of the Nibelungs (also called Sword of Xanten) in 2004. It uses the title of the series by Wagner and, like the Ring Cycle, is in many ways closer to the Norse legends of Siegfried and Brunhild than to the Nibelungenlied itself. Like many adaptations, it only deals with the first half of the epic, ignoring Kriemhild's revenge. On the SciFi Channel, it is broadcast with title Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King (2006).

The anime series of Saint Seiya uses some elements from Nibelungenlied in its Asgard story-arc.

Chuck Jones's 1957 cartoon What's Opera, Doc?, while not specifically based on the Nibelungenlied, casts Elmer Fudd as Siegfried and has Bugs Bunny dress as Brünhild (or Brunhilde) during one sequence, all the while using music from Wagner's operas, including Tannhäuser as well as the Ring Cycle.

See also


  • Karl Bartsch, Der Nibelunge Nôt : mit den Abweichungen von der Nibelunge Liet, den Lesarten sämmtlicher Handschriften und einem Wörterbuche, Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1870-1880
  • Alice Horton, Translator. The Lay of the Nibelungs: Metrically Translated from the Old German Text, G. Bell and Sons, London, 1898. Line by line translation of the "B manuscript".
  • Margaret Armour, Translator. Franz Schoenberner, Introduction. Edy Legrand, Illustrator. The Nibelungenlied, Heritage Press, New York, 1961
  • Michael S. Batts. Das Nibelungenlied, critical edition, Tübingen: M. Niemeyer 1971. ISBN 3-484-10149-0
  • Helmut de Boor: Das Nibelungenlied, 22nd revised and expanded edition, ed. Roswitha Wisniewski, Wiesbaden 1988, ISBN 3-7653-0373-9. This edition is based ultimately on that of Bartsch.
  • Hermann Reichert, Das Nibelungenlied, Berlin: de Gruyter 2005. VII, ISBN 3-11-018423-0. Edition of manuscript B, normalized text; introduction in German.
  • Hermann Reichert, Nibelungenlied-Lehrwerk. Sprachlicher Kommentar, mittelhochdeutsche Grammatik, Wörterbuch. Passend zum Text der St. Galler Fassung („B“). Wien: Praesens Verlag 2007. ISBN 978-3-7069-0445-2. Linguistic help for beginners (in German).
  • Ursula Schulze, Das Nibelungenlied, based on manuscript C, Düsseldorf / Zürich: Artemis & Winkler 2005. ISBN 3-538-06990-5.
  • Burton Raffel, Das Nibelungenlied, new translation. Foreword by Michael Dirda. Introduction by Edward R. Haymes. Yale University Press 2006. ISBN 13: 978-0-300-11320-4. ISBN 10: 0-300-11320-X
  • A.T. Hatto, The Nibelungenlied,Penguin Classics 1964. English translation and extensive critical and historical appendices.


  1. ^ "Song of the Nibelungs, a heroic poem from mediaeval Europe". UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. 2009-07-31. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  2. ^ the Donaueschingen manuscript C can be considered as the longest version, although some pages are missing [1]
  3. ^ This interpretation however is contradicted both by internal evidence in later parts of the Niebelungenlied, which describe knights casting spears at each other, and independently by evidence from mediaeval sources such as Talhoffer's illustrated "Fechtbuch" which clearly shows the casting of javelins as an element of knightly combat on foot, e.g. tafeln 70 & 71 of the 1467 edition.
  4. ^ An alternative interpretation of Hagen's act is that he is just prudentially forestalling Kriemhild's anticipated revenge, which is of a piece with his overall stance of care to preserve the Burgundian dynasty.
  5. ^ Delbrück, Hans. History of the Art of War, vol II. The Barbarian Invasions. Translated by Walter J. Renfroe. Bison Book, 1990. Pp. 120-121. ISBN 0-8032-9200-7.


  • Müller, Jan-Dirk. Rules for the Endgame. The World of the Nibelungenlied. Translated by William T. Whobrey. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Pp. xv, 562.

External links

English translations:


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Nibelungenlied, or Song of the Nibelungs, is an anonymous epic poem written around 1190 or 1200 in Middle High German. Richard Wagner's cycle of music-dramas Der Ring des Nibelungen was loosely based on it.

English quotations are taken from the translation by A. T. Hatto (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), to which page-numbers also refer.

  • Vns ist in alten maeren      wunders vil geseit
    von heleden lobebaeren      von grozer arebeit
    von vroevden hohgeciten      von weinen und von klagen
    von chvener recken striten      muget ir nu wunder hoeren sagen.
    • We have been told in ancient tales many marvels of famous heroes, of mighty toil, joys, and high festivities, of weeping and wailing, and the fighting of bold warriors – of such things you can now hear wonders unending!
    • Stanza 1, p. 17.
  • In disen hohen eren      trovmte chriemhilde
    wie si zvge einen valchen      starch scoen vnt wilde
    den ir zwene aren erchrvmmen      daz si daz mvoste sehn
    ir en chvnde in dirre werlde      leider nimmer geschehn.
    • Living in such magnificence, Kriemhild dreamed she reared a falcon, strong, handsome and wild, but that two eagles rent it while she perforce looked on, the most grievous thing that could ever befall her.
    • Stanza 13, p. 18.
  • Des todes waffen      ie ce sere sneit.
    • Death's sword ever was too sharp.
    • Stanza 998, p. 132.


  • Der Nibelungen Lied könnte die deutsche Ilias werden.
    • The Nibelungenlied could become the German Iliad.
    • Johannes von Müller, in a 1783 review of Christian Heinrich Myller's edition of the Nibelungenlied, cited from Edgar Bonjour (ed.) Schriften in Auswahl (Basle: Benno Schwabe, 1952) p. 135; translation by Gerd-H. Zuchold, from Leslie J. Workman (ed.) Medievalism in Europe (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1994) p. 23.
  • Was aber Lebendigkeit und Gegenwart der Darstellung, dann die Größe der Leidenschaften [und] Charaktere…darf sich das Lied der Nibelungen kühnlich mit der Ilias messen.
    • In liveliness and immediacy of portrayal and the greatness of passion and characters the Song of the Nibelungen is comparable to the Iliad.
    • August Wilhem Schlegel, in an 1803 lecture, cited from Edgar Lohner (ed.) Kritische Schriften und Briefe (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1962) vol. 4, p. 110; translation by Gerd-H. Zuchold, from Leslie J. Workman (ed.) Medievalism in Europe (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1994) p. 23.
  • The Nibelungen Song, though based on the bottomless foundations of Spirit, and not unvisited of skyey messengers, is a real, rounded, habitable Earth, where we find firm footing, and the wondrous and the common live amicably together. Perhaps it would be difficult to find any Poet of ancient or modern times, who in this trying problem has steered his way with greater delicacy and success.
    • Thomas Carlyle "The Nibelungen Lied" (1831), in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (London: Chapman & Hall, 1857) vol. 2, p. 236.
  • The unknown author of this poem shows a bold hand in drawing characters, a deep and passionate feeling, a sense of just proportion, and a plastic power in moulding the rude materials of the old German language into metrical forms of considerable beauty and melody. The gigantic figures of the chivalrous heroic age are set before us in all their majestic proportions; their passions are delineated with a tremendous strength of expression; and their superhuman deeds are told with a confidence equal to that of Homer, when he chants the resistless prowess of the godlike Achilles.

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by Unknown, translated by Daniel Bussier Shumway


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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

NIBELUNGENLIED, or DER Nibelunge Not, an heroic epic written in a Middle High German dialect. The story on which the poem is based belongs to the general stock of Teutonic saga and was very widespread under various forms, some of which are preserved. Thus it is touched upon in Beowulf, and fragments of it form the most important part of the northern Eddas, the poets of which evidently assumed that the tale as a whole was well known and that their hearers would be able to put each piece in its proper place. In the prose Edda, or Volsungasaga, which, though largely primitive in spirit, dates from the 13th century, it is set forth in full. The substance of this Norse version is as follows: The three Anses - Odin, Loki and Hornir - saw an otter devouring a salmon beside a waterfall. They killed and skinned the otter and, taking the skin with them, sought shelter for the night with Rodmar the giant. But Rodmar recognized the skin as that of his son, and demanded as weregild gold enough to cover it completely. Loki thereupon went back to the stream, where Andvari in the form of a pike was guarding a great treasure, caught him in a net, and forced him to surrender his hoard. But the piled-up gold left one hair exposed; in order to cover it Loki returned to Andvari and forced him to surrender a magic ring which had the virtue of breeding gold. Thereupon Andvari, enraged, laid upon the hoard and all who should possess it a curse. This curse, the Leitmotif of the whole story, began to operate at once. Rodmar, for the sake of the treasure, was slain by his sons Fafnir and Regin; and Fafnir, seizing the whole, retired to a desolate heath and, in the form of a snake or dragon, brooded over the hoard. Regin, cheated of his share, plotted vengeance and the conquest of the treasure.

To Regin, a notable smith, was sent Sigurd - son of the slain hero Sigmundr the Volsung and his wife Hiortis, now wife of the Danish king Alf - to be trained in his craft. To him Regin told of Fafnir and the hoard, and the young hero offered to go out against the dragon if Regin would weld him a sword. But every brand forged by the smith broke under Sigurd's stroke; till at last he fetched the fragments of the sword Gram, Odin's gift to his father, which Hiortis had carefully treasured. These Sigurd forged into a new sword, so hard that with it he could cleave the anvil and so sharp that it would sever a flock of wool floating against it down stream; and, so armed, he sought and slew the dragon. But while roasting Fafnir's heart, which Regin had cut out, Sigurd burned his finger with the boiling fat and, placing it to his lips, found that he could understand the language of birds, and so learned from the chattering of the woodpeckers that Regin was planning treachery. Thereupon he slew the smith and loading the treasure on the magic steed Grani, given to him by Odin, set out upon his travels.

On the summit of a fire-girt hill Sigurd found the Valkyrie Brunhild in an enchanted sleep, and ravished by her beauty awakened her; they plighted their troth to each other and, next morning, Sigurd left her to set out once more on his journey. Coming to the court of Giuki, a king in the Rhine country, Sigurd formed a friendship with his three sons, Gunnar, Hogni and Guthorm; and, in order to retain so valuable an ally, it was determined to arrange a match between him and their sister Gudrun. Queen Grimhild, skilled in magic, therefore gave him an enchanted drink, which caused him to forget Brunhild. Gunnar, on the other hand, wished to make Brunhild his wife, and asked Sigurd to ride with him on this quest, which he consented to do on condition of receiving Gudrun to wife. They set out; but Gunnar was unable to pass the circle of fire round Brunhild's abode, the achievement that was the condition of winning her hand. So Sigurd, assuming Gunnar's shape, rode through the flames on his magic horse, and in sign of troth exchanged rings with the Valkyrie, giving her the ring of Andvari. So Gunnar and Brunhild were wedded, and Sigurd, resuming his own form, rode back with them to Giuki's court where the double marriage was celebrated. But Brunhild was moody and suspicious, remembering her troth with Sigurd and believing that he alone could have accomplished the quest.

One day the two queens, while bathing in the river, fell to quarrelling as to which of their husbands was the greater. Brunhild taunted Gudrun with the fact that Sigurd was Gunnar's vassal, whereupon Gudrun retorted by telling her that it was not Gunnar but Sigurd who rode through the flames, and in proof of this held up Brunhild's ring, which Sigurd had given to her. Then Brunhild "waxed as wan as a dead woman, and spoke no word the day long." Maddened by jealousy and wounded pride, she now incited the three kings to murder Sigurd by exciting their jealousy of his power. The two elder, as bound to him by blood-brotherhood, refused; but the youngest, Guthorm, who had sworn no oaths, consented to do the deed. Twice he crept into Sigurd's chamber, but fled when he found the hero awake and gazing at him with flashing eyes. The third time, finding him asleep, he stabbed him; but Sigurd, before he died, had just strength enough to hurl his sword at the murderer, whom it cut in two. Brunhild, when she heard Gudrun wailing, laughed aloud. But her love for Sigurd was great as ever, and she determined not to survive him; distributing her wealth to her hand-maidens, she mounted Sigurd's funeral pyre, slew herself with his sword, and was burnt with him.

In course of time Gudrun married Atli (Attila), king of the Huns, Brunhild's brother. Atli, intent on getting hold of the hoard, which Gudrun's brothers had seized, invited them to come to his court. In spite of their sister's warnings they came, after sinking the treasure in the Rhine. On their refusal to surrender the hoard, or to say where it was concealed, a fierce fight broke out, in which all the followers of Gunnar and Hogni fell. Atli then once more offered to spare Gunnar's life if he would reveal his secret; but Gunnar refused to do so till he should see the heart of Hogni. The heart of a slave was laid before him, but he declared that that could not be Hogni's, since it quaked. Hogni's heart was then cut out, the victim laughing the while; but when Gunnar saw it he cried out that now he alone knew where the hoard was and that he would never reveal the secret. His hands were then bound, and he was cast into a den of venomous serpents; but he played so sweetly on the harp with his toes that he charmed the reptiles, except one adder, by which he was stung to death. Gudrun, however, avenged the death of her brothers by slaying the sons she had borne to Atli and causing him unwittingly to drink their blood and eat their hearts. Finally, in the night, she killed Atli himself and burned his hall; then, leaping into the sea, she was carried by the waves to new scenes, where she had adventures not connected with those recorded in the Nibelungenlied. This story, in spite of the late date of the Volsungasaga and of added elements due to the imagination of its author, evidently represents a very primitive version. In the Nibelungen story, on the other hand, though its extant versions are of much earlier date, and though it contains elements equally primitive not found in the other, the spirit and the motives of the earlier story have to a large extent been transmuted by later influences, the setting of the story being - though by no means consistently - medieval rather than primitive. Thus the mysterious hoard is all but lost sight of; no mention is made of the curse attached to it; and it is only as an afterthought that Siegfried (Sifrit) is described as its master. Everywhere the supernatural elements are eliminated or subordinated, and the story becomes a drama of human motives, depending for its development on the interplay of human passions and activities.

To us in ancient story wonders great are told Of heroes rich in glory and of adventures bold, Of feast and joyous living, of wailing and of woe, Of gallant warriors striving may ye now many marvels know.' That is all he gives by way of preface. The gods have vanished from the scene; there is nothing of Loki and his theft of Andvari's hoard, nothing of Odin and his gifts of the sword Gram and the magic horse Grani; and not till the third Aventiure, when Siegfried comes to Worms, are we given even a hint that such things as the sword and treasure exist. On the other hand, in the very next stanza we are introduced to what is to be the leading motive of the plot: Kriemhild, the Burgundian princess, on whose account "many a noble knight was doomed to perish." For, as in the legend of Sigurd the Volsung, the plot had turned upon the love and vengeance of Brunhild, so in the song of the Nibelungs it is the love and vengeance of Kriemhild, the Gudrun of the northern saga, that forms the backbone of the story and gives it from first to last an artistic unity which the V olsungasaga lacks. Of the story itself it is impossible here to give anything but the barest outline, sufficient to show its contrast with the northern version. We may note at the outset the spirit of pessimism which, like the curse on the hoard, pervades the whole. It appears in the very first Aventiure, when Kriemhild, in answer to her mother's interpretation of her dream, declares that she will never marry, since "it has been proved by the experience of many women that joy is in the end rewarded by sorrow"; it is repeated in the last stanza but one of the long poem: "As ever joy in sorrow ends and must end alway." This tragic contrast is emphasized by the pomp and circumstance that surround the ill-fated hero of the story at the beginning.

1 Uns ist in alten maeren wunders vil geseit Von heleden lobebaeren von grozer arebeit Von freude unt hochgeziten von weinen unde klagen Von kiiener recken striten muget it nun wunder hoeren sagen.

The primitive setting of the northern version has vanished utterly. Sigmund is king of the Netherlands; the boy Siegfried is brought up by "wise men that are his tutors" (Avent. ii.); and when, attracted by the fame of Kriemhild's beauty, he rides to Worms to woo her, it is as the typical handsome, accomplished and chivalrous king's son of medieval romance.

It is at this point (Avent. iv.) that some of the primitive elements of the story are suddenly and awkwardly introduced. As Siegfried approaches Worms, Kriemhild's brothers, the Burgundian kings Gunther, Giselher and Gernot watch his coming, and to them their faithful retainer, "the grim Hagen," explains who he is. This, he exclaims, can be no other than the hero who slew the two kings of the Nibelungs, Schilbunc and Nibelunc, and seized their treasure, together with the sword Balmunc and the tarnkappe, or cape of darkness, which has the virtue of making him who wears it invisible. Another adventure, too, he can tell of him, namely, how he slew a dragon and how by bathing in its blood his skin became horny, so that no weapon could wound him, save in one place, where a linden leaf had fallen upon him as he stooped, so that the blood did not touch this spot.' In spite of Hagen's distrust and misgivings, Siegfried now fights as the ally of the Burgundians against the Saxons (Avent. iv.), and undertakes, on condition of receiving Kriemhild to wife, to help Gunther to woo Queen Brunhild, who can only be won by the man who can overcome her in three trials of strength (Avent. vi.). Siegfried and Gunther accordingly go together to Brunhild's castle of Isenstein in Iceland, and there the hero, invisible in his tarnkappe, stands beside Gunther, hurling the spear and putting the weight for him, and even leaping, with Gunther in his arms, far beyond the utmost limit that Brunhild can reach (Avent. vii.). Brunhild confesses herself beaten and returns with the others to Worms, where the double marriage is celebrated with great pomp (Avent. x.). But Brunhild is ill content; though she saw Siegfried do homage to Gunther at Isenstein she is not convinced, and believes that Siegfried should have been her husband; and on the bridal night she vents her ill humour on the hapless Gunther by tying him up in a knot and hanging him on the wall. "I have brought the evil devil to my house!" he complains to Siegfried next morning; and once more the hero has to intervene; invisible in his tarnkappe he wrestles with Brunhild, and, after a desperate struggle, takes from her her girdle and ring before yielding place to Gunther. The girdle and ring he gives to his wife Kriemhild (Avent. x.). One day, while Siegfried and his wife were on a visit to the Burgundian court, the two queens fell to quarrelling on the question of precedence, not in a river but on the steps of the cathedral (Avent. xiv.). Kriemhild was taunted with being the wife of Gunther's vassal; whereupon, in wrath, she showed Brunhild the ring and the golden girdle taken by Siegfried, proof that Siegfried, not Gunther, had won Brunhild. So far the story is essentially the same as that in the Volsungasaga; but now the plot changes. Brunhild drops out, becoming a figure altogether subordinate and shadowy. The death of Siegfried is compassed, not by her, but by the "grim" Hagen, Gunther's faithful henchman, who thinks the glory of his master unduly overshadowed by that of his vassal. Hagen easily persuades the weak Gunther that the supposed insult to his honour can only be wiped out in Siegfried's blood; he worms the secret of the hero's vulnerable spot out of Kriemhild, on pretence of shielding him from harm (Avent. xv.), and then arranges a great hunt in the forest, so that he may slay him when off his guard.

The 16th Aventiure, describing this hunt and the murder of Siegfried, is perhaps the most powerful scene in all medieval epic. To heighten the effect of the tragic climax the poet begins with a description of the hunting, and describes the high spirits of Siegfried, who captures a wild boar, rides back with it to camp, and there lets it loose to the great discomfiture of the cooks.

When the hunters sat down to feast, it was found that the wine had been forgotten. Hagen thereupon proposed that they should ' Compare the heel of Achilles.

race to a spring of which he knew some way off in the forest. Siegfried readily agreed, and though handicapped by carrying shield, sword and spear, easily reached the goal first, but waited, with his customary courtesy, until the king had arrived and drunk before slaking his own thirst. Then, laying aside his arms, he stooped and drank. Hagen, seizing the spear, thrust it through the spot marked by Kriemhild on Siegfried's surcoat. The hero sprang up and, finding that his sword had been removed, attacked Hagen with his shield.

Though to death he was wounded he struck so strong a stroke That from the shattered shield-rim forthwith out there broke Showers of flashing jewels; the shield in fragments lay.2 Then reproaching them for their cowardice and treachery, Siegfried fell dying "amid the flowers," while the knights gathered round lamenting. At this point two stanzas may be quoted as well illustrating the poet's power of dramatic characterization: The king of the Burgundians he too bewailed his death: Then spake the dying hero: "Nay, now you waste your breath! You weep for an ill fortune that you yourself have wrought: That is a shameful sorrow: it were better you said nought !" Then out spake the grim Hagen: "I know not why ye plain: This is for us the ending of sorrow and of pain.

Full few are left of foemen that dare withstand us now.

Glad am I that the hero was by this hand of mine laid low !" This account of the death of Siegfried, which embodies the ancient German tradition, is far finer than the northern version, according to which Hogni murders the hero in his bed. The whole spirit of this Aventiure, too, is primitive Teutonic rather than medieval. The same is true, indeed, of the whole of the rest of the poem. Siegfried, to be sure, is buried with all the pomp of medieval Catholic rites; but Kriemhild, while praying for his soul like a good Christian, plots horrible vengeance like her pagan prototype. With this significant difference, however: Gudrun revenged upon her husband the death of her brothers; Kriemhild seeks to revenge upon her brothers the death of her husband. The Catholic bond of marriage has become stronger than the primitive Teutonic bond of kinship. Mistress now of the inexhaustible hoard of the Nibelungs, Kriemhild sought to win a following by lavish largesses; but this Hagen frustrated by seizing the treasure, with the consent of the kings, and sinking it in the Rhine, all taking an oath never to reveal its hidingplace, without the consent of the others, so long as they should live (Avent. xix.). At last, however, after thirteen years, Kriemhild's chance came, with a proposal of marriage from Etzel (Attila) king of the Huns, whom she consented to marry on condition that he would help her to vengeance (Avent. xx.). Then more years passed; old feuds seemed to be forgotten; and the Burgundian kings, in spite of Hagen's warnings, thought it safe to accept their sister's invitation to visit her court (Avent. xxiii. xxiv.).

The journey of the Burgundians into Hunland is described by the poet at great length (Avent. xxv.-xxvii.). The story is full of picturesque detail and stirring incident, full also of interesting problems in folk-lore and mythology; and throughout it is dominated by the figure of the grim Hagen, who, twitted with cowardice and his advice spurned, is determined that there shall be no turning back and that they shall go through with it to the bitter end. With his own hands he ferries the host over the Danube and then, when the last detachment has crossed, destroys the boat, so that there may be no return. At Attila's court (Avent. xxviii.) it is again Hagen who provokes the catastrophe by taunting Kriemhild when she asks him if he has brought with him the hoard of the Nibelungs: "The devil's what I bring you !" Hagen then replied, "What with this heavy harness and my shield beside, I had enough to carry: this helmet bright I brought; My sword is in my right hand, and that, be sure, I bring you not!" The sword was Siegfried's. It is Hagen, too, who after the 2 This last fight with the shield seems to have belonged to the common stock of heroic story. Cf. the account of the death of Hereward "the Wake" given by Geoffrey Gaimar in the Chronicon Anglo-Norm. and adopted by Freeman in his Norman Conquest (1871), iv. 486.

first' onslaught of the Huns strikes off the head of Ortlieb, the son of Etzel and Kriemhild, and who, amid the smoke and carnage of the burning hall, bids the Burgundians drink blood if they are thirsty.

Besides Hagen, during the ride into Hunland and in the final fight, another figure comes to the front, that of Volker the Fiddler, so far only mentioned as a hero of the Saxon war in Avent. ii. He rides fiddling at the head of the host; he plays to the weary warriors in the intervals of the battle in the court of Etzel's palace; but he is also expert at performing other music, with "a strong fiddle-bow, mighty and long, like to a sword, exceeding sharp and broad." He is the type of the medieval knightly minstrel of the age of the Minnesang.

But for all their prowess, after a prolonged struggle (Avent. xxix.-xxxvii.), the Burgundians were at last overwhelmed. Most of the chief figures of heroic saga had come up against them: Attila, Hildebrand, the Ostrogoth Theodoric (Dietrich von Bern). To the last-named even Hagen armed with Siegfried's sword had to yield (Avent. xxxviii.). Kriemhild came to him as he lay in bonds and demanded the Nibelung treasure. He refused to reveal its hiding-place so long as Gunther, also a prisoner, should live. Gunther was accordingly slain by the queen's orders and his head was brought to Hagen, who cried out when he saw it that all had been accomplished as he had foretold: "Now none knows where the hoard is save God and I alone: That to thee, devil-woman, shall nevermore be known !" Whereupon Kriemhild slew him with Siegfried's sword. But Kriemhild was not destined, like Gudrun, to set out on further adventures. Hildebrand, horrified at her deed, sprang forward and cut her to pieces with his sword.

In sorrow now was ended the king's high holiday, As ever joy in sorrow ends and must end alway.

To some MSS. of the Nibelungenlied is added a supplementary poem called the Klage or Lament, a sequel of 2160 short-line couplets, describing the lament of the survivors - notably Etzelover the slain, the burying of the dead, and the carrying of the news to the countries of the Burgundians and others. At the end it is stated. that the story was written down, at the command of Bishop Pilgrim of Passau, by a writer named Konrad (Kuonrat) in'Latin, and that it had since been sung (getichtet) often in the German tongue.

Sources of the Story

The origin and nature of the various elements that go to make up the story of the Nibelungenlied have been, and continue to be, the subject of very lively debate. The view at one time most generally accepted was that first propounded by Karl Lachmann in his "Kritik der Sage von den Nibelungen" (Rheinisches Museum fur Philologie, Num. 249, 250, 1829, republished in his Zu den Nibelungen. .. Anmerkungen in 1836), namely, that the story was originally a myth of the northern gods, modified into a heroic saga after the introduction of Christianity, and intermingled with historical elements. This view is maintained by Richard von Muth in his Einleitung in das Nibelungenlied (Paderborn, 1877), who thus sums up the result of his critical researches: "The basis of all is an old myth of a beneficent divine being (Siegfried), who conquers daemonic powers (the Nibelungen), but is slain by them (the Burgundians turned Nibelungen); with this myth was connected the destruction of the Burgundian kingdom, ascribed to Attila, between 437 and 453, and later the legend of Attila's murder by his wife; in this form, after Attila and Theodoric had been associated in it, the legend penetrated, between 555 and 583, to the North, where its second part was developed in detail on the analogy of older sagas, while in Germany a complete change of the old motif took place." To this theory the objection is raised that it is but a theory; that it is unsupported by any convincing evidence; and that the process which it postulates, that, namely, of the transformation of the gods into heroes by the popular imagination, is contrary to all that we know of the fate of dethroned deities, who are apt to live on in fairy stories in very unheroic guise. So early as 1783 Johannes von Muller of Gottingen had called attention to the historical figures appearing in the Nibelungenlied, identifying Etzel as Attila, Dietrich of Bern as Theodoric of Verona, and the Burgundian kings Gunther, Giselher and Gernot as the Gundaharius, Gislaharius and Godomar of the Lex Burgundiorum; in 1820 Julius Leichtlen (Neuaufgefundenes Bruchstick des Nibelungenliedes, Freiburg-im-Breisgau) roundly declared that "the Nibelungenlied rests entirely on a historical foundation, and that any other attempt to explain it must fail." This view was, however, overborne by the great authority of Lachmann, whose theory, in complete harmony with the principles popularized by the brothers Grimm, was accepted and elaborated by a long series of critics. It is only of late years that criticism has tended to revert to the standpoint of Muller and Leichtlen and to recognize in the story of the Nibelungen as a whole a misty and confused tradition of real events and people. Mythical elements it certainly contains; and to those figures which - like Siegfried, Brunhild, Hagen and the "good margrave" Ruedeger of Bechlaren - cannot be traced definitively to historical originals, a mythical origin is still provisionally ascribed. But criticism is still busy attempting to trace these also to historical originals, and Theodor Abeling (Das Nibelungenlied, 1907) makes out a very plausible case for identifying Siegfried with Segeric, son of the Burgundian king Sigimund, Brunhild with the historical Brunichildis, and Hagen with a certain Hagnericus, who, according to the Life of St Columban, guided the saint (the chaplain of the Nibelungenlied), who had incurred the enmity of Brunichildis, safe to the court of her grandson Theuderich, king of the West Franks.

Herr Abeling's theory of the sources of the Nibelungen story is one among many; but, as it is one of the latest and not the least ingenious, it deserves mention. That the Icelandic Eddas contain the oldest versions of the legend, though divided and incomplete, is universally admitted. It is equally well established,. however, that Iceland could not have been its original home. This Herr Abeling locates among the Franks of what is now southern France, whence the stories spread, from the 6th century onwards, on the one hand across the Rhine into Franconia, on the other hand westwards and northwards, by way of Ireland - at that time in close intercourse with continental Europe - and the northern islands, to Iceland. Hence the two traditions, the German and the Icelandic, of which the latter alone is preserved in something of its primitive form,' though primitive elements survive in the Nibelungenlied. The basis of the story is then, according to this view, historical,. not mythical: a medley of Franco-Burgundian historical traditions, overlaid with mythical fancies. 2 The historical nucleus is the overthrow of the Burgundian kingdom of Gundahar by the Huns in 436; and round this there gathered an accretion of other episodes, equally historical in their origin, however distorted, with a naïve disregard of chronological possibility: the murder of Segeric (c. 525), the murder of Sigimund by the sons of Chrothildis, wife of Clovis (identified by Abeling with Kriemhild), the murder of Attila by his Burgundian wife Ildico (see Kriemhild). In the Eddas the identity of the original Franco-Burgundian sagas is fairly preserved. In the Nibelungenlied, on the other hand, the influence of other wholly unconnected stories is felt: thus Hildebrand appears during the final fight at Etzel's court, and Theodoric the Great (Dietrich von Bern; see THEODORIc), for no better reason than that the Dietrich legend had sent him into exile there, and that he must have been there when the Burgundians arrived.

Origin of the Poem

The controversy as to the underlying elements of the Nibelung legend extends to the question of the authorship and construction of the poem itself. Was it from the first - whatever additions and interpolations may have 1 The Eddas were first written down, as is commonly assumed, by Bishop Saemund Sigfusson (1056-1133).

2 The process of this overlaying is easy to realize if we remember how usual it was to transfer characteristics and episodes drawn from immemorial folk-lore to successive historical personages. A good example is the "Swan-maiden" myth connected with the house of Bouillon (see Lohengrin). See also other interesting cases cited in the chapter on the "Geste of John de Courci" in Mr J. H. Round's Peerage and Pedigree (London, 1910).


conceived as a single, coherent story, or is it based on a number of separate stories, popular ballads akin to the Eddas, which the original author of the Nibelungenlied merely collected and strung together? The answer to these questions has been sought by a succession of scholars in a critical comparison of the medieval MSS. of the poem still surviving. Of these 33 are now known, of which 10 are complete, the rest being more or less fragmentary. The most important are those first discovered, viz. the MSS. lettered C (Hohenems, 1755), B (Schloss Werdenberg, 1769), A (Hohenems, 1779); and round these the others more or less group themselves. They exhibit many differences: put briefly, C is the most perfectly finished in language and rhythm; A is rough, in places barbarous; B stands half-way between the two. Which is nearest to the original? Karl Lachmann (Zu den Nibelungen and zur Klage, Anmerkungen, 1836) decided in favour of A. He applied to the Nibelungenlied the method which Friedrich August Wolf had used to resolve the Iliad and Odyssey into their elements. The poem, according to Lachmann, was based on some twenty popular ballads, originally handed down orally, but written down about 1190 or 1200. This original is lost, and A - as its roughness of form shows - is nearest to it; all other MSS., including B and C, are expansions of A. The great authority of Lachmann made this opinion the prevalent one, and it still has its champions. It was first seriously assailed by Adolf Holtzmann (Untersuchungen fiber das Nib., Stuttgart, 1854), who argued that the original could not have been strophic in form - the fourth lines of the strophes are certainly often of the nature of "padding" - that it was written by Konrad (Kuonrat of the Klage), writer to Bishop Pilgrim of Passau about 970-984, and that of existing MSS. C is nearest to this original, B the copy of a MS. closely akin to C, and A an abbreviated, corrupt copy of B. This view was adopted by Friedrich Zarncke, who made C the basis of his edition of the Nibelungenlied (Leipzig, 1856). Anew hypothesis was developed by Karl Bartsch in his Untersuchungen fiber das Nibelungenlied (Leipzig, 1865). According to this the original was an assonance poem of the 12th century, which was changed between 1190 and 1200 by two separate poets into two versions, in which pure rhymes were substituted for the earlier assonances: the originals of the Nibelungenlied and Der Nibelunge Not respectively. Bartsch's subsequent edition of the Nibelunge Not (1st ed., Leipzig, 1870) was founded on B, as the nearest to the original. To this view Zarncke was so far converted that in the 1887 edition of his Nibelungenlied he admitted that C shows signs of recension and that the B group is purer in certain details.

As a result of all this critical study Herr Abeling comes to the following conclusions. The poem was first written down by a wandering minstrel about 971 to 991, was remodelled about 1140 by Konrad,' who introduced interpolations in the spirit of chivalry and was perhaps responsible for the metre; during the wars and miseries of the next fifty years manners and taste became barbarized and the fine traditions of the old popular poetry were obscured, and it was under this influence that, about 1190, a jongleur (Spielmann) revised the poem, this recension being represented by group B. After 1190, during the Golden Age of the art poetry (Kunstdichtung) of the Minnesingers, a professional poet (Rudolf von Ems?) again remodelled the poem, introducing further interpolations, and changing the title from Der Nibelunge Not into Das Nibelungenliet, this version being the basis of the group C. The MS. A, as proved by its partial excellence, is based directly on Konrad's work, with additions borrowed from B.

1 Bartsch and others ascribe its authorship, with much plausibility, to an Austrian knight of the race of Kiirenberg, the earliest of the courtly lyric poets, whose lyrics are written in the Nibelung strophe. Thus compare Kiirenberg's lyric (Lachmann and Haupt, Des Minnesangs Friihling, 4th ed., F. Vogt, Leipzig, 1888) "Ich zoch mir eineri valken mere danne ein jar" with the Nibelungen Not (Bartsch) Av. i. 13 "troumte Kriemhilde.

Wie sie zi ge einen valken, starc scoen' and Wilde." Theodor Abeling (Das Nibelungenlied and seine Literatur (Leipzig, 1907) gives a full bibliography, embracing 1272 references from 1756 to 1905. There are English translations of the poem by A. G. FosterBarham (1887), Margaret Armour (prose, 1897) and Alice Horton (1898). (W. A. P.)

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Simple English

's image: Hagen orders the hoard to be sunk in the Rhine]]

The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem in Middle High German. It tells the story of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, and of the revenge of his wife Kriemhild, which leads to the death all the heroes of the Bugundians and of Kriemhild as well.

The saga of Siegfried was also used in the opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen of Richard Wagner. Nibelung in this context means "dwarf".

The Nibelungenlied is based on earlier works. It was part of oral tradition, meaning it usually was not written down. During the Middle Ages people started to write down stories more and more. Overall there are about 35 German sources and one Dutch source for the story. There was an original manuscript but it has been lost. The three oldest manuscripts have been labelled A, B, and C.

B seems to be closest to the original; however, the real relation between the three manuscripts is unknown. The Nibelungenlied probably had a broad oral tradition, as there were many different versions. It is difficult to judge how these oral versions influenced the written ones.

Manuscripts A and B end with daz ist der Nibelunge not (that is the fall of the Nibelungs); for this reasons, they are known as the Not versions. Manuscript C ends with daz ist der Nibelunge liet (that is the song/epic of the Nibelungs. It is known as the Lied-version. In total, the C text has been edited with regard to the public of the time. It is less dramatic. This probably made it more popular. Aesthetically, the B text would have been the greatest artistic achievement for a contemporary public.

Who wrote it?

The author who wrote down the original that is now lost is unknown. However, there are a few candidates:

  • Der von Kürenberg - He wrote very similar poems, and one poem the Falkenlied (falcons' song) is reflected in a dream by Kriemhild. Most researchers however believe that he lived before the Nibelungenlied was written down.
  • Walther von der Vogelweide - He has a very similar vocabulary (this can also be expalined by the fact that he lived in the same area though). His fundamental views were very different from those expressed in the Nibelungenlied though.
  • Bligger von Steinach
  • Konrad von Fußesbrunnen- He wrote a 3.000 line poem The Childhood of Jesus, and was active around Passau. His style is totally different from that of the Nibelungenlied.
  • An unknown nun of the monastery in Passau; The monastery of Passau, the city and its merchants are mentioned in the song. This is probably because they financed part of it, not because the author was from there.

Serious researchers tend to ignore the last three options, because there is not enough evidence to support them.

The well-known introduction

Middle High German original Shumway translation

Uns ist in alten mæren wunders vil geseit
von helden lobebæren, von grôzer arebeit,
von freuden, hôchgezîten, von weinen und von klagen,
von küener recken strîten muget ir nu wunder hœren sagen

Full many a wonder is told us in stories old,
of heroes worthy of praise, of hardships dire,
of joy and feasting, of weeping and of wailing;
of the fighting of bold warriors, now ye may hear wonders told.

This was probably not in the original though, but added later. The original probably began by introducing Kriemhild:

Middle High German original Needler translation

Ez wuohs in Burgonden      ein vil edel magedîn,
daz in allen landen      niht schoeners möhte sîn,
Kriemhild geheizen.      Si wart ein schoene wîp.
dar umbe muosen degene      vil verliesen den lîp.

There once grew up in Burgundy / a maid of noble birth,
Nor might there be a fairer / than she in all the earth:
Kriemhild hight the maiden, / and grew a dame full fair,
Through whom high thanes a many / to lose their lives soon doomed were.

Other websites

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English translations:

mrj:Нибелунгын мырыжы


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