Nibelungenlied
Overview
 
The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 in Middle High German
Middle High German
Middle High German , abbreviated MHG , is the term used for the period in the history of the German language between 1050 and 1350. It is preceded by Old High German and followed by Early New High German...

. The story tells of dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

-slayer Siegfried
Sigurd
Sigurd is a legendary hero of Norse mythology, as well as the central character in the Völsunga saga. The earliest extant representations for his legend come in pictorial form from seven runestones in Sweden and most notably the Ramsund carving Sigurd (Old Norse: Sigurðr) is a legendary hero of...

 at the court of the Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild
Gudrun
Gudrun is a major figure in the early Germanic literature centered on the hero Sigurd, son of Sigmund. She appears as Kriemhild in the Nibelungenlied and as Gutrune in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.-Norse mythology:...

's revenge.

The Nibelungenlied is based on pre-Christian Germanic
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

 heroic motifs (the "Nibelungensaga"), which include oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries.
Encyclopedia
The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 in Middle High German
Middle High German
Middle High German , abbreviated MHG , is the term used for the period in the history of the German language between 1050 and 1350. It is preceded by Old High German and followed by Early New High German...

. The story tells of dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

-slayer Siegfried
Sigurd
Sigurd is a legendary hero of Norse mythology, as well as the central character in the Völsunga saga. The earliest extant representations for his legend come in pictorial form from seven runestones in Sweden and most notably the Ramsund carving Sigurd (Old Norse: Sigurðr) is a legendary hero of...

 at the court of the Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild
Gudrun
Gudrun is a major figure in the early Germanic literature centered on the hero Sigurd, son of Sigmund. She appears as Kriemhild in the Nibelungenlied and as Gutrune in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.-Norse mythology:...

's revenge.

The Nibelungenlied is based on pre-Christian Germanic
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

 heroic motifs (the "Nibelungensaga"), which include oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries. Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 parallels of the legend survive in the Völsunga saga
Volsunga saga
The Völsungasaga is a legendary saga, a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan . It is largely based on epic poetry...

, the Prose Edda
Prose Edda
The Prose Edda, also known as the Younger Edda, Snorri's Edda or simply Edda, is an Icelandic collection of four sections interspersed with excerpts from earlier skaldic and Eddic poetry containing tales from Nordic mythology...

, the Poetic Edda
Poetic Edda
The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems primarily preserved in the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius. Along with Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda is the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends, and from the early 19th century...

, the Legend of Norna-Gest
Norna-Gests þáttr
Norna-Gests þáttr or the Story of Norna-Gest is a legendary saga about the Norse hero Norna-Gest.-Summary:Norna-Gest was the son of a Danish man named Thord of Thinghusbit, who once dwelt on the estate of Grøning in Denmark. When he was born, three Norns arrived and had foretold the child's...

, and the Þiðrekssaga.

In 2009, the three main manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied were inscribed in UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

’s Memory of the World Register in recognition of their historical significance.

Manuscript sources

The poem in its various written forms was lost by the end of the 16th century, but manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

s 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. 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
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

 (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
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

.

The manuscripts sources deviate considerably from one another. Philologists
Philology
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

 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
Karl Lachmann
Karl Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Lachmann was a German philologist and critic.-Biography:He was born in Brunswick, in what is now Lower Saxony....

 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).

Authorship

Prevailing scholarly theories strongly suggest that the written Nibelungenlied is the work of an anonymous poet from the area of the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 between Passau
Passau
Passau is a town in Lower Bavaria, Germany. It is also known as the Dreiflüssestadt or "City of Three Rivers," because the Danube is joined at Passau by the Inn from the south and the Ilz from the north....

 and Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, dating from about 1180
12th century in poetry
-Events:* Emergence of the troubadour, trouvère and minnesänger traditions, in the Occitan, Langues d'oïl and Middle High German vernaculars respectively-Major works:* 1180 to 1210 - Nibelunglied...

 to 1210
13th century in poetry
- Events :* The Sicilian School, Dolce Stil Novo, and later the Tuscan School mark the emergence of literary Italian- Works :* Nibelunglied written approximately 1180–1210* Lucas de Tuy and others, Chronicon Mundi ; Spain...

, possibly at the court of Wolfger von Erla, the bishop of Passau
Bishop of Passau
The Diocese of Passau is a diocese of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic church in Germany. It is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of München und Freising. The diocese covers an area of 5,442 km². The current bishop is Wilhelm Schraml.-History:...

 (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
German studies
German studies is the field of humanities that researches, documents, and disseminates German language and literature in both its historic and present forms. Academic departments of German studies often include classes on German culture, German history, and German politics in addition to the...

 has a long and intense history. Among the names suggested were Konrad von Fußesbrunnen, Bligger von Steinach
Bligger von Steinach
Bligger von Steinach was a the name of a series of feudal lords of Steinach, today Neckarsteinach in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Collectively the noble family was known as the Edelfreien von Steinach. The family was influential, having close connections to the Holy Roman Emperor and to the...

 and Walther von der Vogelweide
Walther von der Vogelweide
Walther von der Vogelweide is the most celebrated of the Middle High German lyric poets.-Life history:For all his fame, Walther's name is not found in contemporary records, with the exception of a solitary mention in the travelling accounts of Bishop Wolfger of Erla of the Passau diocese:...

. None of these hypotheses has wide acceptance, and mainstream scholarship today accepts that the author's name cannot be established.

Synopsis

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.
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 Burgundians to the court of Etzel, and their last stand in Etzel's hall (Chapters 20-39).

Siegfried and Kriemhild

The first chapter introduces the court of Burgundy
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

. Kriemhild (the virgin sister of King Gunther
Gunther
Gunther is the German name of a semi-legendary king of Burgundy of the early 5th century...

, and his brothers Gernot and Giselher
Giselher
Giselher is a king of Burgundy in the Nibelungenlied, brother to kings Gunther and Gernot. Historically, these correspond to three sons of king Gebicca, Gundomar, Gislaharius , and Gundaharius , who ruled the Burgundians in the 410s...

) 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
Sigurd
Sigurd is a legendary hero of Norse mythology, as well as the central character in the Völsunga saga. The earliest extant representations for his legend come in pictorial form from seven runestones in Sweden and most notably the Ramsund carving Sigurd (Old Norse: Sigurðr) is a legendary hero of...

, crown prince of Xanten
Xanten
Xanten is a historic town in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany, located in the district of Wesel.Xanten is known for the Archaeological Park or archaeological open air museum , its medieval picturesque city centre with Xanten Cathedral and many museums, its large man-made lake for...

. His youth is narrated with little room for the adventures later attributed to him. In the third chapter, Siegfried arrives in Worms
Worms, Germany
Worms is a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, on the Rhine River. At the end of 2004, it had 85,829 inhabitants.Established by the Celts, who called it Borbetomagus, Worms today remains embattled with the cities Trier and Cologne over the title of "Oldest City in Germany." Worms is the only...

 with the hopes of wooing Kriemhild. Upon his arrival, Hagen von Tronje
Hagen (legend)
Hagen or Högni is a Burgundian warrior in tales about the Burgundian kingdom at Worms. Hagen is often identified as a brother or half-brother of King Gunther .In the Nibelungenlied, he is called Hagen of 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
Tilia
Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. The greatest species diversity is found in Asia, and the genus also occurs in Europe and eastern North America, but not western North America...

, 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
Saxons
The Saxons were a confederation of Germanic tribes originating on the North German plain. The Saxons earliest known area of settlement is Northern Albingia, an area approximately that of modern Holstein...

.

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
Cloak
A cloak is a type of loose garment that is worn over indoor clothing and serves the same purpose as an overcoat; it protects the wearer from the cold, rain or wind for example, or it may form part of a fashionable outfit or uniform. Cloaks are as old as human history; there has nearly always been...

, 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.
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 Siegfried 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
Vassal
A vassal or feudatory is a person who has entered into a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support and mutual protection, in exchange for certain privileges, usually including the grant of land held...

 (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
Worms Cathedral
Cathedral of St Peter is a church in Worms, southern Germany. It was the seat of the Catholic Prince-Bishopric of Worms until its extinction in 1800.It is a basilica with four round towers, two large domes, and a choir at each end...

, 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
Hagen (legend)
Hagen or Högni is a Burgundian warrior in tales about the Burgundian kingdom at Worms. Hagen is often identified as a brother or half-brother of King Gunther .In the Nibelungenlied, he is called Hagen of 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). 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.

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
Attila the Hun
Attila , more frequently referred to as Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire, which stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea. During his reign he was one of the most feared...

) 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
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

, to a feast at Etzel's castle in Hungary
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

. Hagen does not want to go, but is taunted until he does: he realizes that it is a trick of Kriemhild in order to take revenge and kill them all. As the Burgundians cross the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

, this fate is confirmed by Nix
Nix
The Neck/Nixie are shapeshifting water spirits who usually appear in human form. The spirit has appeared in the myths and legends of all Germanic peoples in Europe....

es, 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.

The Burgundians arrive at Etzel's castle and are welcomed by Kriemhild "with lying smiles and graces". But the lord Dietrich of Bern
Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

, 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's 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
Hildebrand
Hildebrand is a character from Germanic legend. Hildebrand is the modern German form of the name: in Old High German it is Hiltibrant and in Old Norse Hildibrandr. The word hild means "battle" and brand means "sword"...

, 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
Migration Period
The Migration Period, also called the Barbarian Invasions , was a period of intensified human migration in Europe that occurred from c. 400 to 800 CE. This period marked the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages...

, in particular the defeat of the Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

 by Flavius Aëtius
Flavius Aëtius
Flavius Aëtius , dux et patricius, was a Roman general of the closing period of the Western Roman Empire. He was an able military commander and the most influential man in the Western Roman Empire for two decades . He managed policy in regard to the attacks of barbarian peoples pressing on the Empire...

 with the aid of Hunnic
Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

 mercenaries near Worms
Worms, Germany
Worms is a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, on the Rhine River. At the end of 2004, it had 85,829 inhabitants.Established by the Celts, who called it Borbetomagus, Worms today remains embattled with the cities Trier and Cologne over the title of "Oldest City in Germany." Worms is the only...

 in ca. AD 436. Other possible influences are the feud between the 6th century Merovingian queens Brunhilda
Brunhilda of Austrasia
Brunhilda was a Visigothic princess, married to king Sigebert I of Austrasia who ruled the eastern kingdoms of Austrasia and Burgundy in the names of her sons and grandsons...

 and Fredegunde, as well as the marriage of Attila with the Burgundian princess Ildikó in AD 453.

From the evidence of Waltharius
Waltharius
Waltharius, a Latin poem founded on German popular tradition, relates the exploits of the west Gothic hero Walter of Aquitaine.-History:Our knowledge of the author, Ekkehard, a monk of St. Gall, is due to a later Ekkehard, known as Ekkehard IV , who gives some account of him in the Casus Sancti Galli...

 Nibelung is a part of the name for Franks, although there are other uses of the name in other medieval texts. The Nibelungenlied combines a first part dealing with Gunther's wooing of Brünhild and the Murder of Siegfried which takes place in Worms, with a second part, describing the journey of the Nibelungs east across the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 to Etzelburg, the residence of Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun
Attila , more frequently referred to as Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire, which stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea. During his reign he was one of the most feared...

 (Etzel), the location of the final catastrophe.
The Nibelungenlied arranges these traditional materials in a composition aiming at a High Medieval audience casting the inherited Germanic theme in a critical view of contemporary chivalry. Consequently, Siegfried changes from a dragon killer to a courtly 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 Brünhild) 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, but is probably part of the original story. The bloody conclusion is also part of the overall critical dimension of the work.

Some scholars, particularly Delbrück
Hans Delbrück
Hans Delbrück was a German historian. Delbrück was one of the first modern military historians, basing his method of research on the critical examination of ancient sources, the use of auxiliary disciplines, like demography and economics, to complete the analysis and the comparison between...

, consider the historical figure of Arminius
Arminius
Arminius , also known as Armin or Hermann was a chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci who defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest...

 (Hermann), who defeated the Roman imperial legions (clad in scale armour
Scale armour
Scale armour is an early form of armour sometimes erroneously called scale mail consisting of many individual small armour scales of various shapes attached to each other and to a backing of cloth or leather in overlapping rows. Scale armour was worn by warriors of many different cultures as well...

) at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, a possible archetype for the dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

-slayer Siegfried.

Legacy

An early critic labeled it a German Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

, 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.

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 regime of National Socialism (Nazism), 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
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 to describe the alliance between the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 and Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

, as well as trying to inspire the army when referring to the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

.

The word Nibelung
Nibelung
The German Nibelungen and the corresponding Old Norse form Niflung is the name in Germanic and Norse mythology of the royal family or lineage of the Burgundians who settled at Worms....

en is applied to the followers of Siegfried and finally to the Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

 which are portrayed in the poem.

In October 2006, USA Today
USA Today
USA Today is a national American daily newspaper published by the Gannett Company. It was founded by Al Neuharth. The newspaper vies with The Wall Street Journal for the position of having the widest circulation of any newspaper in the United States, something it previously held since 2003...

 listed Siegfried as #7 on their list of Imaginary Luminaries: the 101 most influential people who never lived. http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-10-16-influential-people-list_x.htm

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
Dolchstosslegende
The stab-in-the-back legend is the notion, widely believed in right-wing circles in Germany after 1918, that the German Army did not lose World War I but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front, especially the republicans who overthrew the monarchy...

 (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.

Adaptations

The Nibelungenlied, Thidreks saga and the Völsunga saga served as source materials for Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

's Der Ring des Nibelungen
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Der Ring des Nibelungen is a cycle of four epic operas by the German composer Richard Wagner . The works are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied...

 (The Ring of the Nibelung), a series of four music dramas popularly known as the "Ring Cycle".

In 1924, Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n-American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 director Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

 made a duology of silent
Silent film
A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime and title cards...

 fantasy film
Fantasy film
Fantasy films are films with fantastic themes, usually involving magic, supernatural events, make-believe creatures, or exotic fantasy worlds. The genre is considered to be distinct from science fiction film and horror film, although the genres do overlap...

s of the epic: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache. Lang and Thea von Harbou
Thea von Harbou
Thea Gabriele von Harbou was a German actress, author and film director of Prussian aristocratic origin. She was born in Tauperlitz in the Kingdom of Bavaria.-Early work:...

 wrote the screenplay for the first film; von Harbou has the sole screenwriting credit on the second. Margarete Schön
Margarete Schön
Margarete Schön was a German stage and film actress whose career spanned nearly fifty years. She is possibly best recalled internationally for her role as Kriemhild in director Fritz Lang's 1924 series of two silent fantasy films Die Nibelungen - Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Nibelungen:...

 portayed Kriemhild, Paul Richter
Paul Richter
Paul Richter was an Austrian film actor. He married the actress Aud Egede-Nissen and was stepfather to Georg Richter.-Selected filmography:* The Indian Tomb * Die Nibelungen * The Sorceror...

 portayed Siegfried and Hanna Ralph
Hanna Ralph
Hanna Ralph was a German stage and film actress whose career began on the stage and in silent film in the 1910s and continued through the early 1950s.-Career:...

 portrayed Brunhild. Remakes were made in 1966.

The premise of the Nibelungenlied was made into a miniseries
Miniseries
A miniseries , in a serial storytelling medium, is a television show production which tells a story in a limited number of episodes. The exact number is open to interpretation; however, they are usually limited to fewer than a whole season. The term "miniseries" is generally a North American term...

 called Ring of the Nibelungs
Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King
Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King is a fantasy film and mini-series based on the Norse mythology story Völsungasaga and the German epic poem Nibelungenlied, which tells the mythological story of Siegfried the Dragon-Slayer...

 (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 Brünhild 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
Syfy
Syfy , formerly known as the Sci-Fi Channel and SCI FI, is an American cable television channel featuring science fiction, supernatural, fantasy, reality, paranormal, wrestling, and horror programming. Launched on September 24, 1992, it is part of the entertainment conglomerate NBCUniversal, a...

, it is broadcast with title Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King
Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King
Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King is a fantasy film and mini-series based on the Norse mythology story Völsungasaga and the German epic poem Nibelungenlied, which tells the mythological story of Siegfried the Dragon-Slayer...

 (2006).

Editions

  • 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". (Deemed the most accurate of the "older translations" in Encyclopedia of literary translation into English: M-Z, Volume 2, edited by Olive Classe, 2000, Taylor & Francis, pp. 999-1000.)
  • Margaret Armour, Translator. Franz Schoenberner, Introduction. Edy Legrand, Illustrator. The Nibelungenlied, Heritage Press, New York, 1961
  • A.T. Hatto, The Nibelungenlied, Penguin Classics 1964. English translation and extensive critical and historical appendices.
  • Michael S. Batts. Das Nibelungenlied, critical edition, Tübingen: M. Niemeyer 1971. ISBN 3-484-10149-0
  • Helmut de Boor
    Helmut de Boor
    Helmut de Boor was a German medievalist.-Life and career:Helmut de Boor was the third child of the Byzantine studies scholar Carl Gotthard de Boor. He was educated in Breslau and attended the Universities of Freiburg, Marburg and Leipzig...

    . 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.
  • Robert Lichtenstein. The Nibelungenlied, Translated and introduced by Robert Lichtenstein. (Studies in German Language and Literature Number: 9). Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. ISBN 10: 0-7734-9470-7. ISBN 13: 978-0-7734-9470-1.
  • Hermann Reichert, Das Nibelungenlied, Berlin: de Gruyter 2005. VII, ISBN 3-11-018423-0. Edition of manuscript B, normalized text; introduction in German.
  • Ursula Schulze, Das Nibelungenlied, based on manuscript C, Düsseldorf / Zürich: Artemis & Winkler 2005. ISBN 3-538-06990-5.
  • Burton Raffel
    Burton Raffel
    Burton Raffel is a translator, a poet and a teacher. He has translated many poems, including the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, poems by Horace, and Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais. In 1964, Raffel recorded an album along with Robert P...

    , Das Nibelungenlied, new translation. Foreword by Michael Dirda
    Michael Dirda
    Michael Dirda , a Fulbright Fellowship recipient, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the Washington Post.-Career:Having studied at Oberlin College for his undergraduate degree, Dirda took a Ph.D. from Cornell University in comparative literature. In 1978 Dirda started writing for the...

    . Introduction by Edward R. Haymes. Yale University Press 2006. ISBN 13: 978-0-300-11320-4. ISBN 10: 0-300-11320-X
  • 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).

External links


English translations

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