Part 4 out of 8
Rome's father sits sublime.
_Conington's Translation, Book IX_.
Beowulf, the only Anglo-Saxon epic preserved entire, was composed in
southwest Sweden probably before the eighth century, and taken to England,
where it was worked over and Christianized by the Northumbrian poets.
It is variously attributed to the fifth, seventh, and eighth centuries;
but the seventh is most probably correct, since the Higelac of the poem
has been identified with Chocilaicus of the "Gesta Regum Francorum," a
Danish king who invaded Gaul in the days of Theuderic, son of Clovis, and
died near the close of the sixth century.
The only manuscript of the poem in existence is thought to be of the tenth
century. It is preserved in the British Museum. Since 1837 much interest
has been manifested in the poem, and many editions of it have been given
to the public.
Beowulf contains three thousand one hundred and eighty-four lines. It is
written in alliterative verse. The lines are written in pairs, and each
perfect line contains three alliterating words,--two in the first part,
and one in the second.
The unknown writer of Beowulf cannot be praised for his skill in
composition; the verse is rude, as was the language in which it was
written. But it is of the greatest interest to us because of the pictures
it gives of the everyday lives of the people whose heroic deeds it
relates,--the drinking in the mead-halls, the relation of the king to his
warriors, the description of the armor, the ships, and the halls. The
heroes are true Anglo-Saxon types,--bold, fearless, ready to go to the
assistance of any one in trouble, no matter how great the risk to
themselves; and as ready to drink mead and boast of their valor after the
peril is over. In spite of the attempt to Christianize the poem, it is
purely pagan; the most careless reader can discover the priestly
interpolations. And it has the greater value to us because it refused to
be moulded by priestly hands, but remained the rude but heroic monument of
our Saxon ancestors.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM, BEOWULF.
B. Ten Brink's Early English Literature, Tr. by Kennedy;
S. A. Brooke's History of Early English Literature, 1892, p. 12;
W. F. Collier's History of English Literature, p. 19;
G. W. Cox and E. H. Jones's Popular Romances of the Middle Ages, 1871, pp.
382-398; in 1880 ed. pp. 189-201;
Isaac Disraeli's Amenities of Literature, i. 65-73;
J. Earle's Anglo-Saxon Literature;
T. W. Hunt's Ethical Teaching in Beowulf (in his Ethical Teachings in Old
English Literature, 1892, pp. 66-77);
H. Morley's English Writers, 1887, pp. 276-354;
H. A. Taine's History of English Literature, 1886, i. 62;
S. Turner's Anglo-Saxons, iii. 326; in ed. 3, i. 456;
J. Harrison's Old Teutonic Life in Beowulf (in the Overland Monthly, July,
F. A. March's The World of Beowulf (in Proceedings of American
Philological Association, 1882).
STANDARD ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS, BEOWULF.
Beowulf, edition with English translation, notes and glossary by Thomas
The Deeds of Beowulf, 1892;
Beowulf, Tr. by J. M. Garnett, 1882 (translated line for line);
Beowulf, Tr. by J. L. Hall, 1892, metrical translation;
Beowulf, Tr. by J. M. Kemble, with copious glossary, preface, and
philological notes, 2 vols., 1833-37;
Beowulf translated into modern rhymes, by H. W. Lumsden, 1881;
Beowulf, Tr. by Benjamin Thorpe, Literal translation, notes and glossary,
THE STORY OF BEOWULF.
A mighty man was Scyld, ruler of the Gar-Danes. From far across the
whale-path men paid him tribute and bore witness to his power. Beowulf was
his son, a youth endowed with glory, whose fame spread far and wide
through all the Danish land.
When the time came for Scyld to die he ordered his thanes to prepare the
ring-stemmed ship, laden with treasures, battle-weed, and swords, and
place him in the death-chamber. Laden with his people's gifts, and sailing
under a golden banner, he passed from sight, none knew whither.
After him ruled Beowulf, and after him Healfdene,--brave warriors and kind
monarchs. When, after Healfdene's death, his son Hrothgar succeeded him,
his fame in war inclined all his kinsmen towards him, and he, too, became
a mighty monarch.
To the mind of Hrothgar it came to build a lordly mead-hall where he and
his men could find pleasure in feasting, drinking mead, and hearing the
songs of the minstrels. Heorot it was called, and when its high spires
rose glistening in the air, all hailed it with delight.
But, alas! The joy in hall, the melody of the harp, and the shouts of the
warriors penetrated to the dismal fen where lay concealed the monster
Grendel, descendant of sin-cursed Cain. At night came Grendel to the hall,
found sleeping the troop of warriors, and bore away in his foul hands
thirty of the honored thanes. Great was the sorrow in Heorot when in the
morning twilight the deed of Grendel became known.
For twelve long winters did this sorrow continue; for so long a time was
Hrothgar plunged in grief; for so many years did this beautiful mead-hall,
destined for joyful things, stand idle.
While thus the grief-stricken lord of the Scyldings brooded over his
wrongs, and the people besought their idols vainly for aid, the tidings of
Grendel's ravages were conveyed to the court of the Gothic king, Higelac,
and thus reached the ears of a highborn thane, Beowulf. A strong man was
he, his grasp equal to that of thirty men.
Straightway commanded he a goodly ship to be made ready, chose fifteen of
his bravest Goths, and swiftly they sailed over the swan-path to the great
headlands and bright sea-cliffs of the Scyldings.
High on the promontory stood the guard of Hrothgar. "What men be ye who
hither come?" cried he. "Not foes, surely. Ye know no pass word, yet
surely ye come on no evil errand. Ne'er saw I a greater lord than he who
leads the band. Who are ye?"
"Higelac's man am I," answered the leader. "Ecgtheow, my sire; my name,
Beowulf. Lead me, I pray thee, to thy lord, for I have come over seas to
free him forever from his secret foe, and to lift the cloud that hangs
over the stately mead-hall."
Over the stone-paved streets the warder led the warriors, their armor
clanking, their boar-tipped helmets sparkling, to the goodly hall, Heorot.
There were they warmly welcomed, for Hrothgar had known Beowulf's sire;
the fame of the young man's strength had also reached him, and he trusted
that in his strong grasp Grendel should die.
All took their seats on the mead-benches, and a thane passed from warrior
to warrior, bearing the chased wine-cup. Sweet was the minstrel's song,
and the warriors were happy in Heorot.
But Hunferd sat at the banquet, and envious of Beowulf's fame, taunted him
with his swimming match with Breca. "Seven days and nights thou didst swim
with Breca; but he was stronger, and he won. Worse will befall thee, if
thou dar'st this night await Grendel!"
"Easy it is to brag of Breca's deeds when drunk with beer, friend
Hunferd!" replied Beowulf. "Seven days and nights I swam through the
sea-water, slaying the monsters of the deep. Rough was the wave, terrible
were the water beasts; but I reached the Finnish land. Wert thou as brave
as thou claim'st to be, Grendel would ne'er have wrought such havoc in thy
Decked with gold, Queen Waltheow passed through the hall, greeted the
warriors, and proffered the mead-cup to Beowulf, thanking God that she had
found an earl who would deliver them from their enemy.
When dusky night fell over Heorot, the king uprose. "To no other man have
I ever entrusted this hall of gold. Have now and keep it! Great reward
shall be thine if thou come forth alive!"
The knights left in the lordly hall composed themselves for slumber, all
save Beowulf, who, unarmed, awaited the coming of Grendel.
He came, with wrathful step and eyes aflame, bursting open the iron bolts
of the great door, and laughing at the goodly array of men sleeping before
him. On one he laid hands and drank his blood; then he clutched the
Ne'er had he found a foe like this! Fearful, he turned to flee to his home
in the fen, but the grip of Beowulf forbade flight. Strongly was Heorot
builded, but many a gilded mead-bench was torn from the walls as the two
combated within the hall. The sword blade was of no avail, and him must
Beowulf bring to death by the strength of his grip alone. At last, with a
scream that struck terror to every Dane's heart, the monster sprang from
Beowulf and fled, leaving in the warrior's grasp his arm and shoulder.
Great was Beowulf's joy, for he knew that the wound meant death.
When the king and queen came forth in the morning with their nobles and
maids, and saw the grisly arm of Grendel fastened upon the roof of Heorot,
they gave themselves up to rejoicing. Gifts were heaped upon Beowulf,--a
golden crest, a banner bright, a great and goodly sword and helm and
corselet, eight steeds with headstalls ornamented with gold plate, and a
richly decorated saddle. Nor were his comrades forgotten, but to each were
given rich gifts.
When the mead-hall had been cleansed and refitted, they gathered therein
and listened to the song of the bard who told how Healfdene's knight,
Hnaef, smote Finn. The song over, the queen, crowned with gold, gave gifts
to Beowulf, the liberator from the horrors of Grendel,--two armlets, a
necklace, raiment, and rings. When the drinking and feasting were over,
the king and Beowulf withdrew, leaving many earls to keep the hall. Little
guessed they that one of them was that night doomed to die!
The haunt of Grendel was a mile-wide mere. Around it were wolf-haunted
cliffs, windy promontories, mist-covered mountains. Close around the mere
hung the woods, shrouding the water, which, horrible sight, was each night
covered with fire. It was a place accursed; near it no man might dwell;
the deer that plunged therein straightway died.
In a palace under the mere dwelt Grendel and his mother; she, a foul
sprite, whom the peasants had sometimes seen walking with her son over the
meadows. From her dwelling-place she now came forth to avenge the death of
her son, and snatched away from the group of sleeping Ring-Danes the good
AEschere, dearest of all his thanes to Hrothgar.
Loud was Hrothgar's wailing when at morning Beowulf came forth from his
"Sorrow not, O wise man," spake Beowulf. "I fear not. I will seek out this
monster and destroy her. If I come not back it will at least be better
than to have lost my glory. She can never hide from me. I ween that I will
this day rid thee of thine enemy."
Accompanied by Hrothgar, some of the Ring-Danes and his Goths, Beowulf
sought the dismal mere, on whose brink they found the head of AEschere.
Among the bloody waves swam horrible shapes, Nicors and sea-drakes, that
fled at a blast of the war-horn. Beowulf slew one of the monsters, and
while his companions were marvelling at the grisly form, he prepared
himself for the combat. His breast was guarded by a coat of mail woven
most cunningly; upon his head shone the gold-adorned helmet, and in his
hand was Hunferd's sword, Hrunting, made of iron steeped in twigs of
bitter poison, annealed in battle blood, and fearful to every foe.
"Hearken unto me, O Hrothgar," cried the hero. "If I return not, treat
well my comrades and send my gifts to Higelac, that he may see the deed I
have accomplished, and the generous ring-lord I have gained among the
Scyldings." And without waiting for a reply, he leaped into the waves and
was lost to sight.
There was the monster waiting for him; and catching him in her grip, which
bruised him not because of his strong mail-coat, she dragged him to her
cave, in whose lighted hall he could see the horrible features of the
woman of the mere. Strong was Hrunting, but of no avail was its mighty
blade against her. Soon he threw it down, and gripped her, reckless of
peril. Once he threw her on the ground, but the second time she threw him,
and drew her glaive to pierce his breast. Strong was the linked mail, and
Beowulf was safe. Then his quick eye lighted on a sword,--a magic, giant
sword; few men could wield it. Quickly he grasped it, and smote the neck
of the sea-woman. Broken were the bone-rings, and down she fell dead. Then
Ecgtheow's son looked around the hall and saw the body of the dead
Grendel. Thirsting to take his revenge, he smote him with his sword. Off
flew the head; but when the red drops of blood touched the magic blade it
melted, leaving but the massive golden hilt in the hands of the hero.
Beowulf took no treasure from the cave, but rose through the waves,
carrying only the head of the monster and the hilt of the sword.
When Hrothgar and his men saw the mere red and boiling with blood they
deemed that Beowulf was dead, and departed to their citadel. Sorrowful sat
the comrades of Beowulf, waiting and hoping against hope for his
reappearance. Up sprang they when they saw him, joyfully greeted him,
relieved him of his bloody armor, and conducted him to Hrothgar,
bearing--a heavy task--the head of Grendel.
When Hrothgar saw the hideous head and the mighty sword-hilt, whose
history he read from its Runic inscriptions, he hailed Beowulf with joy,
and proclaimed him the mightiest of men. "But ever temper thy might with
wisdom," advised the king, "that thou suffer not the end of Heremod, or be
punished as I have been, in this my spacious mead-hall."
After a night's rest, Beowulf prepared to return to his country. Returning
Hrunting to Hunferd, he praised the sword, saying nothing of its failure
in the fight. Then to Hrothgar: "Farewell. If e'er thou art harried by
foes, but let me know,--a thousand fighting men I'll bring. Higelac, well
I know, will urge me on to honor thee. If e'er thy son seeks Gothic halls,
I will intercede and win friends for him."
The old king, weeping, bade Beowulf farewell. "Peace be forever between
the Goths and the Gar-Danes; in common their treasures! May gifts be
interchanged between them!"
The bark was filled with the gifts heaped upon Beowulf and his men; and
the warder, who had hailed them so proudly at their coming, now bade them
an affectionate farewell. Over the swan-path sailed they, and soon reached
the Gothic coast, and landed their treasures.
Then went Beowulf before Higelac and told him of his adventures. Higelac
was a mighty king; lofty his house and hall, and fair and gentle was his
wife, Hygd. To him, after he had related his adventures, Beowulf presented
the boar-head crest, the battle-mail and sword, four of the steeds, and
much treasure, and upon the wise and modest Hygd bestowed he the wondrous
necklace given him by Waltheow. So should a good thane ever do!
There had been a time when Beowulf was accounted a sluggish knight, but
now the land rang with his glory.
When Higelac died and Hardred was slain, Beowulf succeeded to the throne,
and for fifty years ruled the people gloriously.
At this time a great fire-drake cherished a vast hoard in a cave on a high
cliff, difficult of access, and known to few men. Thither one day fled a
thrall from his master's wrath, and saw the hoard buried by some weary
warrior, and now guarded by the dragon. While the drake slept, the thrall
crept in and stole a cup as a peace-offering to his master.
When the drake awoke, he scented the foot-prints of the foe, and
discovered his loss. When even was come, he hastened to wreak his revenge
on the people, spewing out flames of fire, and laying waste the land.
Far and near were the lands of the Goths devastated, and ere long, tidings
were borne to Beowulf that his great hall, his gift seat, was destroyed by
fire. Saddened, and fearing that he had in some way angered God, he turned
his mind to vengeance, and girded on his armor. A stout shield of iron he
took, knowing that the dragon's fiery breath would melt the wood, and with
foreboding of his fate, bade farewell to his hearth-mates. "Many times
have I battled, great deeds have I done with sword and with hand-grip; now
must I go forth and battle with hand and sword against the hoard-keeper."
Commanding the men who had accompanied him to remain upon the hillside,
leaving him to combat with the dragon alone, Beowulf went proudly forward,
shouting his battle-cry. Out rushed the dragon, full of deadly hate. His
fiery breath was stronger than the king had deemed it. Stroke upon stroke
he gave his enemy, who continued to cast forth his death-fire, so that
Beowulf stood girt with flames.
From afar, among the watching thanes, Wiglaf saw his monarch's peril.
"Comrades," he cried, "do you remember our promises to our king? Was it
for this he stirred us up to glorious deeds? Was it for this he heaped
gifts upon us? Let us go to his rescue. It is not right that we should see
our lord fall, and bear away our shields untouched!"
Rushing forward, he cried, "Beowulf, here am I! Now strike for thy life!
Thou hast said that thou never wouldst let thy fame depart from thee!"
Again the dragon came forth; again it enveloped its foeman in flames. The
linden shield of Wiglaf burned in his hands, and he sought shelter behind
Beowulf's shield of iron. Again and again Wiglaf smote the monster, and
when the flames burnt low, Beowulf seized his dirk and pierced the dragon
so that he fell dead.
The dragon lay dead, but Beowulf felt the poison in his wounds and knew
that he had not long to live. He commanded Wiglaf to bring forth the
treasure that he might gaze upon the hoard,--jewel work and twisted
gold,--that he had wrested from the fire-drake.
The den was filled with rings of gold, cups, banners, jewels, dishes, and
the arms of the old owner of the treasure. All these did Wiglaf bear forth
to his lord, who surveyed them, and uttered thanks to his Maker, that he
could win such a treasure. Then, turning to Wiglaf, he said, "Now I die.
Build for me upon the lofty shore a bright mound that shall ever remind my
people of me. Far in the distance their ships shall descry it, and they
shall call it Beowulf's mound." Then, giving his arms to Wiglaf, he bade
him enjoy them. "Thou art the last of our race. All save us, fate-driven,
are gone to doom. Thither go I too."
Bitterly did Wiglaf denounce his comrades when he saw them steal from
their hiding-places. "Well may it be said of you that he who gave you your
arms threw them away. No thanks deserve ye for the slaughter of the
dragon! I did my little, but it was not in my power to save my kinsman.
Too few helpers stood about him! Now shall your kin be wanting in gifts.
Void are ye of land-rights! Better is it for an earl to die than to live
with a blasted name!"
Sorrowful were the people when they heard of the death of Beowulf. Full
well they knew with what joy the tidings would be hailed by their enemies,
who would hasten to harry the land, now that their great leader was gone.
The Frisians, the Merovingians, the Franks, the Swedes,--all had their
grievances, which they would hasten to wreak on the Goths when they
learned that the dreaded king was gone. Dreary would be the land of the
Goths; on its battle-fields the wolves would batten; the ravens would call
to the eagles as they feasted on the slain.
Straight to the Eagle's Nest went the band, and found their dead monarch;
there, too, lay the loathsome fire-drake, full fifty feet long, and
between them the great hoard, rust-eaten from long dwelling in the earth.
Ever had that hoard brought ill with it.
Down from the cliff they thrust the dragon into the deep, and carried
their chief to Hronesness. There they built a lofty pile, decked it with
his armor, and burned thereon the body of their glorious ruler. According
to his wish, they reared on the cliff a broad, high barrow, surrounded it
with a wall, and laid within it the treasure. There yet it lies, of little
worth to men!
Then around the barrow rode twelve of the bravest, boldest nobles,
mourning their king, singing his praises, chanting a dirge, telling of his
glorious deeds, while over the broad land the Gothic folk lamented the
death of their tender prince, their noble king, Beowulf.
SELECTION FROM BEOWULF.
There was great rejoicing in Heorot when Beowulf slew Grendel, and at
night the earls again slept in the hall as they had not dared to do since
the coming of the fiend. But Grendel's mother came to avenge her son's
death and slew AEschere, a favorite liegeman of Hrothgar's. In the morning,
Beowulf, who had slept in another part of the palace, was sent for and
greeted Hrothgar, unaware of his loss.
Hrothgar rejoined, helm of the Scyldings:
"Ask not of joyance! Grief is renewed to
The folk of the Danemen. Dead is AEschere,
Yrmenlaf's brother, older than he,
My true-hearted counsellor, trusty adviser,
Shoulder-companion, when fighting in battle
Our heads we protected, when troopers were clashing,
And heroes were dashing; such an earl should be ever,
An erst-worthy atheling, as AEschere proved him.
The flickering death-spirit became in Heorot
His hand-to-hand murderer; I cannot tell whither
The cruel one turned, in the carcass exulting,
By cramming discovered. The quarrel she wreaked then,
The last night igone Grendel thou killedst
In grewsomest manner, with grim-holding clutches,
Since too long he had lessened my liege-troop and wasted
My folk-men so foully. He fell in the battle
With forfeit of life, and another has followed,
A mighty crime-worker, her kinsman avenging,
And henceforth hath 'stablished her hatred unyielding,
As it well may appear to many a liegeman,
Who mourneth in spirit the treasure-bestower,
Her heavy heart-sorrow; the hand is now lifeless
Which availed yon in every wish that you cherished.
Land-people heard I, liegemen, this saying,
Dwellers in halls, they had seen very often
A pair of such mighty march-striding creatures,
Far-dwelling spirits, holding the moorlands:
One of them wore, as well they might notice,
The image of woman, the other one wretched
In guise of a man wandered in exile,
Except that he was huger than any of earthmen;
Earth-dwelling people entitled him Grendel
In days of yore; they knew not their father,
Whe'r ill-going spirits any were borne him
Ever before. They guard the wolf-coverts,
Lands inaccessible, wind-beaten nesses,
Fearfullest fen-deeps, where a flood from the mountains
'Neath mists of the nesses netherward rattles,
The stream under earth: not far is it henceward
Measured by mile-lengths that the mere-water standeth,
Which forests hang over, with frost-whiting covered,
A firm-rooted forest, the floods overshadow.
There ever at night one an ill-meaning portent
A fire-flood may see; 'mong children of men
None liveth so wise that wot of the bottom;
Though harassed by hounds the heath-stepper seek for,
Fly to the forest, firm-antlered he-deer,
Spurred from afar, his spirit he yieldeth,
His life on the shore, ere in he will venture
To cover his head. Uncanny the place is:
Thence upward ascendeth the surging of waters,
Wan to the welkin, when the wind is stirring
The weathers unpleasing, till the air groweth gloomy,
And the heavens lower. Now is help to be gotten
From thee and thee only! The abode thou know'st not,
The dangerous place where thou'rt able to meet with
The sin-laden hero: seek if thou darest!
For the feud I will fully fee thee with money,
With old-time treasure, as erstwhile I did thee,
With well-twisted jewels, if away thou shalt get thee."
Beowulf answered, Ecgtheow's son:
"Grieve not, O wise one! for each it is better,
His friend to avenge than with vehemence wail him;
Each of us must the end-day abide of
His earthly existence; who is able accomplish
Glory ere death! To battle-thane noble
Lifeless lying, 't is at last most fitting.
Arise, O king, quick let us hasten
To look at the footprint of the kinsman of Grendel!
I promise thee this now: to his place he'll escape not,
To embrace of the earth, nor to mountainous forest,
Nor to depths of the ocean, wherever he wanders.
Practice thou now patient endurance
Of each of thy sorrows, as I hope for thee soothly!"
Then up sprang the old one, the All-Wielder thanked he,
Ruler Almighty, that the man had outspoken.
Then for Hrothgar a war-horse was decked with a bridle,
Curly-maned courser. The clever folk-leader
Stately proceeded: stepped then an earl-troop
Of linden-wood bearers. Her foot-prints were seen then
Widely in wood-paths, her way o'er the bottoms,
Where she far-away fared o'er fen-country murky,
Bore away breathless the best of retainers
Who pondered with Hrothgar the welfare of country.
The son of the athelings then went o'er the stony,
Declivitous cliffs, the close-covered passes,
Narrow passages, paths unfrequented,
Nesses abrupt, nicker-haunts many;
One of a few of wise-mooded heroes,
He onward advanced to view the surroundings,
Till he found unawares woods of the mountain
O'er hoar-stones hanging, holt-wood unjoyful;
The water stood under, welling and gory.
'T was irksome in spirit to all of the Danemen,
Friends of the Scyldings, to many a liegeman
Sad to be suffered, a sorrow unlittle
To each of the earlmen, when to AEschere's head they
Came on the cliff. The current was seething
With blood and with gore (the troopers gazed on it).
The horn anon sang the battle-song ready.
The troop were all seated; they saw 'long the water then
Many a serpent, mere-dragons wondrous
Trying the waters, nickers a-lying
On the cliffs of the nesses, which at noonday full often
Go on the sea-deeps their sorrowful journey,
Wild-beasts and worm-kind; away then they hastened
Hot-mooded, hateful, they heard the great clamor,
The war-trumpet winding. One did the Geat-prince
Sunder from earth-joys, with arrow from bowstring,
From his sea-struggle tore him, that the trusty war-missile
Pierced to his vitals; he proved in the currents
Less doughty at swimming whom death had off-carried.
Soon in the waters the wonderful swimmer
Was straitened most sorely and pulled to the cliff-edge;
The liegemen then looked on the loath-fashioned stranger.
Beowulf donned then his battle-equipments,
Cared little for life; inlaid and most ample,
The hand-woven corselet which could cover his body,
Must the wave-deeps explore, that war might be powerless
To harm the great hero, and the hating one's grasp might
Not peril his safety; his head was protected
By the light-flashing helmet that should mix with the bottoms,
Trying the eddies, treasure-emblazoned,
Encircled with jewels, as in seasons long past
The weapon-smith worked it, wondrously made it,
With swine-bodies fashioned it, that thenceforward no longer
Brand might bite it, and battle-sword hurt it.
And that was not least of helpers in prowess
That Hrothgar's spokesman had lent him when straitened;
And the hilted hand-sword was Hrunting entitled,
Old and most excellent 'mong all of the treasures;
Its blade was of iron, blotted with poison,
Hardened with gore; it failed not in battle
Any hero under heaven in hand who it brandished,
Who ventured to take the terrible journeys,
The battle-field sought; not the earliest occasion
That deeds of daring 't was destined to 'complish.
Ecglaf's kinsman minded not soothly,
Exulting in strength, what erst he had spoken
Drunken with wine, when the weapon he lent to
A sword-hero bolder; himself did not venture
'Neath the strife of the currents his life to endanger,
To fame-deeds perform; there he forfeited glory,
Repute for his strength. Not so with the other
When he, clad in his corselet, had equipped him for battle.
Beowulf spoke, Ecgtheow's son:
"Recall now, oh, famous kinsman of Healfdene,
Prince very prudent, now to part I am ready,
Gold-friend of earl-men, what erst we agreed on,
Should I lay down my life in lending thee assistance,
When my earth-joys were over, thou wouldst evermore serve me
In stead of a father; my faithful thanemen,
My trusty retainers, protect thou and care for,
Fall I in battle: and, Hrothgar beloved,
Send unto Higelac the high-valued jewels
Thou to me hast allotted. The lord of the Geatmen
May perceive from the gold, the Hrethling may see it
When he looks on the jewels, that a gem-giver found I
Good over-measure, enjoyed him while able.
And the ancient heirloom Unferth permit thou,
The famed one to have, the heavy-sword splendid,
The hard-edged weapon; with Hrunting to aid me,
I shall gain me glory, or grim death shall take me."
The atheling of Geatmen uttered these words and
Heroic did hasten, not any rejoinder
Was willing to wait for; the wave-current swallowed
The doughty-in-battle. Then a day's-length elapsed ere
He was able to see the sea at its bottom.
Early she found then who fifty of winters
The course of the currents kept in her fury,
Grisly and greedy, that the grim one's dominion
Some one of men from above was exploring.
Forth did she grab them, grappled the warrior
With horrible clutches; yet no sooner she injured
His body unscathed: the burnie out-guarded,
That she proved but powerless to pierce through the armor,
The limb-mail locked, with loath-grabbing fingers.
The sea-wolf bare then, when bottomward came she,
The ring-prince homeward, that he after was powerless.
(He had daring to do it) to deal with his weapons,
But many a mere-beast tormented him swimming,
Flood-beasts no few with fierce-biting tusks did
Break through his burnie, the brave one pursued they.
The earl then discovered he was down in some cavern
Where no water whatever anywise harmed him,
And the clutch of the current could not come anear him,
Since the roofed-hall prevented; brightness a-gleaming
Fire-light he saw, flashing, resplendent.
The good one saw then the sea-bottom's monster,
The mighty mere-woman; he made a great onset
With weapon-of-battle, his hand not desisted
From striking, that war-blade struck on her head then
A battle-song greedy. The stranger perceived then
The sword would not bite, her life would not injure,
But the falchion failed the folk prince when straitened:
Erst had it often onsets encountered,
Oft cloven the helmet, the fated one's armor:
'T was the first time that ever the excellent jewel
Had failed of its fame. Firm-mooded after,
Not heedless of valor, but mindful of glory,
Was Higelac's kinsman; the hero-chief angry
Cast then his carved-sword covered with jewels
That it lay on earth, hard and steel-pointed;
He hoped in his strength, his hand-grapple sturdy.
So any must act whenever he thinketh
To gain him in battle glory unending,
And is reckless of living. The lord of the War-Geats
(He shrank not from battle) seized by the shoulder
The mother of Grendel; then mighty in struggle
Swung he his enemy, since his anger was kindled,
That she fell to the floor. With furious grapple
She gave him requital early thereafter,
And stretched out to grab him; the strongest of warriors
Faint-mooded stumbled, till he fell in his traces,
Foot-going champion. Then she sat on the hall-guest
And wielded her war-knife wide-bladed, flashing,
For her son would take vengeance, her one only bairn.
His breast-armor woven bode on his shoulder;
It guarded his life, the entrance defended
'Gainst sword-point and edges. Ecgtheow's son there
Had fatally journeyed, champion of Geatmen,
In the arms of the ocean, had the armor not given,
Close-woven corselet, comfort and succor,
And had God most holy not awarded the victory,
All-knowing Lord; easily did heaven's
Ruler most righteous arrange it with justice;
Uprose he erect ready for battle.
Then he saw 'mid the war-gems a weapon of victory,
An ancient giant-sword, of edges a-doughty,
Glory of warriors: of weapons 't was choicest,
Only 't was larger than any man else was
Able to bear in the battle-encounter,
The good and splendid work of the giants.
He grasped then the sword-hilt, knight of the Scyldings,
Bold and battle-grim, brandished his ring-sword,
Hopeless of living, hotly he smote her,
That the fiend-woman's neck firmly it grappled,
Broke through her bone-joints, the bill fully pierced her
Fate-cursed body, she fell to the ground then:
The hand-sword was bloody, the hero exulted.
The brand was brilliant, brightly it glimmered,
Just as from heaven gemlike shineth
The torch of the firmament. He glanced 'long the building,
And turned by the wall then, Higelac's vassal
Raging and wrathful raised his battle-sword
Strong by the handle. The edge was not useless
To the hero-in-battle, but he speedily wished to
Give Grendel requital for the many assaults he
Had worked on the West-Danes not once, but often,
When he slew in slumber the subjects of Hrothgar,
Swallowed down fifteen sleeping retainers
Of the folk of the Danemen, and fully as many
Carried away, a horrible prey.
He gave him requital, grim-raging champion,
When he saw on his rest-place weary of conflict
Grendel lying, of life-joys bereaved,
As the battle at Heorot erstwhile had scathed him;
His body far bounded, a blow when he suffered,
Death having seized him, sword-smiting heavy,
And he cut off his head then. Early this noticed
The clever carles who as comrades of Hrothgar
Gazed on the sea-deeps, that the surging wave-currents
Were mightily mingled, the mere-flood was gory:
Of the good one the gray-haired together held converse,
The hoary of head, that they hoped not to see again
The atheling ever, that exulting in victory
He'd return there to visit the distinguished folk-ruler:
Then many concluded the mere-wolf had killed him.
The ninth hour came then. From the ness-edge departed
The bold-mooded Scyldings; the gold-friend of heroes
Homeward betook him. The strangers sat down then
Soul-sick, sorrowful, the sea-waves regarding:
They wished and yet weened not their well-loved friend-lord
To see any more. The sword-blade began then,
The blood having touched it, contracting and shrivelling
With battle-icicles; 't was a wonderful marvel
That it melted entirely, likest to ice when
The Father unbindeth the bond of the frost and
Unwindeth the wave-bands, He who wieldeth dominion
Of time and of tides: a truth-firm Creator.
Nor took he of jewels more in the dwelling,
Lord of the Weders, though they lay all around him,
Than the head and the handle handsome with jewels;
The brand early melted, burnt was the weapon:
So hot was the blood, the strange-spirit poisonous
That in it did perish. He early swam off then
Who had bided in combat the carnage of haters,
Went up through the ocean; the eddies were cleansed,
The spacious expanses, when the spirit from farland
His life put aside and this short-lived existence.
The seamen's defender came swimming to land then
Doughty of spirit, rejoiced in his sea-gift,
The bulky burden which he bore in his keeping.
The excellent vassals advanced then to meet him,
To God they were grateful, were glad in their chieftain,
That to see him safe and sound was granted them.
From the high-minded hero, then, helmet and burnie
Were speedily loosened: the ocean was putrid,
The water 'neath welkin weltered with gore.
Forth did they fare, then, their footsteps retracing,
Merry and mirthful, measured the earth-way,
To highway familiar: men very daring
Bare then the head from the sea-cliff, burdening
Each of the earlmen, excellent-valiant.
Four of them had to carry with labor
The head of Grendel to the high towering gold-hall
Upstuck on the spear, till fourteen most-valiant
And battle-brave Geatmen came there going
Straight to the palace: the prince of the people
Measured the mead-ways, their mood-brave companion,
The atheling of earlmen entered the building,
Deed-valiant man, adorned with distinction,
Doughty shield-warrior, to address King Hrothgar:
Then hung by the hair, the head of Grendel
Was borne to the building, where beer-thanes were drinking,
Loth before earlmen and eke 'fore the lady:
The warriors beheld then a wonderful sight.
_J. L. Hall's Translation, Parts XXI.-XXIV._
THE NIBELUNGEN LIED.
The Nibelungen Lied, or Song of the Nibelungen, was written about the
beginning of the thirteenth century, though the events it chronicles
belong to the sixth or seventh century. The manuscript poem was discovered
about the middle of the eighteenth century.
Lachmann asserts that the Nibelungen Lied consists of twenty songs of
various dates and authorship; other scholars, while agreeing that it is
the work of a single author, ascribe it variously to Conrad von
Kurenburger, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and Walther
von der Vogelweide.
Whoever was its author, he was only a compiler of legends that were the
property of the people for centuries, and are found in many other of the
popular German epics of the Middle Ages.
The poem consists of thirty-nine adventures, containing two thousand four
hundred and fifty-nine stanzas of four lines each. The action covers
thirty years. It is based on material obtained from four sources: (1) The
Frankish saga-cycle, whose hero is Siegfried; (2) the saga-cycle of
Burgundy, whose heroes are Guenther, king of Worms, and his two brothers;
(3) the Ostrogothic saga-cycle, whose hero is Dietrich of Bern; and (4)
the saga-cycle of Etzel, king of the Huns, with his allies and vassals.
Dietrich of Bern is supposed to be Theodoric of Italy, in exile at the
Hunnish court. Etzel is Attila the Hun, and Guenther, Gunducarius, king of
the Burgundians, who was destroyed by the Huns with his followers in the
The Nibelungen Lied very much resembles the Iliad, not only in the
uncertainty of its origin and the impersonality of its author, but also in
its objectivity, its realism, the primitive passions of its heroes, and
the wondrous acts of valor performed by them. It contains many passages of
wonderful beauty, and gives a striking picture of the social customs and
the religious belief of the time.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM, THE NIBELUNGEN LIED.
Mary Elizabeth Burt's Story of the German Iliad, 1892;
Thomas Carlyle's Nibelungen Lied (see his Miscellaneous Essays, 1869, vol.
iii., pp. 111-162);
Sir G. W. Cox and E. H. Jones's Nibelungen Lied (see their Tales of the
Teutonic Lands, 1872, pp. 79-132);
G. T. Dippold's Nibelungenlied (see his Great Epics of Mediaeval Germany,
1882, pp. 1-117);
William T. Dobson's Nibelungenlied Epitomized (see his Classic Poets,
Auber Forestier's Echoes from Mistland, or the Nibelungen Lay Revealed,
Tr. by A. A. Woodward, 1877;
Joseph Gostwick's and Robert Harrison's Nibelungenlied (see their Outlines
of German Literature, n. d., pp. 16-24);
Hugh Reginald Haweis's Nibelungenlied (see his Musical Memories, 1887, pp.
Frederick Henry Hedge's Nibelungenlied (see his Hours with the German
Classics, 1887, pp. 25-55);
James K. Hosmer's Nibelungen Lied (see his Short History of German
Literature, 1891, pp. 23-77);
J. P. Jackson's Ring of the Nibelung, Cosmopolitan, 1888, vol. vi. pp.
Henry W. Longfellow's Nibelungenlied (see his Poets and Poetry of Europe,
new ed., enlarged, 1882, pp. 217-227);
J. M. F. Ludlow's Lay and Lament of the Niblungs (see his Popular Epics of
the Middle Ages, 1865, pp. 105-183);
E. Magnusson and William Morris's Voelsungs Saga, story of the Voelsungs and
William Morris's Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs,
F. Max Mueller's Das Nibelungenlied (see his German Classics, new ed.,
1893, vol. i., pp. 112-136);
Ernst Raupach's Nibelungen Treasure, a tragedy from the German with
A. M. Richey's Teutonic and the Celtic Epic, Fraser's Magazine, 1874, vol.
lxxxix., pp. 336-354;
Wilhelm Scherer's Nibelungenlied (see his History of German Literature,
1893, vol. i., pp. 101-115);
Leda M. Schoonamaker's Nibelungen Lied, Harper's Magazine, 1877, vol. lv.,
Bayard Taylor's Nibelungen Lied (see his Studies in German Literature,
1893, pp. 101-134);
Wilhelm Wagner's Nibelungenlied (see his Epics and Romances of the Middle
Ages, 1883, pp. 229-306);
Henry Weber's The Song of the Nibelungen (see Weber and Jamieson,
Illustrations of Northern Antiquities, 1874, pp. 167-213).
STANDARD ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS, THE NIBELUNGEN.
The Nibelungen Lied, Tr. by Alfred G. Foster Barham, 1887;
The Lay of the Nibelungers, Tr. into English text after Lachman's text by
Jonathan Birch, ed. 3, 1887;
The Nibelungenlied, Tr. by Joseph Gostwick (see his Spirit of German
The Fall of the Nibelungers, Tr. by William Nanson Lettsom, ed. 2, 1874.
THE STORY OF THE NIBELUNGEN LIED.
In the beautiful city of Worms, in Burgundy, dwelt the maiden Kriemhild,
surpassing all others in beauty. Her father, long since dead, was Dancrat;
her mother, Uta, and her three brothers,--Guenther, Gernot, and
Giselher,--puissant princes whose pride it was to guard their lovely
sister. Among the noble lords their liegemen were Hagan of Trony,
Dankwart, his brother, Ortwine of Metz, Eckewart, Gary, Folker, Rumolt the
steward, Sindolt the butler, and Humolt the chamberlain.
The peace of the beautiful Kriemhild was one night disturbed by a dream,
in which she saw a young falcon that she had long reared with tender care
torn to pieces by two fierce eagles. When she confided this dream to her
mother, the wise Uta declared that it meant that she would one day wed a
fair prince threatened with a dreadful doom.
"Then I will never wed!" cried Kriemhild. "Better to forego the bliss thou
tellest me attends only the wedded state than to taste the anguish
foretold by my dream." Alas! little could she guess of what the future
held in store for her.
In the wide country of the Netherlands, in the city of Xanten, dwelt the
great prince Siegmund and his wife Sieglind. Their kingdom was wide, their
wealth great, but nothing gave them so much happiness as the renown of
their glorious son Siegfried. Such mighty deeds of valor had he performed
that his fame was already world-wide, though he was but a youth. To Xanten
the fame of the peerless princess Kriemhild had penetrated, and the young
prince declared to his parents his intention of seeking her out in
Burgundy, and wooing her for his wife. All entreaties were in vain; with
but twelve companions, each fitted out with the most gorgeous vestments,
by the care of the queen mother, the haughty prince advanced into
King Guenther, surprised at the sight of the splendidly attired strangers,
called one after another of his knights to inform him who they were. None
knew, until Hagan was at last called because he was familiar with the
warriors of every land. He did not know them. "But," said he, "though I
have never set eyes on him, I'll wager that is the noble Siegfried, the
mighty warrior who slew the Nibelungers. Once, so I have heard the story,
when he was riding alone, he saw the two kings Nibelung and Shilbung
dividing the treasure of the Niblungs. They had just brought it out from
the cavern where it was guarded by the dwarf Albric, and they called
Siegfried to come and divide it for them. The task was so great that he
did not finish it, and when the angry kings set upon him he slew them
both, their giant champions and chiefs, and then overcame the dwarf
Albric, and possessed himself of his wondrous cloud-cloak. So he is now
lord of the Nibelungers and owner of the mighty treasure. Not only this,
my king; he once slew a poison-spitting dragon and bathed in its blood, so
that his skin is invulnerable. Treat the young prince with respect. It
would be ill-advised to arouse his hatred."
While the king and his counsellors were admiring his haughty bearing,
Siegfried and his followers advanced to the hall and were fittingly
welcomed. Siegfried haughtily declared that he had come to learn if
Guenther's renown for knighthood was correct, and wished to fight with him,
with their respective kingdoms as stakes. Guenther had no desire to fight
with such a doughty warrior, and he hastened to soothe Siegfried's wrath
with gentle words, inviting him to remain as his guest.
So happy was Siegfried in the tourneys and games enjoyed by Guenther's
court, that he remained in Worms for a year, and in all that time never
set eyes on Kriemhild. How enraptured would he have been had he known that
the gentle maiden watched for him daily at her lattice, and came to long
for a glimpse of the handsome stranger!
At the end of the year tidings were brought to Worms that the Saxons, led
by King Luedeger, and Luedegast, king of Denmark, were marching against
Burgundy. The Burgundians were terrified at the news; but Siegfried,
delighted at the thought of war, begged Guenther to give him but a thousand
Burgundians, in addition to the twelve comrades he had brought with him,
and he would pledge himself to defeat, unaided, the presumptuous enemy.
Many were the camps of the foe; full forty thousand were there mustered
out to fight, but Siegfried quickly scattered them, slew many thousands,
and took the two kings prisoners.
How joyful the melancholy Kriemhild became when the messenger bore to her
the glad tidings! Ruddy gold and costly garments he gained for his good
On Siegfried's return he first met and loved Kriemhild. More blooming than
May, sweeter than summer's pride, she stood by the gallant warrior, who
dared not yet to woo her. The twelve days of revel in celebration of the
victory were one long dream of bliss to the happy lovers.
While Siegfried was still lingering at Guenther's court, tidings were
brought thither of the beauty, prowess, and great strength of Brunhild,
Queen of Issland, and Guenther determined to go thither and woo her.
Siegfried implored him not to go.
"Thou knowest not what thou must undertake," he said. "Thou must take part
in her contests, throw the javelin, throw the stone and jump after it, and
if thou fail in even one of these three games thou must lose thy life and
that of thy companions."
When Siegfried found that he could not move Guenther, he promised to go
with him and assist him, on condition that on their return Guenther would
give him the beautiful Kriemhild for his wife.
Attired in the most splendid raiment, prepared by the willing fingers of
Kriemhild and her maids, Guenther, with only three companions, Siegfried,
Hagan, and Dankwart, set forth to Issland. Siegfried requested his
companions to inform Brunhild that he was Guenther's man; and when she
welcomed him first, he himself told her to speak first to his master.
The little party was greatly impressed with the splendor of Brunhild's
three turreted palaces, and with the beauty and prodigious strength of the
queen. When they saw her huge golden shield, steel-studded, beneath whose
weight four chamberlains staggered, and the immense javelin of the
war-like maid, the warriors trembled for their lives, all save Siegfried,
who, wrapped in his cloud-cloak, invisible to all, stood behind the
"Give me thy buckler," he whispered. "Now make but the motions, and I will
hurl both spear and stone. But keep this a secret if thou wouldst save
both our lives."
To the surprise of every one Guenther won the games, and Brunhild,
surprised and mortified, ordered her followers to bow to her better, and
returned to the castle to make ready for the journey to Worms.
Siegfried carried the tidings to Worms, and the bridal party was met and
welcomed at the banks of the Rhine by the Queen Uta, Kriemhild, and a
large following. During the wedding feast, Siegfried reminded Guenther of
his promise, and the king, calling Kriemhild to him, affianced the two in
the presence of the company.
When the suspicious Brunhild saw Siegfried sitting at the table of the
king, she was angered, for she had been told that he was a vassal.
Although she could get no satisfaction from Guenther, she suspected some
secret. When she and Guenther retired for the night she conquered him, tied
him hand and foot with her magic girdle, and hung him on the wall until
morning. Guenther, overcome with wrath and vexation, told his humiliation
to Siegfried the next morning at the minster. "Be comforted," said
Siegfried. "Tonight I will steal into thy chamber wrapped in my
mist-cloak, and when the lights are extinguished I will wrestle with her
until I deprive her of the magic ring and girdle."
After some hesitation, Guenther assented, and Brunhild, supposing she was
conquered by Guenther, yielded herself willingly to her husband and lost
all her former strength. Siegfried carried away her girdle and ring and
gave them to his wife, little suspecting what harm they would do him in
the years to come.
The wedding festivities over, Siegfried took his bride home to the
Netherlands, where their arrival was celebrated with the greatest
festivities. Siegmund placed the crown on his son's head, and Siegfried
and Kriemhild ruled happily over the kingdom for ten years, during which
time a son was born to them, christened Guenther for his uncle.
During these years Brunhild had been fretting that the supposed vassal,
Siegfried, had never come to pay homage to his king. At last, affecting a
great longing to see Kriemhild once more, she induced Guenther to invite
his sister and her husband to visit them. This he did gladly, and on their
arrival many days were spent in feasting, merrymaking, and the tourney.
But one day, when the two queens were watching the tilting in the castle
court, Kriemhild, excited by the victories of her husband, declared that
Siegfried, because of his might, ought to be ruler of Burgundy. This
angered Brunhild, who reproached the wife of a vassal for such
"My husband a vassal!" exclaimed the indignant Kriemhild. "He, ruler of
the Netherlands, who holds a higher place than my brother Guenther! I
cannot endure thy insolence longer."
"I will see," said Brunhild, "this very day whether thou receivest the
public respect and honor paid to me."
"I am ready for the test," responded Kriemhild, "and I will show thee
to-day, before our following, that I dare to enter the church before
When the two queens met on the minster steps, and Brunhild declared that
no vassaless should enter before her, Kriemhild reproached her for being
the leman of Siegfried, and displayed in proof the ring and girdle he had
taken from Brunhild. Rage and fury rendered Brunhild speechless. The kings
were summoned, and both denied the truth of Kriemhild's words. But the two
queens were now bitter enemies, and the followers of Brunhild, among them
the gloomy Hagan of Trony, were deeply angered at Siegfried and his queen.
Hagan laid a plot to destroy Siegfried, and Guenther, though at first
unwilling, was at last induced to enter it.
Pretended messengers came to announce to Guenther that the Saxons again
threatened war against him. Siegfried proposed to take part in the war,
and preparations were at once begun. Hagan, with pretended tenderness,
told Kriemhild of the coming danger, and asked her if her lord had a weak
place, that he might know and guard it for him. Kriemhild confided to him
her husband's secret. When Siegfried was bathing in the dragon's blood, a
leaf fell between his shoulders, and that spot was vulnerable. There she
would embroider a cross on his vesture that Hagan might protect him in the
shock of battle.
The war was now abandoned and a great hunt undertaken. Gernot and
Giselher, though they did not see fit to warn Siegfried, refused to take
part in the plot and go to the hunt. Many a lion, elk, and boar fell by
Siegfried's hand that day before the hunters were called together to the
royal breakfast; when they at last sat down in the flowery meadow the wine
was wanting, and the warriors were compelled to quench their thirst at a
brooklet near by.
"A race!" cried the hero; and he, Hagan, and Guenther ran for the brook,
Siegfried gaining it first. After the king had quenched his thirst,
Siegfried threw down his arms and stooped to drink. Then Hagan, picking up
his ashen spear, threw it at the embroidered cross, and Siegfried fell in
the agonies of death, reproaching his traitorous friends whom he had
served so faithfully.
To add cruelty to cruelty, the vindictive Hagan placed the body of
Siegfried outside Kriemhild's chamber door, where she would stumble over
it as she went out to early mass next morning. Down she fell fainting when
she recognized her husband, and reviving, shrieked in her anguish,
"Brunhild planned it; Hagan struck the blow!"
Her grief was terrible to see. One moment the unhappy queen was accusing
herself for revealing her husband's secret; again she was vowing revenge
against Hagan, and at another time she reviled the traitorous Guenther.
When her father-in-law Siegmund returned home, she would not go with him,
but remained near the body of her husband, under the protection of her
brothers Gernot and Giselher and in the company of her mother.
Kriemhild, living in joyless state in her lonely palace, was at last
induced to speak to Guenther and pardon him. The pardon granted, Guenther
and Hagan at once plotted to have the Nibelungen hoard, Siegfried's
morning-gift to Kriemhild, brought to Worms. Never before was such a
treasure seen. Twelve huge wagons, journeying thrice a day, required four
nights and days to carry it from the mountain to the bay. It consisted of
nothing but precious stones and gold, and with it was the magic
wishing-rod. It filled Kriemhild's towers and chambers to overflowing, and
won many friends for the queen, who distributed it liberally.
When the envious Hagan could not induce Guenther to take the treasure from
Kriemhild, he selected a time when the king and his brothers were away
from home, and seizing the treasure, cast it into the Rhine, hoping to get
it again. In this he failed, so the great treasure was forever lost.
Thus ends the first part of the Lay of the Nibelungen. The second part is
sometimes called the Need or Fall of the Nibelungen.
While Kriemhild was bewailing her loss and revolving plans for revenge,
Etzel, King of the Huns, who had heard of the charms of Siegfried's widow,
sent the noble Margrave Ruedeger into Burgundy with proposals for her hand.
Guenther and his brothers begged Kriemhild to accept the offer; their
counsellors advised it; only the sage Hagan protested. He knew too well
how Kriemhild longed for revenge. "When once she gets among the Huns, she
will make us rue the day," said he.
But the others laughed at Hagan's scruples. The land of the Huns was far
away, and they need never set foot in it. Moreover, it was their duty to
make Kriemhild happy.
Moved by the eloquence of Ruedeger, Kriemhild consented to wed Etzel, and
set out in great state to meet the king.
She was splendidly entertained along the way, tarried a short time at the
home of the Margrave Ruedeger, and at Tulna met the great monarch Etzel,
riding to meet her, among his hosts of Russians, Polacks, Greeks, and
The splendid wedding-feast was held at Vienna. Kriemhild was received with
the greatest honor, and so lavish was she of the gold and jewels she had
brought with her, and so gracious to the attendant Huns, that every one
loved her, and willingly worked her will.
For seven long years she and Attila lived happy together, and to them was
given a son whom they christened Ortlieb. Then Kriemhild, still
remembering her loss and the cruelties of her Burgundian relatives and
friends, bethought herself of her revenge.
Feigning a great desire to see her brothers, she entreated Etzel to invite
them to visit her; and the king, not suspecting her fell purpose, and glad
of an opportunity to welcome her friends, at once despatched messengers
with the invitation.
This time other counsellors besides Hagan mistrusted the queen, and
advised King Guenther and his brothers to decline the invitation. But the
princes grew angry at their advice; and Hagan, who could not endure to be
laughed at, set forth with them, accompanied with a great train of
The Rhine was too swollen to ford, and Hagan was sent up the stream to
find a ferryman. As he looked for the boatman, he spied some mermaids
bathing, and seizing their garments, would not restore them until they
told him what would befall the Burgundians in Hungary.
"Safe will you ride to Etzel's court, and safe return," said one, as he
returned the garments. But as he turned to go, another called: "My aunt
has lied to thee that she might get back her raiment. Turn now, or you
will never live to see Burgundy. None save the chaplain will return in
Hagan went on gloomily and found the ferryman, who, proud and sullen,
refused to take the party across. Hagan slew him, and, returning with the
boat, threw the unfortunate chaplain into the river, thinking by drowning
him to prove the mermaid's prophecy untrue. But the chaplain escaped to
the other side, and walked back to Burgundy. Then Hagan told the party of
the prophecy and they resolved to go on together, though they realized
that they were going to their doom.
Because of the slaughter of the ferryman, they were attacked by Gelfrat,
the ruler of the land; but he was overcome and slain by Dankwart.
The Margrave Ruedeger received the travellers hospitably, and betrothed his
fair daughter to Giselher. He then accompanied the Burgundians to Etzel's
The Burgundians suspected Kriemhild from the first. Giselher was the only
one of her brothers whom she kissed, and she and Hagan quarrelled over the
treasure at their first meeting.
They were warned by Eckewart, who had accompanied Kriemhild from Burgundy,
and by Dietrich of Bern, an exile at the court of Etzel, who told them
that every morning since her stay in Hunland she had moaned and wailed for
Siegfried. By Hagan's advice they all kept on their armor, telling Etzel
that it was the custom in their country to wear it for the first three
Kriemhild's design was to destroy Hagan and spare her brothers. But Hagan,
on his guard, drove her warriors away from his room at night, and saved
himself at church from the jostling Hunnish lords, never, in the mean
time, sparing his insults to Kriemhild.
The Huns, who were devoted to their queen, were not slow in showing their
anger at Hagan's treatment of her, and the ill feeling between the
warriors increased as the days passed by.
As the Burgundians sat at the banquet with Etzel and his wife, in burst
Dankwart, exclaiming that he had been attacked by Bloedel, who had slain
all his followers.
"Be stirring, brother Hagan!" he cried. "Help me to avenge my wrongs!"
At this moment the little prince Ortlieb had been brought into the hall
and passed around among the guests.
"Let us drink to friendship with moody Kriemhild in king's wine!" cried
Hagan, and with one blow of the sword sent the child's head in his
mother's lap. Then arose a fearful clamor. Spear rang against shield, and
the cries of the fierce Huns mingled with the defiant shouts of the
Dietrich of Bern, leaping upon a bench, asked King Guenther, that, as a
friend to both parties, he might be permitted to withdraw from the hall
with his friends. When the Burgundians assented, he led forth the king and
queen. The same privilege was accorded to Ruedeger.
Then, while the terrible Folker guarded the door with his fiddle bow, one
side of which was a trenchant sword, the battle began. The Burgundians
taunted the Huns with their weakness and cowardice until they ventured
into the hall and were cut down by Hagan and his desperate men. When
evening fell the thousand and four who had entered the hall all lay dead
by the hands of the Burgundians.
When Kriemhild's offer to give her brothers their lives if they would
surrender Hagan was refused, she ordered fire to be set to the four
corners of the hall, thinking thus to drive them forth. But the burning
rafters fell into the rivers of blood and were quenched, and the
Burgundians derived new courage and strength from huge draughts of blood
from their fallen foes.
Then Kriemhild and Etzel, seeing how their Hunnish men had fallen, and
perceiving that the Burgundians were in no wise injured by the fire,
reproached the Margrave Ruedeger that he did not enter the fight. In vain
he told them of his friendship with the princes; of the betrothal of his
daughter and Giselher. Kriemhild persisted in reminding him of the promise
he had made to serve her to her dying day. At last he reluctantly summoned
his men, and bidding farewell to his cruel king and queen, he entered the
hall. Gladly was he welcomed by the Burgundians, who could not believe
that he came to do battle with them. He explained how he was forced to
fight them, and amid the tears of both sides, he exchanged shields with
Hagan, whose buckler was broken. Then was the grim Hagan moved to tears,
and he vowed not to touch Ruedeger in the fight. Fearful was the clatter of
shield and blade as Ruedeger fought with Gernot, and fell at last by the
blade he had himself given the prince.
Great was the wailing of the Huns when they saw the lifeless body of
Ruedeger, and deeply did Etzel regret the loss of the valiant and true
Dietrich of Bern, who sat afar off, sent some of his best warriors under
his man Hildebrand, to inquire of the truth of the report of Ruedeger's
death. These fiery men disobeyed the orders of their master, and fought
with the Burgundians until none remained save Guenther and Hagan on one
side, and Hildebrand on the other.
When Dietrich heard of the slaughter of his followers, he was overcome
with sorrow, and himself sought the hall. He promised Guenther and Hagan
that if they would surrender, he would himself lead them back in safety to
Burgundy; but to this they would not consent. By this time they were so
worn out, however, from the long battle, that Dietrich easily overpowered
them and led them captive before Kriemhild, who promised to show them fair
But Kriemhild's mind had become so warped by her desire for revenge, that
she could not think of mercy. She cast her prisoners into separate
dungeons, and visiting Hagan first, demanded her treasure. "But give it to
me again, and thou shalt return living into Burgundy."
"Pray not to me, haughty queen," replied Hagan. "I swore that while my
lords were living I would ne'er tell where it lies. Thy prayer is thrown
Straightway the savage Kriemhild ordered the head of Guenther to be struck
off, and bearing it by the hair, she displayed it to Hagan, asking him now
to tell her the secret.
"Now that all my lords are dead," said he, "no one shall know, thou least
of all, she-fiend!"
Kriemhild, beside herself with grief and rage, snatched from him the sword
Balmung that he had taken from Siegfried, and ever since carried, and
raising it high with both hands, struck off the head of her hated enemy.
At this the grief of Etzel broke forth, and the aged Hildebrand, enraged
to see a woman do such deeds, sprang upon Kriemhild and smote her to death
with his sword.
Bitterly wept King Etzel and Dietrich as they gazed on the corpses
scattered round, and the disfigured body of the fair queen. Nothing
remained for the Hunnish people but grief and woe.
Here on earth pain ever follows in the steps of pleasure.
SELECTIONS FROM THE NIBELUNGEN LIED.
HOW BRUNHILD WAS RECEIVED AT WORMS.
Brunhild, queen of Issland, was won by Guenther of Worms with the aid of
Siegfried, whom Guenther sent forward to Worms to announce the coming of
the royal pair. Queen Uta and Princess Kriemhild, with many followers from
the Burgundian court, went forward to the Rhine to meet and welcome the
royal bridal party.
Beyond the Rhine King Guenther, with many a well-arm'd rank
And all his guests about him, rode towards the river's bank;
You might see by the bridle led forward many a maid.
Those, who were to receive them, were ready all array'd.
Soon as the men of Issland came to the shallops down,
And eke the Nibelungers, lieges of Siegfried's crown,
To th' other shore they hasten'd (busy was every hand)
Where them the friends of Guenther awaited on the strand.
Now hear, by wealthy Uta what a device was wrought.
Down with her from the castle a virgin train she brought,
That rode where she was riding in that procession bright;
So many a maid acquainted became with many a knight.
Kriemhild by the bridle the Margrave Gary led,
But only from the castle; then forward Siegfried sped,
And did that gentle service; fair was the blushing maid;
Full well for that thereafter the warrior she repaid.
Ortwine, the fearless champion, rode by Dame Uta's rein;
Knights and maids together follow'd, a social train.
At such a stately meeting, all must confess, I ween,
So many lovely ladies were ne'er together seen.
Full many a famous champion careering you might spy
(Ill there was sloth and idlesse) beneath fair Kriemhild's eye
E'en to the place of landing; by knights of fair renown
There many a high-born lady from steed was lifted down.
The king was now come over, and many a worthy guest.
Ah, before the ladies what spears were laid in rest!
How many went in shivers at every hurtling close!
Buckler clashed with buckler; ah, what a din arose!
Now might you see the ladies fast by the haven stand.
With his guests King Guenther debark'd upon the strand,
In his hand soft leading the martial maiden fair.
Then each on each flash'd radiance, rich robes and jewels rare.
With that the smiling Kriemhild forth stepp'd a little space,
And Brunhild and her meiny greeted with gentle grace,
Each with snowy fingers back her headband drew,
And either kiss'd the other lovingly and true.
Then spoke in courteous manner Kriemhild the fair and free,
"In this our land, dear Brunhild, ever welcome be
To me and to my mother and all by us allow'd
For faithful friends and liegemen." Then each to th' other bow'd.
Next to greet Dame Brunhild approach'd Dame Uta too;
Oft she and oft her daughter their arms about her threw,
And on her sweet mouth lavish'd many a loving kiss.
Never was known a welcome so kind and frank as this.
Soon as Brunhild's women were all come to the strand,
Many a courtly warrior took by her lily hand
A lady fair, and gently her mincing steps upstay'd,
Now before Dame Brunhild stood many a noble maid.
'T was long before the greeting had gone through all the list.
On either part in plenty rosy mouths were kiss'd.
Still the two fair princesses were standing side by side,
A pair with love and rapture by longing warriors ey'd.
What erst had been but rumour, was now made clear to sight,
That nought had yet been witness'd so beautiful and bright
As those two lovely damsels; 't was plain to every eye;
None the slightest blemish in either form could spy.
Whoever look'd on women with but the sight for guide,
Such for her faultless beauty praised Guenther's, stately bride;
But those whose thoughts went deeper, and div'd into the mind,
Maintain'd that gentle Kriemhild left Brunhild far behind.
Now met the dames and damsels in friendly converse free;
Fair robes and fairer beauties were there in store to see;
Many a silk pavilion and many a gorgeous tent
The plain before the city fill'd in its whole extent.
King Guenther's kinsmen ceas'd not to press to that fair show.
And now was begg'd each princess from the sun to go
Close by, with their attendants, where shade was overhead.
By bold Burgundian warriors thither were they led.
Then clomb to horse the heroes, and scour'd the sounding field;
Many a joust was practis'd with order'd spear and shield;
Right well were prov'd the champions, and o'er the trampled plain,
As though the land were burning, the dust curl'd up amain.
So all before the ladies display'd their skill and force,
Nor doubt I that Sir Siegfried rode many a knightly course
Before the rich pavilions, and ever as he sped,
His thousand Nibelungers, a stately squadron, led.
Then came the knight of Trony by the good king's command;
In friendly wise he parted the jousters on the strand,
For fear the dust, now thick'ning, the ladies might molest.
Him with ready reverence obey'd each gentle guest.
Then spake the noble Gernot, "Let each now rest his steed
Till the air be cooler, 't will then be ours to lead
These lovely ladies homeward e'en to the palace wide.
So keep yourselves all ready till it please the king to ride."
Thus ended was the tourney, and now the warriors went
To join the dames and damsels beneath each lofty tent,
And there in gentle converse their grace and favor sought;
So flew the hours in pastime till of riding home they thought.
Now as drew on the twilight, when cooler grew the air
And the sun was setting, they would not linger there,
But up rose lords and ladies to seek the castle high;
Many a fair dame was cherish'd by many a love-lit eye.
So on the fair they waited as from good knights is due.
Then hardy squires, hot spurring before the nobles' view,
After the country's custom rode for the prize of weed
As far as to the palace, where sprung the king from steed.
There too the proud queens parted, each taking thence her way.
Dame Uta and her daughter with their handmaids gay
Into a spacious chamber both together went.
There might you see on all sides the sound of merriment.
In hall the seats were order'd; the king would instant hie
With all his guests to table; beside him you might spy
His lovely bride, Queen Brunhild; her royal crown she wore
There in King Guenther's country; so rich was none before.
Seats were there plac'd unnumber'd with tables broad and good,
As is to us reported, full heap'd with costly food.
How little there was wanted that passes for the best!
There with the king was seated full many a noble guest.
The chamberlains of Guenther in ewers of ruddy gold
Brought to the guests the water; should you be ever told
That at a prince's table service was better done,
'T were labor lost to say so, 't would be believ'd by none.
Then, ere the lord of Rhineland touch'd the water bright,
Up to him, as befitted, went Siegfried the good knight,
And brought to his remembrance the promise made him there,
Ere yet afar in Issland he look'd on Brunhild fair.
Said he, "You must remember what swore to me your hand,
That soon as Lady Brunhild were come into this land,
To me you 'd give your sister, your oaths now where are they?
On me throughout your journey much toil and travail lay."
"Well did you to remind me," the noble king replied,
"By what my hand has promis'd, I ever will abide,
And in this thing to serve you will do my best, my all."
Then sent he to beg Kriemhild to come into the hall.
Straight to the hall came Kriemhild begirt with many a maid,
When from the lofty staircase young Giselher thus said,
"Send back your maidens, Kriemhild, this bus'ness is your own;
On this the king, our brother, would speak with you alone."
Then forward led was Kriemhild, as Guenther gave command,
Where stood the king, and round him from many a prince's land
Were noble knights unnumber'd; at once all silence kept;
At that same instant Brunhild had just to table stepp'd.
Thence came it she knew nothing of what was to be done.
Then to his gather'd kinsmen spoke Dancrat's royal son,
"Help me to move my sister Siegfried for lord to take."
"Such match," they all made answer, "with honour she may make."
Then spoke the king to Kriemhild, "Sister, I ask of thee
From an oath to set me by thy kindness free.
Thee to a knight I promis'd; if thou become his bride,
Thou 'lt do the will of Guenther, and show thy love beside."
Then spake the noble maiden, "Dearest brother mine,
It needed not to ask me; whate'er command be thine,
I'll willingly perform it; so now, for thy sake,
Whom thou for husband giv'st me, fain I, my lord, will take."
With love and eke with pleasure redden'd Siegfried's hue;
At once to Lady Kriemhild he pledg'd his service true.
They bade them stand together in the courtly circle bright,
And ask'd her if for husband she took that lofty knight.
In modest maiden fashion she blush'd a little space,
But such was Siegfried's fortune and his earnest grace.
That not altogether could she deny her hand.
Then her for wife acknowledg'd the noble king of Netherland.
He thus to her affianc'd, and to him the maid,
Straight round the long-sought damsel in blushing grace array'd
His arms with soft emotion th' enamour'd warrior threw,
And kiss'd the high-born princess before that glitt'ring crew.
_Lettsom's Translation, Tenth Adventure._
HOW MARGRAVE RUEDEGER WAS SLAIN.
The Margrave Ruedeger did not take part in the battle fought in Etzel's
hall between the Burgundians visiting the Hunnish court and the Huns,
because of his friendship for the Burgundians, and the betrothal of his
daughter to Prince Giselher. Because of this, he was taunted by a Hun, who
said to the queen that although Ruedeger had accepted many favors from
Etzel he did not fight for him. When the Hun fell dead under Ruedeger's
blow, Etzel reproached him for slaying one of his followers when he had
need of so many.
Then came the fair Queen Kriemhild; she too had seen full well
What from the hero's anger the luckless Hun befell;
And she too mourn'd it deeply; with tears her eyes were wet.
Thus spake she to Ruedeger, "How have we ever yet
"Deserv'd that you, good Ruedeger, should make our anguish more?
Now sure to me and Etzel you've promised o'er and o'er,
That you both life and honour would risk to do us right.
That you 're the flower of knighthood is own'd by every knight.
"Now think upon the homage that once to me you swore,
When to the Rhine, good warrior, King Etzel's suit you bore,
That you would serve me ever to either's dying day.
Ne'er can I need so deeply, that you that vow should pay."
"'T is true, right noble lady; in this we 're not at strife;
I pledg'd, to do you service, my honour and my life,
But my soul to hazard never did I vow.
I brought the princes hither, and must not harm them now."
* * * * *
With that, to beg and pray him the king began as well;
King and queen together both at his feet they fell.
Then might you the good margrave have seen full ill bestead,
And thus in bitterest anguish the faithful hero said:--
"Woe's me the heaven-abandon'd, that I have liv'd to this!
Farewell to all my honours! woe for my first amiss!
My truth--my God-giv'n innocence--must they be both forgot?
Woe's me, O God in heaven! that death relieves me not!"
Then thus bespake him Kriemhild, "Right noble Ruedeger,
Take pity on our anguish; thou see'st us kneeling here,
The king and me before thee; both clasp thy honour'd knees.
Sure never host yet feasted such fatal guests as these."
With that the noble margrave thus to the queen 'gan say,
"Sure must the life of Ruedeger for all the kindness pay,
That you to me, my lady, and my lord the king have done.
For this I'm doomed to perish, and that ere set of sun.
"Full well I know, this morning my castles and my land
Both will to you fall vacant by stroke of foeman's hand,
And so my wife and daughter I to your grace commend,
And all at Bechelaren, each trusty homeless friend."
* * * * *
So to war the margrave under helmet strode;
Sharpest swords his meiny brandished as they rode;
Each in hand, bright-flashing, held his shield before.
That saw the dauntless minstrel, and seeing sorrow'd sore.
Then too was by young Giselher his lady's father seen
With helm laced as for battle. "What," thought he, "can he mean?
But nought can mean the margrave but what is just and right."
At the thought full joyous wax'd the youthful knight.
"I know not what you trust in;" thus the stern minstrel spake;
"Where saw you warriors ever for reconcilement's sake
With helmets laced advancing, and naked swords in hand?
On us will earn Sir Ruedeger his castles and his land."
Scarcely the valiant minstrel his words had utter'd all,
When the noble Ruedeger was close before the hall.
His shield, well proved in battle, before his feet he laid,
But neither proffered service, nor friendly greeting made.
To those within he shouted, "Look not for succor hence;
Ye valiant Nibelungers, now stand on your defence.
I'd fain have been your comrade; your foe I now must be.
We once were friends together; now from that bond I'm free."
"Now God forbid," said Guenther, "that such a knight as you
To the faith wherein we trusted, should ever prove untrue,
And turn upon his comrades in such an hour as this.
Ne'er can I think that Ruedeger can do so much amiss."
"I can't go back," said Ruedeger, "the deadly die is cast;
I must with you do battle; to that my word is pass'd.
So each of you defend him as he loves his life.
I must perform my promise; so wills King Etzel's wife."
* * * * * * *
"Tarry yet a little, right noble Ruedeger!
I and my lords a moment would yet with you confer;
Thereto hard need compels us, and danger gathering nigh;
What boot were it to Etzel though here forlorn we die?
"I'm now," pursued Sir Hagan, "beset with grievous care;
The shield that Lady Gotelind gave me late to bear,
Is hewn, and all-to broken by many a Hunnish brand.
I brought it fair and friendly hither to Etzel's land.
"Ah! that to me this favour heaven would be pleas'd to yield,
That I might to defend me bear so well-prov'd a shield
As that, right noble Ruedeger, before thee now display'd!
No more should I in battle need then the hauberk's aid."
"Fain with the same I'd serve thee to th' height of thy desire,
But that I fear such proffer might waken Kriemhild's ire.
Still, take it to thee, Hagan, and wield it well in hand.
Ah! might'st thou bring it with thee to thy Burgundian land!"
While thus with words so courteous so fair a gift he sped,
The eyes of many a champion with scalding tears were red,
'T was the last gift, that buckler, e'er given to comrade dear
By the lord of Bechelaren, the blameless Ruedeger.
However stern was Hagan, and of unyielding mood,
Still at the gift he melted, which one so great and good
Gave in his last few moments, e'en on the eve of fight,
And with the stubborn warrior mourn'd many a noble knight.
"Now God in heaven, good Ruedeger, thy recompenser be!
Your like on earth, I'm certain, we never more shall see,
Who gifts so good and gorgeous to homeless wanderers give.
May God protect your virtue, that it may ever live!
"Alas! this bloody bus'ness!" Sir Hagan then went on,
"We have had to bear much sorrow, and more shall have anon.
Must friend with friend do battle, nor heaven the conflict part?"
The noble margrave answer'd, "That wounds my inmost heart."
"Now for thy gift I'll quit thee, right noble Ruedeger!
What e'er may chance between thee and my bold comrades here,
My hand shall touch thee never amidst the heady fight,
Not e'en if thou shouldst slaughter every Burgundian knight."
For that to him bow'd courteous the blameless Ruedeger.
Then all around were weeping for grief and doleful drear,
Since none th' approaching mischief had hope to turn aside.
The father of all virtue in that good margrave died.
* * * * * * *
What a fearful clatter of clashing blades there rang!
From shields beneath the buffets how the plates they sprang,
And precious stones unnumber'd rain'd down into the gore!
They fought so fell and furious as man will never more.
The lord of Bechelaren went slashing here and there,
As one who well in battle knew how himself to bear.
Well prov'd the noble Ruedeger in that day's bloody fight,
That never handled weapon a more redoubted knight.
* * * * * * *
Loud o'er the din of battle stout Gernot shouted then,
"How now, right noble Ruedeger? not one of all my men
Thou 'lt leave me here unwounded; in sooth it grieves me sore
To see my friends thus slaughter'd; bear it can I no more.
"Now must thy gift too surely the giver harm to-day,
Since of my friends so many thy strength has swept away.
So turn about and face me, thou bold and high-born man!
Thy goodly gift to merit, I'll do the best I can."
Ere through the press the margrave could come Sir Gernot nigh,
Full many a glittering mail-coat was stain'd a bloody die.
Then those fame-greedy champions each fierce on th' other leapt,
And deadly wounds at distance with wary ward they kept.
So sharp were both their broadswords, resistless was their dint,
Sudden the good Sir Ruedeger through th' helmet hard as flint
So struck the noble Gernot, that forth the blood it broke;
With death the stern Burgundian repaid the deadly stroke.
He heaved the gift of Ruedeger with both his hands on high,
And to the death though wounded, a stroke at him let fly
Right through both shield and morion; deep was the gash and wide.
At once the lord of Gotelind beneath the swordcut died.
In sooth a gift so goodly was worse requited ne'er.
Down dead dropp'd both together, Gernot and Ruedeger.
Each slain by th' other's manhood, then prov'd, alas! too well.
Thereat first Sir Hagan furious wax'd and fell.
Then cried the knight of Trony, "Sure we with ills are cross'd;
Their country and their people in both these chiefs have lost
More than they'll e'er recover;--woe worth this fatal day!
We have here the margrave's meiny, and they for all shall pay!"
All struck at one another, none would a foeman spare.
Full many a one, unwounded, down was smitten there,
Who else might have 'scap'd harmless, but now, though whole and sound,
In the thick press was trampled, or in the blood was drown'd.
"Alas! my luckless brother who here in death lies low!
How every hour I'm living brings some fresh tale of woe!
And ever must I sorrow for the good margrave too.
On both sides dire destruction and mortal ills we rue."
Soon as the youthful Giselher beheld his brother dead,
Who yet within were lingering by sudden doom were sped.
Death, his pale meiny choosing, dealt each his dreary dole.
Of those of Bechelaren 'scaped not one living soul.
King Guenther and young Giselher, and fearless Hagan too,
Dankwart as well as Folker, the noble knights and true,
Went where they found together out-stretched the valiant twain.
There wept th' assembled warriors in anguish o'er the slain.
"Death fearfully despoils us," said youthful Giselher,
"But now give over wailing, and haste to th' open air
To cool our heated hauberks, faint as we are with strife.
God, methinks, no longer, will here vouchsafe us life."
This sitting, that reclining, was seen full many a knight;
They took repose in quiet; around (a fearful sight!)
Lay Ruedeger's dead comrades; all was hush'd and still;
From that long dreary silence King Etzel augur'd ill.
"Alas for this half friendship!" thus Kriemhild frowning spake,
"If it were true and steadfast, Sir Ruedeger would take
Vengeance wide and sweeping on yonder murderous band;
Now back he'll bring them safely to their Burgundian land.
"What boot our gifts, King Etzel? was it, my lord, for this
We gave him all he asked us? The chief has done amiss.
He, who should have reveng'd us, will now a treaty make."
Thereto in answer Folker, the gallant minstrel, spake,
"Not so the truth is, lady! the more the pity too!
If one the lie might venture to give a dame like you,
Most foully against the margrave you've lied, right noble queen!
Sore trick'd in that same treaty he and his men have been.
"With such good will the margrave his king's commands obey'd,
That he and all his meiny dead on this floor are laid.
Now look about you, Kriemhild! for servants seek anew;
Well were you served by Ruedeger; he to the death was true.
"The fact if still you're doubting, before your eyes we'll bring."
'T was done e'en of set purpose her heart the more to wring.
They brought the mangled margrave, where Etzel saw him well.
Th' assembled knights of Hungary such utter anguish ne'er befell.
When thus held high before them they saw the margrave dead,
Sure by the choicest writer could ne'er be penn'd nor said
The woeful burst of wailing from woman and eke from man,
That from the heart's deep sorrow to strike all ears began.
Above his weeping people King Etzel sorrow'd sore;
His deep-voic'd wail resounded loud as the lion's roar
In the night-shaded desert; the like did Kriemhild too;
They mourn'd in heart for Ruedeger, the valiant and the true.
_Lettsom's Translation, Thirty-seventh Adventure._
THE SONG OF ROLAND.
The Song of Roland is one of the many mediaeval romances that celebrate
the deeds of Charlemagne.
The oldest text now in existence was written about 1096, but the poem was
current in other forms long before this.
The author was a Norman, for the poem is written in the Norman dialect;
but it is uncertain whether the Turoldus or Theroulde named in the last
line of the poem, "Thus endeth here the geste Turoldus sang," was the
author, a copyist, or a _jongleur_.
It is said that Taillefer, the minstrel of Normandy, sang the Song of
Roland at the battle of Hastings. "Taillefer, who right well sang, mounted
on his rapid steed, went before them singing of Charlemagne, and of
Roland, and Olivier, and of the vassals who died in Roncesvalles."
The only text of the poem now in existence is one of the thirteenth
century, preserved in the Bodleian library at Oxford.
On the fifteenth of August, 778, in the valley of Roncesvalles, in the
Pyrenees, Charlemagne's rear guard, left under the command of Roland,
Prefect of the Marches of Brittany, was attacked and slaughtered by a
large army of Gascons.
This incident forms the historical basis of the poem; but the imagination
of the poet has made of Charlemagne, then a young man, the old emperor,
with "beard all blossom white," and transformed his Gascon foes to
The Song of Roland is written in the heroic pentameter; it is divided into
"laisses," or stanzas, of irregular length, and contains about three
thousand seven hundred and eight lines. It is written in the assonant, or
vowel rhyme, that was universal among European nations in the early stage
of their civilization.
Each stanza ends with the word "aoi," for which no satisfactory
translation has yet been offered, although "away" and "it is done" have
The author of the Song of Roland undertook, like Homer, to sing of one
great event about which all the interest of the poem centres; but unlike
Homer, his poem is out of all proportion, the long-drawn out revenge being
in the nature of an anti-climax. The Song of Roland is a fair exponent of
the people among whom it originated. It contains no ornament; it is a
straightforward relation of facts; it lacks passion, and while it
describes fearful slaughter, it never appeals to the emotions. Though the
French army shed many tears, and fell swooning to the ground at the sight
of the fearful slaughter at Roncesvalles, we are rather moved to smile at
the violence of their emotion than to weep over the dead, so little power
has the poet to touch the springs of feeling. However, there are passages
in which the poem rises to sublimity, and which have been pronounced
Homeric by its admirers.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM, THE SONG OF ROLAND.
J. Banquier's Bibliographie de la Chanson de Roland, 1877;
T. Bulfinch's Legends of Charlemagne, 1863;
Sir G. W. Cox and E. H. Jones's Popular Romances of the Middle Ages, 1871,
Leon Gautier's Les epopees francaises, vol. i., 1878;
J. Malcolm Ludlow's Story of Roland (see his Popular Epics of the Middle
Ages, 1865, vol. i., pp. 362-427);
Gaston Paris's La poesie epique (see his Histoire poetique de Charlemagne,
1865, pp. 1-33);
Gaston Paris's Les Chansons de Gestes francaises (see his Histoire
poetique de Charlemagne, 1865, pp. 69-72);
George Saintsbury's The Chansons de Gestes (see his Short History of
French Literature, 1892, pp. 10-25);
Henri Van Laun's The Carlovingian Cycle (see his History of French
Literature, 1876, vol. i., pp. 141-148);
Ancient Literature of France, Quarterly Review, 1866, cxx. 283-323;
The Chanson de Roland, Westminster Review, 1873, c. 32-44;
M. Hayden's The Chansons de Geste, Dublin Review, 1894, cxiv. 346-357;
Charles Francis Keary's The Chansons de Geste:
the Song of Roland, Fraser's Magazine, 1881, civ. 777-789;
J. M. L.'s The Song of Roland, Macmillan's Magazine, 1862, vi. 486-501;
Agnes Lambert's The oldest epic of Christendom, Nineteenth Century, 1882,
Andrew Lang's The Song of Roland and the Iliad, National Review, 1892, xx.
Legend of Roland, Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. xx.;
Gustave Masson's The Chanson de Roland, Leisure Hour, 1877, xxvi. 618-620;
The Song of Roland, Catholic World, 1873 and 1874, xviii. 378-388,
The Song of Roland, Harper's Monthly, 1882, lxiv. 505-515;
The Month, 1880, xl. 515-527; Temple Bar, 1886, lxxviii. 534-540.
STANDARD ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS, THE SONG OF ROLAND.
The Song of Roland, as chanted before the Battle of Hastings by the
Minstrel Taillefer, Tr. from the French translation of Vitet by Mrs. Anne
Caldwell Marsh, 1854;
The Song of Roland, Tr. into English verse by John O'Hagan, ed. 2, 1883;
La Chanson de Roland, Tr. from the seventh ed. of Leon Gautier, by Leonce
THE STORY OF THE SONG OF ROLAND.
For full seven years had Charlemagne tarried in Spain, and all the land
lay conquered save the city of Saragossa. There, in an orchard, upon a
terrace paved with blue marble, sat its king, Marsile, taking counsel with
"No army have I," said the king; "no people to array against the hosts of
the great emperor. Advise me, my lords, what I shall do to save ourselves
from disgrace and shame."
The wily Blancandrin, wisest and greatest among the pagans, advanced
before him. "Where might cannot prevail, often craft gains the day. My
lord, send gifts to mighty Carle. Drive forth a long train of camels; heap
many mules with gold; send chariots filled with precious gifts. Advise him
that on the day of Saint Michael's feast you will seek him at Aix, and
there become a Christian, and his vassal. Yea, even send hostages; my own
son shall go, even though he lose his head. Then will Carle depart for
France. The day set by you will come, but he will hear naught from us. The
hostages' heads will fall. What of it? Better this than for us to lose
forever Spain the fair."
The king, pleased with the craft of Blancandrin, dismissed his council,
and ordered ten of his fiercest barons to seek Charlemagne at Cordova,
bearing the olive-branch, and make the offer suggested by Blancandrin.
Cordova, filled with rich spoils, had been taken, and its surviving
inhabitants given the choice of the sword or Christian baptism. Therefore
the happy emperor sat at his ease in a wide-spreading orchard. Around him
stood Roland, Olivier, Samsun the duke, Anseis, Gefrei d'Anjou, and
Gerier. At least fifteen thousand French knights were diverting themselves
with different games in the beautiful orchard, where, under a pine-tree,
the great King of France sat upon a golden chair. His white hair and
flowing white beard added majesty to his already majestic figure, so that
the olive-bearing messengers needed not to have great Carle pointed out to
The emperor heard the message of Marsile in silence, and dismissing the
pagans for the night to a pavilion, called together in council his wisest
barons, Duke Ogier, Archbishop Turpin, Gerier, Roland, Olivier, a thousand
Franks, among them Ganelon, the step-father of Roland, and laid before
them the message of Marsile.
"Rich gifts he offers me, but he demands that I return to France; thither
will he follow me, and at Aix will become a Christian and a vassal. A fair
promise, but what is in his heart I cannot tell."
After a moment's silence Roland stood forth.
"Sire, have no faith in the words of Marsile. When have we found aught but
treachery in the Saracen? For seven years I have been winning victories
for you here in Spain. Once before you yielded to such a message as this,
from this same Marsile, and lost, in consequence, the heads of your Counts
Bazan and Bazile. War on as you have begun. Besiege his city! subdue
Then strode forth the angry Ganelon. "My king, this young hot-head is a
fool; hearken not unto him. Accept the offer of Marsile, and lose no more
lives by the foolhardiness of one who cares more for his own glory than
for human life."
The voice of the others, among them Duke Naimes, Charlemagne's wisest
counsellor and truest vassal, was with Ganelon. The emperor stroked his
white beard. "My lords, whom shall we send to meet Marsile at Saragossa?"
"I will go," said Duke Naimes.
"Nay, I cannot spare you from my councils," replied the king.
"I am here!" cried Roland.
"Not you! You are too hot-headed to venture into the court of the enemy!"
cried his friend Olivier. "Let me go instead, sire!"
"Nay!" cried the king. "Silence! Not one of the twelve peers sets his foot
in the kingdom of the Moors."
"Then let my step-father go," suggested Roland. "No wiser man than he can
"Come forward," said the king, as the Franks murmured assent, "and receive
the staff and glove. The Franks have chosen you."