Part 1 out of 6
Originally written in Middle High German (M.H.G.), sometime
around 1200 A.D., although this dating is by no means certain.
The text of this edition is based on that published as "The
Nibelungenlied", translated by Daniel B. Shumway (Houghton-
Mifflin Co., New York, 1909). This edition is in the PUBLIC
DOMAIN in the United States.
This electronic edition was edited, proofed, and prepared by
Douglas B. Killings (DeTroyes@EnterAct.COM)
In order to make this electronic edition easier to use, the
preparer has found it necessary to re-arrange the endnotes of Mr.
Shumway's edition, collating them with the chapters themselves
and substituting page references with footnote references. The
preparer takes full responsibility for these changes. -- DBK.
OTHER TRANSLATIONS --
Hatto, A.T. (Trans.): "Nibelungenlied" (Penguin Classics, London,
1962). Prose translation.
Ryder, Frank G. (Trans.): "The Song of the Nibelungs" (Wayne
State University Press, Detroit, 1962). Verse translation.
RECOMMENDED READING --
Anonymous: "Kudrun", Translated by Marion E. Gibbs & Sidney
Johnson (Garland Pub., New York, 1992).
Anonymous: "Volsungasaga", Translated by William Morris and
Eirikr Magnusson (Walter Scott Press, London, 1888; Reissued by
the Online Medieval and Classical Library as E-Text #29, 1997).
Saxo Grammaticus: "The First Nine Books of the Danish History",
Translated by Oliver Elton (London, 1894; Reissued by the Online
Medieval and Classical Library as E-Text OMACL #28, 1997).
This work has been undertaken in the belief that a literal
translation of as famous an epic as the "Nibelungenlied" would be
acceptable to the general reading public whose interest in the
story of Siegfried has been stimulated by Wagner's operas and by
the reading of such poems as William Morris' "Sigurd the
Volsung". Prose has been selected as the medium of translation,
since it is hardly possible to give an accurate rendering and at
the same time to meet the demands imposed by rhyme and metre; at
least, none of the verse translations made thus far have
succeeded in doing this. The prose translations, on the other
hand, mostly err in being too continuous and in condensing too
much, so that they retell the story instead of translating it.
The present translator has tried to avoid these two extremes. He
has endeavored to translate literally and accurately, and to
reproduce the spirit of the original, as far as a prose
translation will permit. To this end the language has been made
as simple and as Saxon in character as possible. An exception
has been made, however, in the case of such Romance words as were
in use in England during the age of the romances of chivalry, and
which would help to land a Romance coloring; these have been
frequently employed. Very few obsolete words have been used, and
these are explained in the notes, but the language has been made
to some extent archaic, especially in dialogue, in order to give
the impression of age. At the request of the publishers the
Introduction Sketch has been shorn of the apparatus of
scholarship and made as popular as a study of the poem and its
sources would allow. The advanced student who may be interested
in consulting authorities will find them given in the
introduction to the parallel edition in the Riverside Literature
Series. A short list of English works on the subject had,
however, been added.
In conclusion the translator would like to thank his colleagues,
C.G. Child and Cornelius Weygandt, for their helpful suggestions
in starting the work, and also to acknowledge his indebtedness to
the German edition of Paul Piper, especially in preparing the
-- DANIEL BUSSIER SHUMWAY,
Philadelphia, February 15, 1909.
There is probably no poem of German literature that has excited
such universal interest, or that has been so much studied and
discussed, as the "Nibelungenlied". In its present form it is a
product of the age of chivalry, but it reaches back to the
earliest epochs of German antiquity, and embraces not only the
pageantry of courtly chivalry, but also traits of ancient
Germanic folklore and probably of Teutonic mythology. One of its
earliest critics fitly called it a German "Iliad", for, like this
great 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,
and the embodiment of all that is great in the antiquity of the
race. Though lacking to some extent the dignity of the "Iliad",
the "Nibelungenlied" surpasses the former in the deep tragedy
which pervades it, the tragedy of fate, the inevitable
retribution for crime, the never-dying struggle between the
powers of good and evil, between light and darkness.
That the poem must have been exceedingly popular during the
Middle Ages is evinced by the great number of Manuscripts that
have come down to us. We possess in all twenty-eight more or
less complete MSS., preserved in thirty-one fragments, fifteen of
which date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Of all
these MSS., but nine are so well preserved that, in spite of some
minor breaks, they can be considered complete. Of this number
three, designated respectively as A, B, C, are looked upon as the
most important for purposes of textual criticism, and around them
a fierce battle has been waged, which is not even yet settled.
(1) It is now generally conceded that the longest MS., C, is a
later redaction with many additional strophes, but opinions are
divided as to whether the priority should be given to A or B, the
probabilities being that B is the more original, A merely a
careless copy of B.
In spite of the great popularity of the "Nibelungenlied", the
poem was soon forgotten by the mass of the people. With the
decay of courtly chivalry and the rise of the prosperous citizen
class, whose ideals and testes lay in a different direction, this
epic shared the fate of many others of its kind, and was
relegated to the dusty shelves of monastery or ducal libraries,
there to wait till a more cultured age, curious as to the
literature of its ancestors, should bring it forth from its
hiding places. However, the figures of the old legend were not
forgotten, but lived on among the people, and were finally
embodied in a popular ballad, "Das Lied vom Hurnen Segfrid",
which has been preserved in a print of the sixteenth century,
although the poem itself is thought to go back at least to the
thirteenth. The legend was also dramatized by Hans Sachs, the
shoemaker poet of Nuremberg, and related in prose form in a chap
book which still exists in prints of the eighteenth century. The
story and the characters gradually became so vague and distorted,
that only a trained eye could detect in the burlesque figures of
the popular account the heroes of the ancient Germanic Legend.
The honor of rediscovering the "Nibelungenlied" and of restoring
it to the world of literature belongs to a young physician by the
name of J.H. Obereit, who found the manuscript C at the castle of
Hohenems in the Tirol on June 29, 1755; but the scientific study
of the poem begins with Karl Lachmann, one of the keenest
philological critics that Germany has ever produced. In 1816 he
read before the University of Berlin his epoch-making essay upon
the original form of the "Nibelungenlied". Believing that the
poem was made up of a number of distinct ballads or lays, he
sought by means of certain criteria to eliminate all parts which
were, as he thought, later interpolations or emendations. As a
result of this sifting and discarding process, he reduced the
poem to what he considered to have been its original form,
namely, twenty separate lays, which he thought had come down to
us in practically the same form in which they had been sung by
This view is no longer held in its original form. Though we have
every reason to believe that ballads of Siegfried the dragon
killer, of Siegfried and Kriemhild, and of the destruction of the
Nibelungs existed in Germany, yet these ballads are no longer to
be seen in our poem. They formed merely the basis or source for
some poet who thought to revive the old heroic legends of the
German past which were familiar to his hearers and to adapt them
to the tastes of his time. In all probability we must assume
two, three, or even more steps in the genesis of the poem. There
appear to have been two different sources, one a Low German
account, quite simple and brief, the other a tradition of the
Lower Rhine. The legend was perhaps developed by minstrels along
the Rhine, until it was taken and worked up into its present form
by some Austrian poet. Who this poet was we do not know, but we
do know that he was perfectly familiar with all the details of
courtly etiquette. He seems also to have been acquainted with
the courtly epics of Heinrich von Veldeke and Hartman von Ouwe,
but his poem is free from the tedious and often exaggerated
descriptions of pomp, dress, and court ceremonies, that mar the
beauty of even the best of the courtly epics. Many painstaking
attempts have been made to discover the identity of the writer of
our poem, but even the most plausible of all these theories which
considers Kurenberg, one of the earliest of the "Minnesingers",
to be the author, because of the similarity of the strophic form
of our poem to that used by him, is not capable of absolute
proof, and recent investigations go to show that Kurenberg was
indebted to the "Nibelungen" strophe for the form of his lyric,
and not the "Nibelungenlied" to him. The "Nibelungen" strophe is
presumably much older, and, having become popular in Austria
through the poem, was adopted by Kurenberg for his purposes. As
to the date of the poem, in its present form it cannot go back
further than about 1190, because of the exactness of the rhymes,
nor could it have been written later than 1204, because of
certain allusions to it in the sixth book of "Parzival", which we
know to have been written at this date. The two Low German poems
which probably form the basis of our epic may have been united
about 1150. It was revised and translated into High German and
circulated at South German courts about 1170, and then received
its present courtly form about 1190, this last version being the
immediate source of our manuscripts.
The story of Siegfried, his tragic death, and the dire vengeance
visited upon his slayers, which lies at the basis of our poem,
antedates the latter by many centuries, and was known to all
nations whose languages prove by their resemblance to the German
tongue their original identity with the German people. Not only
along the banks of the Rhine and the Danube and upon the upland
plains of Southern Germany, but also along the rocky fjords of
Norway, among the Angles and Saxons in their new home across the
channel, even in the distant Shetland Islands and on the snow-
covered wastes of Iceland, this story was told around the fires
at night and sung to the harp in the banqueting halls of kings
and nobles, each people and each generation telling it in its own
fashion and adding new elements of its own invention. This great
geographical distribution of the legend, and the variety of forms
in which it appears, make it difficult to know where we must seek
its origin. The northern version is in many respects older and
simpler in form than the German, but still it is probable that
Norway was not the home of the saga, but that it took its rise in
Germany along the banks of the Rhine among the ancient tribe of
the Franks, as is shown by the many geographical names that are
reminiscent of the characters of the story, such as a Siegfried
"spring" in the Odenwald, a Hagen "well" at Lorsch, a Brunhild
"bed" near Frankfort, and the well-known "Drachenfels", or
Dragon's Rock, on the Rhine. It is to Norway, however, that we
must go for our knowledge of the story, for, singularly enough,
with the exception of the "Nibelungenlied" and the popular
ballad, German literature has preserved almost no trace of the
legend, and such as exist are too late and too corrupt to be of
much use in determining the original features of the story.
Just when the legend emigrated to Skandinavia we do not know, but
certainly at an early date, perhaps during the opening years of
the sixth century. It may have been introduced by German
traders, by slaves captured by the Northmen on their frequent
marauding expeditions, or, as Mogk believes, may have been taken
by the Heruli on their return to Norway after their defeat by the
Langobardi. By whatever channel, however, the story reached the
North, it became part and parcel of Skandinavian folklore, only
certain names still pointing to the original home of the legend.
In the ninth century, when Harald Harfagr changed the ancient
free constitution of the land, many Norwegians emigrated to
Iceland, taking with them these acquired legends, which were
better preserved in this remote island because of the peaceful
introduction of Christianity, than on the Continent, where the
Church was more antagonistic to the customs and legends of the
The Skandinavian version of the Siegfried legend has been handed
down to us in five different forms. The first of these is the
poetic or older "Edda", also called Saemund's "Edda", as it was
assigned to the celebrated Icelandic scholar Saemundr Sigfusson.
The "Codex Regius", in which it is preserved, dates from the
middle of the thirteenth century, but is probably a copy of an
older manuscript. The songs it contains were written at various
times, the oldest probably in the first half of the ninth
century, the latest not much before the date of the earliest
manuscript. Most of them, however, belong to the Viking period,
when Christianity was already beginning to influence the
Norwegians, that is, between the years 800 and 1000. They are
partly heroic, partly mythological in character, and are written
in alliterative strophes interspersed with prose, and have the
form of dialogues. Though the legends on which these songs are
based were brought from Norway, most of them were probably
composed in Iceland. Among these songs, now, we find a number
which deal with the adventures of Siegfried and his tragic end.
The second source of the Siegfried story is the so-called
"Volsungasaga", a prose paraphrase of the "Edda" songs. The MS.
dates from the beginning of the thirteenth century, but the
account was probably written a century earlier. The adventures
of Siegfried and his ancestors are here related in great detail
and his ancestry traced back to Wodan. Although a secondary
source, as it is based on the "Edda", the "Volsungasaga" is
nevertheless of great importance, since it supplies a portion of
the "Codex Regius" which has been lost, and thus furnishes us
with the contents of the missing songs.
The third source is the prose "Edda", sometimes called the
"Snorra Edda", after the famous Icelander Snorri Sturluson
(1178-1241),to whom it was ascribed. The author was acquainted
with both the poetic "Edda" and the "Volsungasaga", and follows
these accounts closely. The younger "Edda" is not really a tale,
but a book of poetics; it relates, however, the Siegfried saga
briefly. It is considered an original source, since it evidently
made use of songs that have not come down to us, especially in
the account of the origin of the treasure, which is here told
more in detail and with considerable differences. The
"Nornagestsaga" or "Nornageststhattr", the story of "Nornagest",
forms the fourth source of the Siegfried story. It is really a
part of the Olaf saga, but contains the story of Sigurd and
Gunnar (the Norse forms of Siegfried and Gunther), which an old
man Nornagest relates to King Olaf Tryggvason, who converted the
Norwegians to Christianity. The story was written about 1250 to
illustrate the transition from heathendom to the Christian faith.
It is based on the "Edda" and the "Volsungasaga", and is
therefore of minor importance as a source.
These four sources represent the early introduction of the
Siegfried legend into Skandinavia. A second introduction took
place about the middle of the thirteenth century, at the time of
the flourishing of the Hanseatic League, when the story was
introduced together with other popular German epics. These poems
are products of the age of chivalry, and are characterized by the
romantic and courtly features of this movement. The one which
concerns us here, as the fifth source of the Siegfried story, is
the so-called "Thidreksaga", which celebrates the adventures of
the famous legendary hero, Dietrich of Berne, the historical
Theodorich of Ravenna. In as far as it contains the adventures
of the Nibelungs, it is also called the "Niflungasaga". The
"Thidreksaga" was written about 1250 by a Norwegian who, as he
himself tells us, heard the story from Germans in the
neighborhood of Bremen and Munster. Since it is thus based on
Saxon traditions, it can be considered an independent source of
the legend, and, in fact, differs from the earlier Norse versions
in many important details. The author was acquainted, however,
with the older versions, and sought to compromise between them,
but mostly followed his German authorities.
The story, as given in the older Norse versions, is in most
respects more original than in the "Nibelungenlied". It relates
the history of the treasure of the Nibelungs, tracing it back to
a giant by the name of "Hreithmar", who received it from the god
"Loki" as a compensation for the killing of the former's son
"Otur", whom Loki had slain in the form of an otter. Loki
obtained the ransom from a dwarf named "Andwari", who in turn had
stolen it from the river gods of the Rhine. Andwari pronounces a
terrible curse upon the treasure and its possessors, and this
curse passes from Loki to the Giant Hreithmar, who is murdered
when asleep by his two sons "Fafnir" and "Regin". The latter,
however, is cheated out of the coveted prize by Fafnir, who
carries it away to the "Gnita" heath, where he guards it in the
form of a dragon.
This treasure, with its accompanying curse, next passes into the
hands of a human being named Sigurd (the Norse form of Siegfried,
as we have seen), a descendant of the race of the Volsungs, who
trace their history back to Wodan and are especially favored by
him. The full story of Siegfried's ancestry is far too long to
relate here, and does not especially concern us, as it has little
or no influence on the later development of the story. It is
sufficient for our purpose to know that Siegfried was the son of
Siegmund, who was slain in battle before the birth of his son.
Sigurd was carefully reared by his mother "Hjordis" and the wise
dwarf Regin, who taught him the knowledge of runes and of many
languages. (2) At the suggestion of Regin, Sigurd asks for and
receives the steed "Grani" from the king, and is then urged by
his tutor to help him obtain the treasure guarded by the latter's
brother Fafnir. Sigurd promises, but first demands a sword.
Two, that arc given him by Regin, prove worthless, and he forges
a new one from the pieces of his father's sword, which his mother
had preserved. With this he easily splits the anvil and cuts in
two a flake of wool, floating down the Rhine. He first avenges
the death of his father, and then sets off with Regin to attack
the dragon Fafnir. At the advice of the former Sigurd digs a
ditch across the dragon's peth and pierces him from below with
his sword, as the latter comes down to drink. In dying the
dragon warns Sigurd against the treasure and its curse, and
against Regin, who, he says, is planning Sigurd's death,
intending to obtain the treasure for himself.
When Regin sees the dragon safely dead, he creeps from his place
of concealment, drinks of the blood, and, cutting out the heart,
begs Sigurd to roast it for him. While doing so, Sigurd burns
his fingers, and, putting them in his mouth, understands at once
the language of the birds and hears them say that Sigurd himself
should eat the heart and then he would be wiser than all other
men. They also betray Regin's evil designs, and counsel the lad
to kill his tutor. This Sigurd then does, cutting off Regin's
head, drinking the blood of both brothers, and eating Fafnir's
heart. (3) On the further advice of the birds Sigurd first
fetches the treasure from the cave, and then journeys to the
mountain "Hindarfjall", where he rescues the sleeping Valkyrie,
"Sigrdrifu" ("Brynhild", "Brunhild"), who, stung by the sleep
thorn of Wodan, and clad in full armor, lies asleep within a
castle that is surrounded by a wall of flame. With the help of
his steed Grani, Sigurd succeeds in penetrating through the fire
to the castle. The sleeping maiden awakes when he cuts the armor
from her with his sword, for it was as tight as if grown fast to
the flesh. She hails her deliverer with great joy, for she had
vowed never to marry a man who knew fear. At Sigurd's request
she teaches him many wise precepts, and finally pledges her troth
to him. He then departs, after promising to be faithful to her
and to remember her teachings.
On his journeyings Sigurd soon arrives at the court of "Giuki"
(the Norse form of the German "Gibicho", "Gibich"), a king whose
court lay on the lower Rhine. Giuki has three sons, "Gunnar",
"Hogni", and "Guthorm", and a daughter "Gudrun", endowed with
great beauty. The queen bears the name of Grimhild, and is
versed in magic, but possessed of an evil heart. (4) Sigurd is
received with great honor, for his coming had been announced to
Gudrun in dreams, which had in part been interpreted to her by
Brynhild. The mother, knowing of Sigurd's relations to the
latter, gives him a potion which produces forgetfulness, so that
he no longer remembers his betrothed, and accepts the hand of
Gudrun, which the king offers him at the queen's request. The
marriage is celebrated with great pomp, and Sigurd remains
permanently attached to Giuki's court, performing with the others
many deeds of valor.
Meanwhile Grimhild urges her son Gunnar to sue for the hand of
Brynhild. Taking with him Sigurd and a few others, Gunnar visits
first Brynhild's father "Budli", and then her brother-in-law
"Heimir", from both of whom he learns that she is free to choose
whom she will, but that she will marry no one who has not ridden
through the wall of flame. With this answer they proceed to
Brynhild's castle, where Gunnar is unable to pierce the flames,
even when seated on Sigurd's steed. Finally Sigurd and Gunnar
change forms, and Sigurd, disguised as Gunnar, rides through the
wall of fire, announces himself to Brynhild as Gunnar, the son of
Giuki, and reminds her of her promise to marry the one who
penetrated the fire. Brynhild consents with great reluctance,
for she is busy carrying on a war with a neighboring king.
Sigurd then passes three nights at her side, placing, however,
his sword Gram between them, as a bar of separation. At parting
he draws from her finger the ring, with which he had originally
pledged his troth to her, and replaces it with another, taken
from Fafnir's hoard. Soon after this the marriage of Gunnar and
Brynhild is celebrated with great splendor, and all return to
Giuki's court, where they live happily for some time.
One day, however, when the ladies go down to the river to take a
bath, Brynhild will not bathe further down stream than Gudrun,
that is, in the water which flows from Gudrun to her, (5) giving
as the reason, that her father was mightier and her husband
braver, since he had ridden through the fire, while Sigurd had
been a menial. Stung at this, Gudrun retorts that not Gunnar but
Sigurd had penetrated the flames and had taken from her the
fateful ring "Andvaranaut", which she then shows to her rival in
proof of her assertion. Brynhild turns deathly pale, but answers
not a word. After a second conversation on the subject had
increased the hatred of the queens, Brynhild plans vengeance.
Pretending to be ill, she takes to her bed, and when Gunnar
inquires what ails her, she asks him if he remembers the
circumstances of the wooing and that not he but Sigurd had
penetrated the flames. She attempts to take Gunnar's life, as
she had pledged her troth to Sigurd, and is thereupon placed in
chains by Hogni. Seven days she sleeps, and no one dares to wake
her. Finally Sigurd succeeds in making her talk, and she tells
him how cruelly she has been deceived, that the better man had
been destined for her, but that she had received the poorer one.
This Sigurd denies, for Giuki's son had killed the king of the
Danes and also Budli's brother, a great warrior. Moreover,
although he, Sigurd, had ridden through the flames, he had not
become her husband. He begs her therefore not to harbor a grudge
Brynhild remains unconvinced, and plans Sigurd's death, and
threatens Gunnar with the loss of dominion and life, if he will
not kill Sigurd. After some hesitation, Gunnar consents, and,
calling Hogni, informs him that he must kill Sigurd, in order to
obtain the treasure of the Rhinegold. Hogni warns him against
breaking his oath to Sigurd, when it occurs to Gunnar, that his
brother Gutthorm had sworn no oath and might do the deed. Both
now proceed to excite the latter's greed, and give him wolf's and
snake meat to eat to make him savage. Twice Gutthorm makes the
attempt, as Sigurd lies in bed, but is deterred by the latter's
penetrating glance. The third time he finds Sigurd asleep, and
pierces him with his sword. Sigurd, awakening at the pain, hurls
his own sword after his murderer, fairly cutting him in two. He
then dies, protesting his innocence and designating Brynhild as
the instigator of his murder. Brynhild at first laughs aloud at
Gudrun's frantic grief, but later her joy turns into sorrow, and
she determines to share Sigurd's death. In vain they try to
dissuade her; donning her gold corselet, she pierces herself with
a sword and begs to be burned on Sigurd's funeral pyre. In dying
she prophesies the future, telling of Gudrun's marriage to "Atli"
and of the death of the many men which will be caused thereby.
After Brynhild's death Gudrun in her sorrow flees to the court of
King "Half" of Denmark, where she remains seven years. Finally
Grimhild learns of the place of her daughter's concealment, and
tries to bring about a reconciliation with Gunnar and Hogni.
They offer her much treasure, if she will marry Atli. At first
she refuses and thinks only of revenge, but finally she consents
and the marriage is celebrated in Atli's land. After a time
Atli, who is envious of Gunnar's riches, for the latter had taken
possession of Sigurd's hoard, invites him to his court. A man
named "Vingi", who was sent with the invitation, changes the
runes of warning, which Gudrun had given him, so that they, too,
read as an invitation. The brothers determine to accept the
invitation, and, though warned by many dreams, they set out for
Atli's court, which they reach in due time. Vingi now breaks
forth into exultations, that he has lured them into a snare, and
is slain by Hogni with a battle axe.
As they ride to the king's hall, Atli and his sons arm themselves
for battle, and demand Sigurd's treasure, which belongs by right
to Gudrun. Gunnar refuses to surrender it, and the fight begins,
after some exchange of taunting words. Gudrun tries at first to
reconcile the combatants, but, failing, arms herself and fights
on the side of her brothers. The battle rages furiously with
great loss on both sides, until nearly all of the Nibelungs are
killed, when Gunnar and Hogni are forced to yield to the power of
numbers and are captured and bound. Gunnar is asked, if he will
purchase his life with the treasure. He replies that he first
wishes to see Hogni's bleeding heart. At first the heart of a
slave is cut out and brought to him, but Gunnar recognizes it at
once as that of a coward. Then they cut out Hogni's heart, who
laughs at the pain. This Gunnar sees is the right one, and is
jubilant, for now Atli shall never obtain the treasure, as Gunnar
alone knows where it is hid. In a rage Atli orders Gunnar to be
thrown to the snakes. Though his hands are bound, Gunnar plays
so sweetly with his toes on the harp, which Gudrun has sent him,
that all the snakes are lulled to sleep, with the exception of an
adder, which stings him to the heart, so that he dies.
Atli now walks triumphantly over the dead bodies, and remarks to
Gudrun that she alone is to blame for what has happened. She
refuses his offers of peace and reconciliation, and towards
evening kills her two sons "Erp" and "Eitil", and serves them at
the banquet, which the king gives for his retainers. When Atli
asks for his sons, he is told that he had drunk their blood mixed
with wine and had eaten their hearts. That night when Atli is
asleep, Gudrun takes Hogni's son "Hniflung", who desires to
avenge his father, and together they enter Atli's room and thrust
a sword through his breast. Atli awakes from the pain, only to
be told by Gudrun that she is his murderess. When he reproaches
her with thus killing her husband, she answers that she cared
only for Sigurd. Atli now asks for a fitting burial, and on
receiving the promise of this, expires. Gudrun carries out her
promise, and burns the castle with Atli and all his dead
retainers. Other Edda songs relate the further adventures of
Gudrun, but they do not concern us here, as the "Nibelungenlied"
stops with the death of the Nibelungs.
This in brief is the story of Siegfried, as it has been handed
down to us in the Skandinavian sources. It is universally
acknowledged that this version, though more original than the
Gorman tradition, does not represent the simplest and most
original form of the tale; but what the original form was, has
long been and still is a matter of dispute. Two distinctly
opposite views are held, the one seeing in the story the
personification of the forces of nature, the other, scouting the
possibility of a mythological interpretation, seeks a purely
human origin for the tale, namely, a quarrel among relatives for
the possession of treasure. The former view is the older, and
obtained almost exclusively at one time. The latter has been
gaining ground of recent years, and is held by many of the
younger students of the legend. According to the mythological
view, the maiden slumbering upon the lonely heights is the sun,
the wall of flames surrounding her the morning red
("Morgenrote"). Siegfried is the youthful day who is destined to
rouse the sun from her slumber. At the appointed time he
ascends, and before his splendor the morning red disappears. He
awakens the maiden; radiantly the sun rises from its couch and
joyously greets the world of nature. But light and shade are
indissolubly connected; day changes of itself into night. When
at evening the sun sinks to rest and surrounds herself once more
with a wall of flames, the day again approaches, but no longer in
the youthful form of the morning to arouse her from her slumber,
but in the sombre shape of Gunther, to rest at her side. Day has
turned into night; this is the meaning of the change of forms.
The wall of flame vanishes, day and sun descend into the realm of
darkness. Under this aspect the Siegfried story is a day myth;
but under another it is a myth of the year. The dragon is the
symbol of winter, the dwarfs of darkness. Siegfried denotes the
bright summer, his sword the sunbeams. The youthful year grows
up in the dark days of winder. When its time has come, it goes
forth triumphantly and destroys the darkness and the cold of
winter. Through the symbolization the abstractions gain form and
become persons; the saga is thus not a mere allegory, but a
personification of nature's forces. The treasure may have
entered the saga through the widespread idea of the dragon as the
guardian of treasure, or it may represent the beauty of nature
which unfolds when the season has conquered. In the last act of
the saga, Siegfried's death, Wilmanns, the best exponent of this
view, sees again a symbolic representation of a process of
nature. According to him it signifies the death of the god of
the year in winter. In the spring he kills the dragon, in the
winter he goes weary to his rest and is foully slain by the
hostile powers of darkness. Later, when this act was connected
with the story of Gunther's wooing Brunhild, the real meaning was
forgotten, and Siegfried's death was attributed to the grief and
jealousy of the insulted queen.
Opposed now to the mythological interpretation is the other view
already spoken of, which denies the possibility of mythological
features, and does not seek to trace the legend beyond the heroic
stage. The best exponent of this view is R. C. Boer, who has
made a remarkable attempt to resolve the story into its simplest
constituents. According to him the nucleus of the legend is an
old story of the murder of relatives ("Verwandienmord"), the
original form being perhaps as follows. Attila (i.e., the enemy
of Hagen under any name)is married to Hagen's sister Grimhild or
Gudrun. He invites his brother-in-law to his house, attacks him
in the hope of obtaining his treasure, and kills him. According
to this view Hagen was originally the king, but later sinks to a
subordinate position through the subsequent connection of the
story with the Burgundians. It is of course useless to hunt for
the date of such an episode in history. Such a murder could have
frequently occurred, and can be localized anywhere. Very early
we find this Hagen story united with the Siegfried legend. If
the latter is mythological, then we have a heterogeneous
combination, a mythical legend grafted on a purely human one.
This Boer thinks unlikely, and presents a number of arguments to
disprove the mythical character of the Siegfried story, into
which we cannot enter here. He comes, however, to the
conclusion, that the Siegfried tale is likewise purely human, and
consisted originally of the murder of relatives, that is, a
repetition of the Hagen title. Siegfried is married to Hagen's
sister, and is killed by his brother-in-law because of his
treasure. The kernel of the legend is, therefore, the enmity
between relatives, which exists in two forms, the one in which
the son-in-law kills his father-in-law, as in the "Helgi" saga,
the other in which Hagen kills his son-in-law and is killed by
him, too, as in the "Hilde" saga. The German tradition tries to
combine the two by introducing the new feature, that Kriemhild
causes the death of her relatives, in order to avenge her first
husband. Boer is of the opinion that both the Norse and the
German versions have forgotten the original connection between
the two stories, and that this connection was nothing more nor
less than the common motive of the treasure. The same treasure,
which causes Hagen to murder Siegfried, causes his own death in
turn through the greed of Attila. There was originally,
according to Boer, no question of revenge, except the revenge of
fate, the retribution which overtakes the criminal. This feeling
for the irony of fate was lost when the motive, that Hagen kills
Siegfried because of his treasure, was replaced by the one that
he does it at the request of Brunhild. This leads Boer to the
conclusion, that Brunhild did not originally belong to the
Siegfried story, but to the well-known fairy tale of Sleeping
Beauty ("Erlosungsmurchen"), which occurs in a variety of forms.
The type is that of a hero who rescues a maiden from a magic
charm, which may take the form of a deep sleep, as in the case of
Sleeping Beauty, or of being sewed into a garment, as in No. 111
of Grimm's fairy tales. By the union of the two stories, i.e.,
the Hagen-Siegfried saga with the Sleeping Beauty tale, Siegfried
stands in relation to two women; on the one hand his relation to
Sigrdrifa-Brynhild, the maiden whom he rescues on the rock, on
the other his marriage with Grimhild-Gudrun and his consequent
death. This twofold relation had to be disposed of, and since
his connection with Grimhild was decisive for his fate, his
relation to Brunhild had to be changed. It could not be entirely
ignored, for it was too well known, therefore it was given a
different interpretation. Siegfried still rescues a maiden from
the rock, not for himself, however, but for another. The
exchange of forms on the part of Siegfried and Gunther is a
reminiscence of the older form. It gives the impression, that
Siegfried, and yet not Siegfried, won the bride. This alteration
probably took place when the Burgundians were introduced into the
legend. With this introduction an unlocalized saga of unknown
heroes of ancient times became one of events of world-wide
importance; the fall of a mighty race was depicted as the result
of Siegfried's death. To render this plausible, it was necessary
on the one hand to idealize the hero, so that his death should
appear as a deed of horror demanding fearful vengeance, and on
the other, to make the king of the Burgundians an active
participator in Siegfried's death, for otherwise it would not
seem natural, that the whole race should be exterminated for a
crime committed by the king's brother or vassal. As the role of
Brunhild's husband had become vacant, and as Gunther had no
special role, it was natural that it should be given to him.
Boer traces very ingeniously the gradual development of this
exchange of roles through the various sources.
Another method of explaining away Siegfried's relation to two
women is to identify them, and this has been done by the Seyfrid
ballad. Here the hero rescues Kriemhild from the power of the
dragon, marries her, and then is later killed by her brothers
through envy and hatred. As Brunhild and Kriemhild are here
united in one person, there is no need of a wooing for the king,
nor of vengeance on the part of Brunhild, accordingly the old
motive of greed (here envy) reappears.
As to the fight with the dragon, Boer believes that it did not
originally belong to the saga, for in none of the sources except
the popular ballad is the fight with the dragon connected with
the release of Brunhild. If the Siegfried-Hagen story is purely
human, then the dragon cannot have originally belonged to it, but
was later introduced, because of the widespread belief in the
dragon as the guardian of treasure, and in order to answer the
question as to the provenience of the hoard. This is, however,
only one answer to the question. Another, widespread in German
legends, is that the treasure comes from the Nibelungs, that is,
from the dwarfs. Many identify the dwarfs and the dragon, but
this finds no support in the sources, for here the dwarfs and
Fafnir are never confused. The "Nibelungenlied" describes an
adventure with each, but the treasure is only connected with the
dwarfs. The "Thidreksaga" knows only the dragon fight but not
the dwarfs, as is likewise the case with the Seyfrid ballad.
Only in the Norse sources do we find a contamination. The story
of Hreithmar and his sons, who quarrel about the treasure,
resembles that of Schilbung and Nibelung in the "Nibelungenlied",
and probably has the same source. One of the sons, because of
his guarding the treasure, is identified with the dragon, and so
we read that Fafnir becomes a dragon, after gaining the treasure.
Originally, however, he was not a dragon, but a dwarf. These two
independent forms can be geographically localized. The dwarf
legend is the more southern; it is told in detail in the
"Nibelungenlied". The dragon legend probably originated in the
Cimbrian peninsula, where the "Beowulf" saga, in which the dragon
fight plays such an important part, likewise arose.
There thus stand sharply opposed to each other two theories, one
seeing in the Siegfried saga a personification of natural forces,
the other tracing it back to a purely human story of murder
through greed. It may be, that the true form of the original
saga lies half way between these two views. The story of the
fall of the Nibelungs, that is, their killing at Etzel's court,
may go back to the tale of the murder of relatives for money. On
the other hand it is hard to believe that the Siegfried saga is
nothing but a repetition of the Attila motive, for this is too
brief a formula to which to reduce the long legend of Siegfried,
with its many deeds. Even if we discard the mythological
interpretation, it is the tale of a daring hero, who is brought
up in the woods by a cunning dwarf. He kills a dragon and takes
possession of his hoard, then rescues a maiden, imprisoned upon a
mountain, as in the older Norse version and the popular ballad,
or in a tower, as in the "Thidreksaga", and surrounded either by
a wall of fire, as in the Norse, or by a large body of water, as
in the "Nibelungenlied". After betrothing himself to the maiden,
he sets forth in search of further adventures, and falls into the
power of an evil race, who by their magic arts lure him to them,
cause his destruction, and then obtain his treasure and the
maiden for themselves. By her very name Sigrdrifa belongs to
Siegfried, just as Gunther and Gudrun-Grimhild belong together,
and it seems hardly possible that she should have entered the
story later, as Boer would have us believe. After all, it is
largely a matter of belief, for it is impossible to prove
positively that mythical elements did or did not exist in the
To the combined Siegfried-Nibelung story various historical
elements were added during the fifth century. At the beginning
of this period the Franks were located on the left bank of the
Rhine from Coblenz downward. Further up the river, that is, to
the south, the Burgundians had established a kingdom in what is
now the Rhenish Palatinate, their capital being Worms and their
king "Gundahar", or "Gundicarius", as the Romans called him. For
twenty years the Burgundians lived on good terms with the
surrounding nations. Then, growing bolder, they suddenly rose
against the Romans in the year 436, but the rebellion was quietly
suppressed by the Roman general Aetius. Though defeated, the
Burgundians were not subdued, and the very next year they broke
their oaths and again sought to throw off the Roman yoke. This
time the Romans called to their aid the hordes of Huns, who had
been growing rapidly in power and were already pressing hard upon
the German nations from the east. Only too glad for an excuse,
the Huns poured into the land in great numbers and practically
swept the Burgundian people from the face of the earth.
According to the Roman historians, twenty thousand Burgundians
were slain in this great battle of the Catalaunian Fields.
Naturally this catastrophe, in which a whole German nation fell
before the hordes of invading barbarians, produced a profound
impression upon the Teutonic world. The King Gundahar, the
Gunther of the "Nibelungenlied", who also fell in the battle,
became the central figure of a new legend, namely, the story of
the fall of the Burgundians.
Attila is not thought to have taken part in the invasion, still,
after his death in 454, his name gradually came to be associated
with the slaughter of the Burgundians, for a legend operates
mainly with types, and as Attila was a Hun and throughout the
Middle Ages was looked upon as the type of a cruel tyrant, greedy
for conquest, it was but natural for him to play the role
assigned to him in the legend. Quite plausible is Boer's
explanation of the entrance of Attila into the legend. The
"Thidreksaga" locates him in Seest in Westphalia. Now this
province once bore the haute of "Hunaland", and by a natural
confusion, because of the similarity of the names, "Huna" and
"Huns", Attila, who is the chief representative of Hunnish power,
was connected with the legend and located at Seest. This would
show that the original extension of the legend was slight, as
Xanten, the home of Hagen, is but seventy miles from Seest. The
original form would then be that Hagen was slain by a king of
"Hunaland", then because history relates that the Burgundians
were slain by the Huns, the similarity of the names led to the
introduction of Attila and the identification of the Nibelungs
with the Burgundians. The fact, too, that the Franks rapidly
took possession of the district depopulated by the crushing
defeat of the Burgundians likewise aided the confusion, and thus
the Franks became the natural heirs of the legend concerning the
death of Gunther, and so we read of the fall of the Nibelungs, a
name that is wholly Frankish in character. This identification
led also to Attila's being considered the avenger of Siegfried's
death. Poetic justice, however, demands that the slaughter of
the Burgundians at the hands of Attila be also avenged. The
rumor, that Attila's death was not natural, but that he had been
murdered by his wife Ildico ("Hildiko"), gave the necessary
features to round out the story. As Kriemhild was the sister of
the Burgundian kings, it was but natural to explain her killing
of Attila, as described in the Norse versions, by her desire to
avenge her brothers.
In our "Nibelungenlied", however, it is no longer Attila, but
Kriemhild, who is the central figure of the tragedy. Etzel, as
he is called here, has sunk to the insignificant role of a stage
king, a perfectly passive observer of the fight raging around
him. This change was brought about perhaps by the introduction
of Dietrich of Berne, the most imposing figure of all Germanic
heroic lore. The necessity of providing him with a role
corresponding to his importance, coupled with a growing
repugnance on the part of the proud Franks to acknowledge defeat
at the hands of the Huns, caused the person of Attila to dwindle
in importance. Gradually, too, the role played by Kriemhild was
totally changed. Instead of being the avenger of her brothers,
as depicted in the Norse versions, she herself becomes the cause
of their destruction. Etzel is not only innocent of any desire
to harm the Nibelungs, but is even ignorant of the revenge
planned by his wife. This change in her role was probably due to
the feeling that it was incumbent upon her to avenge the murder
Our "Nibelungenlied" knows but little of the adventures of
Siegfried's youth as depicted in the Norse versions. The theme
of the poem is no longer the love of Sigurd, the homeless
wanderer, for the majestic Valkyrie Brunhild, but the love idyll
of Siegfried, the son of the king of the Netherlands, and the
dainty Burgundian princess Kriemhild. The poem has forgotten
Siegfried's connection with Brunhild; it knows nothing of his
penetrating the wall of flames to awake and rescue her, nothing
of the betrothal of the two. In our poem Siegfried is carefully
reared at his father's court in the Netherlands, and sets out
with great pomp for the court of the Burgundians. In the Norse
version he naturally remains at Gunther's court after his
marriage, but in our poem he returns to the Netherlands with his
bride. This necessitates the introduction of several new scenes
to depict his arrival home, the invitation to the feast at Worms,
and the reception of the guests on the part of the Burgundians.
In the "Nibelungenlied" the athletic sports, as an obstacle to
the winning of Brunhild, take the place of the wall of flames of
the older Norse versions. Siegfried and Gunther no longer change
forms, but Siegfried dons the "Tarnkappe", which renders him
invisible, so that while Gunther makes the motions, Siegfried
really does the work, a thing which is rather difficult to
imagine. The quarrel of the two queens is likewise very
differently depicted in the "Nibelungenlied" from what it is in
the Norse version. In the latter it takes place while the ladies
are bathing in the river, and is brought on by the arrogance of
Brunhild, who refuses to stand lower down the stream and bathe in
the water flowing from Gudrun to her. In the "Thidreksaga" it
occurs in the seclusion of the ladies' apartments, but in our
poem it culminates in front of the cathedral before the assembled
court, and requires as its background all the pomp and splendor
of medieval chivalry. With a master hand and a wonderful
knowledge of female character, the author depicts the gradual
progress of the quarrel until it terminates in a magnificent
scene of wounded pride and malignant hatred. Kriemhild, as
usual, plays the more important part, and, while standing up for
her rights, tries in every way to conciliate Brunhild and not to
hurt her feelings. At last, however, stung by the taunts of the
latter, she in turn loses her patience, bursts out with the whole
story of the twofold deception to which Brunhild has been
subjected, and then triumphantly sweeps into the church, leaving
her rival stunned and humiliated by the news she has heard. In
the Norse tradition the scene serves merely to enlighten Brunhild
as to the deception played upon her. In the "Nibelungenlied" it
becomes the real cause of Siegfried's death, for Brunhild plans
to kill Siegfried to avenge the public slight done to her. She
has no other reason, as Siegfried swears that there had been no
deception. Brunhild appeals to us much less in the
"Nibelungenlied" than in the Norse version. In the latter she
feels herself deeply wronged by Siegfried's faithlessness, and
resolves on his death because she will not be the wife of two
men. In our poem she has no reason for wishing his death except
her wounded pride. In the "Nibelungenlied", too, she disappears
from view after Siegfried's death, whereas in the Norse tradition
she ascends his funeral pyre and dies at his side.
The circumstances of Siegfried's death are likewise totally
different in the two versions. In the Norse, as we have seen, he
is murdered while asleep in bed, by Gunnar's younger brother
Gutthorm. In our poem he is killed by Hagen, while bending over
a spring to drink. This is preceded by a scene in which Hagen
treacherously induces Kriemhild to mark the one vulnerable spot
on Siegfried's body, on the plea of protecting him. This deepens
the tragedy, and renders Kriemhild's misery and self-reproaches
the greater. After Siegfried's burial his father, who had also
come to Worms with his son, vainly endeavors to persuade
Kriemhild to return with him to the Netherlands. Her refusal is
unnatural in the extreme, for she had reigned there ten years or
more with Siegfried, and had left her little son behind, and yet
she relinquishes all this and remains with her brothers, whom she
knows to be the murderers of her husband. This is evidently a
reminiscence of an earlier form in which Siegfried was a homeless
adventurer, as in the "Thidreksaga".
The second half of the tale, the destruction of the Nibelungs, is
treated of very briefly in the early Norse versions, but the
"Nibelungenlied", which knows so little of Siegfried's youth, has
developed and enlarged upon the story, until it overshadows the
first part in length and importance and gives the name to the
whole poem. The main difference between the two versions is that
in the older Norse tradition it is Attila who invites the
Nibelungs to his court and attacks them in order to gain
possession of the treasure, while Gudrun (Kriemhild) first tries
to reconcile the warring parties, and, not succeeding in this,
snatches up a sword and fights on the side of her brothers and
later kills her husband as an act of revenge. In the
"Thidreksaga" and the "Nibelungenlied", however, she is the
instigator of the fight and the cause of her brothers' death, and
finally suffers death herself at the hands of Master Hildebrand,
who is furious that such noble heroes should fall at a woman's
hand. The second part of the poem is grewsome reading at best,
with its weltering corpses and torrents of blood. The horror is
relieved only by the grim humor of Hagen and by the charming
scene at Rudeger's court, where the young prince Giselher is
betrothed to Rudeger's daughter. Rudeger is without doubt the
most tragic figure of this part. He is bound on the one hand by
his oath of allegiance to Kriemhild and on the other by ties of
friendship to the Burgundians. His agony of mind at the dilemma
in which Kriemhild's command to attack the Burgundians places him
is pitiful. Divided between love and duty, the conviction that
he must fulfill his vow, cost what it may, gradually forces
itself upon him and he rushes to his death in combat with his
Towering above all others in its gloomy grandeur stands the
figure of Hagen, the real hero of the second half of the poem.
Fully aware that he is going to his death, he nevertheless scorns
to desert his companions-in-arms, and awaits the fate in store
for him with a stoicism that would do honor to a Spartan. He
calmly accepts the consequences of his crime, and to the last
mocks and scoffs at Kriemhild, until her fury knows no bounds.
No character shows so little the refining influences of
Christianity as does his. In all essential respects he is still
the same old gigantic Teuton, who meets us in the earliest forms
of the legend.
As to the various minor characters, many of which appear only in
the "Nibelungenlied", space will not permit of their discussion
here, although they will be treated of briefly in the notes.
Suffice it to say, that the "Nibelungenlied" has introduced a
number of effective scenes for the purpose of bringing some of
them, especially Folker and Dankwart, into prominence. Among the
best of these are, first, the night watch, when Folker first
plays the Burgundians to sleep with his violin, and then stands
guard with Hagen, thus preventing the surprise planned by
Kriemhild; further, the visit to the church on the following
morning, when the men of both parties clash; and lastly the
tournament between the Huns and the Burgundians, which gives the
author an excellent chance to show the prowess of the various
Let us pass now to the consideration of the strophic form of the
"Nibelungenlied". The two Danish ballads of "Grimhild's Revenge"
("Grimhild's Haevn"), which are based upon the first combination
of the Low German, i.e., Saxon, and the Rhenish traditions, prove
that the strophe is considerably older than the preserved
redactions of our poem, and that it was probably of Saxon origin.
The metrical form goes back most probably to the four-accented
verse of the poet Otfrid of the ninth century, although some have
thought that Latin hymns, others that the French epic verse, may
have been of influence. The direct derivation from Otfrid seems,
however, the most plausible, as it accounts for the importance of
the caesura, which generally marks a pause in the sense, as well
as in the verse, and also for its masculine ending. The
"Nibelungen" strophe consists of four long lines separated by a
caesura into two distinct halves. The first half of each line
contains four accents, the fourth falling upon the last syllable.
This last stress, however, is not, as a rule as strong as the
others, the effect being somewhat like that of a feminine ending.
On this account some speak of three accents in the first half
line, with a feminine ending. The fourth stress is, however, too
strong to be thus disregarded, but because of its lighter
character is best marked with a grave accent. The second half of
each line ends in a masculine rhyme. The first three lines have
each three stresses in the second half, while the second half of
the fourth line has four accents to mark the end of the strophe.
This longer fourth line is one of the most marked characteristics
of the "Nibelungen" strophe. The rhymes are arranged in the
order of "a", "a", "b", "b", though in a few isolated cases near
end of the poem but one rhyme is used throughout the strophe.
The opening lines of the poem may serve to illustrate the
strophic form and scansion, and at the same time will give the
reader an idea of the Middle High German language in which the
poem is written:
Uns ist in alten maeren wunders vil geseit
von heleden lobebaeron, von grozer arebeit,
von froude und hochgeziten, von weinen und von klagen,
von kuener recken striten muget ir nu wunder hoeren sagen.
Ez wuochs in Burgonden ein edel magedin,
daz in allen landen niht schoeners mohte sin,
Kriemhild geheizen; si wart ein scoene wip,
darambe muosen degene vil verliesen den lip.
Der minneclichen meide triuten wol gezam,
ir muotten kuene recken, niemen was ir gram,
ane ma zen schoene so was ir edel lip;
der iunevrouwen tugende zierten anderiu wip.
Ir pilagen drie kilnege edel unde rich,
Ganther ande Geruot, die recken lobelieh,
und Giselher der iunge, ein uz erwelter degen,
diu frouwe was ir swester, die fu'rsten hetens in ir
Die herren waren milte, von arde hohe erborn,
mit kraft unmazen kuene, die recken uz erkorn,
dazen Burgonden so was ir lant genant,
si framden starkiu wunder sit in Etzelen lant.
Ze Wormze bidem Rine si wenden mit ir kraft,
in diende von ir landen stolziu ritterscaft
mit lobelichen eren unz an ir endes zit,
sit sturben si inemerliche von zweier edelen frouwen nit.
Some of the final rhymes with proper names, such as "Hagene" :
"degene" (str. 84) or "Hagene" : "tragene" (str. 300) appear to
be feminine, but it is really the final "e" that rhymes, and a
scansion of the line in question shows that the three accents are
not complete without this final "e". In this respect our poem
differs from most of the Middle High German poems, as this
practice of using the final "e" in rhyme began to die out in the
twelfth century, though occasionally found throughout the period.
The rhymes are, as a rule, quite exact, the few cases of impure
rhymes being mainly those in which short and long vowels are
rhymed together, e.g. "mich" : "rich" or "man" : "han". Caesural
rhymes are frequently met with, and were considered by Lachmann
to be the marks of interpolated strophes, a view no longer held.
A further peculiarity of the "Nibelungen" strophe is the frequent
omission of the unaccented syllable in the second half of the
last line of the strophe between the second and third stresses.
Examples of this will be found in the second, third, and fifth
strophes of the passage given above.
The language of the "Nibelungenlied" is the so-called Middle High
German, that is, the High German written and spoken in the period
between 1100 and 1500, the language of the great romances of
chivalry and of the "Minnesingers". More exactly, the poem is
written in the Austrian dialect of the close of the twelfth
century, but contains many archaisms, which point to the fact of
its having undergone a number of revisions.
In closing this brief study of the "Nibelungenlied", just a word
or two further with reference to the poem, its character, and its
place in German literature. Its theme is the ancient Teutonic
ideal of "Treue" (faithfulness or fidelity), which has found here
its most magnificent portrayal; faithfulness unto death, the
loyalty of the vassal for his lord, as depicted in Hagen, the
fidelity of the wife for her husband, as shown by Kriemhild,
carried out with unhesitating consistency to the bitter end.
This is not the gallantry of medieval chivalry, which colors so
largely the opening scenes of the poem, but the heroic valor, the
death-despising stoicism of the ancient Germans, before which the
masters of the world, the all-conquering Romans, were compelled
In so far as the "Nibelungenlied" has forgotten most of the
history of the youthful Siegfried, and knows nothing of his love
for Brunhild, it is a torso, but so grand withal, that one hardly
regrets the loss of these integral elements of the old saga. As
it is a working over of originally separate lays, it is not
entirely homogeneous, and contains not a few contradictions. In
spite of these faults, however, which a close study reveals, it
is nevertheless the grandest product of Middle High German epic
poetry, and deservedly the most popular poem of older German
literature. It lacks, to be sure, the grace of diction found in
Gottfried von Strassburg's "Tristan und Isolde", the detailed and
often magnificent descriptions of armor and dress to be met with
in the epics of Hartman von Ouwe; it is wanting in the lofty
philosophy of Wolfram von Eschenbach's "Parzival", and does not,
as this latter, lead the reader into the realms of religious
doubts and struggles. It is imposing through its very
simplicity, through the grandeur of the story, which it does not
seek to adorn and decorate. It nowhere pauses to analyze motives
nor to give us a picture of inner conflict as modern authors are
fond of doing. Its characters are impulsive and prompt in
action, and when they have once acted, waste no time in useless
regret or remorse.
It resembles the older "Spielmannsdichtung", or minstrel poetry,
in the terseness and vigor of its language and in the lack of
poetic imagery, but it is free from the coarseness and vulgar and
grotesque humor of the latter. It approaches the courtly epic in
its introduction of the pomp of courtly ceremonial, but this
veneer of chivalry is very thin, and beneath the outward polish
of form the heart beats as passionately and wildly as in the days
of Herman, the Cheruscan chief. There are perhaps greater poems
in literature than the "Nibelungenlied", but few so majestic in
conception, so sublime in their tragedy, so simple in their
execution, and so national in their character, as this great
popular epic of German literature.
(1) A is a parchment MS. of the second half of the thirteenth
century, now found in Munich. It forms the basis of
Lachmann's edition. It is a parchment MS. of the middle of
the thirteenth century, belonging to the monastery of St.
Gall. It has been edited by Bartsch, "Deutsche Klassiker
des Mittelalters", vol. 3, and by Piper, "Deutsche National-
Literatur", vol. 6. C is a parchment MS., of the thirteenth
century, now in the ducal library of Donauesehingen. It is
the best written of all the MSS., and has been edited by
(2) The "Thidreksaga" differs from the other Norse versions in
having "Sigfrod", as he is called here, brought up in
ignorance of his parents, a trait which was probably
borrowed from the widespread "Genoveva" story, although
thought by some to have been an original feature of our
(3) The "Thidreksaga", which has forgotten the enmity of the
brothers, and calls Sigurd's tutor "Mimr", tells the episode
in somewhat different fashion. The brothers plan to kill
Sigurd, and the latter is attacked by the dragon, while
burning charcoal in the forest. After killing the monster
with a firebrand, Sigurd bathes himself in the blood and
thus become covered with a horny skin, which renders him
invulnerable, save in one place between the shoulder blades,
which he could not reach. This bathing in the blood is also
related in the Seyfrid ballad and in the "Nibelungenlied",
with the difference, that the vulnerable spot is caused by a
linden leaf falling upon him.
(4) The fact that all but one of these names alliterate, shows
that the Norse version is here more original. Gunnar is the
same as Gunther (Gundaharius), Hogni as Hagen; Gutthorm
(Godomar) appears in the German version as Gernot. In this
latter the father is called Danerat, the mother Uote, and
the name Grimhild is transferred from the mother to the
(5) In the prose "Edda", in the water which drips from Gudrun's
THE NIBELUNGENLIED (1)
ADVENTURE I (2)
Full many a wonder is told us in stories old, of heroes worthy of
praise, of hardships dire, of joy and feasting, of the fighting
of bold warriors, of weeping and of wailing; now ye may hear
In Burgundy there grew so noble a maid that in all the lands none
fairer might there be. Kriemhild (3) was she called; a comely
woman she became, for whose sake many a knight must needs lose
his life. Well worth the loving was this winsome maid. Bold
knights strove for her, none bare her hate. Her peerless body
was beautiful beyond degree; the courtly virtues of this maid of
noble birth would have adorned many another woman too.
Three kings, noble and puissant, did nurture her, Gunther (4) and
Gernot, (5) warriors worthy of praise, and Giselher, (6) the
youth, a chosen knight. This lady was their sister, the princes
had her in their care. The lordings were free in giving, of race
high-born, passing bold of strength were they, these chosen
knights. Their realm hight Burgundy. Great marvels they wrought
hereafter in Etzel's (7) land. At Worms (8) upon the Rhine they
dwelt with all their power. Proud knights from out their lands
served them with honor, until their end was come. Thereafter
they died grievously, through the hate of two noble dames.
Their mother, a mighty queen, was called the Lady Uta, (9) their
father, Dankrat, (10) who left them the heritage after his life
was over; a mighty man of valor that he was, who won thereto in
youth worship full great. These kings, as I have said, were of
high prowess. To them owed allegiance the best of warriors, of
whom tales were ever told, strong and brave, fearless in the
sharp strife. Hagen (11) there was of Troneg, thereto his
brother Dankwart, (12) the doughty; Ortwin of Metz (13); Gere
(14) and Eckewart, (15) the margraves twain; Folker of Alzei,
(16) endued with fullness of strength. Rumolt (17) was master of
the kitchen, a chosen knight; the lords Sindolt and Hunolt,
liegemen of these three kings, had rule of the court and of its
honors. Thereto had they many a warrior whose name I cannot
tell. Dankwart was marshal; his nephew, Ortwin, seneschal unto
the king; Sindolt was cupbearer, a chosen knight; Hunolt served
as chamberlain; well they wot how to fill these lofty stations.
Of the forces of the court and its far-reaching might, of the
high worship (18) and of the chivalry these lords did ply with
joy throughout their life, of this forsooth none might relate to
you the end.
In the midst of these high honors Kriemhild dreamed a dream, of
how she trained a falcon, strong, fair, and wild, which, before
her very eyes, two eagles rent to pieces. No greater sorrow
might chance to her in all this world. This dream then she told
to Uta her mother, who could not unfold it to the dutiful maid in
better wise than this: "The falcon which thou trainest, that is a
noble man, but thou must needs lose him soon, unless so be that
God preserve him."
"Why speakest thou to me of men, dear brother mine? I would fain
ever be without a warrior's love. So fair will I remain until my
death, that I shall never gain woe from love of man."
"Now forswear this not too roundly," spake the mother in reply.
"If ever thou shalt wax glad of heart in this world, that will
chance through the love of man. Passing fair wilt thou become,
if God grant thee a right worthy knight."
"I pray you leave this speech," spake she, "my lady. Full oft
hath it been seen in many a wife, how joy may at last end in
sorrow. I shall avoid them both, then can it ne'er go ill with
Thus in her heart Kriemhild forsware all love. Many a happy day
thereafter the maiden lived without that she wist any whom she
would care to love. In after days she became with worship a
valiant here's bride. He was the selfsame falcon which she
beheld in her dream that her mother unfolded to her. How sorely
did she avenge this upon her nearest kin, who slew him after!
Through his dying alone there fell full many a mother's son.
(1) "Nibelungenlied", the lay of the Nibelungs. The ordinary
etymology of this name is 'children of the mist'
("Nebelkinder", O.N. "Niflungar"), and it is thought to have
belonged originally to the dwarfs. Piper, I, 50, interprets
it as 'the sons of Nibul'; Boer, II, 198, considers
"Hniflungar" to be the correct Norse form and interprets it
as 'the descendants of Hnaef' (O.E. "Hnaef", O.H.G.
"Hnabi"), whose death is related in the "Finnsaga".
(2) "Adventure" (M.H.G. "aventiure", from O.F. "aventure", Lat.
"adventura"). The word meant originally a happening,
especially some great event, then the report of such an
event. Here it is used in the sense of the different cantos
or "fitts" of the poem, as in the "Gudrun" and other M.H.G.
epics. Among the courtly poets it also frequently denotes
the source, or is the personification of the muse of poetry.
(3) "Kriemhild" is the Upper German form of the Frankish
"Grimhild". In the MSS., the name generally appears with a
further shifting as "Chriemhilt", as if the initial
consonant were Germanic "k". On the various forms of the
name, which have never yet been satisfactorily explained,
see Mullenhoff, ZsfdA. xii, 299, 413; xv, 313; and
Bohnenberger, PB. Beit. xxiv, 221-231.
(4) "Gunther" is the historical "Gundahari", king of the
Burgundians in the fifth century.
(5) "Gernot" was probably introduced by some minstrel in place
of the historical "Godomar", who appears in the Norse
version as "Gutthormr", though the names are not
etymologically the same, as "Godomar" would be "Guthmarr" in
(6) "Giselher" is the historical "Gislaharius". Although
mentioned by the "Lex Burgundionum" as one of the Burgundian
kings, he does not appear in the early Norse version, or in
other poems dealing with these persons, such as the
"Waltharius", the "Rabenschlacht", the "Rosengarten", etc.,
and was probably introduced at a late date into the saga.
Originally no role was ascribed to him, and not even his
death is told. He probably came from some independent
(7) "Etzel" is the German form for the historical "Attila"
(Norse "Atli"). A discussion of his connection with the
saga will be found in the introduction.
(8) "Worms" is the ancient "Borbetomagus", which in the first
century B.C. was the chief city of the German tribe of the
"Vangioni". In the fifth century it was the capital of the
Burgundian kingdom, but was destroyed by the Huns. The
Merovingians rebuilt it, and in the seventh century it
became a bishopric where Charlemagne at times held his
court. It was later noted as the meeting-place of many
imperial diets. It remained a free city till 1801. In the
"Thidreksaga" the name is corrupted into "Wernize".
(9) "Uta" (M.H.G. "Uote"). The name means ancestress, and is
frequently used for the mother of heroes. The modern German
form is "Ute", but in order to insure its being pronounced
with two syllables, the form "Uta" was chosen.
(10) "Dankrat" (M.H.G. "Dancrat") appears as the father only in
the "Nibelungenlied" and poems dependent on it, e.g., the
"Klage" and "Biterolf", elsewhere as "Gibiche" (Norse
(11) "Hagen of Troneg". Troneg is probably a corruption of the
name of the Latin colony, "colonia Trajana", on the Lower
Rhine, which as early as the fifth century was written as
"Troja", giving rise to the legend that the Franks were
descended from the ancient Trojans. "Troja" was then
further corrupted to "Tronje" and "Tronege". Hagen was
therefore originally a Frank and had no connection with the
Burgundian kings, as the lack of alliteration also goes to
show. Boer thinks that not Siegfried but Hagen originally
lived at Xanten (see note 3 to Adventure II), as this was
often called Troja Francorum. When the Hagen story was
connected with the Burgundians and Hagen became either their
brother or their vassal, his home was transferred to Worms
and Siegfried was located at Xanten, as he had no especial
localization. Thus Siegfried is never called Siegfried of
Troneg, as is Hagen. Other attempts to explain Troneg will
be found in Piper, I, 48.
(12) "Dankwart" is not an historical character nor one that
belonged to the early form of the legend. He may have come
from another saga, where he played the principal role as
Droege (ZsfdA. 48, 499) thinks. Boer considers him to be
Hagen's double, invented to play a part that would naturally
fall to Hagen's share, were he not otherwise engaged at the
moment. In our poem he is called "Dancwart der snelle", a
word that has proved a stumbling-block to translators,
because in modern German it means 'speedy', 'swift'. Its
original meaning was, however, 'brave', 'warlike', although
the later meaning is already found in M.H.G. In all such
doubtful cases the older meaning has been preferred, unless
the context forbids, and the word 'doughty' has been chosen
to translate it.
(13) "Ortwin of Metz" appears also in the "Eckenlied",
"Waltharius", and in "Biterolf". He is most likely a late
introduction (but see Piper, I, 44). Rieger thinks that he
belonged to a wealthy family "De Metis". Though the "i" is
long in the original, and Simrock uses the form "Ortewein"
in his translation, the spelling with short "i" has been
chosen, as the lack of accent tends to shorten the vowel in
(14) "Gere" is likewise a late introduction. He is perhaps the
historical Margrave Gere (965) of East Saxony, whom Otto the
Great appointed as a leader against the Slavs. See O. von
Heinemann, "Markgraf Gero", Braunschweig, 1860, and Piper, L
(15) "Eckewart" is also a late accession. He is perhaps the
historical margrave of Meissen (1002), the first of the
name. He, too, won fame in battle against the Slavs.
(16) "Folker of Alzet" (M.H.G. "Volker von Alzeije"), the
knightly minstrel, is hardly an historical personage, in
spite of the fact that Alzey is a well-known town in Rhine
Hesse on the Selz, eighteen miles southwest of Mainz. The
town has, to be sure, a violin in its coat of arms, as also
the noble family of the same name. It is most likely,
however, that this fact caused Folker to be connected with
Alzei. In the "Thidreksaga" Folker did not play the role of
minstrel, and it is probable that some minstrel reviser of
our poem developed the character and made it the
personification of himself.
(17) "Rumolt", "Bindolt", and "Hunolt" have no historical basis
and merely help to swell the retinue of the Burgundians.
(18) "Worship". This word has been frequently used here in its
older meaning of 'worth', 'reverence', 'respect', to
translate the M.H.G. "eren", 'honors'.
In the Netherlands there grew the child of a noble king (his
father had for name Siegemund, (1) his mother Siegelind), (2) in
a mighty castle, known far and wide, in the lowlands of the
Rhine: Xanten, (3) men called it. Of this hero I sing, how fair
he grew. Free he was of every blemish. Strong and famous he
later became, this valiant man. Ho! What great worship he won
in this world! Siegfried hight this good and doughty knight.
Full many kingdoms did he put to the test through his warlike
mood. Through his strength of body he rode into many lands. Ho!
What bold warriors he after found in the Burgundian land! Mickle
wonders might one tell of Siegfried in his prime, in youthful
days; what honors he received and how fair of body he. The most
stately women held him in their love; with the zeal which was his
due men trained him. But of himself what virtues he attained!
Truly his father's lands were honored, that he was found in all
things of such right lordly mind. Now was he become of the age
that he might ride to court. Gladly the people saw him, many a
maid wished that his desire might ever bear him hither. Enow
gazed on him with favor; of this the prince was well aware. Full
seldom was the youth allowed to ride without a guard of knights.
Siegmund and Siegelind bade deck him out in brave attire. The
older knights who were acquaint with courtly custom, had him in
their care. Well therefore might he win both folk and land.
Now he was of the strength that he bare weapons well. Whatever
he needed thereto, of this he had enow. With purpose he began to
woo fair ladies; these bold Siegfried courted well in proper
wise. Then bade Siegmund have cried to all his men, that he
would hold a feasting with his loving kindred. The tidings
thereof men brought into the lands of other kings. To the
strangers and the home-folk he gave steeds and armor.
Wheresoever any was found who, because of his birth, should
become a knight, these noble youths were summoned to the land for
the feasting. Here with the youthful prince they gained the
knightly sword. Wonders might one tell of this great feast;
Siegmund and Siegelind wist well how to gain great worship with
their gifts, of which their hands dealt out great store.
Wherefore one beheld many strangers riding to their realm. Four
hundred sword-thanes (4) were to put on knightly garb with
Siegfried. Many a fair maid was aught but idle with the work,
for he was beloved of them all. Many precious stones the ladies
inlaid on the gold, which together with the edging they would
work upon the dress of the proud young warriors, for this must
needs be done.
The host bade make benches for the many valiant men, for the
midsummer festival, (5) at which Siegfried should gain the name
of knight. Then full many a noble knight and many a high-born
squire did hie them to the minster. Right were the elders in
that they served the young, as had been done to them afore.
Pastimes they had and hope of much good cheer. To the honor of
God a mass was sung; then there rose from the people full great a
press, as the youths were made knights in courtly wise, with such
great honors as might not ever lightly be again. Then they ran
to where they found saddled many a steed. In Siegmund's court
the hurtling (6) waxed so fierce that both palace (7) and hall
were heard to ring; the high-mettled warriors clashed with mighty
sound. From young and old one heard many a shock, so that the
splintering of the shafts reechoed to the clouds. Truncheons (8)
were seen flying out before the palace from the hand of many a
knight. This was done with zeal. At length the host bade cease
the tourney and the steeds were led away. Upon the turf one saw
all to-shivered (9) many a mighty buckler and great store of
precious stones from the bright spangles (10) of the shields.
Through the hurtling this did hap.
Then the guests of the host betook them to where men bade them
sit. With good cheer they refreshed them and with the very best
of wine, of which one bare frill plenty. To the strangers and
the home-folk was shown worship enow. Though much pastime they
had throughout the day, many of the strolling folk forsware all
rest. They served for the largess, which men found there richly,
whereby Siegmund's whole land was decked with praise. Then bade
the king enfeoff Siegfried, the youth, with land and castles, as
he himself had done. Much his hand bestowed upon the sword-
companions. The journey liked them well, that to this land they
were come. The feasting lasted until the seventh day.
Siegelind, the noble queen, for the love of her son, dealt out
ruddy gold in time-honored wise. Full well she wot how to make
him beloved of the folk. Scarce could a poor man be found among
the strolling mimes. Steeds and raiment were scattered by their
hand, as if they were to live not one more day. I trow that
never did serving folk use such great bounty. With worshipful
honors the company departed hence. Of the mighty barons the tale
doth tell that they desired the youth unto their lord, but of
this the stately knight, Sir Siegfried, listed naught. Forasmuch
as both Siegmund and Siegelind were still alive, the dear child
of them twain wished not to wear a crown, but fain would he
become a lord against all the deeds of force within his lands,
whereof the bold and daring knight was sore adread.
(1) "Siegmund" (M.H.G. "Sigemunt") was originally the hero of an
independent saga. See "Volsungasaga", chaps. 3-8.
(2) "Siegelind" (M.H.G. "Sigelint") is the correct name of
Siegfried's mother, as the alliteration shows. The Early
Norse version has "Hjordis", which has come from the "Helgi
(3) "Xanten" (M.H.G. "Santen" from the Latin "ad sanctos") is at
present a town in the Rhenish Prussian district of
Dusseldorf. It does not now lie on the Rhine, but did in
the Middle Ages.
(4) "Sword-thanes" (M.H.G. "swertdegene") were the young squires
who were to be made knights. It was the custom for a
youthful prince to receive the accolade with a number of
(5) "Midsummer festival". The M.H.G. "sunewende" means
literally the 'sun's turning', i.e., the summer solstice.
This was one of the great Germanic festivals, which the
church later turned into St. John's Eve. The bonfires still
burnt in Germany on this day are survivals of the old
(6) "Hurtling" translates here M.H.G. "buhurt", a word borrowed
from the French to denote a knightly sport in which many
knights clashed together. Hurtling was used in older
English in the same significance.
(7) "Palace" (M.H.G. "palas", Lat. "palatium") is a large
building standing alone and largely used as a reception
(8) "Truncheons" (M.H.G. "trunzune", O.F. "troncon", 'lance
splinters', 'fragments of spears'.
(9) "To-shivered", 'broken to pieces', in imitation of the older
English to-beat, to-break, etc.
(10) "Spangles" (M.H.G. "spangen"), strips of metal radiating
from the raised centre of the shield and often set, as here,
with precious stones.
How Siegfried Came to Worms.
It was seldom that sorrow of heart perturbed the prince. He
heard tales told of how there lived in Burgundy a comely maid,
fashioned wondrous fair, from whom he thereafter gained much of
joy, but suffering, too. Her beauty out of measure was known far
and wide. So many a here heard of her noble mind, that it alone
brought many a guest (1) to Gunther's land. But however many
were seen wooing for her love, Kriemhild never confessed within
her heart that she listed any for a lover. He was still a
stranger to her, whose rule she later owned. Then did the son of
Siegelind aspire to lofty love; the wooing of all others was to
his but as the wind, for well he wot how to gain a lady fair. In
later days the noble Kriemhild became bold Siegfried's bride.
Kinsmen and liegemen enow advised him, since he would have hope
of constant love, that he woo one who was his peer. At this bold
Siegfried spake: "Then will I choose Kriemhild, the fair maid of
Burgundy, for her beauty beyond measure. This I know full well,
never was emperor so mighty, and he would have a wife, that it
would not beseem him to love this noble queen."
Tidings of this reached Siegmund's ear; through the talk of the
courtiers he was made ware of the wish of his son. Full loth it
was to the king, that his child would woo the glorious maid.
Siegelind heard it too, the wife of the noble king. Greatly she
feared for her child, for full well she knew Gunther and his men.
Therefore they sought to turn the hero from this venture. Up
spake then the daring Siegfried: "Dear father mine, I would fain
ever be without the love of noble dames, if I may not woo her in
whom my heart hath great delight; whatsoever any may aver, it
will avail but naught."
"And thou wilt not turn back," spake the king, "then am I in
sooth glad of thy will and will help thee bring it to pass, as
best I may. Yet hath this King Gunther full many a haughty man.
If there were none else but Hagen, the doughty knight, he can use
such arrogance that I fear me it will repent us sore, if we woo
this high-born maid."
Then Siegfried made reply: "Wherefore need that hinder us? What
I may not obtain from them in friendly wise, that my hand and its
strength can gain. I trow that 1 can wrest from him both folk
To this Prince Siegmund replied: "Thy speech liketh me not, for
if this tale were told upon the Rhine, then durst thou never ride
unto that land. Long time have Gunther and Gernot been known to
me. By force may none win the maid, of this have I been well
assured; but wilt thou ride with warriors unto this land, and we
still have aught of friends, they shall be summoned soon."
"It is not to my mind," spake again Siegfried, "that warriors
should follow me to the Rhine, as if for battle, that I constrain
thereby the noble maid. My single hand can win her well -- with
eleven (2) comrades I will fare to Gunther's land; thereto shalt
thou help me, Father Siegmund." Then to his knights they gave
for garments furs both gray and vair. (3)
Now his mother Siegelind also heard the tale. She began to make
dole for her loved child, whom she feared to lose through
Gunther's men. Sorely the noble queen gan weep. Lord Siegfried
hied him straightway to where he saw her; to his mother he spake
in gentle wise: "Lady, ye must not weep for me; naught have I to
fear from all his fighting men. I pray you, speed me on my
journey to the Burgundian land, that I and my warriors may have
array such as proud heroes can wear with honor; for this I will
say you gramercy i' faith."
"Since naught will turn thee," spake then the Lady Siegelind, "so
will I speed thee on thy journey, mine only child, with the best
of weeds that ever knight did wear, thee and thy comrades. Ye
shall have enow."
Siegfried, the youth, then made low obeisance to the queen. He
spake: "None but twelve warriors will I have upon the way. Let
raiment be made ready for them, I pray, for I would fain see how
it standeth with Kriemhild."
Then sate fair ladies night and day. Few enow of them, I trow,
did ease them, till Siegfried's weeds had all been wrought. Nor
would he desist from faring forth. His father bade adorn the
knightly garb in which his son should ride forth from Siegmund's
land. The shining breastplates, too, were put in trim, also the
stanch helmets and their shields both fair and broad. Now their
journey to the Burgundian land drew near; man and wife began to
fear lest they never should come home again. The heroes bade
lade their sumpters with weapons and with harness. Their steeds
were fair and their trappings red with gold. No need were there
to live more proudly than Siegfried and his men. Then he asked
for leave to journey to the land of Burgundy; this the king and
queen sorrowfully vouchsafed. Lovingly he comforted them twain.
"For my sake," spake he, "must ye not weep, nor have fear for me
or for my life."
The warriors, too, were sad and many a maiden wept; I ween, their
hearts did tell them rightly that many of their kinsmen would
come to death because of this. Just cause had they for wailing;
need enow they had in sooth.
Upon the seventh morning, forth upon the river sand at Worms the
brave warriors pricked. Their armor was of ruddy gold and their
trappings fashioned fair. Smoothly trotted the steeds of bold
Siegfried's men. Their shields were new; gleaming and broad and
fair their helmets, as Siegfried, the bold, rode to court in
Gunther's land. Never had such princely attire been seen on
heroes; their sword-points hung down to their spurs. Sharp
javelins were borne by these chosen knights. Siegfried wielded
one full two spans broad, which upon its edges cut most
dangerously. In their hands they held gold-colored bridles;
their martingales were silken: so they came into the land.
Everywhere the folk began to gape amazed and many of Gunther's
men fared forth to meet them. High-mettled warriors, both knight
and squire, betook them to the lords (as was but right), and
received into the land of their lords these guests and took from
their hands the black sumpters which bore the shields. The
steeds, too, they wished to lead away for easement. How boldly
then brave Siegfried spake: "Let stand the mounts of me and of my
men. We will soon hence again, of this have I great desire.
Whosoever knoweth rightly where I can find the king, Gunther, the
mighty, of Burgundian land, let him not keep his peace but tell
Then up spake one to whom it was rightly known: "Would ye find
the king, that can hap full well. In yon broad hall with his
heroes did I but see him. Ye must hither hie you; there ye may
find with him many a lordly man."
To the king now the word was brought, that full lusty knights
were come, who wore white breastplates and princely garb. None
knew them in the Burgundian land. Much it wondered the king
whence came these lordly warriors in such shining array, with
such good shields, both new and broad. Loth was it to Gunther,
that none could tell him this. Then Ortwin of Metz (a bold and
mighty man was he) made answer to the king: "Since we know them
not, ye should send for mine uncle Hagen, and let him see them.
To him are known (4) all kingdoms and foreign lands. If so be he
knoweth these lords, he will tell us straightway."
Then bade the king that Hagen and his men be brought. One saw
him with his warriors striding in lordly wise unto the court.
"What would the king of me?" asked Hagen.
"There be come to my house strange warriors, whelm here none
knoweth. If ye have ever seen them, I pray you, Hagen, tell me
now the truth."
"That will I," spake then Hagen. He hied him to a window and
over the guests he let his glances roam. Well liked him their
trappings and their array, but full strange were they to him in
the Burgundian land. He spake: "From wheresoever these warriors
be come unto the Rhine, they may well be princes or envoys of
kings, for their steeds are fair and their garments passing good.
Whencesoever they bear these, forsooth high-mettled warriors be
"I dare well say," so spake Hagen, "though I never have seen
Siegfried, yet can I well believe, however this may be, that he
is the warrior that strideth yonder in such lordly wise. He
bringeth new tidings hither to this land. By this here's hand
were slain the bold Nibelungs, Schilbung and Nibelung, (5) sons
of a mighty king. Since then he hath wrought great marvels with
his huge strength. Once as the hero rode alone without all aid,
he found before a mountain, as I have in sooth been told, by
Nibelung's hoard full many a daring man. Strangers they were to
him, till he gained knowledge of them there.
"The hoard of Nibelung was borne entire from out a hollow hill.
Now hear a wondrous tale, of how the liegemen of Nibelung wished
to divide it there. This the hero Siegfried saw and much it gan
wonder him. So near was he now come to them, that he beheld the
heroes, and the knights espied him, too. One among them spake:
`Here cometh the mighty Siegfried, the hero of Netherland.'
Passing strange were the tidings that, he found among the
Nibelungs. Schilbung and Nibelung greeted well the knight; with
one accord these young and noble lordings bade the stately man
divide the hoard. Eagerly they asked it, and the lord in turn
gan vow it to them.
"He beheld such store of gems, as we have heard said, that a
hundred wains might not bear the lead; still more was there of
ruddy gold from the Nibelung land. All this the hand of the
daring Siegfried should divide. As a guerdon they gave him the
sword of Nibelung, but they were served full ill by the service
which the good knight Siegfried should render them. Nor could he
end it for them; angry of mood (6) they grew. Twelve bold men of
their kith were there, mighty giants these. What might that
avail them! Siegfried's hand slew them soon in wrath, and seven
hundred warriors from the Nibelung land he vanquished with the
good sword Balmung. (7) Because of the great fear that, many a
young warrior had of the sword and of the valiant man, they made
the land and its castles subject to his hand. Likewise both the
mighty kings he slew, but soon he himself was sorely pressed by
Alberich. (8) The latter weened to venge straightway his
masters, till he then discovered Siegfried's mighty strength; for
no match for him was the sturdy dwarf. Like wild lions they ran
to the hill, where from Alberich he won the Cloak of Darkness.
(9) Thus did Siegfried, the terrible, become master of the
hoard; those who had dared the combat, all lay there slain. Soon
bade he cart and bear the treasure to the place from whence the
men of Nibelung had borne it forth. He made Alberich, the
strong, warden of the hoard and bade him swear an oath to serve
him as his knave; and fit he was for work of every sort."
So spake Hagen of Troneg: "This he hath done. Nevermore did
warrior win such mighty strength. I wot yet more of him: it is
known to me that the hero slew a dragon and bathed him in the
blood, so that his skin became like horn. Therefore no weapons
will cut him, as hath full oft been seen. All the better must we
greet this lord, that we may not earn the youthful warrior's
hate. So bold is he that we should hold him as a friend, for he
hath wrought full many a wonder by his strength."
Then spake the mighty king: "Thou mayst well have right. Behold
how valiantly he with his knights doth stand in lust of battle,
the daring man! Let us go down to meet the warrior."
"That ye may do with honor," spake then Hagen; "he is of noble
race, son of a mighty king. God wot, methinks, he beareth him in
such wise, that it can be no little matter for which he hath
"Now be he welcome to us," spake then the king of the land. "He
is both noble and brave, as I have heard full well. This shall
stand him in good stead in the Burgundian land." Then went Lord
Gunther to where Siegfried stood.
The host and his warriors received the guest in such wise that
full little was there lack of worship. Low bowed the stately
man, that they had greeted him so fair. "It wondereth me," spake
the king straightway, "whence ye, noble Siegfried, be come unto
this land, or what ye seek at Worms upon the Rhine."
Then the stranger made answer to the king: "This will I not
conceal from you. Tales were told me in my father's land, that
here with you were the boldest warriors that ever king did gain.
This I have often heard, and that I might know it of a truth,
therefore am I come. Likewise do I hear boasting of your valor,
that no bolder king hath ever been seen. This the folk relate
much through all these lands. Therefore will I not turn back,
till it be known to me. I also am a warrior and was to wear a
crown. Fain would I bring it to pass that it may be said of me:
Rightly doth he rule both folk and land. Of this shall my head
and honor be a pledge. Now be ye so bold, as hath been told me,
I reck not be it lief or loth to any man, I will gain from you
whatso ye have -- land and castles shall be subject to my hand."
The king had likewise his men had marvel at the tidings they here
heard, that he was willed to take from them their land. The
knights waxed wroth, as they heard this word. "How have I earned
this," spake Gunther, the knight, "that we should lose by the
force of any man that which my father hath rules so long with
honor? We should let it ill appear that we, too, are used in
"In no wise will I desist," spake again the valiant man. "Unless
it be that through thy strength thy land have peace, I will rule
it all. And shouldst thou gain, by thy strength, my ancestral
lands, they shall be subject to thy sway. Thy lands, and mine as
well, shall lie alike; whether of us twain can triumph over the
other, him shall both land and people serve."
Hagen and Gernot, too, straightway gainsaid this. "We have no
wish," spake Gernot, "that we should conquer aught of lands, or
that any man lie dead at hero's hands. We have rich lands, which
serve us, as is meet, nor hath any a better claim to them than
There stood his kinsmen, grim of mood; among them, too, Ortwin of
Metz. "It doth irk me much to hear these words of peace," spake
he; "the mighty Siegfried hath defied you for no just cause. Had
ye and your brothers no meet defense, and even if he led a kingly
troop, I trow well so to fight that the daring man have good
cause to leave this haughty mien."
At this the hero of Netherland grew wonderly wroth. He spake:
"Thy hand shall not presume against me. I am a mighty king, a
king's vassal thou. Twelve of thy ilk durst not match me in
Then Ortwin of Metz called loudly for swords. Well was he fit to
be Hagen of Troneg's sister's son. It rued the king that he had
held his peace so long. Then Gernot, the bold and lusty knight,
came in between. He spake to Ortwin: "Now give over thy anger.
Lord Siegfried hath done us no such wrong, but that we may still
part the strife in courteous wise. Be advised of me and hold him
still as friend; far better will this beseem us."
Then spake the doughty Hagen: "It may well grieve us and all thy
knights that he ever rode for battle to the Rhine. He should
have given it over; my lordings never would have done such ill to
To this Siegfried, the mighty man, made answer: "Doth this irk
you, Sir Hagen, which I spake, then will I let you see that my
hands shall have dominion here in the Burgundian land."
"I alone will hinder this," answered Gernot, and he forbade his
knights speak aught with haughtiness that might cause rue.
Siegfried, too, then bethought him of the noble maid.
"How might it beseem us to fight with you?" spake Gernot anew.
"However really heroes should lie dead because of this, we should
have scant honor therefrom and ye but little gain."
To this Siegfried, the son of Siegmund, made reply: "Why waiteth
Hagen, and Ortwin, too, that he hasteth not to fight with his
kin, of whom he hath so many here in Burgundy?"
At this all held their peace; such was Gernot's counsel. Then
spake Queen Uta's son: "Ye shall be welcome to us with all your
war-mates, who are come with you. We shall gladly serve you, I
and all my kin."
Then for the guests they bade pour out King Gunther's wine. The
master of the land then spake: "All that we have, if ye desire
it in honorable wise, shall owe fealty to you; with you shall
both life and goods be shared."
At this Lord Siegfried grew of somewhat gentler mood. Then they
bade that care be taken of the armor of the guests. The best of
hostels that men might find were sought for Siegfried's squires;
great easement they gave them. Thereafter they gladly saw the
guest in Burgundy. Many a day they offered him great worship, a
thousand fold more than I can tell you. This his prowess
wrought; ye may well believe, full scant a one he saw who was his
Whenever the lordings and their liegemen did play at knightly
games, Siegfried was aye the best, whatever they began. Herein
could no one match him, so mighty was his strength, whether they
threw the stone or hurled the shaft. When through courtesie the
full lusty knights made merry with the ladies, there were they
glad to see the hero of Netherland, for upon high love his heart
was bent. He was aye ready for whatso they undertook, but in his
heart he bare a lovely maid, whom he had never seen. She too,
who in secret spake full well of him, cherished him alone.
Whenever the pages, squires, and knights would play their games
within the court, Kriemhild, the noble queen, watched them from
the windows, for no other pastime she needed on such days. Had
he known that she gazed on him thus, whom he bare within his
heart, then had he had pastime enough, I trow, for well I wot
that no greater joy in all this world could chance to him.
Whenever he stood by the heroes in the court, as men still are
wont to do, for pastime's sake, so winsome was the posture of
Siegelind's son, that many a lady loved him for very joy of
heart. But he bethought him many a day: "How shall that hap,
that I with mine own eyes may see the noble maid, whom I do love
with all my heart and so have done long time. Sadly must I
stand, sith she be still a stranger to me."
Whenever the mighty kings fared forth into their land, the
warriors all must needs accompany them at hand, and Siegfried,
too. This the lady rued, and he, too, suffered many pangs for
love of her. Thus he dwelt with the lordings, of a truth, full a
year in Gunther's land, and in all this time he saw not once the
lovely maid, from whom in later days there happed to him much joy
and eke much woe.
(1) "Guest" translates here the M.H.G. "gest", a word which may
mean either 'guest' or 'stranger,' and it is often
difficult, as here, to tell to which meaning the preference
should be given.
(2) "Eleven" translates the M.H.G. "selbe zwelfte", which means
one of twelve. The accounts are, however, contradictory, as
a few lines below mention is made of twelve companions of
(3) "Vair" (O.F. "vair", Lat. "varius"), 'variegated', like the
fur of the squirrel.
(4) "Known". It was a mark of the experienced warrior, that he
was acquainted with the customs and dress of various
countries and with the names and lineage of all important
personages. Thus in the "Hildebrandslied" Hildebrand asks
Hadubrand to tell him his father's name, and adds: "If thou
tellest me the one, I shall know the other."
(5) "Schilbung" and "Nibelung", here spoken of as the sons of a
mighty king, were originally dwarfs, and, according to some
authorities, the original owners of the treasure. Boer, ix,
199, thinks, however, that the name Nibelungs was
transferred from Hagen to these dwarfs at a late stage in
the formation of the saga.
(6) "Angry of mood". The reason of this anger is apparent from
the more detailed account in "Biterolf", 7801. The quarrel
arose from the fact that, according to ancient law,
Siegfried acquired with the sword the rights of the first
born, which the brothers, however, refused to accord to him.
(7) "Balmung". In the older Norse version and in the
"Thidreksaga" Siegfried's sword bore the name of Gram.
(8) "Alberich" is a dwarf king who appears in a number of
legends, e.g., in the "Ortnit saga" and in "Biterolf".
Under the Romance form of his name, "Oberon", he plays an
important role in modern literature.
(9) "Cloak of Darkness". This translates the M.H.G.
"tarnkappe", a word often retained by translators. It is
formed from O.H.G. tarni, 'secret' (cf. O.E. "dyrne"), and
"kappe" from late Latin "cappa", 'cloak'. It rendered the
wearer invisible and gave him the strength of twelve men.
How He Fought with the Saxons. (1)
Now there came strange tales to Gunther's land, though messengers
sent them from afar -- tales of unknown warriors, who bare them
hate. When they heard this word, in sooth it pleased them not.
These warriors will I name to you: there was Liudeger of Saxon
land, a great and lordly prince, and then from Denmark Lindegast,
the king. For their journey they had gathered many a lordly
To Gunther's land were come the messengers his foes had sent.
Men asked the strangers for their tidings and bade them hie them
soon to court unto King Gunther. The king gave them greeting
fair; he spake: "Be ye welcome . I have not heard who sent you
hither, but let that now be told." So spake the right good king.
But they feared full sore King Gunther's warlike mood.
"Will ye, O King, permit that we tell the tales we bring, then we
shall not hold our tongue, but name to you the lordings who have
sent us hither: Liudegast and Liudeger; they would march upon
this land. Ye have earned their wrath, indeed we heard that both
lords bear you mortal hate. They would harry at Worms upon the
Rhine and have the aid of many a knight; that may ye know upon
our faith. Within twelve weeks the journey must befall. And ye
have aught of good friends, who will help guard your castles and
your lands, let this soon be seen. Here shall be carved by them
many a helm and shield. Or would ye parley with them, let
messengers be sent. Then the numerous bands of your mighty foes
will not ride so near you, to give you pain of heart, from which
full many a lusty knight and a good must die."
"Now bide a time," spake the good king, "till I bethink me
better; then ye shall know my mind. Have I aught of trusty men,
I will not withhold from them these startling tales, but will
make complaint thereof unto my friends."
To Gunther, the mighty king, it was loth enow, but in his heart
he bare the speech in secret wise. He bade Hagen be fetched and
others of his men, and sent eftsoon to court for Gernot. Then
came the very best of men that could he found. The king spake:
"Men would seek us here in this our land with mighty armies, now
make ye wail for that."
To this Gernot, a brave and lusty knight, made answer: "That will
we fend indeed with swords. Only the fey (2) will fall. So let
them die; for their sake I will not forget my honor. Let these
foes of ours be welcome to us."
Then spake Hagen of Troneg: "This thinketh me not good.
Liudegast and Liudeger bear great arrogance; nor can we summon
all our men in such short time. Why tell ye not Siegfried of the
thing?" So spake the valiant knight.
To the messengers they bade give lodging in the town. Whatever
hate they bore them, yet Gunther, the mighty, bade purvey them
well, as was but right, till he discovered of his friends who
there was who would lend him aid. Yet in his fears the king was
ill at ease. Just then full blithe a knight, who wot not what
had happed, saw him thus sad and prayed King Gunther to tell him
of the matter. "Much it wondereth me," spake Siegfried, for he
it was, "that ye thus have changed your merry wont, which ye have
used thus far with us."
To this Gunther, the stately knight, replied: "It liketh me not
to tell all folk the grievance which I must bear within my heart
in secret wise. Only to trusty friends should one confide his
woe of heart."
At this Siegfried's color waxed both pale and red. To the king
he spake: "I have denied you naught and will gladly help you turn
aside your woes. And ye seek friends, I will be one of them and
trow well to deport myself with honor until mine end."
"Now God reward you, Sir Siegfried, your speech thinketh me good,
and though your prowess help me not, yet do I rejoice to hear
that ye are friend to me, and live I yet a while, I shall repay
you well. I will let you hear why I stand thus sad; from the
messengers of my foes I have heard that they would visit me with
war, a thing which knights have never done to us in all these
"Regard this lightly," spake then Siegfried, "and calm your mood.
Do as I pray you. Let me gain for you both worship and advantage
and do ye command your knights, that they gather to your aid.
Should your mighty foes be helped by thirty thousand (3) men, yet
could I withstand them, had I but a thousand; for that rely on
Then spake King Gunther: "For this I'll serve you ever."
"So bid me call a thousand of your men, since of mine own I have
but twelve, and I will guard your land. Faithfully shall the
hand of Siegfried serve you. Hagen shall help us and also
Ortwin, Dankwart, and Sindolt, your trusty men. Folker, the
valiant man, shall also ride along; he shall bear the banner, for
to none would I liefer grant it. Let now the envoys ride home to
their masters' lands. Give them to understand they soon shall
see us, that our castles may rest in peace."
Then the king bade summon both his kinsmen and his men. The
messengers of Liudeger betook them to the court. Fain they were
that they should journey home again. Gunther, the good king,
made offrance of rich gifts and gave them safe-convoy. At this
their spirits mounted high. "Now say unto my foes," spake then
Gunther, "that they may well give over their journey and stay at
home; but if they will seek me here within my lands, hardships
shall they know, and my friends play me not false."
Rich gifts men bare then for the envoys; enow of these had
Gunther to bestow, nor durst the men of Liudeger refuse them.
When at last they took their leave, they parted hence in merry
Now when the messengers were come to Denmark and King Liudegast
had heard how they parted from the Rhine, as was told him, much