Quick Review of the Nibelungenlied

Siegfried's Murder

Wagner's opera cycle: The Ring of the Nibelungs was based on this poem.
Wagner's opera cycle: The Ring of the Nibelungs was based on this poem.

 

The Nibelungenlied is translated as “The Song of the Nibelungs”. It is an epic poem and tragedy whose author is unknown, though it is believed that the author was a poet from the German court of Burgundy. It was compiled from several dozen manuscripts written in Middle High German. Many of these manuscripts contradict one another on smaller points, but essentially the story tells of the heroic dragon-slayer, Siegfried of the Burgundians, (also known as the Nibelungs in historical literature), his foul murder, and the revenge of his wife, Kriemhild.

The story supposedly takes place in 12th century Germania, what would most likely be present day Austria.

As far as prose and the flow of the Nibelungenlied goes, one might compare it to other epic poems such as the Iliad. It even includes such similarities as Siegfried being rendered invulnerable to mortal attack save for a single small spot on his skin. One can see the similarity between Siegfried and Achilles. Like Achilles, Siegfried is killed in an underhanded and sneaky fashion by Hagen von Traje, a vassal to King Gunther, rival and adversary to Siegfried. He was speared in the back by Hagen on a celebratory hunt on the day of his wedding to the lovely vision of Teutonic beauty, Kreimhild.

Kreimhild mourned her beloved for years before accepting the offer of marriage to King Etzel, also known as Attila the Hun. She bided her time to take her revenge upon Hagen, willingly giving up her life in the process in an ending worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy.

This work would be highly recommended to anyone who has an interest in Teutonic legend, Norse legend, or Germanic history. It uses very florid imagery and does a fine job of portraying the concept of “courtly love”. Many people believe this work was a derivative of the old Norse sagas as the Nibelungenlied maintained many of the pre-Christian concepts and ideology; hence it included a great number of references to the old Norse pantheon and many of their legendary figures.

It’s astonishing how easily one can become lost in the pages of this story. It seems that many passages may just as easily have been composed yesterday rather than eight centuries ago.

While this is a highly enjoyable story on its own, containing clear and finely worded prose, it would be a good idea to pick up a copy with historical commentary to aid in understanding the meaning behind many of the more esoteric references.

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Christa Dovel profile image

Christa Dovel 7 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

It never ceases to amaze me at how timeless some literature is. The opera is beautiful... I had heard it before, but never knew the story. Thank you for this review.

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