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Extensions of the Lays of Hildebrand

Updated on February 26, 2015

For every nation, there is always a series of mythologies to explain the founding of the race and the start of all nature. The Japanese consider the Goddess of Sun (Amaterasu) is the first ruler of Japan. In Greek mythologies, we understand how Europe gets her name and how human learn how to use fire for cooking. Also, the heroes in these mythologies are considered as the model of the nation or how they reflect themselves. Even though how culturally specific the myths are, sometimes they bear certain similarities with myths from other countries. Taking Siegfried from The Nibelungenlied as example, we would compare him with St. George (who also slays a dragon) and Achilles (who also has a lethal spot on the body) due to the notable similarities; and Joseph Campbell has explained furthermore when he uses Siegfried as an example on the topic of a hero’s transformation in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. On the other hand, such similarities can be also found in terms of psychological terms. After all, mythologies are a reflection of human being—there may something that is specific to certain nation, but the universal theme still stands.

Both the Lay of Hildebrand and the Young Lay of Hildebrand narrate the same story about a father and a son meet in the battlefield and almost kill each other. Since there are missing part in the former narration, it is not easy to understand the story—since we cannot know if Hadubrand has killed Hildebrand or vice versa. But the Young Lay of Hildebrand provides an alternative vision of this “should-be” tragedy in the light of reconciliation between the father and the son.

Taking reference from Tacitus’s Germania, the opening of the Lay of Hildebrand does bear the battle tradition that Tacitus has described in the section of “Warlike Ardour of the People”: “The chief fight for victory; his vassals fight for their chief.” Both Hadubrand and Hildebrand are doing the same for their lords, and they are the champions of their armies. Therefore, they represent their teams for the duel. Also, it is worth to speculate on Hildebrand’s question to Hadubrand about his family: since it is quite rare for other culture to have such practice while in the battlefield. It demonstrates that German people value their names and families.

However, when we need to examine closely the other elements of the story; which the Young Lay would give us more detail, we may need to get help from Joseph Campbell.

There is an interesting speculation on the relationship between the father and the son: The son does not know his father due to the father fled the land, and according to Lay of Hildebrand, Hadubrand is being told that his father is already dead. Therefore, Hadubrand thinks Hildebrand deceives him by saying that they are father and son. Would this make Hadubrand in Oedipus complex? No, absolutely not! Because Hadubrand is a warrior fighting a battle and he only sees Hildebrand as an enemy. But when Hildebrand confirms that he is Hadubrand’s father in the latter part of the Young Lay—even though we do not the action, we know that Hadubrand has injured Hildebrand; he feels the guilt with this response:

“Oh father, dearest father,
The wounds I have dealt you
I’d rather bear three times
upon my own head.”

And Hildebrand response as follows:

“Now be silent, dear son,
the wound will be well,
now that God has both of us
brought us together.”

It seems that we can see Hadubrand’s atonement with Hildebrand. Even though Hadubrand is not on a physical journey, he is on a journey of the reconciliation with his estranged father. The way he responses reflects Campbell’s point, “One must have a faith that the father is merciful and then a reliance on that mercy.” (Campbell 110); and Hildebrand’s response is a demonstration of this mercy, not as a warrior who is showing mercy to his opponent, but as a father who knows the truth and stops the tragedy. In the end, this mercy saves the life of both Hadubrand and Hildebrand.

The end of the Young Lay shows the interesting twist on the mother’s reaction of the sudden house guest. Hadubrand confirms his position as a host of the family in his response and this reflects Campbell’s opinion on a son being “twice-born” and “become himself the father” (Campbell 116): Hadubrand becomes an authority figure himself, and he may become the guide for his mother to reconcile with her long-lost husband.

Even though both Lays of Hildebrand have a specific cultural aspect in reference the German culture, there is not hard to found the universal aspects on how people reflect themselves in mythologies.

Work Cited:

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York City: Pantheon Books, 1949. Printed


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