The Nibelungenlied

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The Nibelungenlied



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Thought to have been first written down in the 12th century by an author who is still unknown, the Nibelungenlied, translated from Middle High German as the Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic German poem reflecting the oral tradition, heroic motifs, and actual events and individuals from the 5th and 6th centuries.

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Translated into Rhymed English Verse in the Metre of the Original


George Henry Needler

Associate Professor of German in University College, Toronto


This translation of the Nibelungenlied is published with the simple purpose of placing one of the world's great epic poems within the reach of English readers. Translations are at best but poor substitutes for originals. A new translation of a poem implies also a criticism of those that have preceded it. My apology for presenting this new English version of the Nibelungenlied is that none of those hitherto made has reproduced the metrical form of the original. In the hope of making the outlines of the poem clearer for the modern reader, I have endeavored to supply in the Introduction a historical background by summing up the results of investigation into its origin and growth. The translation itself was begun many years ago, when I studied the original under Zarncke in Leipzig.

G. H. N.

University College, Toronto, September, 1904.



  1. The Nibelungen Saga.
    1. Origin of the Saga.
    2. The Northern Form of the Saga.
    3. The Saga as Preserved in the Nibelungenlied.
    4. Mythical Element and Historical Element.
  2. The Nibelungenlied.
    1. The Manuscripts.
    2. Stages in the Evolution of the Poem.
    3. Character of the Poem.
    4. Later Forms of the Saga.
    5. Poem and Saga in Modern Literature.
    6. Modern German Translations.
    7. English Translations.
    8. Editions of the Nibelungenlied.

The Nibelungenlied.

  1. FIRST ADVENTURE:  Kriemhild's Dream.
  2. SECOND ADVENTURE:  Siegfried.
  3. THIRD ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried Came to Worms.
  4. FOURTH ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried Fought with the Saxons.
  5. FIFTH ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried first Saw Kriemhild.
  6. SIXTH ADVENTURE:  How Gunther Fared to Isenland to Brunhild.
  7. SEVENTH ADVENTURE:  How Gunther Won Brunhild.
  8. EIGHTH ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried Fared to his Knights, the Nibelungen.
  9. NINTH ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried was Sent to Worms.
  10. TENTH ADVENTURE:  How Brunhild was Received at Worms.
  11. ELEVENTH ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried Came Home with his Wife.
  12. TWELFTH ADVENTURE:  How Gunther Bade Siegfried to the Feast.
  13. THIRTEENTH ADVENTURE:  How They Fared to the Feast.
  14. FOURTEENTH ADVENTURE:  How the Queens Berated Each Other.
  15. FIFTEENTH ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried was Betrayed.
  16. SIXTEENTH ADVENTURE:  How Siegfried was Slain.
  17. SEVENTEENTH ADVENTURE:  How Kriemhild Mourned for Siegfried.
  18. EIGHTEENTH ADVENTURE:  How Sigmund Fared Home Again.
  19. NINETEENTH ADVENTURE:  How the Nibelungen Hoard was Brought to Worms.
  20. TWENTIETH ADVENTURE:  How King Etzel Sent for Kriemhild.
  21. TWENTY-FIRST ADVENTURE:  How Kriemhild Fared to the Huns.
  22. TWENTY-SECOND ADVENTURE:  How Etzel Kept the Wedding-feast.
  23. TWENTY-THIRD ADVENTURE:  How Kriemhild Thought to Avenge Her Wrong.
  24. TWENTY-FOURTH ADVENTURE:  How Werbel and Schwemmel Brought the Message.
  25. TWENTY-FIFTH ADVENTURE:  How the Knights all Fared to the Huns.
  26. TWENTY-SIXTH ADVENTURE:  How Gelfrat was Slain by Dankwart.
  27. TWENTY-SEVENTH ADVENTURE:  How They Came to Bechelaren.
  28. TWENTY-EIGHTH ADVENTURE:  How the Burgundians Came to Etzel's Castle.
  29. TWENTY-NINTH ADVENTURE:  How He Arose not before Her.
  30. THIRTIETH ADVENTURE:  How They Kept Guard.
  31. THIRTY-FIRST ADVENTURE:  How They Went to Mass.
  32. THIRTY-SECOND ADVENTURE:  How Bloedel was Slain.
  33. THIRTY-THIRD ADVENTURE:  How the Burgundians Fought with the Huns.
  34. THIRTY-FOURTH ADVENTURE:  How They Cast Out the Dead.
  35. THIRTY-FIFTH ADVENTURE:  How Iring was Slain.
  36. THIRTY-SIXTH ADVENTURE:  How the Queen Bade Set Fire to the Hall.
  37. THIRTY-SEVENTH ADVENTURE:  How the Margrave Ruediger was Slain.
  38. THIRTY-EIGHTH ADVENTURE:  How All Sir Dietrich's Knights were Slain.
  39. THIRTY-NINTH ADVENTURE:  How Gunther and Hagen and Kriemhild were Slain.


I. The Nibelungen Saga

1. Origin of the Saga

All the Aryan peoples have had their heroic age, the achievements of which form the basis of later saga. For the Germans this was the period of the Migrations, as it is called, in round numbers the two hundred years from 400 to 600, at the close of which we find them settled in those regions which they have, generally speaking, occupied ever since. During these two centuries kaleidoscopic changes had been taking place in the position of the various Germanic tribes. Impelled partly by a native love of wandering, partly by the pressure of hostile peoples of other race, they moved with astonishing rapidity hither and thither over the face of Europe, generally in conflict with one another or buffeted by the Romans in the west and south, and by the Huns in the east. In this stern struggle for existence and search for a permanent place of settlement some of them even perished utterly; amid the changing fortunes of all of them deeds were performed that fixed themselves in the memory of the whole people, great victories or great disasters became the subject of story and song. We need only to recall such names as those of Ermanric and Theodoric to remind ourselves what an important part was played by the Germanic peoples of that Migration Period in the history of Europe. During it a national consciousness was engendered, and in it we have the faint beginnings of a national literature. Germanic saga rests almost entirely upon the events of these two centuries, the fifth and sixth. Although we get glimpses of the Germans during the four or five preceding centuries, none of the historic characters of those earlier times have been preserved in the national sagas.

With these sagas based on history, however, have been mingled in most cases primeval Germanic myths, possessions of the people from prehistoric times. A most conspicuous example of this union of mythical and originally historical elements is the Nibelungen saga, out of which grew in course of time the great national epic, the Nibelungenlied.

The Nibelungen saga is made up of two parts, on the one hand the mythical story of Siegfried and on the other the story, founded on historic fact, of the Burgundians. When and how the Siegfried myth arose it is impossible to say; its origin takes us back into the impenetrable mists of the unrecorded life of our Germanic forefathers, and its form was moulded by the popular poetic spirit. The other part of the saga is based upon the historic incident of the overthrow of the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns in the year 437. This annihilation of a whole tribe naturally impressed itself vividly upon the imagination of contemporaries. Then the fact of history soon began to pass over into the realm of legend, and, from causes which can no longer be determined, this tradition of the vanished Burgundians became united with the mythical story of Siegfried. This composite Siegfried-Burgundian saga then became a common possession of the Germanic peoples, was borne with many of them to lands far distant from the place of its origin, and was further moulded by each according to its peculiar genius and surroundings. In the Icelandic Eddas, the oldest of which we have as they were written down in the latter part of the ninth century, are preserved the earliest records of the form it had taken among the northern Germanic peoples. Our Nibelungenlied, which is the chief source of our knowledge of the story as it developed in Germany, dates from about the year 1200. These two versions, the Northern and the German, though originating in this common source, had diverged very widely in the centuries that elapsed between their beginning and the time when the manuscripts were written in which they are preserved. Each curtailed, re-arranged, or enlarged the incidents of the story in its own way. The character of the chief actors and the motives underlying what we may call the dramatic development assumed widely dissimilar forms. The German Nibelungenlied may be read and appreciated as one of the world's great epic poems without an acquaintance on the part of the reader with the Northern version of the saga. In order, however, to furnish the setting for a few episodes that would in that case remain either obscure or colorless, and with a view to placing the readers of this translation in a position to judge better the deeper significance of the epic as the eloquent narrative of a thousand years of the life of the people among whom it grew, the broad outlines of the saga in its Northern form will be given here.

2. The Northern Form of the Saga

Starting at the middle of the fifth century from the territory about Worms on the Rhine where the Burgundians were overthrown, the saga soon spread from the Franks to the other Germanic peoples. We have evidence of its presence in northern Germany and Denmark. Allusions to it in the Anglo-Saxon poem, the Wanderer, of the seventh century and in the great Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf of a short time later, show us that it had early become part of the national saga stock in England. Among the people of Norway and Iceland it took root and grew with particular vigor. Here, farthest away from its original home and least exposed to outward influences, it preserved on the whole most fully its heathen Germanic character, especially in its mythical part. By a fortunate turn of events, too, the written record of it here is of considerably earlier date than that which we have from Germany. The Eddas, as the extensive collection of early Icelandic poems is called, are the fullest record of Germanic mythology and saga that has been handed down to us, and in them the saga of Siegfried and the Nibelungen looms up prominently. The earliest of these poems date from about the year 850, and the most important of them were probably written down within a couple of centuries of that time. They are thus in part some three centuries older than the German Nibelungenlied, and on the whole, too, they preserve more of the original outlines of the saga. By bringing together the various episodes of the saga from the Eddas and the Volsung saga, a prose account of the mythical race of the Volsungs, we arrive at the following narrative.

On their wanderings through the world the three gods Odin, Hönir, and Loki come to a waterfall where an otter is devouring a fish that it has caught. Loki kills the otter with a stone, and they take off its skin. In the evening they seek a lodging at the house of Hreidmar, to whom they show the skin. Hreidmar recognizes it as that of his son, whom Loki has killed when he had taken on the form of an otter. Assisted by his sons Fafnir and Regin, Hreidmar seizes the three gods, and spares their lives only on the promise that they will fill the skin, and also cover it outwardly, with gold. Loki is sent to procure the ransom. With a net borrowed from the sea-goddess Ran he catches at the waterfall the dwarf Andvari in form of a fish and compels him to supply the required gold. Andvari tries to keep back a ring, but this also Loki takes from him, whereupon the dwarf utters a curse upon the gold and whosoever may possess it. The ransom is now paid to Hreidmar; even the ring must, on Hreidmar's demand, be given in order to complete the covering of the otter's skin. Loki tells him of the curse connected with the ownership of the gold. When Hreidmar refuses Fafnir and Regin a share in the treasure, he is killed by Fafnir, who takes possession of the hoard to the exclusion of Regin. In the form of a dragon Fafnir dwells on Gnita Heath guarding the hoard, while Regin broods revenge.

From Odin is descended King Volsung, who has a family of ten sons and one daughter. The eldest son is Sigmund, twin-born with his sister Signy. King Siggeir of Gautland sues for the hand of Signy, whom her father gives to Siggeir against her will. In the midst of King Volsung's hall stood a mighty oak-tree. As the wedding-feast is being held there enters a stranger, an old man with one eye, his hat drawn down over his face and bearing in his hand a sword. This sword he thrusts to the hilt into the tree, saying that it shall belong to him who can draw it out again; after which he disappears as he had come. All the guests try their strength in vain upon the sword, but Sigmund alone is able to draw it forth. He refuses to sell it to Siggeir for all his proffered gold. Siggeir plans vengeance. He invites Volsung and his sons to Gautland, and returns home thither with his bride Signy, who before going warns her father to be upon his guard.

At the appointed time King Volsung and his sons go as invited to Gautland. In spite of Signy's repeated warning he will not flee from danger, and falls in combat with Siggeir; his ten sons are taken prisoners, and placed in stocks in the forest. For nine successive nights a she-wolf comes and devours each night one of them, till only Sigmund remains. By the aid of Signy he escapes. The she-wolf, it was said, was the mother of Siggeir.

To Sigmund, who has hidden in a wood, Signy sends her eldest boy of ten years that Sigmund may test his courage and see if he is fit to be a helper in seeking revenge. Neither he, however, nor his younger brother stands the test. Signy sees that only a scion of the race of Volsung will suffice, and accordingly disguises herself and lives three days with Sigmund in the wood. From their union a son Sinfiotli is born, whom also, after ten years, she sends out to Sigmund. He stands every test of courage, and is trained by Sigmund, who thinks he is Siggeir's son.

Bent on revenge, Sigmund repairs with Sinfiotli to Siggeir's castle. After Sinfiotli has slain the king's two sons, he and Sigmund are overpowered and condemned to be buried alive. With Sigmund's sword, however, which Signy has managed to place in their hands, they cut their way out, then set fire to Siggeir's hall. Signy comes forth and reveals to Sigmund that Sinfiotli is their own son; and then, saying that her work of revenge is complete and that she can live no longer, she returns into the burning hall and perishes with Siggeir and all his race.

Sigmund now returns home and rules as a mighty king. He marries Borghild, who later kills Sinfiotli with a poisoned drink, and is cast away by Sigmund. He then marries Hjordis. Lyngvi, the son of King Hunding, was also a suitor and now invades Sigmund's land. The latter hews down many of his enemies, until an old man with one eye, in hat and dark cloak, interposes his spear, against which Sigmund's sword breaks in two. Sigmund falls severely wounded.

In the night Hjordis seeks the scene of the combat and finds Sigmund still alive. He refuses to allow her to heal his wounds, saying that Odin no longer wills that he swing the sword. He tells Hjordis to preserve carefully the pieces of the broken sword; the son she bears in her womb shall yet swing the sword when welded anew, and win thereby a glorious name. At dawn Sigmund dies. Hjordis is borne off by Vikings and, after the birth of her son, she becomes the wife of the Danish prince Alf.

The son of Hjordis was called Sigurd. He grew up a boy of wondrous strength and beauty, with eyes that sparkled brightly, and lived at the court of King Hjalprek, the father of Alf. Regin, the dwarfish brother of Fafnir, was his tutor. Regin welds together the pieces of the broken sword Gram, so sharp and strong that with it Sigurd cleaves Regin's anvil in twain. With men and ships that he has received from King Hjalprek Sigurd goes against the sons of Hunding, whom he slays, thereby avenging the death of his father. Regin has urged him to kill Fafnir and take possession of the hoard. On the Gnita Heath he digs a ditch from which, as the dragon Fafnir passes over it, he plunges the sword into his heart. The dying Fafnir warns him of the curse attached to the possession of the gold; also that Regin is to be guarded against. The latter bids him roast the heart of Fafnir. While doing so he burns his finger by dipping it in the blood to see if the heart is done, and to cool his finger puts it into his mouth. Suddenly he is able to understand the language of the birds in the wood. They warn him to beware of Regin, whom he straightway slays. The birds tell him further of the beautiful valkyrie Brynhild, who sleeps on the fire-encircled mountain awaiting her deliverer. Then Sigurd places Fafnir's hoard upon his steed Grani, takes with him also Fafnir's helm, and rides away to Frankenland. He sees a mountain encircled by a zone of fire, makes his way into it and beholds there, as he deems it, a man in full armor asleep. When he takes off the helmet he finds that it is a woman. With his sword he cuts loose the armor. The woman wakes and asks if it be the hero Sigurd who has awakened her. In joy that it is so, Brynhild relates to him how Odin had punished her by this magic sleep for disobedience, and how that she had yet obtained from him the promise that she should be wakened only by a hero who knew no fear. She now teaches Sigurd many wise runes, and tells him of harm to fear through love of her. In spite of all, however, Sigurd does not waver, and they swear an oath of mutual faithful love.

Next Sigurd comes to King Gjuki at the Rhine, and joins in friendship with him and his sons Gunnar and Hogni. Queen Grimhild gives Sigurd a potion which causes him to forget Brynhild and be filled with love for her own daughter Gudrun, whom he marries. Gunnar now seeks Brynhild for wife, and Sigurd goes with him on his wooing-journey. They come to the castle encircled by fire, where Brynhild lives. She will be wooed only by him who will ride to her through the flames. Gunnar tries in vain to do this, even when mounted on Sigurd's steed Grani. Sigurd and Gunnar then exchange shapes and the former spurs Grani through the flames. He calls himself Gunnar the son of Gjuki, and finally Brynhild consents to become his wife. Three nights he shares her couch, but always his sharp sword lies between them. He takes the ring from her finger and places in its stead one from Fafnir's treasure. Then he exchanges form again with Gunnar, who is soon after wedded to Brynhild. Only now does Sigurd recollect the oath that he once swore to Brynhild himself.

One day Brynhild and Gudrun are bathing in the Rhine. A quarrel arises between them when Brynhild takes precedence of Gudrun by going into the water above her in the stream, saying that her husband is a braver and mightier man than Gudrun's. Gudrun retorts by revealing the secret that it was Sigurd in Gunnar's form, and not Gunnar himself, who rode through the flame, and in proof thereof shows her the ring taken by Sigurd from Brynhild's finger. Pale as death, Brynhild goes quietly home: Gunnar must die, she says in wrath. Sigurd tries to pacify her, even offering to desert Gudrun. Now she will have neither him nor another, and when Gunnar appears she demands of him Sigurd's death. In spite of Hogni's protest Gunnar's stepbrother Gutthorm, who has not sworn blood-friendship with Sigurd, is got to do the deed. He is given the flesh of wolf and serpent to eat in order to make him savage. Twice Gutthorm goes to kill Sigurd, but cowers before the piercing glance of his eyes; at last he steals upon Sigurd asleep and thrusts his sword through him. The dying Sigurd hurls the sword after the fleeing murderer and cuts him in two. To Gudrun, who wakes from sleep by his side, he points to Brynhild as the instigator of the crime, and dies. Brynhild rejoices at the sound of Gudrun's wailing. Gudrun cannot find relief for her grief, the tears will not flow. Men and women seek to console her by tales of greater woes befallen them. But still Gudrun cannot weep as she sits by Sigurd's corpse. At last one of the women lifts the cloth from Sigurd's face and lays his head upon Gudrun's lap. Then Gudrun gazes on his blood-besmirched hair, his dimmed eyes, and breast pierced by the sword: she sinks down upon the couch and a flood of tears bursts at length from her eyes.

Brynhild now tells Gunnar that Sigurd had really kept faith with him on the wooing journey; but she will live with him no longer and pierces herself with a sword, after foretelling to Gunnar his future fate and that of Gudrun. In accord with her own request she is burned on one funeral-pyre with Sigurd, the sword between them as once before.

Atli,[1] king of the Huns, now seeks Gudrun for wife. She refuses, but Grimhild gives her a potion which causes her to forget Sigurd and the past, and then she becomes the wife of Atli. After Sigurd's death Gunnar had taken possession of the Niflungen hoard, and this Atli now covets. He treacherously invites Gunnar and the others to visit him, which they do in spite of Gudrun's warnings, first of all, however, sinking the hoard in the Rhine. On their arrival Atli demands of them the hoard, which, he says, belongs of right to Gudrun. On their refusal he attacks them. Hosts of fighters on both sides fall and in the end Gunnar and Hogni, the only two of their number remaining, are bound in fetters. Gunnar refuses Atli's command to reveal the hiding-place of the hoard, bidding them bring to him the heart of Hogni. They kill a servant and bring his heart to Gunnar; but Gunnar sees how it still quivers with fear, and knows it is not the heart of the fearless Hogni. Then the latter is really killed, and his heart is brought to Gunnar, who cries exultingly that now only the Rhine knows where the hoard lies hidden. In spite of Gudrun Atli orders that Gunnar be thrown into a den of serpents. With a harp communicated to him by Gudrun he pacifies them all but one, which stings him to the heart, and thus Gunnar dies. Gudrun is nominally reconciled with Atli, but in secret plans revenge for the death of her brothers. She kills Atli's two sons, gives him at a banquet their blood to drink and their hearts to eat. In the night she plunges a sword into his own heart, confesses herself to him as his murderer, and sets fire to the castle, in which Atli and all his remaining men are consumed.

[1] That is, Attila; the Etzel of the Nibelungenlied.

3. The Saga as preserved in the Nibelungenlied

The saga as we find it in the German Nibelungenlied differs very widely in form and substance from the Northern version which has just been outlined, though the two have still enough points of similarity to indicate clearly a common origin. Each bears the stamp of the poetic genius of the people among whom it grew. Of all the sagas of the Germanic peoples none holds so prominent a place as the Nibelungen saga, and it may safely be said that the epic literature of the world, though offering poems of more refined literary worth, has none that are at the same time such valuable records of the growth of the poetic genius of two kindred peoples through many centuries of their early civilization as the Edda poems of this saga and the Nibelungenlied. It is impossible here to undertake a comparison of the two and point out in detail their parallelism and their respective significance as monuments of civilization; suffice it to indicate briefly the chief points of difference in the two stories, and note particularly those parts of the Nibelungenlied that have, as it were, suffered atrophy, and that point to earlier stages of the saga in which, as in the Northern version, they played a more important rôle.

First, as to the hoard. The Nibelungenlied knows nothing of its being taken by Loki from Andvari, of the latter's curse upon it, and how it came finally into the possession of Fafnir, the giant-dragon. Here it belongs, as we learn from Hagen's account (strophes 86-99), to Siegfried (Sigurd), who has slain the previous owners of it, Schilbung and Nibelung, and wrested it from its guardian the dwarf Alberich (Andvari). From this point onward its history runs nearly parallel in the two versions. After Siegfried's death it remains for a time with Kriemhild (Gudrun), is treacherously taken from her by Gunther (Gunnar) and Hagen (Hogni), and finally, before their journey to Etzel (Atli), sunk in the Rhine.

The protracted narrative of Sigurd's ancestry and his descent from Odin has no counterpart in the Nibelungenlied. Here we learn merely that Siegfried is the son of Siegmund. His father plays an entirely different part; and his mother's name is not Hjordis, as in the Edda, but Siegelind.

Of Siegfried's youth the Nibelungenlied knows very little. No mention is made of his tutelage to the dwarf smith Regin and preparation for the slaying of the dragon Fafnir. The account of him placed in the mouth of Hagen (strophes 86-501), how he won the hoard, the tarnkappe, and the sword Balmung, and slew the dragon, is evidently a faint echo of an earlier version of this episode, which sounds out of place in the more modern German form of the story. From the latter the mythical element has almost entirely vanished. It is worthy of note, moreover, that the very brief account of Siegfried's slaying of the dragon is given in the Nibelungenlied as separate from his acquisition of the hoard, and differs in detail from that of the Edda. Of Sigurd's steed Grani, his ride to Frankenland, and his awakening of Brynhild the Nibelungenlied has nothing to tell us. Through the account of Siegfried's assistance to Gunther in the latter's wooing of Brunhild (Adventures 6 and 7) shimmers faintly, however, the earlier tradition of the mythical Siegfried's awakening of the fire-encircled valkyrie. Only by our knowledge of a more original version can we explain, for example, Siegfried's previous acquaintance with Brunhild which the Nibelungenlied takes for granted but says nothing of. On this point of the relation between Sigurd and Brynhild it is difficult to form a clear account owing to the confusion and even contradictions that exist when the various Northern versions themselves are placed side by side. The name of the valkyrie whom Sigurd awakens from her magic sleep is not directly mentioned. Some of the accounts are based on the presupposition that she is one with the Brynhild whom Sigurd later wooes for Gunnar, while others either know nothing of the sleeping valkyrie or treat the two as separate personages. The situation in the Nibelungenlied is more satisfactorily explained by the theory that they were originally identical. But we see at once that the figure of Brunhild has here lost much of its original significance. It is her quarrel with Kriemhild (Gudrun) that leads to Siegfried's death, though the motives are not just the same in the two cases; and after the death of Siegfried she passes unaccountably from the scene.

But it is in the concluding part of the story—the part which, as we shall see, has its basis in actual history—that the two accounts diverge most widely. So strange, indeed, has been the evolution of the saga that the central character of it, Kriemhild (Gudrun) holds a diametrically opposite relation to her husband Etzel (Atli) at the final catastrophe in the two versions. In the Nibelungenlied as in the Edda the widowed Kriemhild (Gudrun) marries King Etzel (Atli), her consent in the former resulting from a desire for revenge upon the murderers of Siegfried, in the latter from the drinking of a potion which takes away her memory of him; in the Nibelungenlied it is Kriemhild who treacherously lures Gunther and his men to their destruction unknown to Etzel, in the Edda the invitation comes from Atli, while Gudrun tries to warn them to stay at home; in the former Kriemhild is the author of the attack on the guests, in the latter Atli; in the former Kriemhild is the frenzied avenger of her former husband Siegfried's death upon her brother Gunther, in the latter Gudrun is the avenger of her brothers' death upon her husband Atli.

4. Mythical Element and Historical Element

A sifting of the Nibelungen saga reveals a mythical element (the story of Siegfried) and a historical element (the story of the Burgundians and Etzel). How, when, and where these two elements were blended together must remain largely a matter of conjecture. This united central body received then from time to time accessions of other elements, some of them originally historical in character, some of them pure inventions of the poetic imagination.

The Siegfried myth is the oldest portion of the Nibelungen saga, and had already passed through a long period of development before its union with the story of the Burgundian kings. Like so many others of its kind, it is part of the spiritual equipment of our Germanic ancestors at the dawn of their recorded history. It grew gradually with the people themselves and has its counterpart among other peoples. Such myths are a record of the impressions made upon the mind of man by the mighty manifestations of the world of nature in which he lives; their formation may be likened to the unconscious impressions of its surroundings on the mind of the child. And just as the grown man is unable to trace back the formation of his own individuality to its very beginnings in infancy, so is it impossible for the later nation in its advanced stage to peer back beyond the dawn of its history. It is in the gloom beyond the dawn that such myths as this of Siegfried have their origin.

Though modern authorities differ greatly in their conjectures, it is generally agreed that the Siegfried story was in its original form a nature-myth. The young day slays the mist-dragon and awakens the sun-maiden that sleeps on the mountain; at evening he falls a prey to the powers of gloom that draw the sun down again beneath the earth. With this day-myth was probably combined the parallel myth of the changing seasons: the light returns in spring, slays the cloud-dragon, and frees the budding earth from the bonds of winter.[2]

[2] For the Siegfried saga in general see Symons in Paul's Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, 2d ed., vol. III, pp. 651-671.

In the course of time this nature-myth became transformed into a hero-saga; the liberating power of light was humanized into the person of the light-hero Siegfried. This stage of development had already been reached at the time of our earliest records, and the evidences point to the Rhine Franks, a West Germanic tribe settled in the fifth century in the country about Cologne, as the people among whom the transformation from nature-myth to hero-saga took place, for it is among them that the saga in its earliest form is localized. By the Rhine Siegfried is born, there he wins the Nibelungen hoard, and in Frankenland he finds the sleeping valkyrie. By the Rhine, too, he enters into service with the Nibelungen kings and weds their sister.

The Franks had as neighbors up-stream in the first half of the fifth century the Burgundians, an East Germanic tribe. These Burgundians, who were closely allied to the Goths, had originally dwelt in the Baltic region between the Vistula and the Oder, whence they had made their way south westward across Germany and settled in the year 413 in Germania prima on the west bank of the Rhine about Worms. Here a tragic fate was soon to overtake them. In the year 435 they had already suffered a reverse in a conflict with the Romans under Aëtius, and two years later, in 437, they were practically annihilated by the Huns. Twenty thousand of them, we are told, fell in battle, the remainder were scattered southward. Beyond the brief record by a contemporary, Prosper, we know but little of this event. It has been conjectured that the Huns were on this occasion acting as auxiliaries of Aëtius. At any rate it is fairly certain that Attila was not personally on the scene.

We can easily imagine what a profound impression this extinction of the Burgundians would produce upon the minds of their neighbors the Rhine Franks. Fact, too, would soon become mingled with fiction. This new feat was ascribed to Attila himself, already too well known as the scourge of Europe and the subduer of so many German tribes. A very few years later, however, fate was to subdue the mighty conqueror himself. With the great battle of Châlons in 451 the tide turned against him, and two years afterwards he died a mysterious death. The historian Jordanes of the sixth century relates that on the morning after Attila's wedding with a German princess named Ildico (Hildikô) he was found lying in bed in a pool of blood, having died of a hemorrhage. The mysteriousness of Attila's ending inspired his contemporaries with awe, and the popular fancy was not slow to clothe this event also in a dress of fiction. The attendant circumstances peculiarly favored such a process. Historians soon recorded the belief that Attila had perished at the hands of his wife, and it was only a step further for the imagination to find the motive for the deed in the desire of Hildikô to avenge the death of her German kinsmen who had perished through Attila. The saga of Attila's death is before long connected with the growing Burgundian saga, Hildikô becomes the sister of the Burgundian kings Gundahari, Godomar, and Gislahari, and her deed is vengeance taken upon Attila for his destruction of her brothers. As is seen at once from the outline I have already given (Chapter 2.) of the saga as we find it in the Edda, this is the stage of development it had reached when it began to find its way northward from the Rhine country to Norway and Iceland.

It is unnecessary here to record the speculations—for beyond speculations we cannot go—as to how the union of this historical saga of the Burgundians and Attila with the Siegfried saga took place. In the course of time, and naturally with greatest probability among the Rhine Franks who followed the Burgundians as occupants of Germania prima, the two were brought together, and the three Burgundian kings and their sister were identified with the three Nibelungen kings and their sister of the already localized Siegfried saga. It is also beyond the scope of this introduction to follow the course of the saga northward or to note its further evolution during its wanderings and in its new home until it was finally recorded in poetic form in the Edda. We have now to consider briefly the transformation it passed through in Germany between this date (about 500) and the time (about 1200) when it emerges in written record as the Nibelungenlied.

An account has already been given (Chapter 3.) of the chief features in which the Nibelungenlied differs from the Northern form. As we saw there, the mythical element of the Siegfried saga has almost entirely evaporated and the historical saga of the Burgundian kings and Attila has undergone a complete transformation. That the originally mythical and heathen Siegfried saga should dwindle away with the progress of civilization and under the influence of Christianity was but natural. The character of the valkyrie Brynhild who avenges upon Sigurd his infidelity to her, yet voluntarily unites herself with him in death, as heathen custom demanded, is no longer intelligible. She recedes into the background, and after Siegfried's death, though she is still living, she plays no further part. The Nibelungenlied found its final form on Upper German, doubtless Austrian, territory. Here alone was it possible that that greatest of all transformations could take place, namely, in the character of Attila. The Franks of the Rhine knew him only as the awe-inspiring conqueror who had annihilated their neighbors the Burgundians. In Austrian lands it was quite otherwise. Many Germanic tribes, particularly the East Goths, had fought under the banner of Attila, and in the tradition handed down from them he lived as the embodiment of wisdom and generosity. Here it was impossible that epic story should picture him as slaying the Burgundian kings through a covetous desire for their gold. The annihilation of the Burgundians is thus left without a motive. To supply this, Kriemhild's character is placed upon an entirely different basis. Instead of avenging upon Attila the death of her brothers the Burgundian kings, Kriemhild now avenges upon her brothers the slaying of her first husband Siegfried. This fundamental change in the character of Kriemhild has a deep ethical reason. To the ancient heathen Germans the tie of blood-relationship was stronger than that of wedlock, and thus in the original version of the story Attila's wife avenges upon him the death of her brothers; to the Christianized Germans of later times the marriage bond was the stronger, and accordingly from the altered motive Kriemhild avenges upon her brothers the slaying of her husband. In accordance, too, with this ethical transformation the scene of the catastrophe is transferred from Worms to Attila's court. Kriemhild now looms up as the central figure of the second half of the drama, while Etzel remains to the last ignorant of her designs for revenge.

This transformation of the fundamental parts of the saga was accompanied by another process, namely, the addition of new characters. Some of these are the product of the poetic faculty of the people or individuals who preserved and remoulded the story in the course of centuries, others are based upon history. To the former class belong the Margrave Ruediger, the ideal of gentle chivalry, and Volker the Fiddler-knight, doubtless a creation of the spielleute. To the second class belong Dietrich of Bern, in whom we see the mighty East Gothic king, Theodoric of Verona; also Bishop Pilgrim of Passau, a very late importation, besides several others in whom are perpetuated in more or less faint outline actual persons of history. This introduction of fresh characters from time to time as the saga grew has led to some strange anachronisms, which however are a disturbing element only to us readers of a modern day, who with sacrilegious hand lift the veil through which they were seen in a uniform haze of romance by the eye of the knights and ladies of seven centuries ago. They neither knew nor cared to know, for instance, that Attila was dead before Theodoric was born, and that Bishop Pilgrim flourished at Passau the trifling space of five hundred years later still.[3]

[3] Attila lived from about 406 to 453; Theodoric, 475 to 526. Pilgrim was Bishop of Passau, 971 to 991.

II. The Nibelungenlied

1. The Manuscripts

Among the German epic poems of the Middle Ages the Nibelungenlied [4] enjoyed an exceptional popularity, as is evident from the large number of manuscripts—some thirty, either complete or fragmentary—that have been preserved from the centuries immediately following its appearance. Three are of prime importance as texts, namely, those preserved now in Munich, St. Gall, and Donaueschingen, and cited as A, B, and C respectively. Since the time when Lachmann, about a century ago, made the first scientific study of the poem, a whole flood of writings has been poured forth discussing the relative merits of these texts. Each in turn has had its claims advocated with warmth and even acrimony. None of these three principal manuscripts, however, offers the poem in its earliest form; they all point to a still earlier version. It is now generally admitted that the St. Gall manuscript (B), according to which the present translation has been made, contains the best and most nearly original text.

[4] The closing strophe of MS. C calls the poem der Nibelunge liet, or Nibelungenlied, i.e. the lay of the Nibelungen, and this is the title by which it is commonly known. MSS. A and B have in the corresponding strophe der Nibelunge nôt, i.e. the 'need', 'distress', 'downfall' of the Nibelungen. In the title of the poem 'Nibelungen' is simply equivalent to 'Burgundians': the poem relates the downfall of the Burgundian kings and their people. Originally the Nibelungen were, as their name, which is connected with nebel, 'mist', 'gloom', signifies, the powers of darkness to whom the light-hero Siegfried fell a prey. After Siegfried obtains possession of the treasure the name Nibelungen is still applied to Alberich and the dwarfs who guard it and who are now Siegfried's vassals. Then after Siegfried's death the name is given to the Burgundians. It is a mistake to suppose that the name was applied in each case to those who became possessors of the hoard, for Siegfried himself is never so designated.

2. Stages in the Evolution of the Poem

Hand in hand with the discussion of the relative authenticity of the manuscripts went the consideration of another more important literary question,—the evolution of the poem itself. Even if we knew nothing of the history of the Nibelungen saga as revealed in the Edda and through other literary and historic sources, a reading of the poem would give us unmistakable hints that it is not, in its present form, a perfect literary unit. We detect inconsistencies in matter and inequalities of style that prove it to be a remodelling of material already existing in some earlier form. What, then, has been the history of its evolution? How did this primeval Siegfried myth, this historical saga of the Burgundians and Attila, first come to be part of the poetic stock of the German people? What was its earliest poetic form, and what series of transformations did it pass through during seven centuries of growth? These and many kindred questions present themselves, and the search for answers to them takes us through many winding labyrinths of the nation's contemporary history. Few products of German literature have so exercised and tantalized critics as the Nibelungenlied.

In this connection we have to remind ourselves that comparatively little of what must have been the large body of native poetry in Germany previous to the eleventh century has come down to us. Barely enough has been preserved to show the path of the nation's literary progress. Some of the important monuments have been saved by chance, while others of equal or perhaps greater value have been irrecoverably lost. The interest in the various incidents of the Nibelungen story was sufficient to keep it alive among the people and hand it down orally through many generations. If we could observe it as it passed from age to age we should doubtless see it undergoing continuous change according to the time and the class of the people that were the preservers of the native literature in its many ups and downs. Lachmann in the year 1816 was the first to bring scientific criticism to bear on the question of the Nibelungenlied and its origin. Applying to it the same methods as had recently been used by Wolf in his criticism of the Homeric poems, he thought he was able to discover as the basis of the complete epic a cycle of twenty separate lieder, ballads or shorter episodic poems, on the strength of which belief he went so far as to publish an edition of the poem in which he made the division into the twenty separate lays and eliminated those strophes (more than one third of the whole number) that he deemed not genuine. It is now generally admitted, however, that the pioneer of Nibelungen investigation fell here into over-positive refinements of literary criticism. Separate shorter poems there doubtless existed narrating separate episodes of the story, but these are no longer to be arrived at by a process of critical disintegration and pruning of the epic as we have it. An examination of the twenty lieder according to Lachmann's division convinces us that they are not separate units in the sense he conceived them to be. Though these twenty lieder may be based upon a number of earlier episodic poems, yet the latter already constituted a connected series. They were already like so many scenes of a gradually developing drama. Events were foreshadowed in one that were only fulfilled in another, and the incidents of later ones are often only intelligible on the supposition of an acquaintance with motives that originated in preceding ones. It is in this sense only, not according to Lachmann's overwrought theory, that we are justified in speaking of a liedercyclus, or cycle of separate episodic poems, as the stage of the epic antecedent to the complete form in which we now have it. But beyond this cycle we cannot trace it back. How the mythical saga of Siegfried and the Nibelungen, and the story of the Burgundians and Attila, were first sung in alliterative lays in the Migration Period, how as heathen song they were pushed aside or slowly influenced by the spirit of Christianity, how with changing time they changed also their outward poetical garb from alliteration to rhyme and altered verse-form, till at last in the twelfth century they have become the cycle of poems from which the great epic of the Nibelungenlied could be constructed—of all this we may form a faint picture from the development of the literature in general, but direct written record of it is almost completely wanting.

3. Character of the Poem

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed far-reaching changes in the social and intellectual life of the German lands, the leading feature of which is the high development of all that is included under the name of chivalry. It is marked, too, by a revival of the native literature such as had not been known before, a revival which is due almost entirely to its cultivation by the nobility. From emperor down to the simple knight they were patrons of poetry and, what is most striking, nearly all the poets themselves belong to the knightly class. The drama has not yet begun, but in the field of epic and lyric there appear about the year 1200 poets who are among the greatest that German literature even down to the present time has to show. The epic poetry of that period, though written almost entirely by the knights, is of two distinct kinds according to its subject: on the one hand what is called the Court Epic, on the other hand the National, or Popular, Epic. The Court Epic follows for the most part French models and deals chiefly with the life of chivalry, whose ideals were embodied in king Arthur and his circle of knights; the National Epic drew its subjects from the national German saga, its two great products being the Nibelungenlied and the poem of Gudrun. Court Epic and National Epic are further distinct in form, the Court Epic being written in the rhymed couplets popularized in modern times in English by Sir Walter Scott, while the National Epic is composed in four-lined strophes.

Though we know the name and more or less of the life of the authors of the many court epics of the period, the name of the poet who gave the Nibelungenlied its final form has not been recorded. As we have seen, the poem is at bottom of a truly popular, national character, having its beginnings in mythology and early national history. For centuries the subject had been national property and connected with the name of no one individual. We have it now in the form in which it was remodelled to suit the taste of the court and the nobility, and like the court epic to be read aloud in castle hall. That it is written in four-lined strophes[5] and not in the usual rhymed couplets of the court epics is doubtless due to the fact that the former verse-form had already been used in the earlier ballads upon which it is based, and was simply taken over by the final moulder of the poem. This latter was probably a member of the nobility like the great majority of the epic poets of the time; he must at least have been well acquainted with the manners, tastes, sentiments, and general life of the nobility. Through him the poem was brought outwardly more into line with the literary ideals of the court circles. This shows itself chiefly in a negative way, namely, in the almost complete avoidance of the coarse language and farcical situations so common with the popular poet, the spielmann. Beyond this no violence is done to the simple form of the original. The style is still inornate and direct, facts still speak rather than words, and there is nothing approaching the refined psychological dissection of characters and motives such as we find in Wolfram von Eschenbach and the other court writers.

[5] For description of the Nibelungen strophe see below, Chapter 7.

When we look to the inner substance we see that the ground ideals are still those of the original Germanic heroic age. The chief characters are still those of the first stages of the story—Siegfried, Brunhild, Gunther, Kriemhild, Hagen. The fundamental theme is the ancient theme of triuwe, unswerving personal loyalty and devotion, which manifests itself above all in the characters of Kriemhild and Hagen. Kriemhild's husband Siegfried is treacherously slain: her sorrow and revenge are the motives of the drama. Hagen's mistress has, though with no evil intent on Siegfried's part, received an insult to her honor: to avenge that insult is Hagen's absorbing duty, which he fulfils with an utter disregard of consequences. Over this their fundamental character the various persons of the story have received a gloss of outward conduct in keeping with the close of the twelfth century. The poet is at pains to picture them as models of courtly bearing, excelling in höfscheit, zuht, tugent. Great attention is paid to dress, and the preparation of fitting apparel for court festivities is described and re-described with wearisome prolixity. A cardinal virtue is milte, liberality in the bestowal of gifts. Courtesy toward women is observed with the careful formality of the age of the minnesingers. It was above all Siegfried, the light-hero of the original myth, whose character lent itself to an idealization of knighthood. Ruediger holds a like place in the latter part of the poem. In the evident pleasure with which the minstrel-knight Volker of the sword-fiddlebow is depicted, as well doubtless as in occasional gleams of broader humor, the hand of the minstrels who wrought on the story in its earlier ballad stages may be seen. And the whole poem, in keeping with its form in an age strongly under church influence, has been tinged with the ideals of Christianity. Not only does the ordinary conversation of all the characters, including even the heathen Etzel, contain a great number of formal imprecations of God, but Christian institutions and Christian ethics come frequently into play. Mass is sung in the minster, baptism, marriage, burial are celebrated in Christian fashion, the devil is mentioned according to the Christian conception, we hear of priest, chaplain, and bishop, Christians are contrasted with heathen, and Kriemhild, in marrying Etzel, has a hope of turning him to Christianity. In Hagen's attempt to drown the chaplain whom the Burgundians have with them as they set out for the land of the Huns we have perhaps an expression of the conflict between the heathen and the Christian elements, possibly also a reflection of the traditional animosity of the spielmann to his clerical rival.

The Nibelungenlied and the Iliad of Homer have often been compared, but after all to no great purpose. The two epics are alike in having their roots deep in national origins, but beyond this we have contrasts rather than resemblances. The Iliad is a more varied and complete picture of the whole Greek world than the Nibelungenlied is of the German, its religious atmosphere has not been disturbed in the same way as that of the saga of early Germanic times projected several centuries into a later Christian age, and it possesses in every way a greater unity of sentiment. In the varied beauty of its language, its wealth of imagery, its depth of feeling and copiousness of incident the Iliad is superior to the Nibelungenlied with its language of simple directness, its few lyrical passages, its expression of feeling by deeds rather than by words. Homer, too, is in general buoyant, the Nibelungenlied is sombre and stern. And in one last respect the two epics differ most of all: the Iliad is essentially narrative and descriptive, a series of episodes; the Nibelungenlied is essentially dramatic, scene following scene of dramatic necessity and pointing steadily to a final and inevitable catastrophe.

4. Later Forms of the Saga

In the Northern Edda and in the German Nibelungenlied the Nibelungen saga found its fullest and most poetic expression. But these were not to be the only literary records of it. Both in Scandinavian lands and in Germany various other monuments, scattered over the intervening centuries, bear witness to the fact that it lived on in more or less divergent forms. The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus of the latter part of the twelfth century has a reference to the story of Kriemhild's treachery toward her brothers. About the year 1250 an extensive prose narrative, known as the Thidrekssaga, was written by a Norwegian from oral accounts given him by men from Bremen and Münster. This narrative is interesting as showing the form the saga had taken by that date on Low German territory, and holds an important place in the history of the development of the saga. It has much more to say of the early history of Siegfried than we find in the Nibelungenlied, and yet in the main outlines of the story of Kriemhild's revenge it corresponds with the German epic and not with the Northern Edda. A chronicle of the island of Hven in the Sound, dating in its original form from the sixteenth century, as well as Danish ballads on the same island that have lived on into modern times, tell of Sivard (Siegfried), Brynhild, and also of Grimild's (Kriemhild's) revenge. In Norway and Sweden traces of the saga have recently been discovered; while songs that are sung on the Faroe Islands, as an accompaniment to the dance on festive occasions, have been recorded, containing over six hundred strophes in which is related in more or less distorted form the Nibelungen story.

In Germany the two poems known as the Klage and Hürnen Seyfrid are the most noteworthy additional records of the Nibelungen saga, as offering in part at least independent material. The Klage is a poem of over four thousand lines in rhymed couplets, about half of it being an account of the mourning of Etzel, Dietrich, and Hildebrand as they seek out the slain and prepare them for burial, the other half telling of the bringing of the news to Bechlaren, Passau, and Worms. The poem was written evidently very soon after the Nibelungenlied, the substance of which was familiar to the author, though he also draws in part from other sources. Compared with the Nibelungenlied it possesses but little poetic merit and is written with distinctly Christian sentiment which is out of harmony with the ground-tone of the Germanic tragedy.

The Hürnen Seyfrid is a poem of 179 four-lined strophes which is preserved only in a print of the sixteenth century, but at least a portion of whose substance reaches back in its original form to a period preceding the composition of the Nibelungenlied. It is evidently, as we have it, formed by the union of two earlier separate poems, which are indeed to a certain extent contradictory of each other. The first tells of the boyhood of Seyfrid (Siegfried) and his apprenticeship to the smith; how he slew many dragons, burned them, and smeared over his body with the resulting fluid horny substance (hence his name hürnen), which made him invulnerable; how he further found the hoard of the dwarf Nybling, and by service to King Gybich won the latter's daughter for his wife. The second part tells how King Gybich reigned at Worms. He has three sons, Günther, Hagen, Gyrnot, and one daughter, Kriemhild. The latter is borne off by a dragon, but finally rescued by Seyfrid, to whom she is given in marriage. The three brothers are jealous of the might and fame of Seyfrid, and after eight years Hagen slays him beside a cool spring in the Ottenwald.

The poem Biterolf, written soon after the Nibelungenlied, and Rosengarten of perhaps a half-century later, represent Dietrich in conflict with Siegfried at Worms. The famous shoemaker-poet Hans Sachs of Nuremberg in 1557 constructed a tragedy, Der hörnen Sewfriedt, on the story of Siegfried as he knew it from the Hürnen Seyfrid and the Rosengarten. A prose version of the Hürnen Seyfrid, with free additions and alterations, is preserved in the Volksbuch vom gehörnten Sigfrid, the oldest print of which dates from the year 1726. Of the vast number of Fairy Tales, those most genuine creations of the poetic imagination of the people, in which live on, often to be sure in scarcely recognizable form, many of the myths and sagas of the nation's infancy, there are several that may with justice be taken as relics of the Siegfried myth, for instance, The Two Brothers, The Young Giant, The Earth-Manikin, The King of the Golden Mount, The Raven, The Skilled Huntsman, and perhaps also the Golden Bird and The Water of Life;[6] though it would seem from recent investigations that Thorn-Rose or the Sleeping Beauty, is no longer to be looked upon as the counterpart of the sleeping Brynhild. Finally, it is probable that several names in Germany and in Northern countries preserve localized memories of the saga.

[6] These will be found in Grimm's Märchen as numbers 60, 90-93, 111, 57, and 97.

5. Poem and Saga in Modern Literature

Fundamentally different from the foregoing natural outgrowths of the Nibelungen saga are the modern dramas and poems founded upon it since the time of the romanticists at the beginning of the nineteenth century.[7] Nearly all of these have already vanished as so much chaff from the winnowing-mill of time: only two, perhaps, are now considered seriously, namely, Hebbel's Die Nibelungen and Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen. Hebbel in his grandly conceived drama in three parts follows closely the story as we have it in our epic poem the Nibelungenlied, and the skill with which he makes use of its tragic elements shows his dramatic genius at its best. But not even the genius of Hebbel could make these forms of myth and saga live again for us upon a modern stage, and the failure of this work with its wealth of poetic beauty and many scenes of highest dramatic effectiveness to maintain its place as an acting drama is sufficient evidence that the yawning gap that separates the sentiment of the modern world from that of the early centuries in which these sagas grew is not to be bridged over by the drama, however easy and indeed delightful it may be for us to allow ourselves to be transported thither to that romantic land upon the wings of epic story. Wagner in his music-drama in three parts and prelude has followed in the main the saga in its Northern form [8] up to the death of Siegfried and Brunhild, but to the entire exclusion of the latter part of the story in which Atli (Etzel) figures; his work has accordingly hardly any connection with the Nibelungenlied here offered in translation. Only the pious loyalty of national sentiment can assign a high place in dramatic literature to Wagner's work with its intended imitation of the alliterative form of verse; while his philosophizing gods and goddesses are also but decadent modern representatives of their rugged heathen originals.

[7] The curious will find a list of these in the introduction to Piper's edition, cited below, Chapter 7.[8] See above, Chapter 2.

6. Modern German Translations

The language of the Nibelungenlied presents about the same difficulty to the German reader of to-day as that of our English Chaucer to us. Many translations into modern German have accordingly been made to render it accessible to the average reader without special study. In the year 1767 Bodmer in Zurich published a translation into hexameters of a portion of it, and since the investigations of Lachmann raised it to the position of a national epic of first magnitude many more have appeared, both in prose and verse. The best in prose is that by Scherr, of the year 1860. Of the metrical translations that by Simrock, which in its later editions follows pretty closely the text of MS. C, is deservedly the most popular and has passed through a great number of editions. Bartsch has also made a translation based on his edition of MS. B. These modern versions by Simrock and Bartsch reproduce best the metrical quality of the original strophe. Easily obtainable recent translations are those by Junghans (in Reclam's Universalbibliothek) of text C, and by Hahn (Collection Spemann) of text A.

7. English Translations[9]

[9] For a complete list of these, also of magazine articles, etc., relating to the Nibelungenlied, see F. E. Sandbach, The Nibelungenlied and Gudrun in England and America, London, 1903.

Early in last century interest in the Nibelungenlied began to manifest itself in England. A synopsis of it, with metrical translation of several strophes, appeared in the year 1814 in Weber, Jamieson and Scott's "Illustrations of Northern Antiquities" (London and Edinburgh), in which, according to Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott's hand may perhaps be seen. Carlyle, laboring as a pioneer to spread a knowledge of German literature in England, contributed to the Westminster Review in 1831 his well-known essay on the Nibelungenlied which, though containing an additional mass of rather ill-arranged matter and now antiquated in many particulars, is still well worth reading for its enthusiastic account of the epic itself in the genuine style of the author. Carlyle here reproduces in metrical form a few strophes. He has said elsewhere that one of his ambitions was to make a complete English version of the poem. Since then an endless number of accounts of it, chiefly worthless, has appeared in magazines and elsewhere. The first attempt at a complete metrical translation was made in 1848 by Jonathan Birch, who however only reproduces Lachmann's twenty lieder, with some fifty-one strophes added on his own account. His version of the first strophe runs thus:

Legends of by-gone times reveal wonders and prodigies,Of heroes worthy endless fame,—of matchless braveries,—Of jubilees and festal sports,—of tears and sorrows great,—And knights who daring combats fought:—the like I now relate.

In 1850 appeared William Nansom Lettsom's translation of the whole poem according to Braunfels' edition, with the opening strophe turned as follows:

In stories of our fathers high marvels we are toldOf champions well approved in perils manifold.Of feasts and merry meetings, of weeping and of wail,And deeds of gallant daring I'll tell you in my tale.

The next metrical rendering is that by A. G. Foster-Barham in the year 1887. His first strophe reads:

Many a wondrous story have the tales of old,Of feats of knightly glory, and of the Heroes bold,Of the delights of feasting, of weeping and of wail,Of noble deeds of daring; you may list strange things in my tale.

In the year 1898 follows still another, by Alice Horton (edited by E. Bell). This latest translation is based on Bartsch's text of MS. B, and is prefaced by Carlyle's essay. First strophe:

To us, in olden legends, / is many a marvel toldOf praise-deserving heroes, / of labours manifold,Of weeping and of wailing, / of joy and festival;Of bold knights' battling shall you / now hear a wondrous tale.

Apart from the many faults of interpretation all of the metrical translations of the Nibelungenlied here enumerated are defective in one all-important respect: they do not reproduce the poem in its metrical form. Carlyle and other pioneers we may perhaps acquit of any intention of following the original closely in this regard. None of the translators of the complete poem, however, has retained in the English rendering what is after all the very essence of a poem,—its exact metrical quality. Birch has created an entirely different form of strophe in which all four lines are alike, each containing seven principal accents, with the cæsura, following the fourth foot. Lettsom makes the first serious attempt to reproduce the original strophe. It is evident from the introduction to his translation (see p. xxvi) that he had made a careful study of its form, and he does in fact reproduce the first three lines exactly. Of the fourth line he says: "I have not thought it expedient to make a rule of thus lengthening the fourth lines of the stanzas, though I have lengthened them occasionally"(!). What moved him thus to deprive the stanza of its most striking feature—and one, moreover, that is easily preserved in English—he does not make clear. The versions of Foster-Barham and of Horton and Bell show the same disfigurement, the latter omitting the extra accent of the fourth line, as they say, "for the sake of euphony"(!). It is just this lengthened close of each strophe that gives the Nibelungenlied its peculiar metrical character and contributes not a little to the avoidance of monotony in a poem of over two thousand strophes. In theory the form of the fourth line as it stands in the original is no more foreign to the genius of the English language than to that of modern German, and few of the many Germans giving a modernized version of the epic have been bold enough to lay sacrilegious hands upon it to shorten it.

A brief account of the Nibelungen strophe may not be out of place here, owing to the fact that its character has generally been misunderstood. The origin and evolution of the strophe have been the subject of much discussion, the results of which we need not pause to formulate here. As it appears in actual practice in our poem of about the year 1200, it was as follows: Each strophe consists of four long lines, the first line rhyming with the second, and the third with the fourth. The rhymes are masculine, that is, rhymes on the end syllable. Each line is divided by a clearly marked caesura into two halves; each half of the first three lines and the first half of the fourth line has three accented syllables, the second half of the fourth line has four accented syllables. The first half of each line ends in an unaccented syllabic—or, strictly speaking, in a syllable bearing a secondary accent; that is, each line has what is called a "ringing" caesura. The metrical character of the Nibelungen strophe is thus due to its fixed number of accented syllables. Of unaccented syllables the number may vary within certain limits. Ordinarily each accented syllable is preceded by an unaccented one; that is, the majority of feet are iambic. The unaccented syllable may, however, at times be wanting, or there may, on the other hand, be two or even three of them together. A characteristic of the second half of the last line is that there is very frequently no unaccented syllable between the second and the third accented ones. Among occasional variations of the normal strophe as here described may be mentioned the following: The end-rhyme is in a few instances feminine instead of masculine; while on the other hand the ending of the first half-lines is occasionally masculine instead of feminine, that is, the caesura is not "ringing." In a few scattered instances we find strophes that rhyme throughout in the caesura as well as at the end of lines;[10] occasionally the first and second lines, or still less frequently the third and fourth, alone have caesural rhyme.[11] Rhyming of the caesura may be regarded as accidental in most cases, but it is reproduced as exactly as possible in this translation.