word «Recke» represents an archaic word for ‘hero,’ similar
to «Degen» (‘thane,’ ‘thegn’) which suggests the Germanic idea
Burgundian tribe was in fact destroyed by the Huns, although not under
Attila’s leadership, in 435. Their territory did not correspond to
modern Burgundy but centered, as the poem says, on Worms on the Rhine.
line is typical of hundreds in the poem which casts an air of foreboding—«Vorausdeutung»—over
falcon is a symbol for the lover throughout Middle High German poetry.
form of address suggests rigid etiquette.
is the capital of Siegmund’s kingdom; today it is a small town on
the Rhine north of the river Ruhr and not far from the Dutch border.
society demanded that a king marry a woman of equal birth.
Later in the poem, this issue becomes literally a matter of life and death
is the source of all information at Gunther’s court; as the poem
progresses he becomes the person who determines all policy. His account
of Siegfried’s acquisition of the treasure, and indeed of all his actions,
differs markedly from the accounts in the Norse version of Siegried’s youth.
term «Nibelungen» is puzzling. Here it applies to the
original owner of the treasure, Nibelung, the father of Schilbung and Nibelung.
When Siegfried acquires it, he takes the name. After Hagen has sunk
it in the Rhine, the Burgundians take over the name. Etymologically,
«Nibelungen» may signify ‘residents of «nifelheim»,’
i.e. the netherworld in Germanic cosmology.
ladies’ quarters at a castle, originally just a room equipped with a ‘chimney’
(Middle Latin «caminata»), that is, a fireplace.
minster, that is, the church of a monastery, or any of various large churches
appears to be surprisingly familiar with Brünhild and the place where
she lives. More evidence for this will be found in strophes 378,
382, 393, 406, 411, 416, and 419-423.
to the views held by earlier scholarship, strophes 354ff., like all the
other «Kleiderstrophen» provide the student of medieval culture
and civilization with insights into proper courtly deportment. As
an example, the visitors will require 8 different changes of clothes for
the four days they plan to stay at Brünhild’s court (strophe 360).
assumption that it is Siegfried who is coming to win her love seems to
argue that she already knows something about him or that the author is
recalling the tradition found in the Old Norse version where Siegfried
had rescued Brünhild from the ring of fire and later broken his engagement
to her and married Guthrun (Kriemhild in the German version). To
surmount the ring of fire was, of course, a test as proof of manhood;
the three contests Siegfried describes are intended to serve the same purpose.
Brünhild hears that Siegfried is merely Gunther’s liegeman she changes
from the polite plural to the familiar singular form of address.
As strophes 416 and 419 indicate, Brünhild had originally had no intention
of fighting anybody but Siegfried. Note that Siegfried has also used
the familiar form of address, a pretense on Siegfried’s part which was
to have dire consequences.
strophe is missing in manuscript A. It certainly introduces an element
of unexpected fairness.
is ambivalent: she does not want to be defeated except by the strongest
lines testify to Brünhild’s ambivalence: she will not suffer
defeat except at the hand of the strongest of men. Incidentally,
the cloak of invisibility seems to provide enough of an edge for Siegfried,
but, as will be seen in strophes 672ff., the cloak just barely gives him
enough strength to subdue Brünhild.
the more primitive versions of the story Siegfried takes Brünhild’s
virginity. Here the author substitutes scenes that appear to mimick
scenes from the «Spielmannsepen».
have been several attempts at interpreting “hôhen muot” in
this passage. If it is to be understood in the general, courtly sense,
it would simply indicate a behavior that has little to do with courtliness.
We could also speculate that the author intended this to be another manifestation
of Siegfried’s “übermüete,” that is, overweening pride.
To name just a few, in addition to strophes 679f. where he defiantly (“durch
sînen hôhen muot”) takes Brünhild’s splendidly embroidered
(“ausgezeichnete Wirkarbeit”) belt from Ninive as well as a golden ring
and gives it later to Kriemhild; cf. strophe 55, where he arrogantly
states his designs concerning Kriemhild and the Burgundians; strophe
487, where he purposely taunts the doorkeeper as well as Alberich. “Übermüete”
constitutes a recurring theme in the poem; it is not restricted to
Siegfried, but lies also behind many of Hagen’s actions (strophe 1001 «et
apparently cowardly conduct is motivated by the logical argument that he
needs to avenge his king's honor, but knows he stands no chance against
Siegfried in a fair fight. He has in fact been considerably humiliated
by Siegfried’s quite justified asssumption of superiority ever since
he arrived at the court of the Burgundians.
er an zu hadern: he began to quarrel
Bechelaren—today’s Pöchlarn near Melk in Lower Austria.
idyllic scene at Rüdiger's court is so out of character that one wonders
why it was put in. It certainly heightens the tragedy, particularly
for Rüdiger, who seems to be the author's own invention and who is
the most sympathetic of all the characters in the poem. He alone
is motivated by unselfish considerations.
reminds Rüdiger of his feudal obligations. Rüdiger, on
the other hand, is torn between his loyalty to his friends, the Burgundians,
and his duties as a vassal.
is referring to the promise she had extorted from Rüdiger when he
brought her from Worms (strophe 1257); he had however never
intended to lose his soul, “die sêle verliesen.”
author is at some pains to show that Rüdiger is not motivated by material
considerations. He is prepared to give up his fief if he is permitted
to avoid fighting the Burgundians, who had been his guests and to whom
he had sworn friendship. Unless Etzel grants this permission, he
knows he will be in the classic dilemma of choosing between his personal
affection and the honor of his lord—and he will have to choose the latter.
is interesting to note how quickly Dietrich can undergo a change in his
disposition the moment he dons his armor. He, too, is swept along
by heroic passion.
Berner: ‘Bern’ was the old German name for the city of Ravenna.
land of the ‘Amelungen’ which is the Ostrogothic name of Dietrich’s
family which ruled until 536 A.D.
is the great hero of the southeastern Germanic tribes and it is fitting
that he should finish the conflict without actually killing anyone.
The historical Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths in Italy, was
never connected with the Huns and was not the exile as Dietrich is always
portrayed. In trying to negotiate a solution which could possibly
satisfy both camps, he appears to strive to put an end to the prevailing
Germanic heroic fatalism which is best expressed by the Germanic concept
of «Bestehen», that is, to face one’s fate squarely even if
the ensuing action will spell certain death.
of Aquitaine of the Waltharilied (that is, Waltharius manu fortis of Ekkehard
I of St. Gallen). Hagen, who had been a hostage at Etzel’s court together
with Walther is accused of cowardice by Hildebrand. In reality Hagen
merely had refused to fight Walther at ‘Waskenstein’ (Vosges Mountains
in northeastern France) because of their earlier association. Cf. strophes
1755ff. (Etzel recognizes Hagen as his former hostage) and 1796f. (an unnamed
Hun recognizes Hagen).
sword, Balmung, plays a significant role throughout the poem. It
had originally been given to Siegfried by Schilbung and Nibelung so that
he would divide the «Hort», the treasure of their father, with
it. It ends up in Hagen’s possession; with it he kills Ortlieb
and Kriemhild will use it in turn to behead him.
is worth noting that Gunther makes no move to attack Dietrich while he
is engaged with Hagen, even though it would be clearly to his advantage
to do so. The rules of individual combat are strictly enforced. Kriemhild’s
brutal behavior incenses Hildebrand because she kills two defenseless warriors.
We would find it hard to see the difference between her action and that
of Hagen in killing Siegfried, but the author’s sympathy is clearly with
Hildebrand, for he makes Kriemhild cry out in terror, while Gunther and
Hagen die without complaint. Kriemhild did not, of course,
need the treasure. It had become for her a symbol of revenge, a fact
which Hagen had fully appreciated all along in denying it to her.
ought to have anticipated the subsequent course of events and refrained
from turning Hagen over to Kriemhild. However, it would be futile
to search for even the slightest humanitarian motivation in the gloomy
world of these Germanic heroes.
how once again the author of the Nibelungenlied utilizes a specific form
of address in order to enhance the meaning of certain lines. Here,
Hagen switches from the formal form of address to the familiar «Du»
which could suggest both Hagen’s resignation—he no longer cares about the
repercussions of his breach of etiquette—as well as his scorn for the queen.
Kriemhild, on the other hand retains the formal form of address until the
calls her a “vâlandinne,” that is a perversion of the beautiful and
courtly maiden of the first part of the poem. Cf. Walther von der
Vogelweide’s concept of woman as “füegerinne” who elevates men to
a higher intellectual and ethical level (“Aller werdekeit ein füegerinne”).
C ends with “daz ist der Nibelunge liet,” which is where we get the title
for the poem.