Middle High German epic poem from around 1200

The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem in Middle High German. It tells the story of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, and of the revenge of his wife Kriemhild, which leads to the death of all the heroes of the Bugundians and of Kriemhild as well.

The first page of source C of the text (1220)
Peter von Cornelius's image: Hagen orders the hoard to be sunk in the Rhine

The saga of Siegfried was also used in the opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen of Richard Wagner. Nibelung in this context means "dwarf".

The Nibelungenlied is based on earlier works. It was part of oral tradition, meaning it usually was not written down. During the Middle Ages people started to write down stories more and more. Overall there are about 35 German sources and one Dutch source for the story. There was an original manuscript but it has been lost. The three oldest manuscripts have been labelled A, B, and C.

B seems to be closest to the original; however, the real relation between the three manuscripts is unknown. The Nibelungenlied probably had a broad oral tradition, as there were many different versions. It is difficult to judge how these oral versions influenced the written ones.

Manuscripts A and B end with daz ist der Nibelunge not (that is the fall of the Nibelungs); for this reasons, they are known as the Not versions. Manuscript C ends with daz ist der Nibelunge liet (English: that is the song/epic of the Nibelungs). It is known as the Lied-version. In total, the C text has been edited with regard to the public of the time. It is less dramatic. This probably made it more popular. Aesthetically, the B text would have been the greatest artistic achievement for a contemporary public.

Who wrote it? change

The author who wrote down the original that is now lost is unknown. However, there are a few candidates:

  • Der von Kürenberg - He wrote very similar poems, and one poem the Falkenlied (falcons' song) is reflected in a dream by Kriemhild. Most researchers however believe that he lived before the Nibelungenlied was written down.
  • Walther von der Vogelweide - He has a very similar vocabulary (this can also be expalined by the fact that he lived in the same area though). His fundamental views were very different from those expressed in the Nibelungenlied though.
  • Bligger von Steinach
  • Konrad von Fußesbrunnen- He wrote a 3.000 line poem The Childhood of Jesus, and was active around Passau. His style is totally different from that of the Nibelungenlied.
  • An unknown nun of the monastery in Passau; The monastery of Passau, the city and its merchants are mentioned in the song. This is probably because they financed part of it, not because the author was from there.

Serious researchers tend to ignore the last three options, because there is not enough evidence to support them.

The well-known introduction change

Middle High German original Shumway translation

Uns ist in alten mæren wunders vil geseit
von helden lobebæren, von grôzer arebeit,
von freuden, hôchgezîten, von weinen und von klagen,
von küener recken strîten muget ir nu wunder hœren sagen

Full many a wonder is told us in stories old,
of heroes worthy of praise, of hardships dire,
of joy and feasting, of weeping and of wailing;
of the fighting of bold warriors, now ye may hear wonders told.

This was probably not in the original though, but added later. The original probably began by introducing Kriemhild:

Middle High German original Needler translation

Ez wuohs in Burgonden      ein vil edel magedîn,
daz in allen landen      niht schoeners möhte sîn,
Kriemhild geheizen.      Si wart ein schoene wîp.
dar umbe muosen degene      vil verliesen den lîp.

There once grew up in Burgundy / a maid of noble birth,
Nor might there be a fairer / than she in all the earth:
Kriemhild hight the maiden, / and grew a dame full fair,
Through whom high thanes a many / to lose their lives soon doomed were.

Other websites change

English translations: