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Siegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons online

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began once more. Rudiger seemed sud-
denly possessed with the very fury of bat-
tle. Headlong he threw himself wherever
the fray was thickest. Alas ! he killed,
but far more was he bent on being killed.
The Burgundian chiefs, not one of whom
but had received some kindness from his
hands, were careful not to cross swords
with him, and even of the others many
stood aside to let him pass. But he
plunged blindly on into the throng, deal-
ing his mighty blows, and each of them
was deathtill he suddenly found himself

1 88 Siegfried

face to face with Gernot. By this time
the blood of both was up.

" Hold ! ' cried the Burgundian prince ;
" wouldst leave me not one man, most no-
ble Rudiger ? Nay then, stand and face
me ! I shall do my best to earn thy gift
this day."

Without another word they closed,
heroes well matched both. Had it been
a knightly contest in the lists, or even a
single combat after the rules of chivalry,
how would the lookers-on have applauded
the splendid lesson in swordsmanship !
But this was deadly earnest, and no one
heeded the two until, after several wounds
given and taken, both made a desperate
onslaught, and both fell, mortally stricken,
each by the other's hand : Rudiger's gift
had found the giver's heart.

Now indeed a hush fell on friend and
foe ; but not for long. The Burgundians
seemed to gather strength from their des-
pair and made short work of the few re-
maining followers of the Margrave : in a
few moments not one was left alive.

Then only did the leaders Gunther and

Kriemhilde's Revenge 189

Hagen, and heart-broken Giselher, also
Dankwart and Folker, the brave minstrel-
knight gather around the spot where lay
the two (now neither friends nor foes),
who but three short days ago would have
died one for the other. None spoke.
Only Giselher said wearily :

" Death hath played sad havoc with us.
But cease your weeping and let us go out
for a breath of cool air. It will be our
turn soon."

Then there was a great stillness in the
hall. Some sat down, some leaned against


the walls. Etzel and Kriemhilde, who
were listening for the end, became im-
patient and uneasy.

"They must be talking!' the Queen
exclaimed at last. " No harm will ever
come to our foes from Rudiger's hand.
You will see that he will take them all
safe and sound home to Burgundy."

But too soon the tidings reached them,
and the Queen was shamed, that she had
wronged him in her thoughts. Bitterly
she wept ; King Etzel's plaint was as a
lion's roar; men's deep moans and wo-

1 90 Siegfried

men's loud sobbing filled the palace, and
all for a time acted as demented with

Dietrich, the noble King of Bern, was
the only one who spoke a good word for
the Burgundians. He tried to keep back
his knights, who began at once to arm
themselves and would have rushed to
avenge the Margrave's death on the few
that were left, without waiting for their
liege lord's command.

" Be not so hasty, faithful vassals mine,"
he implored them. " Whatever has been
done by these homeless ones, bear in
mind it was not of their seeking : they
were forced to it. Let me try to make
terms for them, and grudge them not
their life and free departure, if so be I can
obtain so much."

But he could not hold his men, and
though he would not go with them, he
allowed them to depart, led by his uncle,
brave old Hildebrand, in whose wisdom
and kindliness he placed great trust, and
who had promised only to ask leave to
carry away Rudiger's body. For himself,

Kriemhilde's Revenge 191

he sat down in a window, to wait, hoping
against hope that he might even yet be of
use at the very last moment.

And as he waited, he heard a great
rumour in the hall across the way, and he
knew there was fighting again. It was
some time before Hildebrand stood before
him, alone and wounded.

" Uncle ! ' Dietrich cried, " what means
this blood ? Are you hurt ? Who did it ?
You have been fighting with the guests !
You should have kept the peace, as I so
urgently commanded."

" It was Hagen," the old man replied.
" He would have killed me but that I
made my escape. I did not think it
shame to fly from Siegfried's Nibelung
sword, Balmung."

" It served you right," angrily retorted
the King of Bern. " You heard me say
I would befriend the heroes, and yet you
broke the peace which I had promised
them. Were it anyone but you, he should
pay for it with his life."

" Dietrich," the old man said sadly, " do
not be too wroth with me : our friends

192 Siegfried

and I have suffered too much as it is.
All we wanted was to carry Rudiger out of
the hall, but Gunther's people would not
let us."

" Then I must go myself," Dietrich said,
rising. " Tell my men to be ready to go
with me and let them bring me my silver
armour. I shall hold parley myself with
the heroes from Burgundy."

" Who is to go with you ?" Hildebrand
asked, bitterly : " What is left alive of your
men you see before you. The others are
all dead. And of the Burgundians only
Gunther and Hagen are left."

Dietrich turned pale :

" O my God ! " he murmured with quiv-
ering lip, " Thou hast indeed forsaken me.
But yesterday I was a powerful king ; to-
day I am a friendless exile ! . . . Dead !
Bold Helferich, - my well-beloved Wolf-
hart, and all my trusty ones dead ! All
in one day ! Shall I ever cease from
mourning ? Oh, woe is me that men do
not die of grief ! '

He went to look for his armour himself ;
old Hildebrand buckled it on for him.

Kriemhilde's Revenge 193

Then the strong man broke into such loud
lamenting, that the walls were shaken with
the voice of his sorrow. But he quickly
recovered control over himself, and, firmly
grasping his shield, he beckoned to Hilde-
brand and both walked over to the fateful

Gunther and Hagen were leaning idly
against the outer wall.

" There comes Dietrich," said Hagen ;
" of a surety he is bent on settling ac-
counts for the great harm we have done
him. Well, it is his right ; and if he
thinks himself a match for me, king and
hero as he is, I am his man."

But Dietrich, as he stopped before the
two, set down his shield, and addressed
them in mild and sorrowful tones :

" Gunther, what set you so against me,
an exile in a strange land like yourself ?
What had I ever done to you, that you
should take from me all that made life
dear ? Was it not enough that ye slew
our noble Rudiger, but ye must grudge
me my friends ? Truly, never would I
have done the like by you ! '

194 Siegfried

" We are not so much to blame as you
think," Hagen replied ; " your men came
here armed to the teeth, making a great
show of their numbers. You have heard
only one side."

" What else can I believe ? ' said the
King of Bern. " My men asked you to
let them bear Rudiger away, and ye an-
swered them with gibes and insults."

" It was I would not let them have
Rudiger," fell in Gunther ; " I meant to
defy Etzel, not your men or you ; but they
began to abuse and mock us."

Spoke Dietrich sadly :

" It had to be. But now, Gunther, no-
ble King, I entreat thee by thy chivalry
-make me amends for the heartache thou
hast caused me, and it shall go unavenged :
Surrender thyself and Hagen as my
prisoners, and I will engage that no one
among the Huns does you any harm. Ye
shall find a good friend and true in me."

" Heaven forefend," replied Hagen.
" that two men should surrender who
stand before thee scatheless and armed :
that were cowardice and dishonour."

Kriemhilde's Revenge 195

" I give you my word and here my
hand on it ! that myself will ride with you
to your home ; I will escort you thither in
honour and in safety, unless I die myself.
For your sakes I will forget my own great
loss and grief."

" Heaven knows, my lord Hagen,"
warned old Hildebrand, " the hour may
strike only too soon, when you would be
glad to take King Dietrich's offer, and it
may then be too late."

" I will take my chance of that," cried
Hagen ; " not broken as yet is the sword
of the Nibelungs. I think it shame that
we two should have been asked to sur-
render to only two men."

Even as he spoke Hagen sprang against
Dietrich with such a mighty leap that the
hero was barely in time to raise his shield
to catch the Nibelung sword's resounding
stroke. In sheer self-defence he struck
back and inflicted a gash both deep and
broad. But he fought shy of Balmung's
magic ; and besides, he thought it would
do him little honour to slay a man weak-
ened by the long strain on his strength.

196 Siegfried

So he dropped his shield and sword and,
throwing his arms around Hagen, closed
with him and wrestled till the Burgun-
dian's last strength gave way and he could
bind him for safety.

Then came King Gunther's turn. His
splendid courage and skill in arms still
held out through a long combat, until he
too was wounded, then disarmed and
bound like Hagen. It went against the
noble Dietrich's heart to treat two such
heroes in such unknightly wise, but he
knew that, wounded as they were, they
would, if free of limb, slay any man they
came across.

Dietrich took his two prisoners where
Kriemhilde sat. She made no sign, but
merely spoke :

" King Gunther, you are very wel-

To which he replied :

" I would thank you for your greeting,
royal sister, were it meant in kindness.
But knowing, O Queen, the temper of
your mood, I must even take it as a
bitter mockery."

Kriemhilde's Revenge 197

Then said the King of Bern :

" Most gracious, royal lady, never yet
were such heroes taken prisoners in
knightly single combat as these I here
entrust unto your care. Let my friend-
ship and services speak for them and
gain them favour in your eyes."

Kriemhilde promised with gracious
mien. Then, when Dietrich, with tears
in his eyes, had taken leave of them, as
he thought, for a short time, she did a
wicked, shameful deed. For all woman-
hood was now dead in her.

She had the two locked up separately.
Then she went into Hagen's prison and
spoke to him shortly and sternly :

" If you will restore to me what you
have robbed me of, you may, for Dietrich's
sake, go back alive to Burgundy.

Grim Hagen answered as briefly and
sternly :

" Lady, you are wasting your words. I
have sworn an oath, not to tell where the
treasure lies hid. So long as one of my
liege lords is living, no one shall have it."

Kriemhilde went out and ordered Gun-

198 Siegfried

ther to be put to death, and his head cut
off. That bloody head she then took up
by the hair and carried it in to Hagen.

When the hapless prisoner beheld his
beloved lord's head, he drew himself up
and spoke with cold contempt :

" All has come about as I foresaw.
Thou hast now accomplished thy fell pur-
pose. The noble King of Burgundy is
dead. Dead are young Giselher, and
Gernot the strong. No one now knows
the treasure's hiding-place save God alone
and me. And never, thou fiend of a wo-
man, shall it be known to thee."

"Then," she cried, " of all that thou
hast taken from me, I shall keep at least
my Siegfried's sword, which he wore the
last time I ever saw him."

She spoke ; and quick as thought she
drew Balmung from the scabbard and, lift-
ing it high, struck off Hagen's head.
King Etzel saw- -but it was done before
he could stay her arm.

" Oh woe ! ' he cried, " that one of the
bravest champions who ever fought in
battle and carried shield should fall thus

Kriemhilde's Revenge 199

by a woman's hand ! Much as I hated
him, I cannot but sorrow for him."

Old Hildebrand then said :

" It shall not profit her that she suc-
ceeded in killing him. Although he slew
many of my friends and put me myself in
danger of my life, I will avenge him, for
he was a brave man."

With this he sprang on Kriemhilde and
smote her with his sword. She gave one
cry and fell dead among the dead.

Dietrich and Etzel wept aloud, and their
friends raised a piteous wail to Heaven.

This is the Lay of the Nibelungs the
story of Siegfried, the hero of the North,
and of Kriemhilde's great revenge. As
for the Nibelunor treasure, it was never


heard of from that day to this. There is
a spot on the Rhine where popular tradi-
tion will have it that the deep hole is, in
the bottom of the river, into which the
hoard was sunk. But we may be very
sure that it will never be explored and
that the accursed gold will do no more
mischief in the world.


WHO wrote the Lay of the Nibelungs ?
There has been no lack of curi-
osity, of conjecture, concerning this ques-
tion, and it is always in a tone of regret
that critics and historians admit that it
must remain unanswered. As if it mat-
tered ! Do we ask after the names of
those who wrote the folk-songs and folk-
ballads, words and music ? Besides, they
were never written, neither was the epic
they were written down, the songs pro-
bably unaltered, for music and lyric are
spontaneous ; the epic was put into shape
in the process, which may have beguiled
the long leisures of the cloister, the briefer
ones of court life or of camp and march.
Possibly all these. For it is very certain
that the Lay, as we have it, is the work
of more than one pen. This is shown by


Note on the " Nibelungenlied " 201

the unequal merit of the several parts,
some of which drag noticeably as regards
interest of incident, spirited narrative, and
dramatic vividness of detail ; but it is even
more evident from certain contradictions
which strike the reader of the unabridged
poem, and from the differences between
the three extant complete manuscripts,
which are not even all of equal length.

Of these manuscripts, docketed A, B,
and C, respectively, two are dated from the
thirteenth century ; the third is even more
recent, and bears the stamp of rehandling
by some follower of the artificial school
known as " Court-poets "(Hofische Poesie).
MS. A is to be found in the public lib-
rary at Munich, while B reposes in the
library of the famous Abbey of St. Gall
in Switzerland (not far south of the Lake
of Constance- Bodensee). Some critics
consider A as the oldest and most authen-
tic MS., while others give the preference
to B. The former have on their side the
weighty authority of Lachmann, a follower
of the so-called "ballad-theory' in epic
poetry, initiated by the great Wolf, a

202 Siegfried

theory which denies all individual author-
ship to the national epics, deriving them
entirely from old folk-ballads, recited by
itinerant minstrels and, in the course
of time, more or less loosely strung to-
gether and written down. Although car-
ried by some over-zealous disciples to
unjustifiable lengths, the " ballad-theory '
(Lieder-Theorie), is in so far universally ac-
cepted, as it accounts for the materials out
of which national epics elaborated them-
selves until the time when they were ripe
for the skilled hands one or a few
which were to sift, sort, order them, and
re-cast them into a harmonious literary
whole. If these "hands' happened to
have genius besides, like the problematic
Greek whom we call Homer, and, in a
lesser degree, the unknown poets of
several portions of the Nibelungenlied
so much the better for posterity.

The heroic and mythic material out of
which the Lay grew is not far to seek.
The cycle of Northern Sagas preserved in
that marvellous Edda which so strangely
came to light in remote Iceland, the last

Note on the " Nibelungenlied " 203

and late stronghold of Northern pa-
ganism, in the very thirteenth century of
which the two principal Nibelung manu-
scripts bear the date, tells us all about
Sigurd the demigod, with his magic sword,
Brynhilde the Valkyrie, fair Gudrun and
her brothers, Gunnar and Hogni, by the
Rhine and those earlier happenings in
the world of the gods and giants, by which
we trace the whole wonderful phantasma-
goria to the primeval, universal nature-
myth of sun and earth, spring and winter.
But surely when Christian minstrels, in
Christian castles and courts, sang or re-
cited this or that incident from the advent-
ures of the Christian hero, Siegfried of
the Netherlands,- -at the Christian court
of Gunther, King of Burgundy,- -his win-
ning of Brunhilde, the fierce maiden of
Iceland, for his friend,- -his own wooing
and wedding of the gentle Kriemhilde,
that friend's sister, etc.,- -they were all un-
conscious of the heathen, mythico-heroic
substratum, which yet is very percepti-
ble in the finished poem up to the kill-
ing of Siegfried by Hagen, i. e., through

204 Siegfried

the first half of it. Nothing here is his-
toric but the setting- -the court and chiv-
alry of Burgundy in the fifth century A.D.,
and the name of Gunther. It is probable
that this choice of time and place was sug-
gested to the unconscious modernisers of
the material by a mere similarity of names :
Gunnar Gunther, the " Gundicarius ' of
the Latin chroniclers, who was killed in
437, in a hard-fought and bloody battle,
by Huns, probably led by Attila, with (it
is said) twenty thousand of his own people.
This Gundicarius really Gundahari, later
changed into Gunther, was the founder
of the first German kingdom on land be-
longing to the Roman Empire. No won-
der if such a personality and such an event
became matter for minstrelsy nor if, in
the course of time, both became trans-
formed and absorbed into the older, vaster,
and more universally national epic material.
The connexion, however, between Gun-
ther and his vanquisher, Attila, exists al-
ready in the original Sigurd-saga. There
also Atli (Attila), King of the Huns, weds
the hero's widow (Gudrun) and causes the

Note on the " Nibelungenlied " 205

death of her two brothers, Gunnar and
Hogni (the Hagen of the Lay), by
treacherously luring them to his court for
a friendly visit, then falling upon them and
their retinue with overpowering numbers.
The historical, normal nature of the event
war for conquest- -being obliterated, it
became necessary to supply a motive for
the main fact which survived the killing
of Gunnar by Atli ; and the most plausi-
ble, nay lawful motive which suggested
itself in those ages was revenge. So,
with the delicious incongruity characteris-
tic of mediaeval story-telling, Atli, King
of the Huns, (the Etzel of the Lay)
became the brother of the Heaven-born
war-maiden Brynhilde, whose dereliction
by Siegfried for Gudrun, (though uncon-
scious, owing to a magic potion producing
oblivion), he, after many years, avenges-
not on Gudrun, a woman and his wife,
but on her next of kin, a proceeding en-
tirely in accordance with the Northmen's
ancient moral code. Gudrun in her turn,
and quite as properly, avenges her brothers,
but with hideous refinement of barbarity :

2o6 Siegfried

Medea-like, she kills with her own hand
her and Atli's two children, serves their
hearts at supper to the unconscious father,
and, after seeing him partake of the horri-
ble food, murders him in his cups. This
last is another of those unexpected touches
of history, or at least historic tradition :
for the Goths would have it that Attila
was murdered by a beautiful young Ger-
man captive, with whom he was so infatu-
ated as to make her his wife, almost at his
wedding feast. They gave the girl's name
as " Ildico ' -which of course is no other
than "Hilde"; and herewith we have
the connecting link between the Gudrun
of the older saga, and the " Kriem/7dfe '
of the finished Lay. In the latter, too,
the motive for the slaughter of the Bur-
gundians at Attila's (Etzel's) court is sup-
plied more plausibly by the murder of
Siegfried, whose widow is his natural


avenger. So the final tragedy is brought
about by her, not by Etzel, who is only
involved in it ; the greatest horror of it
is thus somewhat mitigated, inasmuch as
we are spared Gudrun's unnatural crimes,

Note on the " Nibelungenlied " 207

Kriemhilde's and Etzel's child being slain
indeed, but by Hagen, in retaliation of the
first attack on his friends. Besides, the
Lay makes it very clear that Kriem-
hilde had at first no intention to harm the
Burgundians or their chiefs not even her
brother Gunther, whom she had suspected
of conniving at Siegfried's death, but had
forgiven and that her vengeance is aimed
wholly at Hagen, the villain whose brain
planned and whose hand executed the
foul deed. That she loses all control of
the demon she has conjured up and is
herself dragged into the vortex until she
is caught in her own murderous engine,
and hurried along, half demented, through
more and more crimes, more and more
innocent blood, even that of her own dear-
est friends, to the inexorable end- -that is
the finest moral of the poem, a moral
which suggests the text, " Vengeance is
mine, I will repay, saith the Lord," and
is all the more effective that it emanates
spontaneously from the events and char-
acters, instead of these being intentionally
shaped to point it.

208 Siegfried

Next to the Margrave Rudiger, the
noblest and most sympathetic figure in
the second part of the Lay is the hero-
king, Dietrich of Bern ; an unmistakably
historic one, no other than Theodoric the
Great, King of the Ostrogoths (East
Goths), surnamed " of Verona ' (Bern)
because of the decisive pitched battle
which he won near that city and which
made him the master of Italy. His per-
sonality and deeds impressed themselves so
deeply on his time and race that he became
the centre of an epic cycle of his own.
One wonders somewhat to find him at the
court of Attila, since he was born in the
year of Attila's death (453). Such a slight
anachronism, however, would not be con-
sidered an obstacle by a mediaeval minstrel
if the personage otherwise " fitted into '
his tale. It is rather more puzzling that
he should be represented as occupying a
half-dependent position at the side of the
King of the Huns, whose claim on his
service as vassal he tacitly admits, speak-
ing of himself as a " powerful king " and
in the same breath as a " friendless exile."

Note on the " Nibelungenlied " 209

The historical foundation of this seeming
inconsistency must lie in the fact that the
Ostrogoths, before Theodoric led them to


independence, then to victory and con-
quests, had been forced to submit to At-
tila on certain onerous terms, under which
they were compelled to fight in his hosts,
probably as reluctantly as the contingents
of subjected European nations fought in
Napoleon's armies. However that may
be, in the bloody battle of Chalons, which
stemmed the tide of invasion and saved
the Christian West, the Ostrogoths were
found fighting on the wrong side.

Criticism of the poem is not an object
of this notice. Its greatest beauties of in-
cident or character will surely be found
self-evident ; likewise the beautiful or pa-
thetic touches of detail, such as the first
meeting of the two Queens, that of the
radiant young lovers, Siegfried and Kriem-
hilde, - the death scene of Siegfried in the
forest, when his blood dyes the wild-flow-
ers red, as in Kriemhilde's dream, or
Folker, the minstrel-knight, keeping sad
guard with Hagen, and softly playing his

2io Siegfried

doomed comrades to sleep with soothing
tunes from home, that they may have
one last peaceful night's rest before the
morrow's combat, the end of which is a
foregone conclusion. One thing is certain :
there is nothing finer or more pathetic in
Homer than the conflict of duties in Rudi-
ger's soul and his despair when loyalty
to his King and his oath compel him to do
battle without quarter against those who
have been his honoured guests and well-
beloved friends,- -or his last parley with
those friends, and his deliberate seeking
of expiation in death at their hands.




AMONG the nations of the far North,
there was none braver, more hardy,
nobler, than the Danes none whose deeds
in war were sung of more proudly at the
feasts of earl and thane. Many were the
kings whose names came from the in-
spired lips of Skalds, as their hands struck
the stringed harp, in warlike or in mourn-
ful chords ; but of these names none were
treasured more reverently than those of
the Skyldings, the oldest royal house
known to Danish tradition. It is a very
long time over a thousand years since
the Danes ruled in England. Yet even
then the deeds of the Skyldings were
tales of long ago. So long ago that they
had become mixed up with much fable ;
and especially the beginnings of the fa-


214 Beowulf

mous race were so intertwined with the
wonders of heathen Scandinavian anti-

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Online LibraryZénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) RagozinSiegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons → online text (page 9 of 14)