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t^i. (UtBefungenftel*

Translated into Rhymed English Verse in the
Metre of the Original


Ass0ciiite Pro/tssor o/ German in Univtrtity College^ Toronto








- i



r . ^^ . Diniti^ed-bvVjOOQlC


Copyright. X904,


Published Novembtr^ tq04


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Tms translation of the Nibelungenlied is published with the
simple purpose of pladng 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 criticisin of those that have preceded it. My apology for
presenting this new English version of the Nibelimgenlied 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 modem reader, I have endeavored to supply in the
Introduction ^ historical backgroimd by summing up the results
of investigation into its origin and growth. The translation itself
was b^un many years ago, when I studied the original imder
Zamcke in Leipzig.

G. H. N.


September, 1904.



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L The Nibelungen Saga.

X. Origin of the Saga. vii

2. The Northern Form of the Saga. ix

3. The Saga as Preserved in the Nibelungenlied. z¥

4. Mythical Element and Historical Element zvi

n. The Nibelitnoenlied.

I. The Manuscripts sdl

3. Stages in the Evolution of the Poem. zziH

3. Character of the Poem zzv

4. Later Forms of the Saga zzviii

5. Poem and Saga in Modem literature xzz

6. Modem German Translations. .« zzzi

7. F.ngliflh Translations 'gyrfl

8. Editions of the Nibelungenlied. zizvi


FIB8T Adventure: ' Kriemhild's Dream 3

Second Adventxtre: Siegfried 6

Third ADVENnrRE: How Siegfried Came to Worms 9

Fourth Adventure: How Siegfried Fought with the Saxons 23

Fifth Adventure: How Siegfried first Saw Kriemhild 41

SncTH Adventure: How Gunther Fared to Isenland to Brunhild 50

Seventh Adventure: How Gunther Won Brunhild 59

Eighth Adventure: How Siegfried Fared to his Knights, the Nibe-

lungen 73

Ninth Adventure: How Siegfried was Sent to Worms 80

Tenth Adventure: How Brunhild was Received at Worms 87

Eleventh Adventure: How Siegfried Came Home with his Wife . . . 103
TwEUTTH Adventure: How Gunther Bade Siegfried to the Feast. ... 108

Thirteenth Adventure: How They Fared to the Feast iz6

Fourteenth Adventure: How the Queens Berated Each Other. .... laz
FmxENTH Adventure: How Siegfried was Betrayed 130



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Sixteenth Adventure: How Siegfried was Slain 136

Seventeenth Adventuee: How Kriemhild Mourned for Siegfried. . . 149

Eighteenth Adventure: How Sigmund Fared Home Again 159

Nineteenth Adventure: How the Nibelungen Hoard was Brought

to Worms 163

Twentieth Adventure: How King Etzel Sent for Kriemhild. 169

Twenty-first Adventure: How Kriemhild Fared to the Huns 190

Twenty-second Adventure: How Etzel Kept the Wedding-feast ... 197
Twenty-third Adventure: How Kriemhild Thought to Avenge Her

Wrong 205

Twenty-fourth Adventure: How Werbel and Schwemmel Brought

the Message. 910

Twenty-fifth Adventure: How the Knights all Fared to the Huns.. 23a
Twenty-sixth Adventure: How Gelfrat was Slain by Dankwart. . . . 234

Twenty-seventh Adventure: How They Came to Bechelaren 243

Twenty-eighth Adventure: How the Burgundians Came to Etzel's

Castle 253

Twenty-ninth Adventure: How He Arose not before Her. 259

Thirtieth Adventure: How They Kept Guard 267

Thirty-first Adventure: How TTiey Went to Mass 27a

Thirty-second Adventure: How Bloedel was Slain 28a

Thirty-third Adventure: How the Burgundians Fought with the

Hims 287

Thirty-fourth Adventure: How They Cast Out the Dead. 295

Thirty-fifth Adventure: How Iring was Slain 298

Thirty-sixth Adventure: How the Queen Bade Set Fire to the Hall. 306
Thirty-seventh Adventure: How the Margrave Ruediger was

Slain 314

Thirty-eighth Adventure: How All Sir Dietrich's Elnights were.

Slain 3a8

Thirty-ninth Adventure: How Gunther and Hagen and Kriemhild

wereSlain. 341


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I. Origin of the Saga

All the Aryan peoples have had their heroic age, the achieve*
rn^ts of which .^fonxi the basis of later saga. For the Germans
this was the period of the Migrations, as it is called, in round num-
bers the two hundred years from 400 jo 600, at the dose of which
we 15nd them settled in those regions^which they have, generally
^)eaking, occupied ever since. During these two centuries kalei-
doscopic changes had been taking place in the position of the vari-
ous Germanic tribes. ImpeUed partly by a native love of wander-
ing, 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 Hims in the east
In this stem strug^e 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
lanic peoples of that Migration Period in the history of Europe,
it a national consciousness was„ei]igendered, and in it we
Kmt bc ^jpTii;^iT)g{i of a. narinnal li t e r a ture, Germanic saga_


ISnost entirely; upon the events, of „ these, two centuries^ the

and Sixth. ' AlSiough 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



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in most case^-pricneval Germanic myths, possessions of the people
from prehistoric times. A most conspicuous example of this imion
of mythical and originally historical elements is the Nibelungen
saga, out of which grew in course of time the great national epic,
the Nibelungenlied.

Th e Nibelungen saga is made up of two parts, on the o ne hand
the mythica l st ory of Siegfried and on the other the story, founded
on hisionc tact, ot the Burgundian si Wh en and how the S iegfried
myt h aro g^ it i*^ 'Vp^^fiiHp tQ_s?X) ^^ ongin 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 o ther part of the saga is based upon the historic inci dent of
t^^j2Iz3>^"' ^f thi* FnrgnnHi^tn kin gdom by the Huns' in the
year 437. Tfaja annihihti o n nf a> Jafaob teiW- iw i tott By ii^essed
itself vMefty mnn ti n itagiwaliBii- •< • o s atouip o rari es. Then the
fact of history soon began to pass over into the realm of legend,
and, from causes which can no longer be determined, t his tra dition
of the vanished Burgundians became united with th?^ ythlcai"»^
stofj^_jof.„.Siegfriecl. This composite Siegfried-Burgundian saga
then became a conmion 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 pecu-
liar 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 Nibe-
lungenlied, 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 conmion source, had diverged very widely in the centuries
that elapsed between their beginning and the time when the manu-
scripts 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 imderlying what
we may call the dramatic development assumed widely dissimilar
forms, ^h f^ (rfirmf i n Nil i ^v f K fii li v' l i i i rj ^'^ ""^ ^ '^^"1 appredated
as one of tne world's great epic poems without an acquaintance


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on t he part of the reader with thft N^Tt^ftH y**^'*^" ^^ th^ saga. In
ordd'y 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 &om the territory
about Wonns on the Rhine where the Burgundians were over-
thrown, 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
^ ^c 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, espedaUy in its mythical part By a fortu-
nate turn of events, too, the written record of it here is of consider-
ably eariier date than that which we have from Germany. The
Eddas, as the extensive coUection 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
1 the Nibelimgen looms up prominently. The earliest of these
^"gpcms 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
tiie 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 Volsimg
saga, a prose accoimt of the mythical race of the Volsungs, we arrive
at die following narrative.

On their wanderings through the world the three gods Odin^


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H6nir, 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 recog-
nizes 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 bor-
rowed 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 Sigmimd, twin-
bom 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 Vokimg'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 hkn who can draw it
out again; after which he disappears as he had come. All the t
guests try their strength in vain upon the sword, but Sigmimd
alone is able to draw it forth. He refuses to sell it to Siggeir for
all his proffered gold. Siggeir plans vengeance. He invites Vol-
simg and his sons to Gautland, and returns home thither with
his bride Signy, who before going warns her father to be upcm
his guard.


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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
than, till only Sigmund remains. By the aid of Signy he escapes.
The she-wolf, it was said, was the mother of Siggeir.

To Sigmimd, who has hidden in a wood, Signy sends her eldest
boy of ten years that Sigmund may test his coxirage 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 sdon
of the race of Volsung will suffice, and accordingly disguises her-
self and lives three days with Sigmimd in the wood. From their
union a son Sinfiotli is bom, whom also, after ten years, she sends
out to Sigmimd. He stands every test of coiurage, and is trained
by Sigmund, who thinks he is Siggeir's son.

Bent on revenge, Sigmimd repairs with Sinfiotli to Siggeir's
castle. After Sinhotli has slain the king's two sons, he and Sig-
mund are overpowered and condemned to be buried alive. With
Sigmtmd'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 Hve no longer, she returns into the biuming hall
and perishes with Siggeir and all his race.

Sigmimd 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 Sigmimd. He then marries Hjordis. Lyngvi,
the son of King Hunding, was also a suitor and now invades Sig-
mund'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 whidi Sigmund's sword breaks in two. Sigmund
hJls severely wounded.

In the ni^t Hjordis seeks the scene of the combat and finds
Sigmund still alive. He refuses to allow her to heal his wounds,
wajing that Odin no longer wills that he swing the sword. He
teUs Hjordis to pceserve carefully the pieces of the broken sword;


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the son she bears in her womb shall yet swing the sword when
welded anew, and win thereby a glorious name. At dawn Sig-
mimd 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 brightiy,
and lived at the coiurt 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 Himding, 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 ciurse 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
biuns 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
imderstand 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-endrded moimtain awaiting her deUverer. 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 moimtain en-
drded 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. Witii 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 rdates to
him how Odin had punished her by this magic sleep for disobedi-
ence, 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.


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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 Biynhild
and be filled with love for her own daughter Gudrun, whom he
marries. Gunnar now seeks Biynhild for wife, and Sigurd goes
with him on his wooing-joiimey. They come to the castle encircled
by fire, where Brynhild lives. She will be wooed only by him who
¥rill ride to her through the flames. Gimnar tries in vain to do this,
even when moimted 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, sajring
that her husband is a braver and mightier man than Gudrun's.
Gudrun retorts by revealing the secret that it was Sigurd in Gun-
nar's form, and not Gunnar himself, who rode through the flame,
and in proof thereof shows her the ring taken by Sigurd from Bryn-
hfld's finger. Pale as death, Brynhild goes quietly home: Gun-
nar 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 Gut-
thorm, 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 hiurls 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


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at the sound of Gudnin's wailing. Gudnin cannot find relief
for her grief, the tears will not flow. Men and women seek to con-
sole 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 Gtmnar that Sigurd had really kept fkith
with him on the wooing- journey; but she will live with him no
longer and pierces herself with a sword, after foretelling to Gimnar
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, * king of the Hims, now seeks Gudrun for wife. She
refuses, but Grimhild gives her a potion which causes her to forget

Online LibraryGeorge Henry NeedlerThe Nibelungenlied → online text (page 1 of 27)