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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 Gimnar 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 Gimnar, 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 com-
municated to him by Gudrun he pacifies them all but one, which
stings him to the heiut, and thus Gunnar dies. Gudrun is nominally

* That is, Attila; the Etzel of the Nibelungenlied.


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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 wbidi Atli and all his remaining men
are consumed.

3. The Saga as preserved in the Nibelungenued

'fhc giga as we find it in the Gennan Nibelungenlied differ s
very wid elynm torm and gpihRtanrp ffpni ^^^ Mr.»^K^Yn Yfninp
which has just been outlined, though the two have still enough
points of similarity to indicate dearly 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 holda._
90 prominent a place as the Nibelungen saga, and it may safely
be said that the epic literature of the world, though offering poems u
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 whidi, as in the Northern
version, they played a more important r61e.

First, as to the hoard. The Nibelimgenlied 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), ^^ Siegfried (Sigurd), who has slain the previous
owners of it, Schilbimg and Nibdung, and wrested it from its
guardian the dwarf Alberich (Andvari). From this pdnt onward
its history runs nearly parallel in the two versions. i\fter Sieg-
fried's death it remains for a time with Kriemhild (Gudrun), is


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treacherously taken from her by Gimther (Gunnar) and Hagen
(Hogni)y and finally, before their journey to Et25el (Atli), sunk in
the Rhine.

The protracted narrative of Sigurd's ancestry and his descent
from Odin has no coimterpart in the Nibelimgenlied. Here we
learn merely that Sigrf ried is the son of Siep nund. His father
plays an entirely diBeRnt part; and his mothcF^ name is not
Hjordis, as in the Edda, but Siegelind.

Of Siegfried's youtl^ the Nibeli mgenlied kno ws very l ittle. No
mention is made of his tutelage 16 the dwarf smith Regin and
preparation for the slaying of the dragon Fafnir. The account
of him placed in the mouth of Hag^ (strophes 86-501), how he
won the hoard, the tamkappe, and the sword Balmung, and slew
the dragon, is evidendy a faint echo of an. earlier version of this
episode, which soimds out of place in the more modem German
form of the story. (From the latter iimmt^amtmkmmmtim^mkaQSt
eflMlf iMiitai* ' It is worthy of note, moreover, that the veiy
brief accoimt 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 Nibelun-
genlied has nothing to tell us. Through the account of Siegfried's
assistance to Gunther in the latter's wooing of Brunhild (Adven-
tures 6 and 7) shimmers faindy, however, the earlier tradition of
the m3rthical Siegfried's awakening of the fire-endrcled valkyrie.
Only by our knowledge of a more original version can we explain,
for example, Siegfried's previous acquaintance with Bnmhild
which the Nibelimgenlied 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 Giumari
while others either know nothing of the sleeping valkyrie or trea^
the two as separate personages. The situation in the Nibeluni


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genfied 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,
diou^ the motives are not just the same in the two cases; and
after the death of Siegfried she passes unaccoimtably from the

But it is in the concluding part of the story — ^the part which,
as we shall see, has its basis in actiial history — ^that the two accoimts
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 Nibelimgenlied
as in the Edda the widowed Kriemhild (Gudrun) marries King
Etzel (Atli), Ijgr consent in the former resulting from a desire for
revenge upon me murderers of Siegfried, in the latter from the
drinking of a potion which takes away her memory of him; {n the
^nbelungenlied it is Kriemhild who treacherously lures Guifther
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; m the former Kriemhild is the author of the attack
on the guests, in the latter Atli; ^ the former Kriemhild is* the
frenzied avenger of her former husband Siegfried's death upon'
her brother Gimther, in the latter Gudrun is the avenger of her
brothers' death upon her husband Atli.

4. Mythical Element and Histosical Element

'^^A sifting of the Nibelungen saga reveals a mythical element
(me story of Siegfried ) and a ^historical element (die ^ story of ih e
Burgtodians and Etzel) . How, wnen, and wnere these two ele-
m€6ts were blended together must remain largely a matter of con-
jecture. This united central body received then from time to
time accessions of other elements, some of them originally historical
in character, some of them pxire inventions of the poetic imagina-

The Sie^ rH TTlLY th is the oH p«t pnrtJnn nf tVi^ Nihphinffr^n


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saga, and had already passed through a long period of develop-
ment 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 imable 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 sudi myths as this of SiegMed have
their origin.

Though modem authorities differ greatly in their conjectures,
it is generally agreed that the Siegfried story was inJlta original

fom a^naS^:59^yth. The youny [ day slays the ^ist-Hrag^^ ^nH
awakens the s un-maiden that sleeps on the moimtain: at e vening
he fa lls a prey to the powers of gloom that draw the sun d own again
be neath the earth . With, thi s dav-myth was probably co mbined
the pa rallel myth of the changing seasons: ^ e light returns in
spring, d ays the cloud-dragon, and trees t^__buddm^earth from
the _^n^ oi winter.*

In th g^^Qurse of Hmp |T^j|5^ jagftjj^^pjniz A ^ became transformed into
ra Jiero-saga; the _Hberatin|[ PfTo f ^^t was Imminiiid i nto
i the DftisonSI the Jifi Tit 1ii»i> "lif fiff i< r1 This stage ot deveiopnient
had already been reached at the time of our earliest records, and
the evidences point to the Rhine Franks, a West Germanic tribe
setded in the fifth century in the coimtry about Cologne, as the
people among whom the transformation from nature-myth to heio-
saga took place, for it is among them that the saga in its earliest
form is localized. By the Rhine Siegfried is bom, there he wins
the Nibelungen hoard, and in Frankenland he finds the sleeping

* For the Siegfried saga in general see Symons in Paul's Grundriss
der gennanischen Philologie, ad ed., vol. iii» pp. 65X-67X.


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valkyrie. By the Rhine, too, he enters into service with the Nibe-
lung^ 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 southwestward across Germany and setded
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 A6tius, 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 south-
ward. Bej^nd the brief record by a contemporary. Prosper, we
know but little of this event. It has been conjectured that the
Hims were on this occasion acting as auxiliaries of AStius. At any
rate it is fairly certain that Attila was not personally on the scene.

We can easily imagine what a profoimd impression this extinc-
tion 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
Chdlons in 451 the tide turned against him, and two years after-
ward3 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 Ddlco (Hildik6) he was foimd
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 fur-
ther for the imagination to find the motive for the deed in the desire
of Hildikd to avenge the death of her German kinsmen who had
perished through AttUa. The saga of Attila's death is before long


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connected with the growing Bxirgundian saga, Hildiko 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 abready given (pp. ix-xv) 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

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 AttUa with the Siegfried saga took
place. In the coxurse of time, and naturally with greatest prob-
ability 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 intro-
duction to follow the course of the saga northward or to note its
further evolution diuing 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 Ger-
many between this date (about 500) and the time (about 1200)
when it emerges in written record as the Nibelungenlied.

An accoimt has already been given (pp. xv-xvii) 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 Bur-

fmdian kings a£d Attila has undergone a complete transformation.
h^ tho nrigf nally mythical and heathen Siefi;fried sa pra should
dwindle away w ith the prog ress of civiliza tion and imde r the influ-
ence of Xi! Ul'l^ti ^"^ V W ^*^ ^"^ nafTTrOT 1 he Character of the val-
kyrie Brynhild who avenges upon Sigurd his infidelity to her, yet
voluntarily imites herself with him in death, as heathen custom
demanded, is no longer intelligible. She recedes into the back-
ground, and after Siegfried's death, though she is still living, she
plays no further part. ThnftJihrliipf;rTi]i\T l foimd its final form
on Upper German, doubtless Austrian, territory. Here alone was it


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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 other-
wise. Many Germanic tribes, particularly the East Goths, ha4
fought under the banner of Attila, and in the tradition handed
down from them he lived as the embodiment of wisdom and gener-
osity. 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 slajdng of her first husband Siegfried. This fimda-
mental change in the character of Kriemhild has a deep ethical
rea.son. 'Bmikmmmmikhmiimk Geimanft Ui« ^ ^ h iww l guteliuii -
^tn^^^tmagmJj^^bi^ of wedlock, and thtis m Qie original
vei 5o^^ MB^^^^SpE*s wife avenges upon hiia tkm 4ea^ of

MJfyttJdrtMfcAfe i^liiri' ^Ad ftwoniiiigiy fmn the altered
mi^tj/gftStiiKaiiki^mmmigm- wpfAi her brothers the slaying of her
k^Hbmti' 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 dass belong the Margrave Ruediger, the ideal of
gentle chivalry, and Volker the Fiddler-knight, doubtless a creation
of the spieUeuie. To the second class belong Dietrich of Bern,
io 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 out-


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line 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 modem 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 bom, and that Bishop Pilgrim flourished
at Passau the trifling space of Ave hundred years later still.*


I. The Manuscripts

Among the German epic poems of the Middle Ages the
Nibelungenlied t enjoyed an exceptional popularity, as is evident
from the large number of manuscripts — some thirty, either com-
plete or fragmentary — that have been preserved from the centuries
inmiediately foDowing its appearance. Three are of prime impor-
tance as texts, namely, those preserved now in Mimich, St. Gall,
and Donaueschingen, and dted 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

* Attila lived from about 406 to 453; Theodoric, 475 to 526. Pil-
grim was Bishop of Passau, 971 to 901.

t The closing strophe of MS. C calls the poem der Nibelunge liet, or
Nibeltmg:enlied, 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 correspond-
ing strophe der Nibelunge ndt, i.e. the 'need ', * distress \ * downfall* of
the Nitfelungen. In the title of the poem 'Nibelungen* is simply
equivalent to 'Burgtmdians': the poem relates the downfall of the
Btirgundian kings and their people. Originalljr the Nibelungen were,
as their name, wnich is connected with nehel^ ' mist ', ' gloom *, signifies,
the powers of darkness to whom the light-hero Siegnied fell a prey.
After Siegfried obtains possession of the treasure the name ^fibel-
ungen 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.


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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, con-
tains the best and most nearly original text.

3. Stages in the EvoLtmoN of the Poem

Hand in hand with the discussion of the relative authenticity
of the manuscripts went the consideration of another more impor-
tant 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 immistakable hints that it is
not, in its present form, a perfect literary imit. W e detect incon-
sistencies in matter and inequalities ofs tyle that prove it to te a
remodelling; of. jnaterial already existing . m some earlier fornil
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 Nibelungen-

In this connection we have to remind ourselves that comparatively
little of what must have been the large body of native poetry in Ger-
many 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
Nibelimgen story was sufficient to keep it alive among the people


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and hand it down orally through many g^ierdtions. If we could
observe it as it passed from age to age we should doubtless see it
imdergoing continuous change according to the time and the class
of the people that were the preser\'ers 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. Appl3ring 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 Heder^ 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
feU here into over-positive refinements of literary criticism Sep-
arate 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 Lach-
mann'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 liedercydus, 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 stor}' of the Burgundians and Attila,
were first sung in alliterative la\-s 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

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