The Nibelungs is the most famous Epic in Norse mythology and is said to be based on the Royal family of Burgundy. The story begins when the wealth of the Burgundians falls into the hands of Siegfried. After helping King Gunther woo Brunhild, Siegfried marries Kriemhild, Gunther's sister. Ultimately, a row between the Queens leads to the death of both Siegfried and Kriemhild, and the loss of the treasure.
DEATH OF SIEGFRIED.
The Nibelungen Lied (Nibelungen, name of an ancient royal race which possessed a great treasure; lied, song or ballad), one of the world's greatest epics, made its appearance in the twelfth or thirteenth century, in South Germany. Its authorship is unknown. The writer, however, did not produce an original work, but made use of still earlier legends which had been handed down orally. The Nibelungen Lied is to be regarded, therefore, as a collection of ballads skilfully united so as to form a connected story. Its hero is Siegfried, who possessed the Nibelung hoard, which he won in Norway. Siegfried wooed Brunhild for Gunther, King of Burgundy, and married the king's sister, Kriemhild. He was treacherously slain by Hagen and the hoard was sunk in the Rhine. Kriemhild subsequently was married to Etzel (Attila), King of the Huns, and slew Hagen after he had been overcome in combat, but lost her own life at the hands of the "ancient," Hildebrand. Both historical and mythical elements are mingled in this great poem, which should not be confounded with Wagner's Ring der Nibelungen, in which he has taken many names from the German epic. The material for his famous music-dramas he found in the old Norse version, contained in the Volsunga Saga and the Edda.
The Nibelungen Lied was followed by many similar epics, among them Gudrun, The Expedition of Ecken, the tale of King Laurin, Rosengarten, and others, but The Nibelungen Lied is the greatest of all the German national traditions. One writer, in his description of the poem, says:
"Feudal loyalty and martial courage were the great virtues of these heroes. The poem contains a tale of revenge; but all the plot turns on the principle of loyalty, in obedience to which thousands lost their lives in a quarrel which had at first involved only two or three leading characters. Though this singular poem contains many traits of a warlike age, and closes with terrible scenes of carnage, it displays hardly a trace of such a motive as personal hatred, except in the character of the heroine."
Considered as types, Siegfried stands for the enthusiasm, beauty, courage, lofty purpose, and high ambition of immortal youth; Hagen, for fierceness, boldness, savagery, and treachery; Kriemhild is the type of a gentle, loving nature roused to the highest intensity of furious longing for vengeance. Old as the poem is, it contains the development of all human passions, manly beauty, heroism, and nobility by the side of unmanly cruelty and treachery; the blackest unfaithfulness by the side of faithfulness until death; the foulest of deeds by the side of the most loving; and the tenderest hearts combined with the most heroic souls. But among them all, no character stands out more resplendently as an exemplar for youth than Siegfried, himself the type of immortal youth.
In the making of this translation an older form of English expression has been employed as in better keeping, perhaps, with the older form of German, which was used in the original poem. Some of the more sanguinary descriptions have been toned down, some of the numerous poetical connecting links omitted as being unnecessary, and paragraphs here and there have also been omitted where this did not mar the context, so as to make the volume nearly uniform in size with the others of the series.
CHICAGO, July 1, 1906.