Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #31
Full many a wonder is told us in stories old, of heroes worthy of praise, of hardships dire, of joy and feasting, of the fighting of bold warriors, of weeping and of wailing; now ye may hear wonders told.
In Burgundy there grew so noble a maid that in all the lands none fairer might there be. Kriemhild (3) was she called; a comely woman she became, for whose sake many a knight must needs lose his life. Well worth the loving was this winsome maid. Bold knights strove for her, none bare her hate. Her peerless body was beautiful beyond degree; the courtly virtues of this maid of noble birth would have adorned many another woman too.
Three kings, noble and puissant, did nurture her, Gunther (4) and Gernot, (5) warriors worthy of praise, and Giselher, (6) the youth, a chosen knight. This lady was their sister, the princes had her in their care. The lordings were free in giving, of race high-born, passing bold of strength were they, these chosen knights. Their realm hight Burgundy. Great marvels they wrought hereafter in Etzel's (7) land. At Worms (8) upon the Rhine they dwelt with all their power. Proud knights from out their lands served them with honor, until their end was come. Thereafter they died grievously, through the hate of two noble dames.
Their mother, a mighty queen, was called the Lady Uta, (9) their father, Dankrat, (10) who left them the heritage after his life was over; a mighty man of valor that he was, who won thereto in youth worship full great. These kings, as I have said, were of high prowess. To them owed allegiance the best of warriors, of whom tales were ever told, strong and brave, fearless in the sharp strife. Hagen (11) there was of Troneg, thereto his brother Dankwart, (12) the doughty; Ortwin of Metz (13); Gere (14) and Eckewart, (15) the margraves twain; Folker of Alzei, (16) endued with fullness of strength. Rumolt (17) was master of the kitchen, a chosen knight; the lords Sindolt and Hunolt, liegemen of these three kings, had rule of the court and of its honors. Thereto had they many a warrior whose name I cannot tell. Dankwart was marshal; his nephew, Ortwin, seneschal unto the king; Sindolt was cupbearer, a chosen knight; Hunolt served as chamberlain; well they wot how to fill these lofty stations. Of the forces of the court and its far-reaching might, of the high worship (18) and of the chivalry these lords did ply with joy throughout their life, of this forsooth none might relate to you the end.
In the midst of these high honors Kriemhild dreamed a dream, of how she trained a falcon, strong, fair, and wild, which, before her very eyes, two eagles rent to pieces. No greater sorrow might chance to her in all this world. This dream then she told to Uta her mother, who could not unfold it to the dutiful maid in better wise than this: "The falcon which thou trainest, that is a noble man, but thou must needs lose him soon, unless so be that God preserve him."
"Why speakest thou to me of men, dear brother mine? I would fain ever be without a warrior's love. So fair will I remain until my death, that I shall never gain woe from love of man."
"Now forswear this not too roundly," spake the mother in reply. "If ever thou shalt wax glad of heart in this world, that will chance through the love of man. Passing fair wilt thou become, if God grant thee a right worthy knight."
"I pray you leave this speech," spake she, "my lady. Full oft hath it been seen in many a wife, how joy may at last end in sorrow. I shall avoid them both, then can it ne'er go ill with me."
Thus in her heart Kriemhild forsware all love. Many a happy day thereafter the maiden lived without that she wist any whom she would care to love. In after days she became with worship a valiant here's bride. He was the selfsame falcon which she beheld in her dream that her mother unfolded to her. How sorely did she avenge this upon her nearest kin, who slew him after! Through his dying alone there fell full many a mother's son.
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(1) "Nibelungenlied", the lay of the Nibelungs. The ordinary etymology of this name is 'children of the mist' ("Nebelkinder", O.N. "Niflungar"), and it is thought to have belonged originally to the dwarfs. Piper, I, 50, interprets it as 'the sons of Nibul'; Boer, II, 198, considers "Hniflungar" to be the correct Norse form and interprets it as 'the descendants of Hnaef' (O.E. "Hnaef", O.H.G. "Hnabi"), whose death is related in the "Finnsaga". (2) "Adventure" (M.H.G. "aventiure", from O.F. "aventure", Lat. "adventura"). The word meant originally a happening, especially some great event, then the report of such an event. Here it is used in the sense of the different cantos or "fitts" of the poem, as in the "Gudrun" and other M.H.G. epics. Among the courtly poets it also frequently denotes the source, or is the personification of the muse of poetry. (3) "Kriemhild" is the Upper German form of the Frankish "Grimhild". In the MSS., the name generally appears with a further shifting as "Chriemhilt", as if the initial consonant were Germanic "k". On the various forms of the name, which have never yet been satisfactorily explained, see Mullenhoff, ZsfdA. xii, 299, 413; xv, 313; and Bohnenberger, PB. Beit. xxiv, 221-231. (4) "Gunther" is the historical "Gundahari", king of the Burgundians in the fifth century. (5) "Gernot" was probably introduced by some minstrel in place of the historical "Godomar", who appears in the Norse version as "Gutthormr", though the names are not etymologically the same, as "Godomar" would be "Guthmarr" in Old Norse. (6) "Giselher" is the historical "Gislaharius". Although mentioned by the "Lex Burgundionum" as one of the Burgundian kings, he does not appear in the early Norse version, or in other poems dealing with these persons, such as the "Waltharius", the "Rabenschlacht", the "Rosengarten", etc., and was probably introduced at a late date into the saga. Originally no role was ascribed to him, and not even his death is told. He probably came from some independent source. (7) "Etzel" is the German form for the historical "Attila" (Norse "Atli"). A discussion of his connection with the saga will be found in the introduction. (8) "Worms" is the ancient "Borbetomagus", which in the first century B.C. was the chief city of the German tribe of the "Vangioni". In the fifth century it was the capital of the Burgundian kingdom, but was destroyed by the Huns. The Merovingians rebuilt it, and in the seventh century it became a bishopric where Charlemagne at times held his court. It was later noted as the meeting-place of many imperial diets. It remained a free city till 1801. In the "Thidreksaga" the name is corrupted into "Wernize". (9) "Uta" (M.H.G. "Uote"). The name means ancestress, and is frequently used for the mother of heroes. The modern German form is "Ute", but in order to insure its being pronounced with two syllables, the form "Uta" was chosen. (10) "Dankrat" (M.H.G. "Dancrat") appears as the father only in the "Nibelungenlied" and poems dependent on it, e.g., the "Klage" and "Biterolf", elsewhere as "Gibiche" (Norse "Giuki"). (11) "Hagen of Troneg". Troneg is probably a corruption of the name of the Latin colony, "colonia Trajana", on the Lower Rhine, which as early as the fifth century was written as "Troja", giving rise to the legend that the Franks were descended from the ancient Trojans. "Troja" was then further corrupted to "Tronje" and "Tronege". Hagen was therefore originally a Frank and had no connection with the Burgundian kings, as the lack of alliteration also goes to show. Boer thinks that not Siegfried but Hagen originally lived at Xanten (see note 3 to Adventure II), as this was often called Troja Francorum. When the Hagen story was connected with the Burgundians and Hagen became either their brother or their vassal, his home was transferred to Worms and Siegfried was located at Xanten, as he had no especial localization. Thus Siegfried is never called Siegfried of Troneg, as is Hagen. Other attempts to explain Troneg will be found in Piper, I, 48. (12) "Dankwart" is not an historical character nor one that belonged to the early form of the legend. He may have come from another saga, where he played the principal role as Droege (ZsfdA. 48, 499) thinks. Boer considers him to be Hagen's double, invented to play a part that would naturally fall to Hagen's share, were he not otherwise engaged at the moment. In our poem he is called "Dancwart der snelle", a word that has proved a stumbling-block to translators, because in modern German it means 'speedy', 'swift'. Its original meaning was, however, 'brave', 'warlike', although the later meaning is already found in M.H.G. In all such doubtful cases the older meaning has been preferred, unless the context forbids, and the word 'doughty' has been chosen to translate it. (13) "Ortwin of Metz" appears also in the "Eckenlied", "Waltharius", and in "Biterolf". He is most likely a late introduction (but see Piper, I, 44). Rieger thinks that he belonged to a wealthy family "De Metis". Though the "i" is long in the original, and Simrock uses the form "Ortewein" in his translation, the spelling with short "i" has been chosen, as the lack of accent tends to shorten the vowel in such names. (14) "Gere" is likewise a late introduction. He is perhaps the historical Margrave Gere (965) of East Saxony, whom Otto the Great appointed as a leader against the Slavs. See O. von Heinemann, "Markgraf Gero", Braunschweig, 1860, and Piper, L 43. (15) "Eckewart" is also a late accession. He is perhaps the historical margrave of Meissen (1002), the first of the name. He, too, won fame in battle against the Slavs. (16) "Folker of Alzet" (M.H.G. "Volker von Alzeije"), the knightly minstrel, is hardly an historical personage, in spite of the fact that Alzey is a well-known town in Rhine Hesse on the Selz, eighteen miles southwest of Mainz. The town has, to be sure, a violin in its coat of arms, as also the noble family of the same name. It is most likely, however, that this fact caused Folker to be connected with Alzei. In the "Thidreksaga" Folker did not play the role of minstrel, and it is probable that some minstrel reviser of our poem developed the character and made it the personification of himself. (17) "Rumolt", "Bindolt", and "Hunolt" have no historical basis and merely help to swell the retinue of the Burgundians. (18) "Worship". This word has been frequently used here in its older meaning of 'worth', 'reverence', 'respect', to translate the M.H.G. "eren", 'honors'.