Nibelungenlied Summary


Chapters 1-10 Summary

Chapter 1
The Nibelungenlied opens with an exhortation to the reader to expect a tale of brave knights and furious battles. The main site of the action is the land of the Burgundians, which is ruled by the three brothers Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher. They have a beautiful sister, Kriemhild, and live in the city of Worms (pronounced "Voorms'') on the Rhine River. Their mother is called Uote, and their deceased father was named Dancrat.

We also learn in this chapter that Kriemhild dreamed that a falcon she had raised was attacked and torn to pieces by two eagles. Her mother Uote suggests that the falcon in the dream is a noble man that Kriemhild loves who will be torn away from her. Kriemhild says that rather than risk such a loss, she will never marry. The narrator ends the chapter by warning that the dream foretells a great tragedy which will befall the Burgundians.

Chapter 2
We are introduced to another city, Xanten in the Netherlands, where the royal family of King Siegmund, his wife Sieglind, and their son Siegfried live and rule. Siegfried is described as handsome, brave, honorable, and an expert knight. Siegmund holds a lavish feast and festival honoring the knighting of his son and a host of other young warriors. The description of the festival, and of Siegmund's generous gifts of money, jewels, and clothing, is elaborate and detailed.

Chapter 3
Siegfried hears of the beauty of the Burgundian princess Kriemhild, and decides to win her hand in marriage. His father and mother are not happy to hear this at first, for Kriemhild's brothers are reputed to be fearsome warriors. Siegmund himself does not relish the possibility of war with the Burgundians if they oppose the Xanten prince's suit, but he will not be deterred.

Siegfried and his knights travel to Worms. The Burgundian knight Hagen recognizes Siegfried, and shares what he knows about the Xanten prince's reputation: Siegfried is known to have slain the two Nibelung princes ("Nibelung" here is the name of a dynasty or powerful, long-established family) and to have won their great treasure, including a magic cloak which makes the wearer invisible. Siegfried also once killed a dragon and bathed in its blood. As a result, he cannot be harmed by weapons. Therefore, says Hagen, Siegfried must be welcomed as a special guest.

Siegfried is greeted hospitably, and offers words of great flattery to Gunther and his men. However, his words contain a veiled threat: he indicates that he wishes to possess all that the Burgundians now have! Siegfried challenges Gunther to a battle, proposing that the loser give up his kingdom to the winner. Gernot and Hagen object that Siegfried has challenged Gunther without provocation. Gernot intervenes and convinces the two that little honor is to be gained from such an endeavor. A war is barely averted.

Gernot now officially welcomes Siegfried with true courtesy and offers him the full hospitality of Worms, provided he behave honorably. Siegfried does not reveal his true reason for visiting Worms until much later. Siegfried and his men are given the best accommodations, and proceed to take part in many social events, including sporting contests, war games, and hunting. Siegfried outshines all the participants in each and every endeavor.

Siegfried does not see Kriemhild, who is kept in seclusion, but he cherishes his thoughts of her. He does not know that she is watching from her window as he competes against the knights of her own kingdom, and is falling in love with him. Siegfried lives with the Burgundians for a year without ever seeing her.

Chapter 4
Gunther and the Burgundians receive more surprise visitors—envoys from King Liudegast of Denmark and his brother King Liudeger of Saxony. The Burgundians are informed that the kings intended to invade Burgundy in twelve weeks. When told of the impending invasion, Siegfried pledges his aid, and Gunther accepts the offer. The envoys are informed that forces have been gathered and that the Burgundians are ready to receive the invaders.

When the envoys arrive home and tell King Liudegast that Siegfried of the Netherlands has allied with the Burgundians, he and King Liudeger summon over 40,000 troops. Meanwhile, Gunther gathers his own forces. Siegfried asks Gunther to remain behind at Worms so that he might...

(The entire section is 1798 words.)

Chapters 11-20 Summary

Chapter 11
Siegfried and Kriemhild prepare to return to the Netherlands, but not before Gunther, Giselher, and Gernot arrange to grant them the lands that are part of Kriemhild's inheritance. (Brunhild is not present at this exchange, and scholars have suggested that is perhaps because she would then have realized that Siegfried is certainly not Gunther's vassal.) They are welcomed at Siegfried's home with open arms, and King Siegmund crowns Siegfried as king on the spot. The narrator skims quickly over the next several months, telling the reader only that Siegfried and Kriemhild have a son whom they name Gunther after his uncle. In the meantime, Brunhild gives birth to a son as well, whom she and Gunther name Siegfried.

Chapter 12
Brunhild has been wondering why so much time has passed since Siegfried rendered his "lord'' Gunther any tribute (money paid regularly by a vassal to a lord, usually in exchange for the use of land and military protection). She keeps her thoughts to herself, however, and asks Gunther to invite Siegfried and Kriemhild for a visit. Gunther initially objects, claiming it is too far for them to travel. Brunhild reminds Gunther of Siegfried's obligations as a royal vassal (Gunther does not contradict her) and says that she wishes to see Kriemhild again. When the invitation reaches them, Kriemhild is anxious to visit her homeland. Siegfried accepts the invitation, but brings along his father and many warriors.

Chapters 13 and 14
Siegfried and Kriemhild arrive in Burgundy. A great feast is held and war games are played. Tension develops between Brunhild and Kriemhild. Each boasts of the bravery and honor of her respective husband. Brunhild objects to Kriemhild's boast. Kriemhild does not at first understand Brunhild's objection, because she does not realize that Brunhild still believes that Siegfried is Gunther's vassal. When Brunhild explains herself, Kriemhild denies it, and states that the true nature of Siegfried and Gunther's relationship is one of equals. The argument becomes quite heated as both claim higher status than the other. When Brunhild tries to prevent Kriemhild from entering a cathedral ahead of her, saying that her own higher status means that she should enter first, Brunhild angrily tells her that she is no better than a paramour, or mistress, and that Siegfried and not her own husband was the first to be intimate with her. The narrative never indicates either that Siegfried had sexual contact with Brunhild or that either Siegfried or Gunther ever told Kriemhild how Siegfried used his magic cloak to help Gunther subdue Brunhild. However she came by the knowledge, Kriemhild does produce, as proof, the golden ring that Siegfried took from Brunhild.

Brunhild demands to know the truth from Gunther. Siegfried denies having compromised Brunhild's honor and even publicly criticizes his own wife Kriemhild for saying such things. Gunther accepts Siegfried's word and is prepared to forget the matter. Hagen, however, promises Brunhild that he will punish Siegfried for her public humiliation (although nothing has been proven), and he and his knights plot Siegfried's death. Gunther tries to prevent the plot, but finally agrees to take part in Hagen's plan. The narrator concludes Chapter 14 by deploring the fact that events have...

(The entire section is 1361 words.)

Chapters 21-30 Summary

Chapter 21
Kriemhild and her company travel through Bavaria to Passau, where she encounters Bishop Pilgrim, her uncle. They pass on to Rudiger's lands where they remain for a short time. There Kriemhild meets Rudiger's wife Gotelind and her daughter. Thence they travel through Austria, and the narrator comments that in this land Christians and pagans live side by side (Etzel is a pagan). The company stays at the fortress of Traisenmauer for four days and then journeys to Etzel's court.

Chapter 22
On their way through Austria, Kriemhild sees many strange customs being followed and meets many knights and Kings of the various principalities of the land. They all owe loyalty to King Etzel and are...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)

Chapters 31-39 Summary

Chapter 31
After morning mass, festivities commence, with games and mock battles. One of these is the "bohort," a pageantry sport played on horseback with shields and lances. Rudiger, noticing the angry mood of many of Gunther's men, recommends that the bohort be canceled, but it continues anyway. Volker enters the game. When he charges, his lance kills one of the Huns (ostensibly by accident). Everyone jumps for their swords, but Etzel arrives to settle the matter. He rules that the death was an accident.

Kriemhild, meanwhile, again asks her vassals for help in avenging Siegfried. Despite being angered by the recent death, they are wary of attacking the Burgundians. So she begs Lord Bloedelin to help her,...

(The entire section is 1330 words.)