The Nibelungenlied Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)


Siegfried (ZEEG-freed), a prince of Niderland whose heroic achievements include the winning of the great treasure hoard of the Nibelung. Having bathed in the blood of a dragon he slew, Siegfried is invulnerable except for a spot between his shoulders where a linden leaf had fallen. He goes to Burgundy and there wins Kriemhild as his wife. Later, he is treacherously killed by a Burgundian knight.


Kriemhild (KREEM-hihlt), the beautiful sister of the king of Burgundy. She marries Siegfried and is subsequently tricked into revealing the secret of his vulnerability. After a long period of widowhood and mourning, she becomes the wife of the king of the Huns. Still seeking vengeance for Siegfried’s death, she invites the whole Burgundian court to Hunland. In the final bloody combat, all the Burgundians are killed, and Kriemhild herself is slain by her husband’s order.


Gunther (GEWN-tehr), king of Burgundy. He promises that Siegfried shall marry Kriemhild in return for aiding him in winning Brunhild. With Siegfried’s aid, Gunther overcomes Brunhild in her required feats of skill and strength. After the double wedding, Siegfried is again needed to impersonate Gunther in subduing Brunhild, who has determined never to let Gunther share her bed. Gunther is killed in the final bloodbath in Hunland.



(The entire section is 621 words.)

The Nibelungenlied Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Bekker, Hugo. The Nibelungenlied: A Literary Analysis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971. Deals at length with the four main characters and with numerous parallelisms in the epic. Bekker’s main point is that Brunhild is offended not because Siegfried overpowers her in bed but because he breaches the rules of kingship by not consummating the sexual act.

Haymes, Edward R. The Nibelungenlied: History and Interpretation. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1986. Discusses how the epic would have been received around the year 1200, when it was written. Interprets it as an argument for the stability of the old feudal structure and against new elements from chivalric literature.

McConnell, Winder. The Nibelungenlied. Boston: Twayne, 1984. An excellent discussion of the epic, with strong historical cultural background information and an interesting overview of the reception of the work in Germany. Well-organized interpretations of the major characters. Emphasizes the anonymous author’s style of presenting the events without passing judgment.

Mowatt, D. G., and Hugh Sacker. The Nibelungenlied: An Interpretative Commentary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967. Includes maps and a genealogical diagram. A good general introduction followed by more than one hundred pages of commentary that closely follows the original text. Most useful in conjunction with an English translation that retains the stanza numbers.

The Nibelungenlied. Translated by A. T. Hatto. New York: Penguin Books, 1969. In addition to the translation, Hatto provides more than one hundred pages of information on the epic. He points out many discrepancies in the work. A useful glossary of the characters’ names.