Nibelungenlied Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Siegfried

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

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

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.

Brunhild

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Nibelungenlied Characters

Alberich
The dwarf who was the Lord Treasurer of the Nibelung dynasty. When Siegfried conquered the Nibelung brothers, he took his magic cloak of invisibility and made Alberich Lord Treasurer of the Nibelung treasure.

Aldrian
Hagen and Dancwart's father.

Amelung
This is the name of Dietrich's dynasty. It applies to his vassals as well.

Astolt
One of the lords of Melk.

Attila the Hun
See Etzel

Balmung
The name of Siegfried's sword. In heroic legends, swords were often given names. After Siegfried's death, Hagen steals Balmung. When Hagen is captured at the end of the epic, Kriemhild uses the sword to kill Hagen.

Bloedelin
Etzel's brother. Dancwart kills him in battle in Chapter 32.

Brunhild
The Queen of Iceland, a beautiful maiden of almost superhuman strength. Gunther, king of the Burgundians, travels to Iceland to win her hand in marriage. He must perform certain acts of strength and skill in order to marry the Queen. His friend Siegfried helps him perform these tasks while wearing the magic cloak of invisibility, so it appears as if Gunther is acting alone. Siegfried also helps Gunther subdue Brunhild and possess her sexually after they are married (again hidden in the magic cloak), which brings about the loss of her extraordinary strength. Brunhild is not aware of Siegfried's role until she is taunted about it by Kriemhild. The argument that follows between the two women results in Siegfried's death and in the downfall of the Burgundians.

Dancrat
Deceased father of Gunther, Giselher, and Gernot, kings of the Burgundians, and the husband of Uote.

Dancwart
Hagen's younger brother and also a vassal of the Burgundian kings. He kills Gelphrat in Chapter 8 and often aids his brother. He is challenged by Bloedelin in Chapter 32, and killed. This is the beginning of the final confrontation between the Huns and the Burgundians. Dancwart is killed by Helpfrich, Dietrich's vassal, in Chapter 38.

Dietrich
Lord of the Amelung dynasty. He is engaged to Herrat and lives in exile at Etzel's court. When the Burgundians come to visit Kriemhild in Chapter 28, he tells the kings that she still mourns her dead husband Siegfried, and warns them that their visit may not be a pleasant one. He is also an old acquaintance of Hagen and greatly respected by all the Huns. He helps Kriemhild and Etzel escape when fighting breaks out between the Huns and Burgundians, and is finally responsible for the capture of Hagen and Gunther.

Eckewart
A military governor for the Burgundians. He brings Kriemhild to Hungary to marry Eztel. In Chapter 26 he is discovered on Rudiger's frontier. The narrator does not tell us how he came to be separated from Kriemhild's household. His character may have been conflated with another historical figure.

Else
Brother of Gelpfrat and Lord of the Marches on the Bavarian bank of the Danube River. He flees Hagen's men in Chapter 26 after Dancwart kills his brother.

Etzel
King of the Huns in Hungary. Marries Kriemhild after his wife Helche dies.

Gelphrat
Military governor of Bavaria and brother of Else. Gelphrat attacks Hagen and his men after Hagen kills his ferryman. Gelphrat is in turn killed by Dancwart in Chapter 26.

Gerbart
One of Dietrich's vassals.

Gere
A military governor and kinsman of the Burgundian kings. In Chapter 12, after the marriage of Siegfried and Kriemhild, he travels back to the Netherlands to invite them to visit the Burgundians.

Gernot
Brother of Gunther, Giselher, and Kriemhild. Second-oldest of the brothers, he is killed by Rudiger in Chapter 37.

Giselher
The youngest brother of Gunther, Gernot, and Kriemhild. He is betrothed to Rudiger's daughter in Chapter 27, but is killed by Wolfhart in Chapter 38.

Gotelind
Wife of Rudiger, military governor and Etzel's vassal. Her daughter is betrothed to Giselher.

Gunther
Eldest king of Burgundy; brother of Gernot, Giselher and Kriemhild; son of Dancrat and Uote. He wins the hand of Brunhild in marriage with the help of Siegfried. He is then complicit in the death of Siegfried, and dies by order of Kriemhild in Hungary. Before he dies, he and Hagen defend themselves in Etzel's hall, and are responsible for killing many Huns. Gunther's character is problematic, as many critics have considered him to be weak and ineffectual.

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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.