What is a connection between Nibelungenlied and The Song of Roland?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One theme the two epic poems The Song of Roland and Nibelungenlied, from the Middle Ages, share in common is chivalry.

In The Song of Roland, the protagonist Roland becomes devoted to protecting Charlemagne because, from the start, Charlemagne tested Roland's courage. Roland's mother is Charlemagne's sister, Princess Bertha, but the family has been treated with disrespect because Charlemagne considers Roland's father, Milon, as having stolen Charlemagne's sister from him. After his father is killed by Charlemagne in battle, when given the opportunity, Roland marches into Charlemagne's banquet hall and demands provisions for himself and his mother. Charlemagne, happy to have his sister back, immediately gives them honorable positions at court. Roland in particular is made a squire. Soon, Roland's bravery as a squire is tested, and Roland saves Charlemagne's army by posing as the enemy and attacking the enemy from within. Roland is immediately knighted and given the famous sword Durandal and the battle horn of his grandfather.  Roland also vows to always protect Charlemagne; hence, at another moment when Roland is attacked by a traitor, Roland decides not to blow the battle horn to summon Charlemagne's troops for reinforcements because he doesn't want to put Charlemagne in harm's way. Instead, he sees himself as responsible for fending off the traitor. Sadly, the mistaken decision costs Roland his life, but Charlemagne does indeed remain alive. Hence, we see that Roland's story is one of devoted bravery and captures the theme of chivalry since acting in bravery is part of the chivalric code.

Similarly, in Nibelungenlied, Gernot behaves chivalrously when he prevents Gunther and Siegfried from battling each other. Gernot further acts chivalrously when welcoming Siegfried to Worms with open arms. Soon, Siegfried is given his own opportunity to act chivalrously when he fights with his troops as allies to the Burgundians under Gunther the moment the Burgundians are attacked by King Liudegast of Denmark and King Liudeger of Saxony.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nibelungenlied and The Song of Roland are both medieval epic poems, written in verse and telling the stories of foundational national heroes. The Song of Roland is the earlier of the two, dating from eleventh century while the earliest versions of the Nibelungenlied seem to date from the twelfth century. Both are culturally similar, located within traditions in which wealthy kings and aristocrats proved their worth by martial prowess and struggled to behave in ethical and appropriate fashions in a society that was highly competitive and in which strong passions including jealousy, desire for wealth and precedence, and desire for power often led various forms of betrayal. The most heroic characters in the story tend to be the aristocrats who within this morally unmoored society try to live by a code of honor and loyalty.

Siegfried and Roland are both models of how a young knight should behave in such circumstances, honest, loyal, brave, and strong. Both also attempt to create stories emphasizing a sort of proto-nationalism in which the local heroes (Roland and Charlemagne among the Franks and to a degree Siegfried and Kriemhild among the Burgundians) show civilized and chivalric behavior in conflict with barbarians, although Nibelungenlied is the far more ambivalent of the two in its narrative trajectory.

nwilsonfry | Student

It might seem at first like the only things these two poems have in common are: It's a poem. It's long. It's from the Middle Ages. But wait, this is muscular, powerful, action-packed poetry. France versus Spain in a fight to the death: the Song of Roland is like the World Cup, but with swords!

Like a lot of medieval bestsellers, the Song of Roland was written by Anonymous. You know that dude—he/she/they is/are also responsible for the Nibelungenlied, as well as  Beowulfand Sir Gawain and the Green KnightIt doesn't help that many epic poems, including these, survive in different manuscripts, each with its own set of frustrating and fascinating variations. All equally aged, each a bit different, each worth investigating. The Song of Roland has nine variations all by itself!

So what do we know about these long, bloody poems about good and evil? (1) the Song of Roland and the Nibelungenlied originated in the medieval oral tradition of memorizing and performing songs, and (2) they're based on a kernel of actual history.

That's right. One thing that they have in common is that the material that forms the subject matter of heroic epics like these is derived from historical events that became part of an oral tradition and were passed down, sometimes for centuries, in the form of sagas, before being established in written form. 

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