Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1798
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.
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.
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.
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 entire section contains 5545 words.)
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