Nibelungenlied Analysis

The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In Burgundy there lives a noble family that numbers three brothers and a sister. The sons are Gunther, who wears the crown, Gernot, and Giselher. The daughter is Kriemhild. About them is a splendid court of powerful and righteous knights, including Hagen of Trony, his brother Dankwart, and mighty Hunold. Kriemhild dreams one night that she rears a falcon that then is slain by two eagles. When she tells her dream to Queen Uta, her mother’s interpretation is that Kriemhild should have a noble husband but that unless God’s protection follows him he might soon die. Siegfried is born in Niderland, the son of King Siegmund and Queen Sieglind. In his young manhood he hears of the beautiful Kriemhild, and, although he has never seen her, he determines to have her for his wife. Undeterred by reports of her fierce and warlike kinsmen, he makes his armor ready for his venture. Friends come from all parts of the country to bid him farewell, and many of them accompany him as retainers into King Gunther’s land. When he arrives at Gunther’s court, Hagen, who knows his fame, tells the brothers the story of Siegfried’s first success, relating how Siegfried killed great heroes and won the hoard of the Nibelung, a treasure of so much gold and jewels that five score wagons cannot carry all of it. He also tells how Siegfried won the cloak of invisibility from the dwarf Albric and how Siegfried became invulnerable from having bathed in the blood of a dragon he slew. Gunther and his brothers admit Siegfried to their hall after they hear of his exploits, and the hero stays with them a year. In all that time, however, he does not once see Kriemhild.

The Saxons, led by King Ludger, threaten to overcome the kingdom of the Burgundians. Siegfried pledges to use his forces in overcoming the Saxons, and in the battle he leads his knights and Gunther’s troops to a great victory. In the following days there are great celebrations at which Queen Uta and her daughter Kriemhild appear in public. On one of these occasions Siegfried and Kriemhild meet and become betrothed. King Gunther, wanting to marry Brunhild, Wotan’s daughter, tells Siegfried that if he will help him win Brunhild, then he might wed Kriemhild. Gunther sets out at the head of a great expedition, all of his knights decked in costly garments in order to impress Brunhild. Her preference for a husband, however, is not a well-dressed prince but a hero. She declares that the man who will win her must surpass her in feats of skill and strength. With Siegfried’s aid Gunther overcomes Brunhild, and she agrees to go with Gunther as his wife.

Siegfried is sent on ahead to announce a great celebration in honor of the coming marriage of Gunther to Brunhild. A double ceremony takes place, with Kriemhild becoming the bride of Siegfried at the same time. At the wedding feast Brunhild bursts into tears at the sight of Kriemhild and Siegfried together. Gunther tries to explain away her unhappiness, but once more, Gunther needs Siegfried’s aid, for Brunhild determines never to let Gunther share her bed. Siegfried goes to her chamber and there overpowers her. Thinking she is overcome by Gunther, she is thus subdued. Brunhild gives birth to a son who is named for Siegfried. As time passes she wishes once more to see Siegfried, who returned with Kriemhild to his own country. Therefore, she instructs Gunther to plan a great hunting party to which Siegfried and Kriemhild should be invited.

At the meeting of the two royal families, there is great rivalry between Brunhild and Kriemhild. They vie with each other by overdressing their attendants and then argue as to the place each should have in the royal procession. Finally, Kriemhild takes revenge when she tells Brunhild the true story of Brunhild’s wedding night. Accusing Brunhild of acting the part of a harlot, she says that Brunhild slept first with Siegfried, then with her husband, Gunther. For proof, she displays Brunhild’s ring...

(The entire section is 1611 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Castle of Worms

*Castle of Worms. Castle by the Rhine River in northern France’s historic Burgundy region. It is the home of Kriemhild and her family, who face much hardship and death as a result of Kriemhild’s great love for Siegfried. This place represents the unmarred beauty and happiness of a young woman, while it also symbolizes her maturity and the bitterness that follows betrayal, which eventually leads to death and destruction—her own and those of innumerable others.


*Netherlands. Homeland of Siegfried that signifies his power, as well as his own evanescent nature. In certain instances within the poem, Norway and Nibelungenland seem to be synonymous with the Netherlands, which is analogous to the relationship that Siegfried has with his own people and those of other nations—that of a known origin, but of an indistinct nature.


Isenstein. Location of Brunhild’s court. For a long while, this place was thought to be in Iceland because it is described as having been along the coast. However, that is no longer considered the case. Brunhild may also correspond with her place of origin, for just as she has enormous power that is eventually taken from her by an act of betrayal, so is her court.


Nibelungenland. Mythical setting in which Siegfried is believed to have won his cloak of invisibility and the gold hoard. It represents that which is inscrutable for humans, unknown power and wealth, and those possessions to which everyone in this epic aspires but never attains.


*Hungary. Homeland of King Etzel, the heathen. Although Etzel himself is not portrayed in a negative light, Hungary is associated with the dark deeds of Kriemhild, who remains there until her death for the sole purpose of revenge.

Historical Context

(Epics for Students)

Socio-historical Context of the Nibelungenlied
While the version of the Nibelungenlied known to twentieth-century readers...

(The entire section is 653 words.)

Literary Style

(Epics for Students)

Nibelungenlied as Epic
The Nibelungenlied draws on two important literary traditions, that of the epic, and that of the...

(The entire section is 664 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Epics for Students)

Middle Ages: During the Middle Ages, laws and punishments varied from country to country, sometimes even from city to city. The type...

(The entire section is 156 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Epics for Students)

What type of warfare was practiced in the Middle Ages? How did it differ from the warfare practiced by the soldiers of the Roman Empire?...

(The entire section is 321 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Epics for Students)

Die Nibelungen was made into a two-part black-and-white silent movie in 1924. It was produced in Germany, and directed by Fritz Lang....

(The entire section is 181 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Epics for Students)

The story of Beowulf, written around the tenth century (though the actual poem is thought to be several hundred years older), tells...

(The entire section is 289 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Epics for Students)

Sources for Further Study
Andersson, Theodore M. A Preface to the Nibelungenlied. Stanford University Press, 1987....

(The entire section is 546 words.)


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places 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...

(The entire section is 251 words.)