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.)