Thomas Bulfinch > The Age of Fable > Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes > XL. h. The Nibelungen Lied
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Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867).  Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes.  1913.

XL. h.  The Nibelungen Lied
 
ONE of the oldest myths of the Teutonic race is found in the great national epic of the Nibelungen Lied, which dates back to the prehistoric era when Wotan, Frigga, Thor, Loki, and the other gods and goddesses were worshipped in the German forests. The epic is divided into two parts, the first of which tells how Siegfried, the youngest of the kings of the Netherlands, went to Worms, to ask in marriage the hand of Kriemhild, sister of Günther, King of Burgundy. While he was staying with Günther, Siegfried helped the Burgundian king to secure as his wife Brunhild, queen of Issland. The latter had announced publicly that he only should be her husband who could beat her in hurling a spear, throwing a huge stone, and in leaping. Siegfried, who possessed a cloak of invisibility, aided Günther in these three contests, and Brunhild became his wife. In return for these services, Günther gave Siegfried his sister Kriemhild in marriage.   1
  After some time had elapsed, Siegfried and Kriemhild went to visit Günther, when the two women fell into a dispute about the relative merits of their husbands. Kriemhild, to exalt Siegfried, boasted that it was to the latter that Günther owed his victories and his wife. Brunhild, in great anger, employed Hagan, liegeman of Günther, to murder Siegfried. In the epic Hagan is described as follows:
        “Well-grown and well-compacted was that redoubted guest;
Long were his legs and sinewy, and deep and broad his chest;
His hair, that once was sable, with gray was dashed of late;
Most terrible his visage, and lordly was his gait.”
Nibelungen Lied, stanza 1789.
   2
  This Achilles of German romance stabbed Siegfried between the shoulders, as the unfortunate King of the Netherlands was stooping to drink from a brook during a hunting expedition.   3
  The second part of the epic relates how, thirteen years later, Kriemhild married Etzel, King of the Huns. After a time, she invited the King of Burgundy, with Hagan and many others, to the court of her husband. A fearful quarrel was stirred up in the banquet hall, which ended in the slaughter of all the Burgundians but Günther and Hagan. These two were taken prisoners and given to Kriemhild, who with her own hand cut off the heads of both. For this bloody act of vengeance Kriemhild was herself slain by Hildebrand, a magician and champion, who in German mythology holds a place to an extent corresponding to that of Nestor in the Greek mythology.   4
  
THE NIBELUNGEN HOARD

THIS was a mythical mass of gold and precious stones which Siegfried obtained from the Nibelungs, the people of the north whom he had conquered and whose country he had made tributary to his own kingdom of the Netherlands. Upon his marriage, Siegfried gave the treasure to Kriemhild as her wedding portion. After the murder of Siegfried, Hagan seized it and buried it secretly beneath the Rhine at Lochham, intending to recover it at a future period. The hoard was lost forever when Hagan was killed by Kriemhild. Its wonders are thus set forth in the poem:
        “’Twas as much as twelve huge wagons in four whole nights and days
Could carry from the mountain down to the salt sea bay;
Though to and fro each wagon thrice journeyed every day.
  
“It was made up of nothing but precious stones and gold;
Were all the world bought from it, and down the value told,
Not a mark the less would there be left than erst there was, I ween.”
Nibelungen Lied, XIX.
   5
  Whoever possessed the Nibelugen hoard were termed Nibelungers. Thus at one time certain people of Norway were so called. When Siegfried held the treasure he received the title “King of the Nibelungers.”   6

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