Nibelung Epic

NIBELUNGENLIED 

               The Nibelung Epic             

Brian Colless

            Germany: Siegfried the dragon-slayer
 
SYNOPSIS

This Middle High German epic-poem, conventionally known as Das Nibelungenlied  (Song of the Nibelungs), was composed around 1200  by an unknown Austrian poet from the Danube region. There are three main mss from the 13th Century. An early title given to it is: Der Nibelunge Not (The Nibelungs’ affliction [‘need’]). One C14 ms entitles it “The Book of Kriemhild”. We might well call it “Kriemhild’s revenge”.  She is the first character mentioned in the epic; and it ends with her death (she is killed by an old hero who is outraged by her beheading of two knights, Gunther and Hagen, on whom she has constantly sought vengeance for killing her husband Siegfried). Siegfied’s dragon-slaying (and his invulnerability from the blood) is only described incidentally (3).

There are 2379 stanzas, divided into 39 chapters (the word used is âventiure). Names spelled as in the original.
0001-0019     1  Kriemhilt [Kriemhilde] and the rulers of Burgundy at Worms by the Rhein
0020-0043     2  Sîvrit [Siegfried]  son of Sigemunt and Sigelint in Santen in the Netherlands
0044-0138     3  Sîvrit  comes to Worms to see beautiful Kriemhilt; Hagen relates S’s exploits
0139-0264     4  Sîvrit fights victoriously for the Burgundians against Saxons and Danes
0265-0324     5  Sîvrit meets Kriemhilt for the first time, as a reward for his bravery
0325-0388     6  Gunther goes to Iceland to woo Prünhilt in an athletic contest (win or die)
0389-0481     7  Gunther wins Prünhilt [Brunhilde] with Sîvrit’s assistance (cloak of invisibility)
0482-0491     8  Sîvrit goes to Nibelungland to fetch his men from Albrich the dwarf
0529-0578     9  Sîvrit  is sent ahead to Worms with the news of Gunther’s success
0579-0689    10 Prünhilt arrives at Worms for her wedding; Sîvrit subdues her in the bed
0690-0723    11  Sîvrit takes Kriemhilt to Santen; Sigelint dies; Prünhilt’s son Sîvrit born
0724-0777    12  Gunther, Prünhilt, and Queen Uote invite Sîvrit to a feast at Worms
0778-0813    13  Sîvrit and Kriemhilt leave their son Gunther and go with Sigemunt to Worms
0814-0876    14  Prünhilt and Kriemhilt squabble about superiority, and K tells P the truth
0877-0915    15  Gunther & Hagen plot against Sîvrit; Kriemhilt naively reveals S’s weak spot
0916-1001    16  Sîvrit is treacherously speared in the back by Hagen, while out hunting
1002-1072    17  Sîvrit’s body is to be buried; it bleeds when Hagen is near; Kriemhilt knows
1073-1100    18  Sigemunt goes home to Santen, reluctantly leaving Kriemhilt  in Worms
1101-1142    19  Gernot & Giselher fetch the Nibelung hoard (K’s bride-dowry) from Albrich
1143-1289    20  Etzel [Attila the Hun] sends an envoy to Kriemhilt; she agrees to marry him
1290-1335    21  Kriemhilt passes through Bavaria to the realm of the Huns
1336-1386    22  Kriemhilt and the heathen King Etzel are married in Wien [Vienna]
1387-1421    23  Kriemhilt has a son named Ortlieb after 7 years; invites her brothers to come
1422-1505    24  Wärbel and Schwämmel deliver the invitation; Hagen is suspicious
1506-1585    25  Gunther, Hagen, and the Burgundians (now called Nibelungs) set out
1586-1649    26  Hagen reports the prediction of doom on the Nibelungs made by 3 nixies
1650-1717    27 Kriemhilt awaits their arrival expectantly, as the Nibelungs dally in Bechelaren
1718-1757    28 Dietrich & Hildebrant, then Kriemhilt, welcome the Burgundians/Nibelungs
1758-1817    29  Kriemhilt confronts the insolent Hagen; Etzel regales his wife’s family
1818-1848    30  Hagen and Volker the warrior-fiddler  stand guard against Kriemhilt’s men
1849-1920    31  Hagen and the Nibelungs go to morning mass in the minster, then joust
1921-1950    32  Bloedelin leads a troop against Kriemhilt’s family; Dancwart beheads him
1951-2008    33  Dancwart’s brother Hagen intervenes, beheads Prince Ortlieb, and rampages
2009-2027    34  Giselher and the Burgundians throw 7,000 bodies out; Hagen taunts Etzel
2028-2080    35  Iring opposes Hagen, Volker, Gunther, & Giselher; he is slain with 1,004 men
2081-2134    36  Kriemhilt sets fire to the hall; they drink blood to keep cool; 600 survive
2135-2234    37  Rüdeger, who guided them to the Huns’ land, kills Gernot & is killed by him
2235-2323    38  Etzel bellows in grief and rage; Dietrich enters the fray, but all his men fall
2324-2379    39  Dietrich overcomes Hagen & Gunther; Kriemhilt beheads them both;
for this offence old Hildebrant fells Kriemhilt; Etzel and Dietrich survive;  nobody knows where in the Rhein the Nibelung treasure now is! What about Brünhild?! (She is an Amazon not a Valkyrie)
    hie hat daz maere ein ende: daz ist der Nibelunge nôt  (line 2379)
    here the story has its ending: that is the Nibelungs’ fate (“need, distress”)
    Why do the Burgundians suddenly become Nibelungs (see 25)? Did the poet use different sources for the various parts, in which the name ‘Nibelung’ was applied to different peoples? My guess is that whoever had the gold was therefore a Nibelung. Siegfried became a Nibelung when he took the treasure from the Nibelung princes by means of the Nibelung sword Balmung, which they had given to him. After Siegfried’s death the Nibelung hoard passed to the Burgundian royal family, and Hagen took the sword Balmung.
    Apparently the gold (and the sword?) carried a curse.

 The Nibelung Epic            


This Middle High German epic-poem, conventionally known as Das Nibelungenlied  (Song of the Nibelungs), was composed around 1200  by an unknown Austrian poet from the Danube region.

There are three main manuscripts from the 13th Century.  Recall that for the Beowulf epic we had one manuscript  from around 1000, and for the Volsung saga a manuscript from the 14th century.

An early title given to this epic is: Der Nibelunge Not (The Nibelungs’ affliction [‘need’]). One C14 ms entitles it “The Book of Kriemhild”. We might well call it “Kriemhild’s revenge”.  She is the first character mentioned in the epic; and it ends with her death (she is killed by an old hero who is outraged by her beheading of two knights, Gunther and Hagen, on whom she has constantly sought vengeance for killing her husband Siegfried). Siegfied’s dragon-slaying (and his invulnerability from the blood) is only described incidentally (3).

There are 2379 four-line stanzas, divided into 39 chapters (the word is âventiure).

The story will be summarized here, in English prose; sometimes translated, but mostly paraphrased, and, of course, severely abridged.

Names are spelled as in the original. Thus, while we may sometimes refer to the hero as Siegfried, the text has Sîvrit. Notice that this hero appears personally in only 16 of the 39 chapters (2-17), though his ghost has an influence over everything that happens after his death, as his wife Kriemhilt seeks revenge.

1-19          Kriemhilt [Kriemhilde] and the rulers of Burgundy at Worms by the Rhein

[1]  “Wondrous are the many old tales which tell us of praiseworthy heroes, of great hardship, of joyous festivities, of weeping and wailing, of brave warriors’ contests, wonders which you may hear related here and now.”
[2]  “In Burgundy lived a noble maiden, whose beauty was unmatched in any land; she was called Kriemhilt, and when she grew into a beautiful woman, many a knight lost his life on her account.”

Kriemhilt is equivalent to Gudrun the Gjuking in the Volsung saga, and Gutrune the Gibichung in Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung. The name Kriemhilt is reminiscent of the saga’s Grimhild, the wicked queen and mother of Gudrun.

[4]  Kriemhilt was in the care of three noble and mighty members of the royal family (künege, ‘kings’): Gunther and Gêrnôt, and young Giselher; she was their sister.

Gunther corresponds to the saga’s Gunnar, and Wagner’s Gunther.

[5] Burgundy was their country, and they later performed amazing deeds in the realm of Etzel.
Etzel is Attila the Hun, who appeared as Atli in the saga.

[6] “With their court they resided at Worms on the Rhein river. Many proud knights of their lands rendered them loyal service all their life. They met calamitous deaths through the hatred of two noblewomen.”

As in the saga, where Brynhild continually predicts the gloomy events that are coming, from the start of this epic we are informed that there will be no happy ending.

[7] “A mighty queen, Dame Uote [Ute], was their mother; their father’s name was Dancrât; he left them an inheritance when he died ....”

[8] “Under the three royals (‘kings’) served Hagen  of Tronege, and his brother Dankwart ....”

In the saga the counterpart of the evil Hagen is Högni (a brother of Gunnar, not a vassal). Wagner’s Hagen is a Nibelung, a son of Alberich the dwarf; his task is to recover the gold ring.

[13] “In the midst of this high splendour, Kriemhilde (sic) dreamed that she trained a falcon, strong, handsome, and wild, only to see it torn to pieces by two eagles ....”

[14-19] When her mother Uote interpreted the falcon as a man, Kriemhilt retorted that she wanted nothing to do with men and love. She knew, from observing other women, that love turns to pain in the end. Nevertheless, the day came when she was taken to wife by a very brave knight, who was the falcon in her dream; and when her kinsmen killed him, she took terrible revenge on them.

But none of that has hapened yet, and it seems very remiss of the author to reveal the ending at the beginning!  Clearly, this is Kriemhilt’s story.

20-43     2  Sîvrit [Siegfried]  son of Sigemunt and Sigelint in Santen in the Netherlands
[20] “In the Netherlands a royal child was then growing up; Sigemunt was his father’s name; his mother was called Sigelint; they lived in a rich city called Santen [Xanthen], on the lower Rhein.”

Sig(e)munt and Sig(e)lint are the saga’s Sigmund and Signy, Wagner’s Siegmund and Sieglinde. There is no hint in this epic that they are twin siblings.

[21] “Sîvrit was the name of this good and brave warrior. He proved his mettle in many lands, and eventually found a bold company of warriors among the Burgundians.”

So, the saga’s Sigurd, Wagner’s Siegfried, is here known as Sîvrit.
He courted beautiful women with finesse, and the finest ladies in the land felt honoured to offer their love to him.

At a fabulous feast, in the presence of King Sigmunt and Queen Siglint, and together with four hundred young candidates, Sîvrit was knighted. They first went to the cathedral where a mass was sung to the glory of God; and then they were made knights in a customary ceremony. After a vigorous tournament, Prince Sîvrit was allowed to bestow lands and castles, and the lords were saying that they would like young Sîvrit to be their ruler; but he had no desire to wear the crown while Sigmunt and Siglint were alive.

Something in what we have just heard tells us that we should not expect Odin or Woden or Wotan to make periodic appearances (putting a sword in a tree, giving the hero a horse, punishing his children for misdemeanours, and so on). The Germanic gods are banished. We are now in the presence of the Christian Deity, who never fathers children (well, hardly ever).

44-138    Sîvrit comes to Worms to see beautiful Kriemhilt; Hagen relates Sîvrit’s exploits
Sîvrit heard tell of an outstandingly beautiful maiden in Burgundy, and he decided to go and court her. His parents were fearful that he might come to harm in the kingdom of Gunther and Gernot. However, he was determined, and he set out with twelve splendidly accoutred men and horses, and in less than seven days they reached Worms.

Hagen looked through the window and guessed that it was Sîvrit. He recounted to King Gunther the story of the hero’s achievements. Sîvrit once found the Nibelung princes Schilbunc and Nibelunc preparing to divide up the Nibelung treasure. They asked him for assistance, and gave him the sword Balmung as a reward for the work he would undertake. They became angry when he could not complete the task, and Sîvrit used the sword to kill them and their friends the twelve giants; also seven hundred knights from the Nibelung lands; many other young knights handed over their lands and castles to him. Then the powerful dwarf Albrîch was overcome by Sîvrit, and he was charged to guard the treasure in its mountain cave for Sîvrit. Albrich’s tarnkappe (a magical cloak of invisibility) was taken by Sîvrit.

Hagen added that Sîvrit had slain a dragon, and when he bathed in the dragon’s blood his skin became so tough that no weapon can penetrate it. Surprisingly, no connection is made between the dragon and the treasure in this account; and no name is given for the beast that is called Fafnir in the saga and Fafner in the opera Siegfried; but it is established that Sîvrit, like Sigurd and Siegfried (and Sigemund and Beowulf in the Beowulf epic) is a dragon-slayer.

At the first encounter with Gunther and Hagen, Sîvrit created tension by announcing his intention to make Burgundy his own possession. Ortwin the conciliator is brought in, and Sîvrit is entertained as an honoured guest. However, as we know, it was not the brothers he had come to see, but the sister. And though he stayed there a year, he never caught a glimpse of the maiden he loved so ardently. For her part, Kriemhilt regularly peeped through the window to gaze longingly at the blond knight, with whom she would share much pleasure and pain in the future.

139-264      Sîvrit fights victoriously for the Burgundians against Saxons and Danes
Sîvrit helped Gunther to drive back an invasion of Saxons and Danes; this is a long chapter with a description of the first major battle, over which we will draw a veil; suffice it to say: “many a lady’s lover was left dead there”.  And Kriemhilt was pleased and relieved, and her face flushed rose-red, when she learned that the young hero Sîvrit had distinguished himself in slaughtering with the sword and that his life had been preserved.

265-324     5  Sîvrit meets Kriemhilt for the first time, as a reward for his bravery
Great were the festivities (at the after-match function), with more than five thousand knights present. And at long last Kriemhilt and her ladies were brought out.

[281] “The lovely maiden now came forth, like the dawn breaking through the clouds, and the man in whose heart she had dwelt for so long had his burden lifted when he saw her standing so majestically there.”

She was given royal leave to greet him, and this she did, and she even kissed him (an experience more delightful than he had ever known). This was the first of many blissful kissful encounters. Sîvrit was invited to stay on as a live-in guest, and the blest result was that he now saw Kriemhilt every day. But his passionate love for her would lead him to a ‘jammervoll’ miserable death.

325-388      Gunther goes to Iceland to woo Prünhilt in an athletic contest (win or die)
Gunther thinks of finding a wife, and he hears that the Queen of Iceland, Prünhilt by name, is a nubile beauty. She is equivalent to the saga’s Brynhild and Wagner’s Brünnhilde; she is not a Valkyrie, but an Amazon of great strength; and she also exemplifies the shrew that needs to be tamed, you might say (but for my safety’s sake, I will refrain). Anyone who comes a-wooing this Icelandic ice-maiden must compete with her in three trials of strength, and win them all; if a suitor failed in any one of them, his head was forfeit. On Hagen’s instigation, Gunther asked Sîvrit to assist him in this daring endeavour. Hagen thought Sîvrit seemed to know all about Prünhilt, but in this version of the tale they have never had that cosy meeting by the fireside, or , rather, surrounded by Odin’s or Wotan’s magic fire.  Sîvrit agrees, on condition that he may marry Kriemhilt, when they return.

A boat was provisioned with good food and fine Rhein wine, and wearing the costly garments the ladies had prepared for them, the four knights (including  Hagen’s brother Dancwart) and not forgetting their horses, went down the river to the sea, and on the twelfth morning they reached Iceland. 

389-481 Gunther wins Prünhilt [Brunhild] with Sîvrit’s aid (the cloak of invisibility)
At the landing-point, Sîvrit kindly holds the bridle of Gunther’s steed, to allow him to mount; and all the ladies saw this. Gunther is captivated by Prünhilt’s beatiful body in her snow-white raiment. Sîvrit acts as Gunther’s manager, and arranges the contest. Prünhilt lays down her terms:
[425] “He must throw the stone, then jump after it,  and compete with me at spear-throwing; and don’t let yourself be too eager; you could lose your honour and your life; think it over carefully. So said this  woman so lovable (daz minneclîche wîp).”

Sîvrit slipped away to fetch his magic-cloak from the ship. He came back invisible, and stood beside Gunther. It turned out that the spear contest was first, and it took three men to carry it. She threw it at her opponent, and the shield, which the two men were both holding, was pierced and Sîvrit was struck on the chest; blood gushed from his mouth (but presumably no eye could see it); he hurled it back at her with the blunt end at the front; she was bowled over; but she leapt  up again.

The good and noble virgin Prünhilt angrily raised the stone, threw it twenty yards and then in one jump finished up on the other side of it. Her heavy armour clanged as she landed. However, Sîvrit’s attempt was superior to hers, and he had to carry Gunther! Now we can be let into the secret: the tarnkappe made its wearer twenty times stronger.

Sîvrit had won the day and prevented Gunther’s death. The Queen capitulated and ordered her people to acknowledge Gunther as their overlord. Gunther greeted her affably, and she gave him her hand. Sîfrit was now visible, and Prünhilt asked him where he had been during the contest. Wily Hagen replied that Sîvrit had been minding the ship.

As the Queen’s kinsfolk and vassals swarmed about her from near and far, the four knights became uneasy and sent for reinforcements.

482-491     8  Sîvrit goes to Nibelungland to fetch his men from Albrich the dwarf
Sîvrit went to Albrich, the guardian of his treasure, and mustered a thousand men. When he returned to Isenstadt, Prünhilt welcomed them, and then prepared to leave her father’s land for ever.

529-578     9  Sîvrit  is sent ahead to Worms with the news of Gunther’s success
In all this Prünhilt could be getting the false impression that Sîvrit is simply Gunther’s lackey and messenger boy. Hang on to this thought.

579-689    10 Prünhilt arrives at Worms for her wedding; Sîvrit subdues her in the bed
And now for the wedding. At Worms they had much jousting (many shafts were broken to delight the ladies), splendid pageantry, jostling, and kissing. There were many rosy lips to be kissed, but it was Prünhilt who was doing it! There is a double wedding. Sîvrit was with his Nibelungs, and in the sight of all the heroes in the hall, Sîvrit took Kriemhilt into his embrace and kissed her. Of course it is the done thing to weep at weddings, but Prünhilt looked at Siivrit and hot tears ran down her cheeks. Why? her loving husband asks. Because she is sorry for his poor sister who is being ruined by her marriage to his vassal; such a waste of beauty and breeding.  Gunther could not convince her that Sîvrit was also a rich and powerful ruler.

And so to bed. The two lords arrived at their respective nuptial chamber, each thinking how he would overcome his lady-love. Sîvrit and Kriemhilt enjoyed supreme pleasure, and were united in eternal love.

However, in the other bedroom, although Gunther was in passionate readiness to make love, his overtures were met not with affection but hostility. She declared that she would remain a virgin until she found out why Kriemhilt had been given to Sîfrid. Gunther impatiently tried to take her by force, but she asserted her superior strength, bound his hands and feet, carried him over to the wall, and hung him up on a nail. He was not taken down till morning. He vowed he would not even touch her nightgown, and he was allowed into the bed, to lie at a safe distance from this terrifying woman.

Here’s a howdy-do! So, next night Sîfrid was sent to Prünhild’s bed, not invisibly but silently, to subdue her. She cast him out violently, and he hit his head on a stool. But he returned to the fray, and found himself lifted bodily and planted between a cupboard and the wall.

[673] Oy veh/Owê/O Woe, if I let my life be taken away by a woman, wives will for evermore think they have the right to flout their husband’s authority, he thought.

Gradually Sîvrit gained the upper hand, and she pleaded for mercy, vowing never again to reject his loving advances. Sîvrit simply got up, leaving her still a virgin, and making way for Gunther. But for some reason best known to himself, he took a golden ring from her finger, and her girdle. Eventually he gave them to his wife, and had cause to regret this action. Elsewhere, Gunther was taking possession of his wife’s fair body: she surrendered sweetly all through the night, and lost her super-feminine strength. Her Amazonian adventures were over. Next morning the four newly-weds were in good spirits, and they feasted for fourteen days.

690-723    11  Sîvrit takes Kriemhilt home to Santen; Sigelint dies; Prünhilt’s son Sîvrit born

Sîvrit took Kriemhilt home to his city Santen, and he ruled over the Nibelungs. In the tenth year they had a son, who was quickly baptized and named Gunther. In Worms, Prünhilt gave birth to a son who was given the name Sîvrit. About this time, Lady Sigelint died.

724-777    12  Gunther, Prünhilt, and Queen Uote invite Sîvrit to a feast at Worms

Prünhilt is still brooding over her mistaken belief that Sîvrit was their vassal and should be coming to pay tribute. A feast is arranged by the Burgundians and their long-unseen relatives down the Rhein are invited to visit Worms.

778-813    13  Sîvrit and Kriemhilt leave their son Gunther and go with Sigemunt to Worms

When his parents go to Burgundy, young Gunther will never see them again.

814-876    14  Prünhilt and Kriemhilt squabble about superiority, and K tells P the truth

The two queens are watching a tournament, and each is admiring her own husband. Prünhild comes out with her idea that Sîvrit is Gunther’s vassal and therefore he is her property, as her liegeman. But Kriemhilt insists that her husband is superior to her brother Gunther. (We are often told that woman are non-hierarchical. Surely this storyteller has got it all wrong?)

The test comes when they arrive at the cathedral for vespers. Kriemhilt and her retinue go in first, after telling Prünhilt she is merely a paramour. Later she proves her case by exhibiting the ring (Exhibit A) that Sîvrit had taken from Prünhilt when he overcame her on the second wedding night; and to clinch it, she shows the girdle she is wearing (Exhibit B).

The men are brought into the squabble, and Sîvrit takes an oath of innocence. Gunther accepts it before his brother-in-law can go into the details.

(Remember that there has been no potion of forgetfulness, no amnesia drug, in this story (unlike Wagner's opera); Sîvrit has not forgotten his encounters with Prünhilt.)

Sîvrit does, however,  affirm that women should be trained to keep their tongues under control. (He went home and thrashed his wife soundly, and she accepted it submissively.)

Hagen approaches the distraught Prünhild and swears that he will obtain revenge for her.

877-915    15  Gunther & Hagen plot against Sîvrit; Kriemhilt naively reveals his weak spot

Hagen persuades a reluctant Gunther to join the plot against Sîvrit, but Gunther does not play an active role in the drama. Hagen goes to Kriemhilt, and from her he wheedles the information about Sîvrit’s vulnerable spot, on the pretext that he needs it to protect the hero from his enemies. She tells him that a leaf fell on Sîvrit’s back as the dragon’s blood was poured over him, and that spot remained vulnerable.  She later sewed a cross of silk onto his garments (as we say: X marks the spot).

916-1001 16  Sîvrit is treacherously speared in the back by Hagen, while out hunting

Gunther and Hagen are taking Sîvrit out on a hunt to spear boars, bears, and bisons. It is now Kriemhilt’s turn to sink into despair, and after having a terrible dream (in which two mountains fell on him), she begs him not to go; but he kisses her sweetly on the mouth, and leaves. As usual, the poet likes to let us know that they will never see each other again.

We cut the long story short. As Sîvrit drinks at a brook, Hagen spears him through, and the point is poking out on his chest. The hero attacks Hagen with his shield but fails to kill him. After calling them faithless cowards for their vile treachery, and continuing in this vein at some length, he falls dead among the flowers.

 1002-1072 17  Sîvrit’s body is to be buried; it bleeds when Hagen is near; Kriemhilt knows

Sîvrit’s body was carried back on a shield (Wagner’s wonderful funeral music for Siegfried should be heard here); it was deposited outside Kriemhilt’s chamber, for her to find next morning when she went to matins. (They were all good Christians.)  More than a hundred Masses were sung before they buried him in his coffin. No pagan funeral pyre, notice. Prünhilt does not feel any urge to follow Sîvrit in death. she sits on her throne and is content.

1073-1100 18  Sigemunt goes home to Santen, reluctantly leaving Kriemhilt  in Worms

1101-1142 19  Gernot & Giselher fetch the Nibelung hoard (K’s bride-dowry) from Albrich

The Nibelung treasure, which was Kriemhilt’s bride-dowry, is brought to Burgundy and is sunk  in the Rhein by Hagen.

1143-1289 20  Etzel [Attila the Hun] sends an envoy to Kriemhilt; she agrees to marry him

1290-1335  21  Kriemhilt passes through Bavaria to the realm of the Huns

The Bishop of Passau is mentioned here, and there is speculation that he is the author, or else someone in his service.

1336-1386  22  Kriemhilt and the heathen King Etzel are married in Wien [Vienna]

1387-1421  23  Kriemhilt has a son named Ortlieb after 7 years; she invites her brothers to come

1422-1505  24  Wärbel and Schwämmel deliver the invitation; Hagen is suspicious

1506-1585  25  Gunther, Hagen, and the Burgundians (now called Nibelungs) set out

1586-1649  26  Hagen reports the prediction of doom on the Nibelungs made by two nixies

1650-1717  27 Kriemhilt awaits their arrival expectantly; the Nibelungs dally in Bechelaren

1718-1757 28 Dietrich & Hildebrant, then Kriemhilt, greet the Burgundians/ Nibelungs

1758-1817  29  Kriemhilt confronts the insolent Hagen; Etzel regales his wife’s family

1818-1848  30  Hagen and Volker the warrior-fiddler  stand guard against Kriemhilt’s men

1849-1920  31  Hagen and the Nibelungs go to morning mass in the minster, then joust

1921-1950  32  Bloedelin leads a troop against Kriemhilt’s family; Dancwart beheads him

1951-2008  33  Dancwart’s brother Hagen intervenes, beheads Prince Ortlieb, and rampages

2009-2027  34  Giselher and the Burgundians throw 7,000 bodies out; Hagen taunts Etzel

2028-2080  35  Iring opposes Hagen, Volker, Gunther, Giselher; he is slain with 1,004 men

2081-2134  36  Kriemhilt sets fire to the hall; they drink blood to keep cool; 600 survive

2135-2234  37  Rüdeger, who guided them to the Huns’ land, kills Gernot and is killed by him

2235-2323  38  Etzel bellows in grief and rage; Dietrich enters the fray, but all his men fall

2324-2379  39  Dietrich overcomes Hagen & Gunther; Kriemhilt beheads them both;
for this offence old Hildebrant fells Kriemhilt; Etzel and Dietrich survive;  nobody knows where in the Rhein the Nibelung treasure now is!

What about Brünhild?!

    hie hat daz maere ein ende: daz ist der Nibelunge nôt  (line 2379)
    here the story has its ending: that is the Nibelungs’ fate (“need, distress”)

    Why do the Burgundians suddenly become Nibelungs (see 25)? Did the poet use different sources for the various parts, in which the name ‘Nibelung’ was applied to different peoples?

My guess is that whoever had the gold was therefore a Nibelung. Siegfried became a Nibelung when he took the treasure from the Nibelung princes by means of the Nibelung sword Balmung, which they had given to him. After Siegfried’s death the Nibelung hoard passed to the Burgundian royal family, and Hagen took the sword Balmung.

    Apparently the gold (and the sword?) carried a curse.

    Any historical basis for all this?

The Dietrich we have just seen has the same name as a king of the Ostrogoths who died in 526: Theodoric (Thidrik, Dietrich, Dirck).

The Burgundians were a Gothic nation, and the Huns defeated them in 436 or 437. They lost their king Gundahari (Gundicarius), and this is surely the epic’s Gunther and the saga’s Gunnar. Another Burgundian of a later period (around 500) was named Gislhari, very reminiscent of Gunther’s brother Giselher.

There was a Visigoth Queen Brunihildis in the 6th century (Gregory of Tours), who donned armour and fought like a man. Her first husband was Sigibert of Metz. Was he the original Siegfried?

Be that as it may, once again the heroic dragon-slayer (Sigurd, Sîvrit, Siegfried) has been memorialized, or even immortalized, in Eurpopean epic and saga.