Original Analysis

The Nibelungenlied is a useful work in giving modern readers a glimpse of medieval Europe. Not only is the history of Europe a very likely source for events of the story, but the Christian values of the 13th century are also heavily displayed throughout.

Historical Significance

    Gardner states that Siegfried and Brunhild were most probably based on king Sigbert II of Rhenish Franconia (Austrasia) and princess Brunhild of Visigothic Ispania. The names and events in the story are very similar to the events in 6th century France. A civil war broke out in the German-speaking lands in 1198, and the courtly Christian ideas are portrayed in the character of Kriemhild, while hierarchical feudalistic ideas can be seen in the character of Brunhild (Gardner, 532-533). 
 

Religious Significance

    Kratz claims that the Nibelungenlied was written down in the 13th century by an Austrian poet. It shares similar storylines with the Volsunga Saga and the Thidrekssaga. One such story is that of Gunther and Brunhild’s wedding night, where Siegfried subdues Brunhild’s. In the Thidrekssaga, Siegfried takes Brunhild’s virginity, while in the Nibelungenlied, this is only implied by the motif of a naked sword. Kratz claims that this gross sexual misconduct was left out of the Nibelungenlied because it would have opposed the code of chivalry at the time. 
    Another event which occurs in all three epics is the argument between Brunhild and Kriemhild. The events differ in location in the different epics, by a stream in the Volsunga Saga and in front of a church in the Nibelungenlied. Kratz claims that the original version is told in the Volsunga Saga, and that the version in the Nibelungenlied was changed to add Christian themes to the story.

Willson also agrees that the Nibelungenlied was composed in the early 13th century, adapted with religious symbolism to entertain the Austrian court (Willson, 40). Willson likens Siegfried’s death to the martyristic death of Christ – that an innocent man, attached to a cross, is pierced by a spear and bleeds to death from his heart (Willson, 40-41). Willson also shows the parallelism of the burial of Siegfried and Christ – that he is laid to rest in a coffin and resurrected after three days. Kriemhild and the followers of Christ all shed tears of blood when bidding farewell to Siegfried and Christ, respectively (Willson ,42). The symbolism of the holy sacrament, the drinking of Christ’s blood, is portrayed in the Nibelungenlied by the Burgundians drinking blood when they are under siege from Kriemhild’s forces, receiving superpowers to survive the flames, (Willson, 42-43). Unlike other stories from the 13th century, the Nibelungenlied has a heavy emphasis on death and suffering. Willson argues that the gruesome violence and death in the tale is an attempt to evoke the same compassio, or participation, seen at the Crucifixion. Willson also claims that the author highlights the suffering of Siegfried, Kriemhild, Hagen, and the Burgundians to his audience at a time when suffering was commonly seen as a means of purification and redemption ( Willson, 45).

Modern Significance

Balmung the magic Nibelungen sword of Siegfried The Nibelungenlied is also relevant in modern times because of its parallels with the perception of a hero. Classen explains how the actions of Siegfried can be understood in a different way so that his heroism is diminished and ambivalence develops in his character. The most prominent modern parallel is that of the suicide bombers in Palestine in 2001 and 2002: while many groups in the Arab world would consider their actions heroic and brave, most Israelis and many people in the West consider them to be terrorists. Examples in the Nibelungenlied which portray Siegfried as a lesser hero alert us to not blindly accept that someone is a hero. Rather, one should question whether the end justifies the means and analyze the person’s responsibilities and faults. In this way, we become more sensitive to an individual’s being made a hero to hide his destructive actions and their consequences for human life.  

"Balmung the Magic Nibelung Sword of Siegfried" 

Valiance overshadows Violence

The story of how Siegfried obtained the sword Balmunc and the Nibelung treasure is an example of how a violent act is shown to be heroic. In the traditional understanding, where Siegfried is undoubtedly a hero, the story shows his great physical power and ability in this impressive feat. Another view of this tale is that Siegfried unnecessarily killed Nibelunc, Schilunc and seven hundred of their men, to usurp the treasure and sword. Classen says that Siegfried is a violent warrior who grabs what he can by his physical power, with no regard for justice or fairness (Classen, 301). If the reader perceives this tale as a show of Siegfried’s physical prowess, it is easy to ignore the blatant murders within this tale. In the same way, modern audiences can be blinded to the obvious disregard for human life by the portrayal of valiant actions.  

Immoral actions diminish Heroism

Another way that valiant actions can overshadow immorality is shown in Siegfried’s behavior toward Brunhild. Siegfried cheated Brunhild in her competition, lied about his social standing, and forced Brunhild to submit to Gunther (Classen, 303). All these immoral actions are overlooked as Siegfried’s valiance is shown in his determination to help Gunther woo Brunhild. A modern hero is expected to stand above his contemporaries in moral strength, as shown by the scandals which arise when a political leader is found to be having an affair. Modern society is influenced by this need for a morally upright hero.

Apart from the themes within the Nibelungenlied, the story itself is of modern relevance to the towns of Worms and Xanten in Germany, where monuments of Siegfried and Hagen link the towns to their history. There have been many plays, films, games, comics and even animations which depict the story or its characters. The importance of this story has not diminished over the years and still remains relevant in modern times.
"Siegfried Statue,  Schlosspark Worms-Hernsheim"
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