literary work

The Nibelungenlied (or Song of the Nibelungs) is an anonymous epic poem written around 1190 or 1200 in Middle High German. Richard Wagner's cycle of music-dramas Der Ring des Nibelungen was loosely based on it.

English quotations are taken from the translation by A. T. Hatto (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), to which page-numbers also refer.

  • Vns ist in alten maeren      wunders vil geseit
    von heleden lobebaeren      von grozer arebeit
    von vroevden hohgeciten      von weinen und von klagen
    von chvener recken striten      muget ir nu wunder hoeren sagen.
    • We have been told in ancient tales many marvels of famous heroes, of mighty toil, joys, and high festivities, of weeping and wailing, and the fighting of bold warriors – of such things you can now hear wonders unending!
    • Stanza 1, p. 17.
  • In disen hohen eren      trovmte chriemhilde
    wie si zvge einen valchen      starch scoen vnt wilde
    den ir zwene aren erchrvmmen      daz si daz mvoste sehn
    ir en chvnde in dirre werlde      leider nimmer geschehn.
    • Living in such magnificence, Kriemhild dreamed she reared a falcon, strong, handsome and wild, but that two eagles rent it while she perforce looked on, the most grievous thing that could ever befall her.
    • Stanza 13, p. 18.
  • Des todes waffen      ie ce sere sneit.
    • Death's sword ever was too sharp.
    • Stanza 998, p. 132.


  • Der Nibelungen Lied könnte die deutsche Ilias werden.
    • The Nibelungenlied could become the German Iliad.
    • Johannes von Müller, in a 1783 review of Christian Heinrich Myller's edition of the Nibelungenlied, cited from Edgar Bonjour (ed.) Schriften in Auswahl (Basle: Benno Schwabe, 1952) p. 135; translation by Gerd-H. Zuchold, from Leslie J. Workman (ed.) Medievalism in Europe (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1994) p. 23.
  • Hochgelahrter, lieber getreuer. Ihr urtheilt, viel zu vortheilhaft, von denen Gedichten, aus dem 12., 13., 14. Seculo, deren Druck ihr befördert habet, und zur Bereicherung der Teutschen Sprache, so brauchbar haltet. Meiner Einsicht nach, sind solche, nicht einen Schuß Pulver werth; und verdienten nicht, aus dem Staube der Vergessenheit, gezogen zu werden. In meiner Bücher-Sammlung wenigstens, würde Ich, dergleichen elendes Zeug, nicht dulten; sondern herausschmeißen. Das Mir davon eingesandte Exemplar mag dahero sein Schicksal, in der dortigen großen Bibliothec, abwarten. Viele Nachfrage verspricht aber solchem nicht; Euer sonst gnädiger König Frch. Potsdam, d. 22. Februar 1784.
    • Dear faithful scholar, You judge far too favorably of these poems out of the 12th, 13th, 14th century, whose publication you have advanced and deem so necessary to the enrichment of the German language. In my view, such things are not worth a shot of powder; and do not deserve to be dragged out of the dust of oblivion. In my book-collection at least, I would not endure such wretched stuff; rather I'd toss it out. The example you have sent to me of it therefore awaits its destiny in the big library there. Many inquiries hold out no promise for such a thing. Your formerly gracious king, Frederick. Potsdam, 22. February 1784.
    • Frederick the Great, in a letter acknowledging the dedication to him of Myller's edition of the Nibelungenlied, cited from August Lüben and Carl Nacke (eds.) Einführung in die deutsche Literatur: vermittelt durch Erläuterungen von Musterstücken aus den Werken der vorzüglichsten Schriftsteller. (Leipzig: Friedrich Brandstetter, 1865) vol. 1, pp. 74-75.
  • Was aber Lebendigkeit und Gegenwart der Darstellung, dann die Größe der Leidenschaften [und] Charaktere…darf sich das Lied der Nibelungen kühnlich mit der Ilias messen.
    • In liveliness and immediacy of portrayal and the greatness of passion and characters the Song of the Nibelungen is comparable to the Iliad.
    • August Wilhem Schlegel, in an 1803 lecture, cited from Edgar Lohner (ed.) Kritische Schriften und Briefe (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1962) vol. 4, p. 110; translation by Gerd-H. Zuchold, from Leslie J. Workman (ed.) Medievalism in Europe (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1994) p. 23.
  • The Nibelungen Song, though based on the bottomless foundations of Spirit, and not unvisited of skyey messengers, is a real, rounded, habitable Earth, where we find firm footing, and the wondrous and the common live amicably together. Perhaps it would be difficult to find any Poet of ancient or modern times, who in this trying problem has steered his way with greater delicacy and success.
    • Thomas Carlyle "The Nibelungen Lied" (1831), in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (London: Chapman & Hall, 1857) vol. 2, p. 236.
  • The unknown author of this poem shows a bold hand in drawing characters, a deep and passionate feeling, a sense of just proportion, and a plastic power in moulding the rude materials of the old German language into metrical forms of considerable beauty and melody. The gigantic figures of the chivalrous heroic age are set before us in all their majestic proportions; their passions are delineated with a tremendous strength of expression; and their superhuman deeds are told with a confidence equal to that of Homer, when he chants the resistless prowess of the godlike Achilles.

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