The Nibelungenlied

by

Anonymous

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Nibelungenlied can help.

The Nibelungenlied: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The poet recalls “ancient tales […] of famous heroes,” “weeping and wailing, and the fighting of bold warriors,” promising that the reader will now hear of more such “wonders.”
From the poem’s first words, the poet situates The Nibelungenlied within the tradition of heroic epic poetry, shaping expectations for what is to come—namely, plenty of tragedy, bloodshed, and drama.
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The poet introduces Kriemhild, a maiden of Burgundy. Kriemhild has grown up to be a beautiful woman, “causing many knights to lose their lives.” She is so charming, noble, and lovely, that it’s as if she was “made for love’s caresses,” and no man is her enemy.
There is an immediate contrast between the traditional expectations for a desirable princess and the danger Kriemhild will later come to represent. There is an especially pointed emphasis on the fact that she’s without enemies—later, it’s implied, she will have enemies aplenty.
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Kriemhild is a princess, the sister and ward of the renowned kings Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher, and daughter of Dancrat and Uote. The family rules from Worms beside the Rhine, and they are served by many proud knights “till their dying day, when the enmity of two noble ladies was to bring them to a sad end.” Some of these knights include famed warriors such as Hagen, Dancwart, Ortwin, and Volker.
The poet introduces Kriemhild’s family, their prominence, and the fierce loyalty of their vassals. It will take something drastic to end the lives of such proud knights, and the existence of a second complicit lady is hinted at, though her identity is not yet revealed.
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Kriemhild dreams that she raised a wild falcon, which was torn apart by two eagles while she watched. When she recounts the dream to her mother, Uote replies that the falcon represents a noble man who will be taken from her. Kriemhild retorts that she will remain “free of a warrior’s love all [her] life.” Uote warns her not to forswear love, since only a man’s love can bring true happiness.
The sport of falconry was pursued by noble ladies in the Middle Ages, and it sometimes had romantic overtones in medieval literature. The idea that Kriemhild would have a pet falcon, whose wildness she would tame, is a perfect example of this, prefiguring her “conquest” of Siegfried—and his eventual destruction by fiercer “species.”
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire The Nibelungenlied LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Nibelungenlied PDF
Kriemhild explains that she has heard many examples of women who paid for happiness with sorrow in the end, but that she intends to avoid both happiness and sorrow. She contentedly avoids romance for a while. But, the poet explains, the time will come when she will be wed to her “falcon,” that he will be slain, and that Kriemhild will take terrible vengeance on his slayers.
Kriemhild shows she is familiar with the tropes of the literary tradition, and the poet suggests that she will try to avoid the snares of the genre. He is quick, however, to forecast that she won’t avoid the pitfalls of courtly romance; in fact, she will reveal herself to be far from the idealized medieval princess by the end.
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon