The Nibelungenlied

by

Anonymous

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The Nibelungenlied: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Before the men leave for the hunt, Siegfried finds Kriemhild distraught. Last night, she dreamed that two boars chased Siegfried over the heath, and that the flowers were dyed with blood. She dreads disaster befalling Siegfried and urges him not to go. Guilelessly, he replies that none of Kriemhild’s kinsmen bear him any ill will. Kriemhild disagrees, telling him of another dream in which two mountains fell on him. But Siegfried merely kisses her goodbye and leaves.
Kriemhild’s prescient dreams occur once again, suggesting that Siegfried’s death was somehow fated—or perhaps that Kriemhild’s guilty conscience is at work. Siegfried evidently doesn’t suspect that anything is amiss between him and the men of Burgundy.
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The hunting party rides deep into the forest and sets up camp. Siegfried heads into the woods, guided by a huntsman and hound, and kills many beasts, including a lion, a bison, a buck, and a boar. As the hunters return to the camp, they startle a savage bear. Siegfried declares that he will give his friends some entertainment. He pursues the bear on foot, ties it to his horse’s saddle, and brings it back to the campfire. When he turns it loose, the bear runs into the camp’s kitchen, terrifying all present. Finally, Siegfried chases down the bear and kills it with his sword.
This scene provides a moment of comic relief before the tragedy the poet has been hinting at from the beginning of the book. Siegfried is an impossibly skilled—and lucky—hunter, apparently dispatching a great number of woodland creatures with minimal effort. The audience gets to laugh at the rather fantastic details while also admiring Siegfried’s larger-than-life prowess for a final time.
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Related Quotes
As the hunters settle down for a feast, the butlers are slow to appear with the wine. Hagen explains that the butlers were misdirected to a different hunting ground. Thirsty, Siegfried soon goes in search of a brook for a drink of water. At this point, the knights put their plot into action. Hagen goads Siegfried into challenging him to a race to the spring, so the men strip off their hunting clothes and begin to run. Siegfried reaches the brook first and courteously waits for Gunther to drink first.
By misdirecting the butlers and contriving a situation whereby Siegfried will shed his hunting garb, Hagen has gone to considerable lengths to set up a scenario for slaying Siegfried. This shows how difficult it is to get Siegfried in a vulnerable position, and also how cold-blooded Hagen is in his sheer determination to see it through.
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Siegfried, it turns out, “paid for his good manners.” As he bends to drink, Hagen hurls Siegfried’s own spear at the mark on his tunic, so that it fixes in his heart. Then Hagen flees in fear. In rage, the wounded Siegfried searches for his bow or sword, but finds that Hagen has placed them out of reach. He seizes his shield instead and smashes it into Hagen so forcefully that the riverside echoes, and Hagen reels. Then his strength ebbs away, and Siegfried falls among the flowers.
The poet uses the very issue that sparked the queens’ fight—Siegfried’s status relative to Gunther—to set up his death. Ironically, Siegfried does defer to Gunther here, and Siegfried’s courtesy is turned against him, as the two men can then act behind his back as he drinks. And the once-wild Siegfried, in his embodiment of courtly behavior, is now struck down in what could well be described as a barbarous act.
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As he dies, Siegfried rebukes his betrayers: “What good has my service done me now that you have slain me? I was always loyal to you, but now I have paid for it. Alas, you have wronged your kinsmen so that all who are born in days to come will be dishonored by your deed.”
With his dying words, Siegfried appeals to the importance of mutual obligation in feudal ties—a sacred bond that his betrayers have blatantly shattered. His loyal service has been repaid with murder over a questionable matter of honor.
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As the men watch him die, Gunther laments, but Hagen reprimands him. They will now be virtually unopposed, he says, and he is glad they’ve put an end to Siegfried’s supremacy. With his last words, Siegfried asks Gunther to stand by Kriemhild loyally. Then he dies, the flowers around him drenched with blood.
Gunther grieves what they’ve done, but Hagen’s malevolence is made plain—he has wanted to be rid of Siegfried for a long time, and this desire goes beyond merely defending Brunhild’s offended honor. Kriemhild’s dream of the blood-drenched flowers has come true.
Themes
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When they see that Siegfried is dead, the men place his body on a shield and discuss how to conceal Hagen’s deed. They decide that they must spread the story that Siegfried was killed by robbers while hunting alone in the forest. Hagen, however, doesn’t care if Kriemhild learns what he has done. “It will trouble me very little,” he claims, “however much she weeps.”
Though concealment and trickery have marked earlier misdeeds , Hagen now feels free to broadcast what he’s done. Evidently, he doesn’t believe that Kriemhild, or anyone else, poses much of a threat to him.
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