The Nibelungenlied

by

Anonymous

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

The Nibelungenlied: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The warriors wait for nightfall before crossing over the Rhine with Siegfried’s body. Then, Hagen commits a deed of “overweening pride and grisly vengeance.” He orders that the corpse be placed on the threshold of Kriemhild’s apartment so that she will discover it at dawn.
Hagen’s cruelty is clearly on display—he not only doesn’t care to conceal the murder, but ensures that Kriemhild won’t be spared the full horror of what’s befallen her husband.
Themes
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
When the church bells ring the next morning, Kriemhild wakes and begins dressing for the early service. Her chamberlain discovers the bloody corpse on the threshold but doesn’t realize it is Siegfried. He warns Kriemhild to stay where she is. Suspecting the truth, Kriemhild bursts into lament, and her thoughts go immediately to her conversation with Hagen before the hunt. She swoons in her grief, having already become “the sworn enemy of her own happiness.”
The poet takes care to paint Kriemhild as particularly pious, sharply contrasting her with the barbarism of her betrayers (and perhaps also with the later Kriemhild, who is not a sympathetic victim). In keeping with her prophetic dreams, Kriemhild intuits what has happened before she sees it. Describing her as “the sworn enemy of her own happiness,” the poet predicts that Kriemhild will end up undermining herself in her own grief.
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
Related Quotes
When her attendants suggest that the dead man might be a stranger, Kriemhild replies, in anguish, that it is Siegfried. She adds, “It is Brunhild who urged it, Hagen did the deed!” When she sees her husband’s body, she notices that his shield is unhacked by any sword, suggesting he has been murdered. If she could prove who had done it, she says, she would ceaselessly plot his death.
Though Kriemhild is already convinced that Hagen is to blame, she knows she must obtain proof before pursuing vengeance against him. Siegfried’s intact shield suggests that he was attacked in cold blood, with no chance of defending himself.
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
When Siegmund is awakened with news of his son’s death, he and his men are so shocked that some begin running toward the wailing women even before getting dressed. He soon cradles Siegfried’s body, and the combined mourning of women and vassals causes the city to echo with weeping. Siegfried’s Nibelung vassals stand ready to avenge their lord, but don’t know where to turn. Kriemhild warns them that sudden action would be suicidal. She persuades them to grieve with her for the time being.
The men of Siegfried’s realm have lost their king, so the mourning is tremendous. Yet even now, Kriemhild has her wits about her and discourages hasty action.
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Get the entire The Nibelungenlied LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Nibelungenlied PDF
The next morning, Siegfried’s body is carried to the cathedral. There Kriemhild meets Gunther and Hagen. Gunther expresses his sorrow, but Kriemhild says that if he truly regretted this death, it would never have happened. Both men try to take oaths of innocence, but Kriemhild cuts them short, demanding that guilt or innocence be proven another way—they should stand next to the corpse, and if the murderer is among them, the corpse’s wounds will bleed anew. When Hagen stands next to the bier, this is exactly what happens. Gunther continues to insist that robbers did the deed, but Kriemhild retorts that those “robbers” are well known to her. She publicly accuses the two of murder.
Kriemhild gets the proof she desires, according to the supernatural evidence of the bleeding corpse. Gunther denies his involvement, but Hagen doesn’t resist. Kriemhild doesn’t shrink from calling the situation exactly as she sees it.
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
After mass, many people bring monetary offerings for Siegfried’s soul. So much is brought that a hundred masses are sung in a day. The townsfolk go home, but Kriemhild asks all the priests and monks and all Siegfried’s followers to keep vigil with her over his body for three days and nights. In the meantime, even the poor are told to draw money from Siegfried’s treasury in order to make offerings for his soul, and Kriemhild distributes revenues to hospitals, convents, and to the poor.
Kriemhild’s piety is on further display, even to the extent of providing money so that the poor can participate fully in honoring Siegfried’s memory. Her distribution of wealth is a public sign both of her love for Siegfried and of her ability to serve as a patroness.
Themes
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
On the third morning, the funeral mass is held, and as they accompany the body to the grave, Kriemhild is repeatedly overcome with emotion. She begs Siegfried’s men to break open his sarcophagus so that she can gaze on him a final time. She weeps tears of blood in her sorrow and finally has to be carried away from the grave, nearly dying from grief.
Kriemhild’s overwhelming sorrow at the funeral foreshadows the devastating effect that her grief will have throughout the rest of her life—her inability to let go of her loss will become a burden to all who surround her.
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon