The Nibelungenlied

by

Anonymous

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The Nibelungenlied: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Etzel and Kriemhild live together peacefully for seven years, at which time Kriemhild gives birth to a son, Ortlieb, and insists on having him baptized. Kriemhild continues to be “renowned among natives and foreigners alike,” a reputation she maintains in Hungary until her 13th year there.
The religiously and culturally mixed marriage produces a son, whom Kriemhild insists on raising as a Christian, with no apparent opposition from Etzel. Kriemhild remains beloved by subjects from all backgrounds for many years.
Themes
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
All this time, however, Kriemhild has been brooding over the wrongs that had been done to her in Burgundy. She muses that if she could get Hagen to Hungary in some way, she could exact revenge on him. She also dreams of walking with her brother Giselher and kissing him.
Despite outward appearances, Kriemhild hasn’t actually changed; she hasn’t let go of past wounds. As Hagen has predicted, she is resolved on harming him in some way. Her dream of once again seeing her favorite brother comes true, although the affection shown in the dream doesn’t.
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
“If you ask me,” remarks the poet, “it was the foul fiend who prompted Kriemhild to break with Gunther.” Kriemhild is oppressed by the memory of how, through no fault of her own, she was brought to the point of having to marry a heathen—something for which she blames Hagen and Gunther. Aware of how much wealth and power she now possesses, she “tenaciously […] nurse[s]” the intention to do Hagen harm.
The poet backs off from fully blaming Kriemhild for what’s to come, though it’s unclear whether he is being tongue-in-cheek or genuinely trying to salvage her reputation for an audience disposed to see her as a courtly heroine. The full extent of Kriemhild’s duplicity is also made clear—far from being the generous wife she appears to be, she’s still resentful of this marriage, more than a decade later, and goes out of her way to continuously stoke a mindset bent on vengeance.
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
Kriemhild knows that no one in Hungary would dare thwart her plans, so she decides she will prompt Etzel to invite her relatives to visit. So, one night, as the King lovingly caresses her, she thinks of her enemies. She tells Etzel that people in Hungary think her a friendless foreigner, and she regrets that her kinsmen are never seen here. Etzel immediately offers to invite them.
Kriemhild, in a striking parallel to Brunhild’s prompting of Gunther much earlier in the story, prompts Etzel to put her revenge plans in motion at long last. Her single-mindedness after so many years is striking, as is the fact that she’s fixated on the subject even while her husband is showing her genuine affection. Also, despite having cultivated a positive image and reigning as queen for 13 years, Kriemhild still thinks the people perceive her as a foreigner; or at least that’s what she claims.
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
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Etzel immediately summons his two minstrels, Swemmel and Werbel, and explains that he is sending them to the Rhine as envoys to invite Kriemhild’s kinsmen to a midsummer festival. He outfits them with new clothes and a company of warriors. Later, in secret, Kriemhild meets with the minstrels again and promises them further riches in exchange for delivering a more detailed message. She tells them they must never let her kinsmen know that they have seen her sorrowing. And if Hagen wishes to stay at home, they must ask how the retinue will find their way to Hungary, since he has known the roads all his life. The messengers don’t understand why the Queen is so insistent on Hagen’s coming, but they duly set out for the Rhine.
Kriemhild takes further initiative in her scheming, going behind Etzel’s back to ensure that her kinsmen won’t suspect ulterior motives on her part, and that Hagen can’t weasel out of making the journey.
Themes
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon