The Nibelungenlied

by

Anonymous

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The Nibelungenlied: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day, Siegfried hears about Kriemhild’s rare beauty and spirited disposition. (Her reputation has spread beyond Burgundy, though she never admits to herself that she is interested in any lover.) Siegfried announces his intention of wooing Kriemhild. When Siegfried’s parents hear of it, they are grieved, Sieglind “having no illusions about Gunther and his men” and fearing for her son’s life.
Siegfried has never met Kriemhild, but his determination to woo her from afar is in keeping with medieval codes of courtly love, which emphasized pursuit of a distant, even unattainable love. In this case, however, Siegfried’s mother, like other women throughout the story, has a premonition of danger.
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Siegmund finally agrees to help his son in this endeavor, but warns Siegfried to be wary of Gunther’s many proud vassals, especially Hagen. Siegfried isn’t troubled; whatever he can’t get by friendly requests, he says, he will gain by his own valor, even if it means wresting the Burgundians’ lands and people from them. He outfits a band of 12 stalwart companions to accompany him to Burgundy. As Siegfried and his warriors set out, many young women weep. “I imagine their hearts had truly foretold them,” the poet remarks, that the journey would result in death.
Hagen’s significance in Siegfried’s future is first hinted at here, in a dark warning from Siegmund. The recurrent, implicitly prophetic weeping of women appears for the first time as well. However, Siegfried is undeterred and unruffled, and imagines himself capable of seizing whatever he desires through honorable combat—setting him up as a somewhat naïve character.
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After a week’s travel, the company arrives in Worms. As squires greet them, Siegfried asks that their horses be kept ready, since it’s his intention to ride away quickly, and he asks where he might find Gunther. Meanwhile, Gunther and his men receive word of the dazzling knights who have just arrived, and Gunther summons Hagen, since Hagen “knows all the kingdoms and foreign countries” and can identify the newcomers.
Whether it’s a pretense or not, Siegfried wants to give the impression that his business in Burgundy won’t detain him for long. Meanwhile, Siegfried’s outsider status is emphasized, as the worldly-wise Hagen is asked to identify these strangers.
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Though Hagen has never seen him before, he guesses that the unfamiliar knight is Siegfried, slayer of the Nibelungs. He proceeds to tell Gunther and his men a notable episode from Siegfried’s history. Siegfried had once come upon the Nibelung princes, Schilbung and Nibelung, and their men gathered around a massive treasure of precious stones and gold, which they begged Siegfried to divide for them. They gave Siegfried the sword Balmung in payment, but Siegfried proceeded to slay them and 700 men of Nibelungenland with the sword, causing other warriors to yield the land and its castles to him. The dwarf Alberich tried to stop him, but he was no match for Siegfried’s strength, and Siegfried won an invisibility cloak from him. Thus Siegfried became lord of all the Nibelung treasure. He had the treasure returned to the cave and appointed Alberich its treasurer.
Hagen’s knowledge of foreign exploits is used to further contextualize Siegfried’s character, portraying him as not just any knight, but as a fierce warrior of unparalleled strength. The sheer number of men he’s slain, in fact, makes Siegfried seem a superhuman, untamable figure. The Nibelung treasure described here, far from being just an interesting anecdote, becomes a major point of contention later in the story—and Hagen’s fixation on this particular topic may not be accidental.
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Hagen further relates that Siegfried once slew a dragon and bathed in its blood, which caused his skin to become impenetrable by weapons. Hagen encourages Gunther to receive Siegfried with special honor, since he is so valiant that “it is best to have his friendship.”
Siegfried’s wildness is further emphasized, and his near invincibility is established as a significant plot point. Because he is such a mighty figure, it’s worthwhile to make sure one is on his good side—hence the importance of receiving him with due ceremony.
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Gunther and his warriors welcome Siegfried and ask him what business brings him to Burgundy. Siegfried explains that he has heard of the Burgundians’ valor, and, since he, too, is a warrior and entitled to wear a crown, he wishes to possess a land and people in his own right. “I will wrest from you by force all that you possess!” he tells them.
In this passage, Siegfried enacts his conception of knightly valor and honor—possessing a land he has acquired by his own might.
Themes
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Gunther and his men are angry, but Siegfried persists in his demands. Each country should stake its patrimony against that of the other, he asserts, and the victorious side will be master of both. Gunther and his men take counsel over the matter, displeased at Siegfried’s provocations. While some, like Ortwin, call for battle, Gernot urges that the matter be settled courteously. He points out that the Burgundians would gain little honor and Siegfried little profit from such a conflict. Siegfried taunts them for their hesitation, but is nevertheless mollified by thoughts of Kriemhild.
The Burgundians, Ortwin aside, are not on board with Siegfried’s idea of honor and wish to resolve this matter in a more civilized way. Siegfried’s preoccupation with Kriemhild casts some doubt as to whether he is really as bent on warfare as his boasts suggest.
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At this point, the Burgundian kings formally welcome Siegfried, promising him that they will share everything in common with him, as long as he accepts it honorably. Siegfried is appeased and settles in the Burgundian court for the time being, “a most welcome guest” among them.
Now that Siegfried agrees to accept the Burgundians’ “honorable” terms, he goes from being a suspicious outsider to an accepted, even desirable, guest.
Themes
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Whenever the knights pass their time in courtly pursuits, they are always glad to include Siegfried, “for he aspired to a noble love.” Meanwhile, Siegfried quietly treasures Kriemhild in his heart, although he has never actually seen her. Kriemhild returns his feelings, often watching him from her window when the knights conduct sports in the courtyard. Siegfried spends a year attending to kingdom matters in Burgundy without setting eyes on the princess, “often in great distress from the love he bore her.”
In accordance with the code of courtly love, Siegfried’s love of Kriemhild elevates his character and knightly prowess, making him welcome company to the other knights. The fact that he has yet to see her (though, interestingly, Kriemhild is free to observe him from a distance) detracts nothing from his ardor, but his longing causes him acute distress.
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