The Nibelungenlied

by

Anonymous

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The Nibelungenlied: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Liudeger, King of Saxony, and Liudegast, King of Denmark, send messengers to warn Gunther that they intend to invade Burgundy in 12 weeks’ time, unless Gunther should choose to negotiate with them. Gunther summons his men to court for advice. Hagen suggests asking Siegfried for help. Gunther continues to brood over the matter, and when Siegfried asks what troubles him, Gunther replies that “one should complain of one’s wrongs to proven friends.” Siegfried appears to be affronted by this, telling Gunther, “If you are looking for friends, I shall assuredly be one among them.”
For the first time, Gunther’s suggestible nature and reliance on stronger characters is apparent. Hagen appears to be interested in strengthening ties with Siegfried, though his motivations for this alliance aren’t yet clear. As yet, Gunther seems a bit uncertain about Siegfried, or at least chooses to appear so. Siegfried takes this uncertainty as a breach of friendship.
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Gunther tells Siegfried about the threatened invasion. Siegfried urges Gunther to allow him to win honor on Gunther’s behalf. When Gunther agrees, Siegfried tells him to muster a thousand men, as well as his kinsmen and vassals. Gunther then sends the envoys home with gifts and a warning that the Burgundians will be prepared to repel any attack.
Siegfried wishes to repay Burgundian hospitality by defending them on the battlefield. Though the Burgundians won’t welcome foreign meddling, giving gifts to the messengers is a gesture of goodwill and largesse befitting kings.
Themes
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
When the envoys return to Denmark, Liudegast is alarmed to hear the report of mighty Siegfried’s support of Burgundy. He and Liudeger accordingly muster more than 40,000 men for the invasion. The Burgundians prepare for battle as well, Siegfried urging Gunther to remain at home while he leads the defense of Burgundy himself.
Siegfried’s formidable reputation apparently extends across Europe, frightening foreign kings. The numbers in a medieval epic—such as 40,000 in this case—are generally not meant to be taken literally; here, it might be read as “a very significant invasion force.”
Themes
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
After the Burgundians pillage the Saxon countryside, Siegfried rides out by himself to observe the enemy position. He encounters King Liudegast doing the same, and the two gallop towards one another, engaging in fierce single combat. Before any of the Danish king’s men can come to his aid, Siegfried wounds him and takes him prisoner. Siegfried then slays 29 of Liudegast’s men single-handedly and hands over his captive to Hagen.
Siegfried again displays his ferocity in battle, though also a degree of gallantry, in that Liudegast (unlike Schilbung and Nibelung, of Siegfried’s earlier conquest) is allowed to live.
Themes
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
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When the two armies meet each other, “they hacked wound on gaping wound, and blood was seen flowing over saddles—so boldly did those knights woo honor.” Siegfried and Liudeger are soon locked in combat, but when Liudeger learns Siegfried’s identity, he immediately stops the fighting and sues for peace. The Burgundians take the wounded and 500 prisoners, including the two kings, back to Worms with them. The poet comments that “gallant Siegfried had done what he had set out to do,” and Gunther’s men can’t help but acknowledge it.
“Wooing honor” is clearly a very bloody affair, but it doesn’t preclude peace, as Siegfried is willing to stop the fighting when a cowed Liudeger requests it. Siegfried has proven himself not only a worthy knight, but a friend and defender of Burgundy, ostensibly wiping away any lingering suspicions between him and his adoptive kingdom.
Themes
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Back in Worms, Kriemhild secretly summons one of the returning messengers into her chamber to report on the battle. She doesn’t want anyone to suspect that Siegfried is “the darling of her heart.” The page tells her that no warrior’s achievements compare to the marvels done by Siegfried that day. In fact, Siegfried “has all the qualities that go to make a brave, good knight.” Moreover, the Burgundians’ “honor is free of all tarnish” after joining with him in the fight.
Kriemhild’s love for Siegfried has matured beyond what anyone around her suspects. The messenger conveys the Burgundians’ general attitude about their new champion: he’s the ideal knight, and the honor of the Burgundians themselves is elevated in his presence. This is a far cry from the wild, ferocious figure who’d threatened them a year ago.
Themes
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Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hearing the news, Kriemhild blushes with delight and rewards the page with fine clothes and gold. (Such gifts, the poet observes, “encourage one to tell such news to great ladies.”) Gunther rides out to greet the returning warriors, sees that the wounded are cared for, and addresses his enemies with respect. Liudeger promises that if Gunther treats them mercifully, they will pay him handsomely. Gunther allows the kings to move freely within his court.
The poet makes a tongue-in-cheek observation about the courtly custom of rewarding messengers; does expectation of reward impact messengers’ delivery? Meanwhile, Gunther shows honorable magnanimity toward the defeated and suffering, in marked contrast to scenes later in the story.
Themes
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Following the battle, Gunther treats both friends and foes with magnanimity, richly rewarding the physicians who treat the wounded, and giving lavishly to his allies. A festivity is planned for six weeks after the battle so that the wounded will be able to celebrate, too. When Siegfried asks to return to the Netherlands, Gunther begs him to stay, and Siegfried agrees, in hopes of meeting Kriemhild. Everyone begins to plan the magnificent clothes they will wear to the festival.
Gunther continues to show himself a good-hearted king when he’s left to his own devices. Siegfried’s request to leave might be a chivalrous cover for his own secret wish to linger and hopefully meet the lady he’s desired for the past year.
Themes
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon