The Nibelungenlied

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Brunhild Character Analysis

Brunhild is Queen of Iceland, a maiden renowned not only for her great beauty, but also for strength and athletic ability surpassing that of any man who has tried to win her. She demands that her suitors defeat her in three contests—javelin-throwing, weight-throwing, and leaping—in order to gain her hand. No one has ever succeeded, and those who fail are beheaded. When Gunther hears of Brunhild, he determines to sail to Iceland to woo her. To her fury, Gunther appears to master her in the contests, though it is really Siegfried beneath his invisibility cloak achieving all of the feats. After returning to Worms with the Burgundians, Brunhild is distressed by Kriemhild’s marriage to Siegfried, thinking Siegfried a mere vassal. She refuses to share Gunther’s bed until she understands the truth, and she humiliates him when he tries to consummate their union. The following night, she is physically subdued by Siegfried, again using the magic cloak. After she finally sleeps with Gunther, her strength leaves her, and she is like any other woman. She lives peacefully with Gunther for about ten years, and she has a son, named Siegfried. However, she continues to brood about the other Siegfried’s marriage, and she invites him and Kriemhild to a festivity in hopes of finding out the truth. During the festival, Kriemhild tells Brunhild not only that Siegfried is not Gunther’s vassal, but that it was actually Siegfried who first slept with her after her marriage to Gunther. When Brunhild reveals the story to Hagen, the betrayal of Siegfried is set in motion. After this point, Brunhild largely fades from the action.

Brunhild Quotes in The Nibelungenlied

The The Nibelungenlied quotes below are all either spoken by Brunhild or refer to Brunhild. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Nibelungenlied published in 1969.
Chapter 7 Quotes

And now Brunhild had arrived, armed as though about to contend for all the kingdoms in the world and wearing many tiny bars of gold over her silk, against which her lovely face shone radiantly. […] The man whom she would favour would have to be a very brave one: for this shield which the girl was to carry was (so we are told) a good three spans thick beneath the boss; it was resplendent with steel and with gold, and even with the help of three others her chamberlain could scarce raise it. “What now, King Gunther?” stalwart Hagen of Troneck asked fiercely, on seeing the shield brought out. “We are done for - the woman whose love you desire is a rib of the Devil himself!”

Related Characters: Hagen (speaker), Gunther, Brunhild
Related Symbols: Clothes
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Siegfried left the maiden lying there and stepped aside as through to remove his clothes and, without the noble Queen’s noticing it, he drew a golden ring from her finger and then took her girdle, a splendid orphrey. I do not know whether it was his pride which made him do it. Later he gave them to his wife, and well did he rue it!

Related Characters: Kriemhild, Gunther, Siegfried, Brunhild
Related Symbols: Clothes
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

And now Gunther and the lovely girl lay together, and he took his pleasure with her as was his due, so that she had to resign her maiden shame and anger. But from his intimacy she grew somewhat pale, for at love’s coming her vast
strength fled so that now she was no stronger than anyother woman. Gunther had his delight of her lovely body, and had she renewed her resistance what good could it have done her? His loving had reduced her to this.

And now how very tenderly and amorously Brunhild lay beside him till the bright dawn!

Related Characters: Gunther, Siegfried, Brunhild
Related Symbols: Dawn
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

“Whom are you calling a paramour?” asked the Queen.

“I call you one,” answered Kriemhild. “My dear husband Siegfried was the first to enjoy your lovely body, since it was not my brother who took your maidenhead. Where were your poor wits? - It was a vile trick. - Seeing that he is your vassal, why did you let him love you? Your complaints have no foundation.”

“I swear I shall tell Gunther of this,” replied Brunhild.

“What is that to me? Your arrogance has got the better of you. You used words that made me your servant, and, believe me, in all sincerity I shall always be sorry you did so.”

Related Characters: Kriemhild (speaker), Brunhild (speaker), Gunther, Siegfried
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

“How could the thing be done?” asked King Gunther. “I will tell you,” replied Hagen. “We shall send envoys to ourselves here in Burgundy to declare war on us publicly, men whom no one knows. Then you will announce in the hearing of your guests that you and your men plan to go campaigning, whereupon Siegfried will promise you his aid, and so he will lose his life. For in this way I shall learn the brave man’s secret from his wife.”

The King followed his vassal Hagen’s advice, to evil effect, and those rare knights began to set afoot the great betrayal before any might discover it, so that, thanks to the wrangling of two women, countless warriors met their doom.

After Hagen learns of Kriemhild’s charge that Brunhild slept with Siegfried, he wastes no time beginning to plot Siegfried’s death. After winning over the other Burgundians and even the weak Gunther to his view, he explains his plan to discover Siegfried’s vulnerability. It’s striking that he uses the device of a military engagement to bring about the betrayal. Siegfried initially won the Burgundians’ trust by offering to fight off invaders for them; now, Hagen and the others betray that loyalty by laying a trap for Siegfried, knowing he will leap to defend them in battle. Of course, Siegfried isn’t faultless; much as Siegfried defeated Brunhild by secretly using the magical cloak, now the others defend Brunhild’s honor by means of an even more convoluted deception. And while it’s true that the crisis was touched off by the queens’ quarreling, it’s Hagen’s choice to capitalize on the situation, ostensibly in Brunhild’s defense, that triggers actual violence. In addition, Gunther shows himself to be incredibly weak-willed and unwilling to oppose Hagen, despite Siegfried’s faithful friendship in the past. There is much more guilt to go around than the poet’s terse summary suggests.

Related Characters: Gunther (speaker), Hagen (speaker), Kriemhild, Siegfried, Brunhild
Page Number: 118
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Brunhild Character Timeline in The Nibelungenlied

The timeline below shows where the character Brunhild appears in The Nibelungenlied. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
...he wants to win one of these women for himself. In particular, he pines for Brunhild, a queen of Iceland who boasts incredible strength. In order to win Brunhild, men must... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Siegfried, seemingly familiar with Brunhild’s intimidating ways, advises against Gunther’s plan, but Hagen suggests that Gunther enlist Siegfried’s help, which... (full context)
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
After 12 days of sailing, they arrive at Brunhild’s fortress of Isenstein in Iceland. Before disembarking, Siegfried cautions the men that they should stick... (full context)
Chapter 7
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
As maidens peer down at them from the fortress above, Gunther sees Brunhild for the first time and deems her beautiful. After they disembark, Siegfried helps Gunther onto... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Siegfried introduces Gunther to Brunhild, taking care to present Gunther as his lord and himself as liegeman, and explains their... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
...returns to the ship and slips into his invisibility cloak. Back at the athletic ring, Brunhild appears, armed with a heavy spear and a shield of steel and gold. Seeing this,... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
...to worry: “Now, you go through the motions, and I shall do the deeds.” Then Brunhild hurls her javelin so forcefully that it tears through Siegfried’s shield and Gunther’s mailshirt. Siegfried... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Furious at her defeat, Brunhild summons her vassals to pay homage to Gunther. Brunhild grants Gunther authority to rule over... (full context)
Chapter 8
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
...knights he requires. Siegfried and the knights sail back to Iceland and are received by Brunhild. (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Brunhild lets Dancwart distribute some of her treasure to the foreign guests, but is soon dismayed... (full context)
Chapter 9
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
...a lavish festivity. A massive entourage of finely arrayed ladies-in-waiting and warriors prepares to receive Brunhild’s party. (full context)
Chapter 10
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
...Kriemhild are escorted to the shores of the Rhine by Siegfried to greet Gunther and Brunhild. Kriemhild welcomes Brunhild with courtesy and affection. Then the ladies are conducted to tents so... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
...that he should have Kriemhild as his wife in exchange for Siegfried’s help in gaining Brunhild. Kriemhild is duly summoned to the King’s hall and asked to accept Siegfried as her... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
When Brunhild sees Kriemhild seated at Siegfried’s side, she begins to weep. When Gunther asks her what... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Gunther hushes Brunhild, promising to explain the circumstances of the marriage to her later. Brunhild says that she... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Gunther and Brunhild soon retire from the festivities, followed by Siegfried and Kriemhild. The latter enjoy a tender... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Gunther grows angry and tries to take Brunhild by force. In response, she binds him with her girdle and hangs him from a... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
...to Siegfried. Siegfried promises that he will use the invisibility cloak that night to “tame” Brunhild for Gunther, or die in the attempt. Gunther agrees and makes Siegfried promise not to... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
...prearranged sign with Gunther, who quickly bars the door. Siegfried gets into bed and clasps Brunhild, who flings him out of bed so powerfully that he cracks his head on a... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Siegfried and Brunhild are locked in fierce struggle for a while, and, although Brunhild inflicts “agony” on the... (full context)
Chapter 11
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
...years, at which time Kriemhild gives birth to a son, named Gunther after his uncle. Brunhild, too, gives birth to a son in Burgundy, named Siegfried. (full context)
Chapter 12
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Over the past ten years, Brunhild has been disquieted by Kriemhild’s marriage to Siegfried, and she wonders why they hold themselves... (full context)
Chapter 13
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
...all.” Meanwhile, in Burgundy, vassals prepare to ride out to meet the guests. Gunther approaches Brunhild, who is sitting idly, and asks her to welcome Kriemhild with the same honors with... (full context)
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Gunther tells Brunhild that she must bestir herself if she plans to receive the guests the following morning.... (full context)
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
As the guests are conducted to the palace, Brunhild “[darts] a glance” at Kriemhild “now and again.” A lavish feast is set up, and... (full context)
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
...and everyone attends a cathedral mass together. The poet draws attention to the fact that “Brunhild was as yet well disposed towards her guests, and they all entered [the church] together... (full context)
Chapter 14
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
...that he could rule over all the kingdoms of the region. “How could that be?” Brunhild retorts. She argues that as long as Gunther is alive, this could never come about. (full context)
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Kriemhild persists in saying that splendid Siegfried is fully Gunther’s equal. Brunhild replies that, when the knights came to Iceland, she heard them both say that Siegfried... (full context)
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Brunhild retorts, “[W]hy should I renounce my claim to so many knights who owe us service... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Both ladies are very angry. Kriemhild declares that, since Brunhild thinks Siegfried to be her liegeman, the King’s vassals must witness whether Kriemhild dares enter... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
...maidens to dress well so that they won’t be put to shame in front of Brunhild. Soon, she and a train of 43 ladies-in-waiting make their way to the cathedral, dressed... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
At the church entrance, Brunhild harshly orders Kriemhild to stop, since a liegewoman may not enter before a queen. Kriemhild... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Brunhild asks whom Kriemhild is calling a paramour. Kriemhild claims that it wasn’t Gunther who took... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Brunhild swears to tell Gunther of Kriemhild’s charge and begins to weep. Kriemhild proceeds into the... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Outside the church, Brunhild demands proof of Kriemhild’s charge. Kriemhild proves it by displaying the gold ring on her... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
Gunther asks Brunhild what is the matter. Brunhild explains that Kriemhild has tried to rob her of her... (full context)
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
Fate and Action Theme Icon
The women depart the scene in silence. Later, Hagen comes upon Brunhild, sees that she is crying, and asks her what is the matter. As soon as... (full context)
Chapter 15
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
...done, since Siegfried has beaten her soundly and “taken ample vengeance” for her having vexed Brunhild. (full context)
Chapter 17
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 18
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
...continues to live at Worms in ceaseless lament, with only Giselher able to comfort her. Brunhild, meanwhile, sits “enthroned in her pride,” extending no affection toward her bereaved sister-in-law. (full context)
Chapter 29
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
...responsibility for the deed, and says that Siegfried had to pay for Kriemhild’s maligning of Brunhild. He challenges anyone to avenge the wrong he has done. Kriemhild calls on her knights,... (full context)