The Nibelungenlied

by

Anonymous

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Gunther Character Analysis

A renowned warrior and king of Burgundy, Gunther is the brother of Kriemhild, Gernot, and Giselher and son of Dancrat and Uote. The senior Burgundian King, he rules from Worms beside the Rhine. Though a brave knight, Gunther tends to be dependent on the strength and sway of others, especially Siegfried and Hagen. When Gunther hears about Brunhild, a beautiful but mighty queen, he determines to sail to Iceland to woo her. With help from an invisibility cloak, Siegfried covertly competes in Brunhild’s contests on Gunther’s behalf so that Gunther will win her as his wife. After they return to Worms, Gunther is again dependent on Siegfried to subdue his powerful wife, since she at first refuses to sleep with him and ties him up when he attempts to consummate the marriage. After Siegfried successfully subdues her, Brunhild and Gunther live peacefully for ten years. During the festival in Worms, when Kriemhild calls Brunhild Siegfried’s paramour (implying that Siegfried, not Gunther, took Brunhild’s virginity), Gunther initially lets Siegfried off the hook and is reluctant to enter into a plot against his friend. However, he ultimately defers to Hagen’s plan to murder Siegfried in order to protect Brunhild’s honor. When he and his men journey to Hungary, Gunther survives most of the fighting, but refuses to surrender Hagen and is eventually beheaded at Kriemhild’s orders.

Gunther Quotes in The Nibelungenlied

The The Nibelungenlied quotes below are all either spoken by Gunther or refer to Gunther. 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
Chapter 16 Quotes

The lady Kriemhild’s lord fell among the flowers, where you could see the blood surging from his wound. Then – and he had cause - he rebuked those who had plotted his foul murder. “You vile cowards,” he said as he lay dying. “What good has my service done me now that you have slain me? I was always loyal to you, but now I have paid for it. Alas, you have wronged your kinsmen so that all who are born in days to come will be dishonoured by your deed. You have cooled your anger on me beyond all measure. You will be held in contempt and stand apart from all good warriors.”

Related Characters: Siegfried (speaker), Kriemhild, Gunther, Hagen
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

Now that Kriemhild had possession of the hoard she lured many foreign warriors to Burgundy, and indeed her fair hand lavished gifts with such bounty that the like has never been seen […] Hagen declared that were she to live for any time she would recruit so many men that matters would go ill with the Burgundians. […] “No man who is firm in his purpose should leave the treasure to a woman,” said Hagen. “By means of her gifts she will bring things to the point where the brave sons of Burgundy will bitterly regret it.”

Related Characters: Hagen (speaker), Kriemhild, Gunther
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 31 Quotes

And now indeed the bright morning sent its rays into the hall to light the guests, while Hagen roused the knights everywhere, asking whether they wished to go to mass in the cathedral, for there was a great pealing of bells in keeping with the Christian rite. But Christians and heathen sang mass differently, as was very evident — they were at variance in this. Gunther’s men did wish to go to church and they had immediately risen from their beds and were lacing themselves into clothes of such quality that no knights ever brought better into any realm.

Related Characters: Gunther, Hagen
Related Symbols: Clothes, Dawn
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Nibelungenlied LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Nibelungenlied PDF

Gunther Character Timeline in The Nibelungenlied

The timeline below shows where the character Gunther appears in The Nibelungenlied. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Civilization vs. Barbarism Theme Icon
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
Kriemhild is a princess, the sister and ward of the renowned kings Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher, and daughter of Dancrat and Uote. The family rules from Worms beside... (full context)
Chapter 3
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
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Fate and Action Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
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...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,... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Gunther and his warriors welcome Siegfried and ask him what business brings him to Burgundy. Siegfried... (full context)
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Gunther and his men are angry, but Siegfried persists in his demands. Each country should stake... (full context)
Chapter 4
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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... (full context)
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Gunther tells Siegfried about the threatened invasion. Siegfried urges Gunther to allow him to win honor... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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...poet comments that “gallant Siegfried had done what he had set out to do,” and Gunther’s men can’t help but acknowledge it. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Following the battle, Gunther treats both friends and foes with magnanimity, richly rewarding the physicians who treat the wounded,... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Throngs of noble guests begin to arrive in Burgundy for the great festivity. Meanwhile, Gunther has observed Siegfried’s love for his sister, Kriemhild. Ortwin suggests that Kriemhild should be allowed... (full context)
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Gernot then encourages Gunther to present Siegfried to Kriemhild. “With this,” he counsels, “we shall attach this splendid warrior... (full context)
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...12 days of the festival. Liudeger and Liudegast express their desire to return home, and Gunther goes to Siegfried for advice. Siegfried advises that the foreign kings be allowed to go... (full context)
Chapter 6
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News reaches Burgundy of beautiful maidens in foreign lands, and Gunther decides he wants to win one of these women for himself. In particular, he pines... (full context)
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Siegfried, seemingly familiar with Brunhild’s intimidating ways, advises against Gunther’s plan, but Hagen suggests that Gunther enlist Siegfried’s help, which he does—promising to help Siegfried... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
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...it gives him the power of 12 men and also grants him invisibility. He helps Gunther plan the journey to Iceland, deciding to take only Hagen and Dancwart as additional companions.... (full context)
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...Before disembarking, Siegfried cautions the men that they should stick to a common story if Gunther’s quest is to succeed—that Gunther is overlord and Siegfried his vassal. They all agree, but... (full context)
Chapter 7
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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... (full context)
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Siegfried introduces Gunther to Brunhild, taking care to present Gunther as his lord and himself as liegeman, and... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
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...with a heavy spear and a shield of steel and gold. Seeing this, Hagen tells Gunther, “We are done for—the woman whose love you desire is a rib of the Devil... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
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In his magic cloak, Siegfried sneaks to Gunther’s side and instructs him not to worry: “Now, you go through the motions, and I... (full context)
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Furious at her defeat, Brunhild summons her vassals to pay homage to Gunther. Brunhild grants Gunther authority to rule over Iceland. Siegfried returns his magic cloak to the... (full context)
Chapter 8
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
Hospitality, Gifts, and Exchange Theme Icon
...that she trusts herself to squander her own inheritance. Hagen tries to convince her that Gunther has such riches that her own won’t be needed, but she insists on filling her... (full context)
Chapter 9
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After more than a week of sailing, Gunther dispatches Siegfried to the Rhine to give Kriemhild and the rest of the Burgundian court... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...Uote and 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... (full context)
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During the subsequent feast, Siegfried reminds Gunther of his oath, that he should have Kriemhild as his wife in exchange for Siegfried’s... (full context)
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When Brunhild sees Kriemhild seated at Siegfried’s side, she begins to weep. When Gunther asks her what is the matter, she replies, “It wounds me to the heart to... (full context)
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Gunther hushes Brunhild, promising to explain the circumstances of the marriage to her later. Brunhild says... (full context)
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Gunther and Brunhild soon retire from the festivities, followed by Siegfried and Kriemhild. The latter enjoy... (full context)
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Gunther grows angry and tries to take Brunhild by force. In response, she binds him with... (full context)
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During the subsequent festivities, Siegfried notices that Gunther is in low spirits, and he asks him how his night went. Gunther confides his... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
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...bed with Kriemhild—and abruptly disappears. He has put on the magical cloak and gone to Gunther’s chamber, where he puts out the lights, a prearranged sign with Gunther, who quickly bars... (full context)
Idealized and Deviant Womanhood Theme Icon
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...for her life, and Siegfried quickly takes her ring and girdle before leaving her to Gunther, who “[takes] his pleasure with her as was his due.” After they have slept together,... (full context)
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The festivity lasts for two more weeks. During this time, both Gunther and Siegfried liberally squander robes, gold, horses, and silver on all in attendance. (full context)
Chapter 11
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
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...take Hagen and Ortwin as her liegemen, but Hagen is incensed at the implication that Gunther can “give” them to anyone or that they can abandon their obligations to the Burgundian... (full context)
Chapter 12
Honor vs. Vengeance Theme Icon
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...why they hold themselves aloof and offer Burgundy so little service, if indeed Siegfried is Gunther’s vassal. She asks Gunther if it might be possible to see Kriemhild again. Gunther says... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...of them 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... (full context)
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Gunther tells Brunhild that she must bestir herself if she plans to receive the guests the... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...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)
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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... (full context)
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Brunhild asks whom Kriemhild is calling a paramour. Kriemhild claims that it wasn’t Gunther who took Brunhild’s maidenhead, but Siegfried. If Siegfried was indeed Brunhild’s vassal, Kriemhild jeers, then... (full context)
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Brunhild swears to tell Gunther of Kriemhild’s charge and begins to weep. Kriemhild proceeds into the church before her. “Thus,”... (full context)
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...is agitated at the sight of the stolen ring and girdle, and, weeping, she summons Gunther. (full context)
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Gunther asks Brunhild what is the matter. Brunhild explains that Kriemhild has tried to rob her... (full context)
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Gunther tells Siegfried of Kriemhild’s accusation. Siegfried denies it, and Gunther lets him offer an oath... (full context)
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Gunther also argues in favor of Siegfried’s loyalty. But the rest of the knights, “though he... (full context)
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As they watch the sports, many of the vassals continue to nurse resentment. Gunther reminds them of Siegfried’s commitment to the honor of Burgundy, and anyway, Siegfried is so... (full context)
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Gunther follows Hagen’s instructions, “to evil effect,” and the betrayal is underway. “Thanks to the wrangling... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Four days later, 32 messengers are seen riding to court to tell Gunther that war has been declared on him, allegedly by Liudeger and Liudegast. Some of Gunther’s... (full context)
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...the “war,” he immediately offers to ride against the invaders as he has done before. Gunther perfidiously thanks him. Knights from both Burgundy and the Netherlands begin to prepare for battle.... (full context)
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...Liudeger is, in fact, going to leave Burgundy in peace. When they return to court, Gunther thanks Siegfried for his loyal intentions and suggests—put up to it by Hagen—that they embark... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...hunting clothes and begin to run. Siegfried reaches the brook first and courteously waits for Gunther to drink first. (full context)
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As the men watch him die, Gunther laments, but Hagen reprimands him. They will now be virtually unopposed, he says, and he... (full context)
Chapter 17
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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... (full context)
Chapter 19
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For three and a half years, Kriemhild avoids speaking to Gunther or even setting eyes on Hagen. Meanwhile, Hagen tells Gunther that if he won back... (full context)
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Kriemhild makes peace with Gunther, and it isn’t long before the Nibelung treasure, her nuptial dower, is ferried over the... (full context)
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...rich and poor alike. This begins to make Hagen nervous, and he is annoyed with Gunther’s permissiveness toward his sister, telling him, “No man who is firm in his purpose should... (full context)
Chapter 20
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The people of Worms are intensely curious about the wealthy newcomers. Gunther asks Hagen if he knows them, and he replies that they would have to come... (full context)
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The envoys are graciously received in the King’s hall. Hagen reminds Gunther that he was once a hostage in Etzel’s court, and that they must always seek... (full context)
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Gunther promises an answer in three days’ time. He seeks his men’s opinions about the marriage,... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...ride out swiftly for Burgundy, arriving within 12 days. The minstrels are graciously welcomed by Gunther’s court, and they share good news of the Kriemhild’s health and well-wishes. Then they relay... (full context)
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Gunther dismisses this, saying that Kriemhild had renounced her feud with him before she left for... (full context)
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Hagen counsels that if Gunther is determined to go to Hungary, he must uphold his honor by traveling heavily armed,... (full context)
Chapter 25
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As the party is about to set forth, Gunther’s vassal Rumold expresses reservations about the King’s departure. Gunther entrusts his lands and son to... (full context)
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...to as the Nibelungs) reaches the Danube and are dismayed to find its banks flooded. Gunther sends Hagen to find a way to ford the river. He can’t find a ferryman,... (full context)
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Hagen questions the water-fairies further, and one of them predicts that only Gunther’s chaplain will return to Burgundy alive. They also give him information about a ferryman who... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...with their lives. Since the skirmish occurred after dark at the rear of the party, Gunther doesn’t learn of it until the next morning and is dismayed to have missed the... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Gunther, Gernot, and Dietrich withdraw to discuss Kriemhild’s state of mind in private. Dietrich reveals that... (full context)
Chapter 37
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Gunther and his men try to appeal to Rüdiger, mentioning his wonderful gifts and hospitality in... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...after, Wolfhart and Giselher slay one another. Then Hagen, grieving for Volker, wounds Hildebrand. Now Gunther and Hagen are the only Burgundian warriors left alive. (full context)
Chapter 39
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Hildebrand helps Dietrich put on his armor, and they approach the two Burgundians. Dietrich asks Gunther why he has done such a thing to him, a wretched exile, who now “[stands]... (full context)
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Dietrich asks Gunther to surrender himself and Hagen, and Dietrich will ensure they are kindly treated. Hagen says... (full context)
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...Dietrich says that Hagen should be allowed to live and make amends to her. Meanwhile, Gunther, in his grief, pursues Dietrich. Despite putting up an honorable fight, Gunther is finally felled... (full context)
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...he may return to Burgundy alive. Hagen refuses, so Kriemhild gives the order to have Gunther beheaded. She then carries her brother’s head by its hair and presents it to Hagen.... (full context)