The Northern Way

Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer


manland, whence, with some linguistic modifications, they travelled to West Scandinavia. The main controversy seems to centre at present round the rival claims of Norway and Iceland. (1) The claims of the British Isles (i.e. the North of England, Scotland, including the Hebrides, and Ireland) (2) are no longer accepted. (3)

On one point at least there is no disagreement - that, in different versions, and with inevitable local variations, the Eddic legends in general, and those of Sigurd in particular, were widely distributed throughout the whole of Scandinavia.


Of the early fortunes of the Legend in Germany nothing is known. German literature in general was slow of development. Its only vestiges from the ninth century consist of two heathen spells, and a fragment of one Heroic Lay, the Hildebrandslied, written down by a couple of monks in the monastery of Fulda. The literary collection has perished which was formed by command of Charlemagne; (4) and his son, Louis le Débonnaire, a strict churchman, was no patron of min-

1. F. Jónsson, op. cit., pp. 54 ff.

2. S. Bugge, 'Studier over de nordiske Gude-og Heltesagens Oprindelse' (Christiania, 1901-96). English trans., 'The Home of the Eddic Lays' (Grimm Lib., No. XI, London, 1899).

3. H. Schück, 'Sigurdsristningar; Studier i Nordisk litteratur och religions-historia' (Stockholm, 1904). F. Jónsson, 'Norsk-Islandske Kultur og Sprog-forhold i 9 & 10 aarh.' (Det Kg1. Danske Videnskabernes Selskb. Hist. filol. Meddelelser III, 2, Copenhagen, 1921). B. Nerman, 'Studier over Svärges hedna litteratur' (Uppsala, 1913).

4. Einhard, 'Vita Caroli Magni' (ed. P. Jaffé, Berlin, 1876), sec. XXIX, p. 248.


strelsy. Another ninth-century national epic is known only through its Anglo-Saxon translation, the fragment of Waldere, and through the Waltharilied, a Latin poem on the same theme, composed circa 930 by Ekkehard of St Gall, and revised by another Ekkehard some 100 years later. (1) This theme, wide-spread and popular, is quite other than that of the Sigurd story, though Gunther, Hagen, and Attila all appear on the scene. Attila, it may be observed, is shown in his most gracious and magnificent guise-unlike the grim tyrant of the Lays-with a splendid hall, rich armour signed by the weapon-smith, and a throne decked in all the glories of purple and fine linen. (2) How the Niblung story developed, with what local variations, cannot, then, be conjectured. It was borne from place to place by the Spielmann, the wandering minstrel, the true preserver of epic and national poetry throughout the so-called Dark Ages. Some slight evidence of differing traditions is afforded by one medieval poem, Das Lied vom hürnen Seyfried, (3) which bears, on the whole, less resemblance to the Nibelungenlied than to the Faroëse cycle, and to a group of Norwegian folk-songs of Sigurd. In any case, however, the spirit of the Lied itself is far removed from that of primitive legend; it was born of the great medieval revival, when the labours of the Church were producing the rudiments of an educated public, and

1. German translations by J. V. Scheffel and A. Holder (Stuttgart, 1874); also by H. Althof (Leipzig, 1899) .

2. W. C. Grimm, 'Die deutsche He1densage' (Heidelberg, 1864), pp. 9 ff.

3. W. Golther, 'Das Lied von dem hürnen Seyfried, und das Volksbuch vom gehörnten Siegfried' (Halle, 1889). ' F. E. Sandbach, 'The Nibelungen Lied and Gudrun in England and America' (London, 1902.), p. 16.


the Germanic spirit became for the first time fully reconciled with Christianity in the great adventure of the Crusades. French song, French chivalry, proved a powerful stimulus to German creative power. Epic poetry began to abound, and divided itself into two streams-popular epic, such as König Rother (circa 1160), (1) the Rolandslied (1135) and the Alexanderlied(1140), both of which are midway between popular and court epic&mdassh;and such national epic as Gudrun (2) (1210-15), the best parts of the Heldenbuch, (3) and the supreme achievement, the Lay of the Nibelungs. A highly artistic reconstruction, the latter indulges in new anachronisms, introduces new characters, such as the ninth-century Bishop Pilgerin, and decks out the elusive Folk of the Mist in the trappings of Christian chivalry-trappings which ill disguise the grimness and ancientry of the theme. " Que serait l'Iliade, si elle avait reçu sa forme dernière d'un Homère élevé dans un couvent du XIIme siècle?" (4) The identity of the author will probably never be determined. During the second half of the twelfth century the centre of poetic activity shifted from the Rhineland to Saxony, Bavaria, and Austria. Although the wandering minstrel was seldom persona grata in ecclesiastical eyes, and found his scanty living en-

1. Ed. by H. Rückert (Leipzig, 1827); also by K. von Bahde (Halle, 1884). Also, with Herzog Ernst, by K. Bartsch (Vienna, 1869).

2. Ed. by K. Bartsch (Leipzig, 1880); also E. Martin (Halle, 1883).

3. Ed. by O. Janicke, E. Martin, A. Amelung, and J. Zupitza (Berlin, 1866-73).

4. E. de Laveleye, 'La Saga des Nibelungen dans les Eddas et dans le Nord Scandinave' (Paris, 1866), p. 152. See also C. Thomas, 'History of German Lit.' (London, 1909), pp. 58 ff.


croached on, at times, by the competition of monkish Spielleute, his status during this period began slowly to improve, and his taste to refine. (1) The Church, moreover, despite such repressive periods as that of the Cluniac Revival (twelfth century), was the patron, to some extent the fountain-head, of both polite and popular literature. It is, generally speaking, a true saying that heroic tradition entered the monastery precincts in the form of popular songs, was perpetuated therein by means of Latin verse or prose, and emerged once again as romance in the vulgar tongue. (2) This, applying to some parts, at least, of Germany, applies still more strongly to Austria, where, under aristocratic patronage, the minstrel took yet another step upwards towards respectability. Rupertus, minstrel to Henry IV, Eberhardus, attached to Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and Wolfkerus, whose patron was the Bishop of Passau, appear towards the end of the twelfth century as signatories of public Acts; while a Viennese convent accepted a gift from Wolfkerus consisting of two ells of red cloth and a German book. (3) In Austria, during that same century, the Nibelungenlied was composed, possibly (though opinions differ) by one of these courtly Austrian minstrels. (4)

The only definite name which emerges is that of von Kürenberg, author of some stanzas of a very in-

1. For a fascinating account of the Spielmann see H. Lichtenberger, op. cit., pp. 399 ff.

2. E. de Laveleye, op. cit., pp. 72. ff.

3. H. Lichtenberger, op. cit., p. 393.

4. E. Kettner, 'Die Osterreichische Nibelungendichtung (Berlin, 1897), pp. 199 ff. Von Muth, 'Einleitung in das Nibelungenlied' (Paderborn, 1877), pp. 344 ff. A. E. Schönbach, 'Das Kristentum in del Altdeutschen Heldendichtung' (Graz, 1897), pp. 3 ff.


dividual metrical form, (1) in which stanzas the Lied itself is written-a departure from the usual practice of using rhymed couplets for narrative poetry. These stanzas consist each of four lines, divided by a cæsura, with three stresses in each half-line, except that the last half of the fourth line has four. Rhymed couplets, however, are used for the Klage, an inferior continuation which, in some MSS., is appended to the Lied, and describes the lamentations of the survivors over the Woe of the Nibelungs.

More fortunate than the Poetic Edda, the Nibelungenlied survives in a number of MSS., abounding in discrepancies, yet all preserving the main thread of the story without serious variation. The principal of these are:

a. The Munich version, late thirteenth century, copied by two hands.

b. The St Gall, mid-thirteenth century, copied by three hands. Commonly known as 'the Vulgate.'

c. The Donaueschingen, early thirteenth century. This, unlike the two first, concludes the Lay proper with: 'Dies ist das Nibelungeliêt,-not 'Nibelungenôt.'

All these three MSS. conclude with the Klage.

Attempts have been made, in this case as in others, to dissolve the Nibelungenlied into a series of ballads, current at the time, and more or less skilfully com- bined to form a continuous whole.(2) Be that as it may

1. E. Joseph, 'Die Frühzeit der deutschen Minnesangs' (Quellen und Forschungen no. 79, Strasburg, 1896).

2. 'a' formed the basis of Karl Lachmann's critical edition, 'Sur la Forme Primitive du Nibelungen Lied' (1816-21), in which, as in 'Remarques' (1836) he applies Wolf's Homeric theory, considering the Lied as an agglomeration of twenty separate ballads-a theory which still has its following. For a critique of Lachmann see H. Lichtenberger, op. cit., pp. 316 ff.


-and the theory, in my own humble opinion, smack less of the poet than the pedant-it can at least not be denied that the result is a true epic-epic in its weight and its dignity, in the sweep of its narrative and the power of its episodes. Despite the inherent discrepancy between heathen and Christian ideals, the Lay breathes a gallant spirit, and, with its glittering pageantry, stands out in spring-time contrast against the winter majesty of the Edda. (1)


In the release of creative energy which inaugurated the Middle Ages, the North had its full share. The new age began in Norway with the accession of Sigurd the Jerusalem-Farer (1102), and Norwegian literary taste kept abreast of the times. When Princess Christina married the Spanish prince Philip (1258), legends of Didrek, read aloud by Magister Björn, Bishop of Nidaros, formed part of the bridal entertainment. Vilkina Saga (thirteenth century) went southward from Bergen, followed by Ragnar Loðbrók Saga, and the story of Nornagest. As for the Ice anders, in the capacity of Vikings, Varangians, and retainers of Scandinavian colonial courts, they had always been in touch with Continental culture. After the Viking forays came to an end, this influence was maintained by Catholicism, by commerce, and by foreign intermarriage. The Heroic Lays went out of fash-

1. Amongst modern German translations of N.L., that of K. Simrock (52nd ed., Stuttgart, 1890) still leads the field. The best English version, perhaps, is that of Arthur S. Way, D.Litt., 'The Lay of the Niblung Men' (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1911).

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