Western Literature to Dante

Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. for Scholars Online
2018-19: Mondays, 1:00 p.m.- 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time


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Unit VIII: The Heroic Middle Ages A.D. 800-1200

Week 29: The Nibelungenlied, ca. 1200-1215

This week, after some consideration, I have decided to have you read a set of selections from the Middle High German Nibelungenlied. I have narrowed it down to a kind of “good parts version”, but I’m not entirely satisfied with it. Be that as it may, it should give you the gist of the story and a good feel for the verse. The whole book (should you want to read it in a somewhat easier-to-read format) has been translated by A. T. Hatto in the Penguin Classics series (ISBN 0-14-044137-9), which is available quite widely. His “Introduction to a Second Reading” in the back of the book is quite thorough, and takes a number of different approaches to the text.

Statue of knight, New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photograph © copyright 1999 by Bruce A. McMenomy

The story is basically the same tale as that of the Volsunga Saga, but it is profoundly different in culture and tone. The Nibelungenlied was written at the height of the poetic culture of the German Middle Ages — about 1200. It is full of knights and finery and jousting, and especially (particularly odd in the overall context of the story) notions of “courtly love” — in which a hero dotes upon an idealized lady from afar — something we’ll meet again in Chrétien de Troyes next week. What I would like you to consider here is how to separate the intrinsic content of the story (largely the same as in the Volsunga Saga) from the apparently circumstantial and ornamental. This week’s reading is not very long — only about twenty pages, printed out.

Those who would like to may read the Auerbach, Mimesis, “Adam and Eve”; it has nothing much to do with our reading this week, but it doesn’t have anything to do with any other week’s reading either. If not, that’s okay.

A better (though still rather archaic) translation is available here, though you will have to sift through it for the right adventures.

Paul Fuseli (Fuessli): Kriemhild shows the head of Gunther to Hagen.