Time to read some classic literature with the eyes of a gamer again: the epic medieval tale of the life and death of Siegfried von Xanthen and the revenge because on those who betrayed him, famous as Das Nibelungenlied. There are no surprises, there is only carnage (okay, and some
love gold, let's not forget the booty here!). I'll quote from an English verse translation that can be found here, but I highly recommend giving a prose version of the text a chance. Check the translation first, as there might be some huge varieties in quality. If you like how it's translated, there is a good chance you'll love the story, too. One example of a prose translation can be found here.
|Hagen doing his thing [illustration by Hermann Vogel]|
Previously on the Nibelungenlied
Our epic level hero Siegfried of Xanthen (at least level 20), wielder of the sword Balmung, invulnerable dragonslayer, king (by
conquest killing everybody, of course) of the fairy realm of the Nibelungs and prince of Xanthen, decides out of sheer boredom to court for the allegedly most beautiful maiden Kriemhild of Worms in Burgundy, so he makes his entry at the court of her brother, king Gunther, and it's all bashing skulls among friends and lots of rejoicing.
And yet, they won't show him the girl for at least a year. The guy has some serious anger issues about this kind of cock-blocking and is very happy to get an opportunity to vent some anger when the Saxons make a move to attack the Burgundians. The Saxons didn't see that one coming (bad intel, I guess) and it seriously ruined their day when Siegfried shows up and rips them a new one. Back in Burgundy everybody is very happy about the Saxons getting the boot (and sword ... and then the boot again) and king Gunther announces to throw a big ass party. This is where we enter our story again ...
FIFTH ADVENTURE: How Siegfried first saw Kriemhild
Unto the Rhine now daily / the knights were seen to ride,
Who there would be full gladly / to share the festive tide.
To all that thither journeyed / to the king to show them true,
In plenty them were given / steeds and rich apparel too.
It's like a free All You Can Eat at king Gunther's and people come from all over the place to
With so much testosterone in one place, voices get loud to bring out the eye candy. The verse variant is way more elegant about this, naturally.
"What were a man's chief pleasure, / his very joy of life,
An 't were not a lovely maiden / or a stately wife?
Then let the maid thy sister / before thy guests appear."
—Brave thanes did there full many / at heart rejoice the rede to hear.
It is pointed out that it'd make Siegfried very happy to see Kriemhild and king is eager to oblige:
"Thy words I'll gladly follow," / then the monarch said,
And all the knights who heard him / ere thereat right glad.
Then told was Queen Ute / and eke her daughter fair,
That they with maids in waiting / unto the court should soon repair.
The girls put on their best dresses and as much bling as a sane Mensch could carry without breaking a neck. Showing the queen sister and her maids like that in court obviously was a major highlight back then and the only way to explain this from our side of time must be the high amount of armed and
Can't tell you how much I'd like to have seen this live and in color. I imagine the knights all being like "Uuuh, look! It's women!" and they all start pounding their chests and generally act like the apes we are. It is very biological, of course. Well, look at them going at it:
Full many a youthful squire / upon that day did try,
By decking of his person, / to win fair lady's eye;
For the which great good fortune / he'd take no monarch's crown:
They longed to see those maidens, / whom they before had never known.
Of course they make a big show out of it. We are at a kings court, after all. No less than 100 knights honor the queen and her daughter's entry with drawn swords. You can read this now either way you want (okay, maybe not that way ... man, you know who I'm talking to, just keep it civil, please), but I believe they stood there with their backs to the passage they form and the swords in the direction of some bold and desperate attendees ...
For her especial service / the king did order then
To wait upon his sister / a hundred of his men,
As well upon his mother: / they carried sword in hand.
That was the court attendance / there in the Burgundian land.
See? It's rather ambiguous, I'd say. Anyway, the queen, her daughter and their posse enter. One hundred and two beautiful ladies, seen for the first time by the guests. Civil unrest is a natural reaction to that, as one would expect. The historical source spares no detail:
Forth from their own apartments / they all were seen to go:
There was a mickle pressing / of good knights to and fro,
Who hoped to win the pleasure, / if such a thing might be,
The noble maiden Kriemhild, / delight of every eye, to see.
Since this is a story for the whole family and all tastes need to be satisfied, we now come to the romantic part of the Nibelungenlied. Some of you might have anticipated this eagerly: Siegfried sees Kriemhild for the first time. The
Now came she fair and lovely, / as the ruddy sun of morn
From misty clouds emerging. / Straight he who long had borne
Her in his heart and loved her, / from all his gloom was freed,
As so stately there before him / he saw the fair and lovely maid.
Her rich apparel glittered / with many a precious stone,
And with a ruddy beauty / her cheeks like roses shone.
Though you should wish to do so, / you could not say, I ween,
That e'er a fairer lady / in all the world before was seen.
As in a sky all starlit / the moon shines out so bright,
And through the cloudlets peering / pours down her gentle light,
E'en so was Kriemhild's beauty / among her ladies fair:
The hearts of gallant heroes / were gladder when they saw her there.
Isn't that beautiful? She shines like the moon among stars. And now they are all sighing, this band of mighty warriors. Siegfried sees her and switches into insecure teenager mode:
He thought with heart despairing, / "How could it ever be,
That I should win thy favor? / There hoped I foolishly.
But had I e'er to shun thee, / then were I rather dead."
And oft, to think upon it, / the color from his visage fled.
He he, "the color from his visage fled". That's a guy in shock, I'd say. But he plays it cool and to great effect. Because that's what heroes do (as a true gamer would put it, he made his save ...)!
The noble son of Siegmund / did there so stately stand
As if his form were pictured / by good old master's hand
Upon a piece of parchment. / All who saw, confessed
That he of all good heroes / was the stateliest and the best.
|Best I could find. I swear!|
[Greek Olympic Statue and in the Public Domain]
Sure, he's posing, but wary observers might have been able to see the tension the picture captures so nicely. And he'd better look the part, since he's the hero of the day and people can't help but seeking the spotlight by praising him and putting fingers in his direction. As does this unimportant knight:
Then outspake of Burgundy / Gernot the valiant knight:
"To him who thus has helped thee / so bravely in the fight,
Gunther, royal brother, / shalt thou like favor show,
A thane before all others; / he's worthy of it well, I trow.
To this Gunther agrees and poor Siegfried is ordered in front of everyone to get the lady's thanks in person:
The king's knights hastened gladly / upon his high command
And told these joyous tidings / to the prince of Netherland.
"It is the king's good pleasure / that thou to court shalt go,
To have his sister's greetings; / to honor thee 'tis ordered so."
What now happens is, of course, the 500 AD variant of a Disney Movie. It's one of the key scenes in the whole piece and any good narrator worth his salt would throw in all the important elements of the story. So you get the epic love, displayed in public:
Whether he pressed friendly / that hand as white as snow
From the love he bore her, / that I do not know;
Yet believe I cannot / that this was left undone,
For straightway showed the maiden / that he her heart had fully won.
You get the envy that tends to come with such things:
Then thought many a warrior: / "Were it likewise granted me
To walk beside the maiden, / just as now I see,
Or to lie beside her, / how gladly were that done!"
But ne'er a knight more fully / had gracious lady's favor won.
There's even a kiss, to rub it in:
From all the lands far distant / were guests distinguished there,
But fixed each eye was only / upon this single pair.
By royal leave did Kriemhild / kiss then the stately knight:
In all the world he never / before had known so rare delight.
And it wouldn't be complete without the dark shadow of a fate most tragic sneaking into all that smooching:
Then full of strange forebodings, / of Denmark spake the king:
"This full loving greeting / to many woe will bring,
—My heart in secret warns me— / through Siegfried's doughty hand.
God give that he may never / again be seen within my land."
It's really impressive, the author covered all the bases here. Anyway, the party goes on for 12 days and the two of them are as clingy as you'd expect from a
All are leaving at some point, but none of the 5000 (and 32) guests didn't leave without the bags full of gold:
Full many a shield all laden / with treasure forth they bore:
He dealt it round unmeasured / to friends in goodly store;
Each one had marks five hundred / and some had more, I ween.
Therein King Gunther followed / the rede of Gernot, knight full keen.
Even our hero Siegfried wants to leave for his homeland, but is talked into staying. They tell themselves he's doing it for friendship, but we know why he's doing it, don't we? By the way, no one died in this chapter. There is so much friendship and happiness and good will, in fact, that the drama police showed up and made sure that the people are reminded once more of the ill fate that looms over our beloved hero's head:
'Twas her surpassing beauty / that made the knight to stay.
With many a merry pastime / they whiled the time away;
But love for her oppressed him, / oft-times grievously.
Whereby anon the hero / a mournful death was doomed to die.
Thus ends the fifth adventure.
Siegfried had to fight an army of 40.000 men to get a first look at the girl of his dreams, what will he have to do next to see some leg, too? Find out in our next installment of Reading the Nibelungenlied!
(Or read the original, but where would be the fun in that ...)