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The Nibelungenlied: c.1200

The Nibelungenlied combines two stories, each of long standing in Germanic tradition. The character of the Burgundian princess Kriemhild is used to link them.

In the first half she is betrothed to the heroic Siegfried, a prince from the Rhineland who comes to the Burgundian royal palace at Worms. His past exploits have brought him a great treasure (the gold of the Nibelungs) and a magic cloak which enables him to become invisible. He uses this ability, combined with his own athletic prowess, to help Kriemhild's brother, Gunther the king of Burgundy, in a rather unusual courtship.

News comes of a distant queen who will only marry the hero who can match her own prowess in hurling a spear, throwing a stone and jumping. Gunther wishes to marry her but is no match for this Nordic Amazon. So Siegfried performs the necessary feats, using his trick of invisibility to make Gunther seem the athletic hero. Brunhild accepts Gunther as her husband.

After the double marriage has taken place, the deception is discovered by Brunhild. A follower of Gunther's, the evil Hagen, uses the occasion to murder Siegfried - presenting it as an act of vengeance. Siegfried is given a magnificent funeral. Hagen, to prevent Kriemhild receiving Siegfried's treasure, sinks the gold in the Rhine.

The second half of the poem (in which Brunhild plays no further part) concentrates on another process of retaliation - Kriemhild's attempts to avenge the murder of her husband Siegfried. She achieves this by getting her brothers and Hagen invited to the court of Etzel, king of the Huns. Away from the safety of Burgundy, the brothers are killed. Kriemhild herself slays a captive Hagen when he refuses to tell her the whereabouts of Siegfried's treasure - after which she, the last of the Burgundians, is herself slain.

The central theme of this dark story echoes a disaster of436, when the Huns (in alliance with the Romans) take Worms and destroy the royal family. Etzel, in the Nibelungenlied, is a distant memory of Attila.

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