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The Proposed Sources of the ‘Nibelungenlied’

The Proposed Sources of the ‘Nibelungenlied’

By Henry Kratz

Studies in Philology, Vol. 59, No. 4 (1962)

Introduction: Ever since Karl Lachmann, swayed by the current theories regarding the origin of the Homeric epics, postulated no fewer than twenty episodic poems which he believed had been combined by a purely additive process to form the Nibelungenlied (NL), a controversy has raged intermittently as to its immediate sources. Andreas Heusler’s famous work, Nibelungensage und Nibelungenlied, which for twenty years enjoyed almost canonical standing, finally brought greater clarity to the situation. Heusler asserted that the NL in the form in which we know it today was the work of an Austrian poet of the early 13th century who combined a shortish poem that narrated the main events of the first part (“Sigfrid’s Death”) with a much longer poem that already in epic breadth narrated the main events of the second part (“Krimhild’s Revenge”). He claimed that the poem on which the first half is built, which he called the ” younger Brunhild poem,” was composed toward the end of the 12th century, and was in turn derived from a Frankish original from the 5th or 6th century. He hypothesized a more complicated history for the second half: he believed that the immediate source was an Austrian ” Burgundian epic” from about 1160, this having been derived from a Bavarian “Burgundian poem ” of the 8th century, this in turn built on a Frankish original from the 5th-6th centuries.

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