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This very sad heroic epic tells the story of how `countless warriors met their doom' after the wrangling of two women.

Its themes are of all times: love, hate, sorrow, pride, jealousy, the `first night', greed, honor, friendship, loyalty, treason, power, strength, courage, kinship, revenge. Standing above the multitude is its immortal hero Siegfried.

Its roots are certainly not Christian (`you should be carrying swords, not roses; wearing good, bright helmets, not gem-encrusted chaplets'). On the other hand, it is a painful illustration that the law of the talion (`an eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth') leads to complete annihilation.

The translator A. T. Hatto (`licence is for poets, not translators') opted for a prose version, whereby, of course, the strophic nature of the original is lost. However, the result is still remarkable. I highly recommend this translation for those who cannot read a modern strophic version of the German original.

By the way, A.T. Hatto's notes are superb.

A must read for all those interested in world literature.
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VINE VOICEon 12 December 2004
Wagner's operas and Tolkien's tales are modern incarnations of legends that have evolved in the European consciousness for centuries, in much the same way as the Arthurian cycle of stories. The Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs), which dates from around 1200 CE and probably originated in Austria, is one of the best known and most significant versions of those legends. It takes as its main theme the life and death of the hero Siegfried and the revenge of his widow Kriemhild. It also incorporates characters and events based on the lives of Atilla the Hun and Theodoric the Great.
This is a valuable insight into how literature evolved in Medieval Europe. If you are a Wagner or Tolkien fan, or a lover of epic fantasy, you will want to read it, both for historical interest and for the beauty and strangeness of some of the imagery. The inconsistencies in its plot and characterizations are a consequence of the poet trying to merge contradictory sources and also to present a version of pagan legends that would be acceptable to a Christian audience. The result is sometimes awkward but always interesting.
A.T Hatto's Penguin edition is definitely the one to get. There is a brief forward, then the story itself, and then more than 100 pages of editorial, giving you a glossary of character's names, the history of the poem, etc, etc. Probably more than you ever wanted to know about medieval German literature. (Although, having said that, it is odd that there is no mention of the Volsung Saga, which is really needed to complete the picture).
This is a lively, readable and authoritative prose translation. If, like me, your medieval German is less than fluent and likely to remain so, then this is the version to read.
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on 8 February 1999
Written nearly eight centuries ago in ostensibly an age of chivalry and heroism, 'The Nibelungenlied' is the medieval equivalent of 'The Iliad'. Unfortunately, its modern association with Wagner's opera's and therefore with the twentieth-century evil of the Nazis has given it something of a bad reputation. But this criticism is unfair and 'The Nibelungenlied' should be considered on its own merits as an effective piece of European literature. This epic German tale deals with the romance between the mighty warrior Siegfried and his beloved Kriemhild, the betrayal and death of Siegfried, and Kriemhild's terrible revenge on his murderers. The climax of the story comes with a massive battle from which few survive. 'The Nibelungenlied' has its faults - some of the descriptions are over-exaggerated and a bit strange to the modern audience, while some of the fighting is unrealistic and certainly over-the-top. But that adds to the charm of the thing. It must be remembered that there is something of a mythic and legendary quality to 'The Nibelungenlied'. It is not a fairy-tale - much of its content is dark and full of meaning. It also has a certain directness of narrative which is appealing and many of its scenes are provoking, such as Siegfried's murder by Hagen. Neither does it allow its characters to become cardboard and two-dimensional - in this tale there are no straightforward villains or heroes, just a collection of people who act as they see right. An example is the personage of Hagen, who despite his treachery towards Siegfried believes what he has done to be justified. A wholly different mentality is expressed in this story, stressing the differences between the modern conscientious world and the harder environment of the medieval age. 'The Nibelungenlied' then, is an excellent tale which makes a deep impression upon the reader.
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This is the 1964 prose version of a great medieval German chivalric/heroic poem which influenced Wagner and Tolkein so much. Written in c.1200, the Norse pagan gods have disappeared - though there is a sense of fate or destiny in the poem.

Siegfried falls in love with Kreiemhilde, and helps her brother Gunther to win Brunhilde an Amazonian-style queen. But when the two women fall out, the male alliance is broken, Siegfried is murdered and it is Kriemhilde who has to take revenge on her brothers.

Hatto's translation is dignified and his notes unobtrusive. This edition also includes a long essay he wrote on the poem as well as some interesting material on the genesis of the poem. I was reading it because I was interested in medieval `epic' and the way it influences the Renaissance incarnations of the genre, but if you were studying the poem itself an up-to-date edition would be preferable.

That said, for the interested general reader this is a wonderfully evocative poem (even translated in prose) with a stately tone which belies the emotionality of it. Brunhilde, especially, is a revelation in this version (which doesn't follow the parallel tradition which had her as Siegfried's lover) and has some wonderfully bizarre comedic moments, such as her wedding night. It's not Homer or Vergil but still an interesting and entertaining read.
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on 21 February 2013
Nibelungenlied is a fascinating tale of treachery and revenge set in the early Middle Ages. It presents vivid characters motivated by the values of Feudal society and timeless human passions. Personally I find it much more enjoyable than a number of better known medieval works including Beowulf and Morte Darthure.

In the English speaking world at least, Nibelungenlied is probably best known as an influence on Wagner's Ring Cycle. And yet Wagner's operatic epic is very different to this, as he only used the first part of the book (up to the death of Siegfried) while incorporating large amounts of Norse mythology and material from the Icelandic sagas. You certainly don't need to be a Wagnerian to get something out of this classic book.

As other reviews have said, the notes are excellent, so even if you want to go for one of the verse translations available, this is worth getting as a supplement.
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Hatto's book got me through my medieval German Degree exams, and it's great that I can finally give credit to it, admittedly over three decades later! At least I could understand the characters and plot before I tackled the rather daunting 1,000+ verses in medieval German. His additional material is second to none, and to think this book is still around means it has stood the test of time.

The Nibelungenlied has always stayed with me, though I always wondered what use I could make of this epic classic. Well, I found one! In Little Black Rammbook, I've referred back to it as I relate the lyrics of the contemporary German band Rammstein to the timbre and beat of these old medieval verses. If we can introduce a modern audience to these fabulous tales and explain the links to our European past, then we can thank the anonymous author who compiled them that he has contributed to future generations in the way that Hatto did when he wrote this book.
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on 3 January 2011
The title means Song of The Nibelungs and, written in 1200 in Germany, this is both an essential part of German culture and an inspiration to many European artists.

Siegfried is heir to the throne and treasure of the Nibelungs (a slightly nebulous people that includes today's Netherlands and parts of Scandinavia). On his travels around Europe he falls in love and marries Kriemhild who is sister to the three kings of Burgundland (approximately France). Despite becoming brother to those three kings, Siegfied is murdered by one of them - Hagan - and Kriemhild extracts her revenge by destroying all the kings and knights of Burgundland. It's a dirty and bloody tale, particularly in the last third where Kriemheld sends wave after wave of knights against her brothers and their supporters until finally everyone in the battle lies dead.

I have a soft spot for epic poetry but this one just didn't quite nail it for me. It's not, I think, because this version is written in prose - I am quite happy to read the Iliad in that form - and nor is it the quality of the translation, which here relies on using straightforward everyday language. Rather it is the narrative which failed to fully excite and interest me; and that is a rather strange result because it is full of the usual ingredients of such poems and much of it is well and interestingly done. There are great and powerful heroes, both men and women. Wonderful deeds are completed in the pursuit of love and honour. Courage, romance, malice, treachery, sorrow and pageant are all on display in embroidered descriptions of each scene and, of course, there is magic and fortune telling. But, there is a flaw at the centre of the storytelling that I could not get over and it is that the central characters trim their positions so that this is really a story about politicians and politics rather than heroes and heroics - and I can get that kind of stuff any and each day in the newspapers. Specifically the brothers allow Siegfried to be killed by Hagen and for Hagen to be excused the crime. After that they allow Hagen to abuse Kriemhild and marry her off to Etzel in far off Hungary, in the meantime stealing her fortune so that she cannot use it to buy revenge. As a result it is hard to feel any sympathy with the brothers when Kriemhild does for them and although she is extremely cruel, her motives stem from love of Siegfried whereas theirs are routed in base preservation of their status, and so it ends as a rather grubby family fight instead of a principled stand of heroes.

For all that, this is an easy read and I am glad that I now know about this text. There is much to enjoy amongst the battles and wild events of the story but it is not on a par with, say, The liberation of Jerusalem and certainly not the Iliad or Odyssey, with which Penguin try to make a comparison. The notes at the end are brilliant.
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on 15 August 2002
In my opinion the translator has attempted to make this old heroic germanic myth more accessible to the 'modern' reader. Its not written in a poetic form as you would expect but in more of a novel format which has made it lifeless and dull. The only other copy ive read was published some time ago and was translated and written in more traditional poetic verse and was FAR superior to this version. My advice is find a more traditional version of the poem as this version has destroyed the original vision of what the poem was supposed to be- a heroic teutonic legend. This is more like reading your gas bill. Not recommended at all.
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on 6 February 2016
It was very good.
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