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The Nibelungenlied: Prose Translation (Penguin Classics) Paperback – April 30, 1965
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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About the Author
Written around AD 1200, probably by a professional entertainer for performance at court in AustriaA.T. Hatto has translated Tristan and Eschenbach's Parzival for Penguin Classics.
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It's all there in the Niebelungenlied but in vastly altered form. Like the King Arthur fable, the tale is heavily encrusted with 'modern', medieval customs and references. Still, I'm taken with how much, indeed, this story resembles Homer's the Iliad and Odyssey and wonder if the poet borrowed from Homer's masterpiece? On the other hand, the tale has a long history, perhaps going back to the 6th Century in a largely illiterate Central Europe and Scandinavia. Therefore, it is possible that the Iliad, Odyssey, Niebelungenlied and Poet Edda, all have a common origin. Siegfried and Achilles have a great deal in common, more than can be attributed to pure chance. Achilles' goddess mother, holds the newborn Achilles by the ankle and dips him in a sacred river. The water makes his skin invulnerable to wounds. Of course, the water doesn't touch the skin of one ankle where is mother holds him.
Odin, in the guise of a one-eyed old man, tells Sigurd [Sigfriend] how to kill Fafnir, the enchanted dragon. He also tells him that he must then wash himself in the dragon's blood so that his skin will become hard [like a dragon?] and invulnerable to wounds. During his blood bath, however, a leaf falls in the upper middle of Sigurd's back, so the blood never touches it with Achilles-like ultimate results. Also, the final chapters of the story in which Hagen, Gunther and all the Burgundian knights attempt to fight off multitudes of Huns and Hun-allies is stylistically very much like scenes of battle told in the Iliad. At one point, Hagen holds his enemies at bay 'like a boar in the forest.' An almost identical line occurs in the Iliad when a hard-pressed Odysseus fights off the Trojans 'like a boar in the forest.' Of course, lines like these could have been part of long-standing Indo-Europeans traditions.
In addition, I'm struck by a similarity to the Holy Bible, itself. Hagen asked Kriemhild the point at which her husband, Sigfried, is most vulnerable. Thinking Hagen literally wants to cover Sigfried's back, she tells the truth with fatal results. In the Bible, Delilah badgers Samson about the source of his strength. Samson finally admits the truth, "It's my long hair," which Delilah cuts off with fatal results. A fascinating tale with numerous layers.
The story itself is interesting and above all illuminating, and sometimes exciting. It is a love story and revenge story rolled together. Innocence and young love are corrupted by selfishness and dishonesty, and are replaced with unyielding pride of the bad sort. Everything ends in a heart-breaking tragedy. For my reading we focused on the values the story represents, and how they relate to values of the renaissance, industrial age, and modern German-speaking countries. There is a surprising continuity in these values, which really haven't changed much over time. They have perhaps evolved in expression, but rarely in essence. I was not surprised to find loyalty and bravery portrayed, nor even generosity. I was surprised to find sarcasm in the dialogue, and humor in general. I was reminded that mankind of the past was not so different from mankind today. Realizing this really made the characters feel alive.
The language focuses on details, and uses an almost constant superlative voice; it seems each instance of graciousness is the most gracious, and each instance of generosity the most generous (and each instance of betrayal the most wicked), etc. Each scene is described to such an exhausting level that I must admit it sometimes takes a conscious effort to stay entertained; the style is not for the short attention span. (If you enjoy Beowulf and Tolkien like I, then you shouldn't have too much of a problem with this.) Overall, I really love this book and recommend it to anyone who is interested in any of the following: tragic love stories; medieval culture (and humanity in general); poetic language so detailed it could make some people fall asleep. Of course, I think everyone should be interested in the above, so I still recommend it to everyone. You should read this book and enjoy and appreciate a record of ancient humanity.
As far as the book itself goes, the quality is very good for a paperback. There are appendices in the back refering to the author or authors, the geography, and time period of the text. Also, there is list of the characters and their descriptions.