Nibelungenlied

Legacy

An early critic labeled it a German Iliad, arguing that, like the Greek epic, it goes back to the remotest times and unites the monumental fragments of half-forgotten myths and historical personages into a poem that is essentially national in character.

Imagery from the Nibelungelied was used in many poems, essays, posters and speeches at every stage in the development of German nationalism, from the Befreiungskriege (Wars of Liberation) to the regime of National Socialism (Nazism), to less jingoistic interpretations and references today.

For example, the faithfulness among the Burgundian king and his vassals, ranked higher than family bonds or life, is called Nibelungentreue. This expression was used in Germany, prior to World War I to describe the alliance between the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, as well as trying to inspire the army when referring to the Battle of Stalingrad.

The word Nibelungen is applied to the followers of Siegfried and finally to the Burgundians which are portrayed in the poem.

Today it is very difficult to separate the influence of the Nibelungenlied itself from that of other works of art and propaganda dealing with the Siegfried myths. Often, images which clearly refer to part of this story differ in some way. For example, one famous poster from the 1930s links Siegfried's death with the Dolchstosslegende (the idea that German soldiers were stabbed in the back by the peace treaties of 1918) and shows a Siegfried-like figure stabbed with a dagger, not a spear.


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