Written at the end of the twelfth century, the Nibelungenlied is the German epic tale, based on legends surrounding the destruction of the Burgundian kingdom: Roman allies who ran Worms for about twenty years in the fifth century AD before being driven out by the Huns. It’s a captivating tale with a glut of mythic beings like dragons and giants, and much drama in the form of love, hate, riches, treachery, revenge and lots of death.
Nibelung himself was the mythical king of Nibelungenland (Norway), who, with twelve giants, guarded a hoard of treasure. Siegfried, prince of the Netherlands and hero of the first part of the poem, kills Nibelung and his giants and pinches the hoard as a dowry for his new wife Kriemhild of Burgundy. Siegfried then helps Kriemhild’s brother, Gunther, King of Burgundy, to gain the hand of Brunhild of Iceland. This is no mean feat since the immensely powerful Brunhild will only marry a man who can beat her at the javelin, shot put and long jump. Siegfried helps Gunther to cheat – using his rather handy cloak of invisibility – and win Brunhild over. After the marriage, Kriemhild indiscreetly lets Brunhild know how she’d been tricked, which infuriates her so much that she arranges for Gunther’s aide, Hagan (the poem’s chief villain), to murder Siegfried, grab the treasure, and toss it in the Rhine. The plan is to recover it later, but by the end of the poem everyone’s dead, so the treasure’s lost.
The second part of the poem tells of Kriemhild’s subsequent marriage to Attila the Hun (called Etzel in the poem). Kriemhild invites the Burgundians to the Hunnish court, where Hagan lets rip once again and ends up killing Etzel’s son. Aghast, Kriemhild decapitates Gunther and Hagan with her own hands, only to be killed herself.