A medieval "best-seller," the Nibelungenlied soon fell into obscurity. When a manuscript of the epic poem was discovered in 1755, German literary critics hoped it would come to rival Homer's epics in popularity and esteem. Critical studies and new incarnations of the epic began to appear, from the first fragment, Chriemhild's Revenge (1757), through Wagner's Ring cycle and beyond. Against the backdrop of German admiration for ancient poetry, particularly the Iliad and the Odyssey, this exhibition chronicles the creation of a "German National Myth" from the ill-suited cloth of the Nibelungenlied.
The exhibition is divided into seven thematic sections. The first is an introduction to texts that conditioned the reception of the Nibelungenlied, particularly treatises on poetic theory and earlier Germanic translations of Greek and Roman epics. The second shows the transformation of European perspectives on Greek and Roman art and culture, which Johann Joachim Winckelmann set into motion and which had a profound effect on the reception and depiction of the Nibelungenlied. The third section is devoted to 18th- and 19th-century responses to the Nibelungenlied in the form of new editions, poetic interpretations, and early reviews. Illustrated editions and adaptations for the stage, both key components of the popularization of the Nibelungenlied over the course of the 19th century, make up the fourth and fifth sections, while 20th-century re-workings and English translations find a place in the sixth and seventh. Unfortunately, there are no images for exhibition items that were on loan from other libraries at Yale University.
This site was produced to complement an exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, from 7 November 2007 - 9 January 2008. See Press for more details about the exhibition.