Die teusche Ilias: The Nibelungenlied
in the Early Years of its Rediscovery

The best-known German epic today, the Nibelungenlied, was also popular with medieval audiences. Written approximately 800 years ago, some 35 mostly partial manuscript versions still survive, attesting to its broad appeal. The poem is divided into two parts, the first of which chronicles young prince Siegfried’s courtship of the princess Chriemhild at the court of Burgundy and Siegfried’s murder by Hagen, a Burgundian courtier. The latter half of the poem revolves around Chriemhild’s plot to avenge Siegfried’s death after Hagen goes unpunished. To this end, Chriemhild marries the powerful King Etzel and when the Burgundians visit his court she sets her plan into motion. In the end, Hagen, Etzel, Chriemhild, and her Burgundian kinsmen and a host of others die in a horrific battle.

Sometime before the end of the 16th century, the poem fell into obscurity and remained forgotten until 1755, when a 13th-century manuscript was found in the Royal Library of Hohenems in Voralberg, Austria. The chance discovery was made by a local doctor who recognized its significance and sent it to Johann Jakob Bodmer, a professor of Swiss history renowned for his work on German-language poetry.

Despite the sensational plot and Bodmer’s efforts, reception of the Nibelungenlied remained cool for decades. This response was shaped by Early Modern attitudes toward  classical epic poems, particularly the Odyssey and Iliad. Homer’s reputation, always high in German-speaking lands, was at its all-time peak during the 18th century. Discovered at this particular historical moment, the Nibelungenlied was not judged on its own terms, but rather against Homer. Despite significant reservations about its quality, German literary critics did what they could to popularize the newfound poem so that they too might have a national epic. I would like to welcome you to the exhibit with a brief introduction to the early reception history of the Nibelungenlied and to the poetics debate that informed it.


Introduction

The 1882 Lexikon der deutschen Nationallitteratur contains an extensive article on the Nibelungenlied, in which the poem is introduced asthe “crown of medieval folk poetry and the only epic poem in the world, the importance of which is comparable to the Homeric epics.”1 Considering the plot itself, one might be tempted to ask how this interpretation – and the seemingly incongruous comparison to the Iliad – came to be a standard enough aspect of Nibelungen scholarship at the end of the 19th century to earn a place in a literary encyclopedia. As Ulrich Wyss and others have noted, the prominence of the Nibelungenlied in the German canon “never went without saying.”2 In the following, I would like to examine the very early reception history of the Nibelungenlied as well as the poetics debate that informed it to help clarify later incarnations of the Nibelungenlied.


Opitz and Some Questions of Relevance to the Reception of the Nibelungenlied

In the centuries during which the Nibelungenlied was lost, a new tradition of poetic theory developed in Germany; the most prominent of the early theorists, Martin Opitz, led his contemporaries to the first flowering of German poetry in the modern era with Das Buch von der Deutschen Poeterey or The Book of German Poetics in 1624. In it, Opitz describes poetic technique and encourages the reader to become a writer. Perhaps a hundred similar theoretical works followed on the heels of The Book of German Poetics, but most were imitations or extrapolations. An examination of The Book of German Poetics demonstrates that the status of German art in relation to that of other nations was a thorny subject well before the rediscovery of the Nibelungenlied. In the Teutsche Poemata (also 1724), Opitz writes:

We Germans, as we came somewhat later to Latin and Greek together with the liberal arts and nonetheless surpassed and left behind us all other nations in the rich increase of the most learned people, we hope the same for our own poetry, which, despite the protracted wars, rises and stirs so much everywhere that it seems in this case also we will in time surpass all foreign peoples.3  

Opitz’s concerns about the development of an adequate national literature display a curious tension between dismissal of and chauvinism for German literature, an attitude that shaped German literary criticism and the reception of the Nibelungenlied in particular in the centuries to come.

The next field-changing poetics after Opitz was Johann Christoph Gottsched’s Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst or Critical Ars Poetica of 1729. Gottsched (1700-1766) is an important “portal figure” and catalyst of the early Enlightenment, countering Baroque ideas with a “rationalistic legitimation” of literature.4 Gottsched addresses not only the fundamental technical aspects of poetry, but also theoretical questions, such as to what degree poetry is universal, that is, transcends issues of historical and regional particularity.5 Although he could have chosen to cite critics such as Pope and Schaftesbury who emphasized the value of the “subjective imagination,” Gottsched, like German Baroque theorists before him, chose to follow a decidedly classical path, basing his poetics on Enlightenment philosophy as embodied by Christian Wolff (1679-1754).6 Wolff’s influence can be seen in Gottsched’s enthusiasm for normative aesthetics based on Christian rationality. Gottsched himself remarks that his Critische Ars Poetica is entirely derived from classical sources (with particular emphasis on Aristotle’s Poetics); what is new is his programmatic rationalist Christian orientation toward these sources.

In the Critical Ars Poetica Gottsched argues that God’s creation (Nature) is the most perfect creation and secondary creators (i.e. artists) should attempt to approach this standard. Reason enables us to determine what is most like Nature, but rather than imitating Nature directly, as Aristotle suggests, one should follow the example of the ancient Greeks, who are the first and best imitators of Nature. As such, they should be followed without exception; historical circumstances should not be allowed to come between the poet and perfection.7 Those who fail to imitate the greatest writers, “follow their fantasy absolutely” instead of the divine harmony of the natural world, and write lesser genres that “deviate from natural harmony” such as “quodlibets, operas, novels, buffoonery and other fantastical theatrical inventions, that have neither a genre nor finesse.”8

Gottsched’s work, like the Critische Ars Poetica, is characterized by the “propagation of national pride” to encourage German-speakers to embrace a “healthy bourgeois national consciousness;” Gottsched dedicates himself to improving the quality of German-language literature through good criticism and clear instruction.9 Despite his enthusiasm for the concept of a German national literature, Gottsched, like Opitz did not stand by what had already been produced. In Gottsched’s case, this reluctance is colored by his neoclassical orientation rather than Opitz’s preference for other contemporary European literatures; Gottsched used no contemporary poets to illustrate the principles outlined in his Critical Ars Poetica preferring examples drawn from antiquity. This preference for the ancients and his understanding of them as paradigmatic precludes the appreciation of German literature per se. An excellent illustration of this is Gottsched’s suggestion that the raw materials of Germanic myth were equal to the task of creating an epic poem, but nonetheless nothing worthy had been written.


Literaturstreit:
Gottsched vs. Bodmer and Breitinger

After the publication of Gottsched’s Critical Dichtkunst, the Zürich professors Johann Jakob Bodmer (Swiss history) and Johann Jakob Breitinger (Hebrew and Greek) attacked Gottsched’s poetics, giving rise to a very public, drawn-out and contentious debate called the Literaturstreit. The first volley was Breitinger’s poetics of 1740, which he published under the same name as Gottsched’s. Like Gottsched, Bodmer and Breitinger based their poetics on Wolff’s rationalism, accepting the imitation of Nature as the primary goal of the poet, but they expanded the “latitude of poetic subjectivity” beyond Gottsched’s.10 In short, the debate revolved around poetic license; the Swiss wanted to make room for the Marvelous in this schema, while Gottsched rejected its use in all but ancient settings. Bodmer and Breitinger insisted that the poet could create as well as imitate, arguing that the primal source [Urgrund] of all poetic beauty is the New and that the Marvelous was the ultimate degree of the New, thus the most important poetic element; furthermore, that the Marvelous occupies a position between truth and falsehood, as it is so close to true, that it is possible and, thus, not a lie.

The debate continued to roil around a second issue: Milton’s use of genre in Paradise Lost. Gottsched calls heroic epic “the true magnum opus und masterpiece of all poetry,” endorsing, unsurprisingly, Homer as paradigmatic:

Homer is, as far as we know, the very first to undertake this kind of work and accomplished it with such fortune or rather with such skill […] and is held up as the paradigm to all of his successors […] thus, Homer is the father and the first inventor of this poem, and consequently a truly great intellect, a man of special ability [...]11

Gottsched’s approach requires him to ignore “historically conditioned” aspects of literature in favor of moral arguments. This tactic emphasizes the eternal quality of literary standards, but cannot take into account all aspects of any work of art; for example, he reduces the Iliad to an illustration of the idea that “trivial discord is ruinous: harmony, however, exceedingly beneficial.”12

Evaluating Western European epics, such as Don Cervantes and Chanson de Roland, Gottsched criticizes Paradise Lost, alleging that Miltonstrays too far from the epic form; the worst transgressions against the form include “sophistry in words and turns of phrase […] artificial ideas and other fool’s gold […] deviating from the simplicity of nature […] grandiloquent und overblown expressions, immense amplifications and bombastic allusions.”13  Although not the first to criticize Paradise Lost, Gottsched brought the debate into the German-speaking realm. Bodmer and Breitinger defend Milton’s unique reworking of epic form as well as his use of marvelous elements.14 The Swiss critics praised the simultaneous originality and historical ties [Gebundenheit] of Paradise Lost.15 Gottsched’s evaluation of Milton hinges on his understanding of the epic genre and the role of the poet.

It was against this backdrop that the Nibelungenlied was rediscovered in 1755. Hoping to interest Bodmer in the text, the discoverer, Jakob Hermann Obereit (1725-1798), did his best to relate the barely read text to the topics of the Literaturstreit: the Marvelous and the ancients:

If one compares the ancient poetry of the Greeks and Swabians [Germanic group] to our poets of the new British and Klopstockian taste, what does one see? The difference between Nature and Artifice.16

Bodmer and Breitinger shared with Gottsched a desire to encourage good literature through good criticism but also wanted to prove that German-speaking lands already had produced a literature as worthy of praise as that of other Western Europeans.17 This desire, in conjunction with Bodmer and Breitinger’s willingness to accept, to a degree, historically conditioned elements in literature, made it possible for the newly discovered medieval epic to gain a toehold in the German canon.


The First Edition: Bodmer’s Chriemhilden Rache (1757)

The first printing of the Nibelungenlied was Bodmer’s edition of Manuscript C as Chriemhilden Rache or Chriemhild’s Revenge. In contrast to Gottsched, who rejects medieval courtly epic as inferior to ancient heroic poetry, Bodmer works hard to integrate the Nibelungenlied into contemporary aesthetics and the new patriotism of the late 18th century. At the same time, however, Bodmer believes that some serious pruning is necessary before the Nibelungenlied can “bear fruit for national literature.”18 Bodmer's pruning takes place at a textual level: the first edition is actually only a fragment of the Nibelungenlied.

In the introduction to Chriemhild's Revenge, Bodmer expresses his ambivalence about the quality of the Nibelungenlied. At his most positive, Bodmer draws parallels between the Nibelungenlied and Homer’s epics:

Courage appears here in wondrous variety in various forms; one is Rüdiger’s, another Blödelin’s, another Hagen’s, that of Volker, of Dietrich von Bern – In the description of battles a diversity of encounters prevails such that hardly one fight, one battle, is like another. Every new combat situation surpasses the last in greatness, danger and confusion. – Those are characteristics which otherwise belong to Homer. The poet is also more similar to Homer in this regard than some others are, that he seldom lets us think of the poet; he engages us with the plot alone, and makes us readers into hearers.19

The Lament of the Nibelungen: It has a certain resemblance to the last book of the Iliad, in which appear the lament of Andromache, Hecuba and Helen and Hector’s burial.20

All in all, the poet gives his most noble characters a sense of honor, great courage, and eloquence, which we do not encounter in the same clear light in Homer’s heroes.21

Despite positive statements like these and the fact that he would like ‘his’ discovery to become the great national – even universal – epic, Bodmer, like Opitz and Gottsched before him, cannot embrace wholeheartedly the work of earlier German poets.

Bodmer’s concerns are based on his judgment of the Nibelungenlied against Homer’s epic; he sees a clear, qualitative hierarchy between classical (and neoclassical) epic forms and the style born of the “childish disposition” of the middle ages.22 An example of that is his evaluation of the Marvelous in the Nibelungenlied. He points out that its use is “in the taste of the times,” that is, historically conditioned, while also being “very modest” in comparison to the “fictions” of other medieval authors.23 Furthermore, Bodmer downplays the significance of the Marvelous in the epic in favor of aspects he and his contemporaries admire more:

If one would reduce the exorbitant number of warriors and temper a few other things of that sort, we would have a work in which the childish tendency to the excessive and the falsely marvelous would be flattered the least; where, on the contrary, the love of martial virtues and tangible deeds would be dealt with absolutely adequately. Everything is in the ideas of the poet's chivalrous times, and written according to the conventions most appropriate to his contemporaries. In the execution there is an attractive simplicity and great clarity, things that have counted for much in all cultures and in all ages … 24

Bodmer also argues that the unknown author of the Nibelungenlied would have done things differently had he lived in a more enlightened age in which other narrative techniques had reigned:

If he had had the concept [of plot unity], it would have been easy for him to incorporate most of the preceding stories with the part about the revenge in such a way that the unity of the plot would not have suffered. He would have been able to give Chriemhild just one trusted person at [Etzel’s] court […] to whom she herself would have told it. […] He could have allowed her to perform this narration largely with the construction he uses in his own person.25

Bodmer posits that the power of the Nibelungenlied is it is not artistry, but a more primitive kind of talent: "Thus it was not the poet's art or his recognition of the rules of unity and the whole, or his perception of great effects, which come of it; it was only instinct or genius, which led him powerfully, so that we received a complete, broad, but still only one plot."26

Bodmer’s paring down of the Nibelungenlied to Chriemhild's Revenge is an attempt to resolve its divergence from a formal ideal predicated on a particular conception of history. Bodmer sees history as a logical chain of events with emphasis on the "great men” to whom he attributes its shaping, as we can see in the plays and theoretical works he wrote.27 The expectation that history be didactic presents a major stumbling block to a positive evaluation of the epic, as the following passage shows:

Eschilbach and his contemporaries writing narrative poems had no concept of plot unity and the whole. Rather, they believed that they had to develop the life of their heroes from their birth on to death; and they are very careful to apologize if they leave out a few bits of news for us."28

Bodmer explains his own decision to leave out material from the Nibelungenlied in Chriemhild’s Revenge with a comparison to Homer:

I cut all these parts, and, I think, with the same justification Homer had to leave out the kidnapping of Helen, the sacrifice of Iphigenia and all that happened during the ten years before the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, to which he only occasionally alludes, as if to familiar things.29,30

Ironically, it is Bodmer's appreciation for the text that leads him to make changes to the text, becoming an active collaborator through his suppression of the bulk of the text.

At the close of the introduction, Bodmer reflects on the project of popularizing the Nibelungenlied:

I do not know, if I may flatter myself with the hope that my encouragements will have some effect; I dare not expect much, as I see that the [medieval courtly romance] Eneas by [Heinrich von Veldeke], that second Aeneid adapted according to the mentality and taste of the twelfth century, of which such an old, complete and true manuscript exists, which is granted to scholars for their use so compliantly, has found neither editor nor enthusiast nor publisher until now.31

Bodmer was right to suspect that a wide and positive reception of the Nibelungenlied would not be forthcoming. Despite all his efforts, Bodmer’s attempt to make the Nibelungenlied relevant failed, and his contemporaries remained disinterested. The initial unpopularity of the text may be explained by way of Bodmer's own attitude; the deleterious effects of reading of the Nibelungenlied against the Homeric form reduces the medieval epic to a copy of a tale from Greco-Roman antiquity. A poem like the Nibelungenlied, which did not replicate the antique ideal, could not be embraced in 18th-century Germany.32


The first complete Edition

The comparison of the Nibelungenlied to Homer’s epics remained integral to its reception history until the early 20th century. In fact, as Max Wehrli remarks, “insight into the intrinsic value and the uniqueness of the medieval epic becomes ever more clouded” by the comparison.33 In 1783, the influential Swiss historian, Johannes von Müller (1752-1809), wrote an essay on the Nibelungenlied, calling it “this excellent poem, of which our nation may be proud.”34 Müller draws attention to particular similarities between it and the Iliad; beyond plot points and characters, he finds that “[i]n both poems there are more great passions than great people, greater heroes than kings, and portrayals of disasters that can leave no human soul untouched.”35 Despite this praise, Müller considers the Nibelungenlied deeply inferior to the Iliad:

This is not the place to describe in detail how and why the Greek is so far above the German as Jupiter, whose raised eyebrow shakes the heavens, is above the dwarf Alberich; but we may be assured, that, if the Nibelungenlied is revised (not too much, but rather without harming its antique form), our nation too will be able to prove to what degree Nature can succeed in the North.36

Müller’s famous pronouncement that the “Nibelungenlied could become the German Iliad” has been repeated by countless scholars.37 Of course, we see the usual disregard of the Nibelungenlied’s own merits, but the main thrust of the argument is that German scholars must dedicate their efforts to creating a positive reception: “[the Nibelungenlied] will never be as widely known as it deserves if scholarly hands do not do it the service, which Homer received from those who first made him to the favorite book of all Greeks.”38 Although Müller’s commentary on the Nibelungenlied did not awake interest in the epic immediately, it did eventually take on the same great importance for the Nibelungenlied as Lessing’s 17th Literary Epistle on the reception of Shakespeare in Germany.39

As Jan-Dirk Müller has written, the Nibelungenlied has been a “projection surface” since its rediscovery, a projection surface “for a theory of the national epic, for heroic self-affirmation through prehistory, for an pristine national character and the values and goals, which one attributed to this people.”40 The reception of the Nibelungenlied picked up steam after the turn of the 19th century and by 1810 the first scholar, Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen (a subsequent editor of the Nibelungenlied), could speak of the epic as Germany’s “Nationalepos,” a status that remained unchallenged and was often abused into the 20th century.41 The meager 18th-century reception of the Nibelungenlied foreshadows central elements of the epic’s reception as the German national epic, but at the same time gives little insight into how that development came to be.

Bryn Savage, M.A., M. Phil.
Yale University, 2007/2011



Footnotes


1 Stern 262: “Krone der mittelalterlichen volksmäßigen Poesie und die einzige epische Dichtung der Welt, welche an Bedeutung den homerischen Epen vergleichbar ist.”

2 Wyss 1990, 158.

3 Opitz’ introduction to Teutsche Poemata: “Wir Deutschen / wie wir zu dem Latein und Griechischen / nebenst den freyen Künsten / etwas später kommen sind / unnd doch alle andere Nationen an reichem Zuwachs der gelehrtesten Leute uberholet / und hinter uns gelassen haben / also wollen wir von unserer eigenen Poeterey ingleichen hoffen / die / ungeachtet der nunmehr langwirigen krige / sich allbereit hin und wieder so sehr wittert und reget / daß es scheinet / wir werden auch dißfals frembden Völckern mit der Zeit des Vortheil ablauffen” (n. pag.).


4 Hofmann 66.

5 See Pizer 19.

6 Finken 40, Mitchell 27.

7 See Pizer 19-23.

8 The 1741-edition of Gottsched’s Critische Dichtkunst (I.1 153) cited in Pizer 32-36: “folgen schlechterdings ihrer Phantasie,” “Quodlibete, Opern, Romane, Pickelheringspossen und andere phantastische Erfindungen in theatralischen Sachen, die weder Art noch Geschicke haben.”

9 Rieck 93 (“gesundes bürgerliches Nationalbewußtsein”); Hofmann 67.


10 Hofmann 37.

11 Gottsched 1751, II.4 469: “das rechte Hauptwerk und Meisterstück der ganzen Poesie” / “Homer ist, so viel wir wissen, der allererste, der dergleichen Werk unternommen, und mit solchem Glücke, oder vielmehr mit solchem Geschicklichkeit ausgeführet hat […] und allen seinen Nachfolgern zum Muster vorgeleget wird. […] Homer ist also der Vater und der erste Erfinder dieses Gedichtes, und folglich ein recht großer Geist, ein Mann, von besonderer Fähigkeit gewesen […].”

12 Pizer 38; Gottsched 1751, II.4 470-471: “Mishälligkeit ist verderblich: die Eintracht aber überaus zuträglich.”


13 Gottsched 1751, II.4 504.

14 Bender 85.

15 Wehrli 111.

16 Obereit to Bodmer on July 19, 1755: “Man halte die alten poetischen Griechen und Schwaben gegen unsere Dichter vom neuen brittischen und klopstockischen Geschmack, was erblikt man? Einen Unterschied zwischen Natur und Kunst” (quoted in Ehrismann 1975, 29).


17 Bender 35.

18 See Ehrismann 2002, 169.

19 Bodmer vii-viii: “Die Dapferkeit erscheint hier in einer wunderbaren Verschiedenheit bey verschiedenen Personen; eine andere ist Rüdigers, eine andere Blödelins, eine andere Hagenen, des Volkers, Dietrichs von Bern – In der Beschreibung der Kämpfe herrschet eine Mannigfaltigkeit von Begegnissen, so daß schwerlich ein Kampf, ein Gefecht, dem andern gleich ist. Jedes neue Gefecht erhebt sich über das vorhergehende an Grösse, Gefahr, und Verwirrung. – Das sind Eigenschaften, die sonst dem Homer zugehören. Der Poet hat auch diese mit dem Griechen mehr als so mancher anderer Poet gemein, daß er uns selten an den Poeten gedenken läßt; er nimmt uns allein mit seiner Handlung ein, und machet uns aus Lesern zu hörern.”

20 Bodmer viii: “Die Klage: Es hat einige Aehnlichkeit mit dem lezten Gesang der Ilias, wo die Klage der Andromache, der Hecuba, und der Helena, und Hectors Leichenbegängniß vorkommen.”

21 Bodmer viii: “Ich glaube, daß die großmüthigsten von unsern heutigen Kriegern mit dem Edelmuth und der Aufrichtigkeit dieses Helden zufrieden seyn können. Ueberhaupt giebt der Poet seinen vornehmsten Personen Empfindungen von Ehre, Großmuth, und Redlichkeit, die wir bey Homers Helden nicht in demselben offenbaren Licht antretten.”


22 Bodmer vii.

23 Bodmer viii: “nur mit sparsamer Hand angebracht.”

24 Bodmer viii: “Das Abentheurliche, und Unglaubliche, das in diesen abgerissenen Stüken herrschet, das in dem Geschmake der Zeiten des Verfassers ist, und mit den Erdichtungen des von Osterdingen und einiger anderer verglichen noch sehr bescheiden ist, wird in der Rache, die wir allein liefern, nur mit sparsamer Hand angebracht. Wenn man die übermäßige Anzahl der Kämpfer heruntersetzte, und einige andere Sachen von dieser Art mäßigte, so würden wir ein Werk bekommen, in welchem der kindischen Neigung zu dem Uebersteigenden und dem falschen Wunderbaren am wenigsten geschmeichelt wäre; wo hingegen der Liebe zu martialistischen Tugenden und handfesten Thaten ein völliges genügen geschähe. Alles ist in den Ideen der ritterlichen Zeiten des Poeten, und nach den eigensten Sitten seiner Zeitverwandten geschrieben. Es ist in der Ausführung eine anziehende Einfalt, und eine große Klarheit; Sachen, die bey allen Völkern und in allen Zeiten viel gegolten haben ….”

25 Bodmer vi: “Er hätte sie diese Erzählung grossentheils mit der Ausbildung können verrichten lassen, mit welcher er sie in seiner eigenen Person gethan hat. Ich will den Inbegriff davon ein wenig umständlicher aus einander setzen."

26 Bodmer v: “Also war es nicht die Kunst des Poeten, oder seine Erkenntniß der Regeln und der Einheit und dem Ganzen, oder Empfindung der grossen Würkungen, die daher entstehen; es war nur Instinkt oder Genie, die ihn mächtig leiteten, daß wir in der Rede der Chriemhilde eine volle, ausgebreitete, und doch nur eine Handlung bekommen haben. Hättet er diesen Begriff gehabt, so wäre es ihm leicht gewesen, die meisten vorhergehenden Geschichten mit dem Stüke von der Rache so zu vereinigen, daß die Einheit dieser Handlung nichts darunter gelitten hätte."


27 Scenna 12.

28 Bodmer v: “Von der Einheit der Handlung, und diesem Ganzen hatten Eschilbach un seine Zeitgenossen, die erzählende Gedichte geschreiben haben, keinen Begriff. Sie glaubten vielmehr, sie müßten das Leben ihrer Helden von ihrer Geburt an bis zum Tode entfalten; und sie sind sehr sorgfältig sich zu entschuldigen, wenn sie uns einige Nachrichten davon mangeln lassen."

29 Bodmer vii: “Alle diese Stüke habe ich abgeschnitten, und ich glaube mit demselben Rechte, mit welchem Homer die Entführung der Helena, die Aufopferung der Iphigenia, und alle Begegnisse der zehn Jahre, die vor dem Zwiste zwischen Achilles und Agamemnon vorgergegangen sind, weglassen hat, auf die er nur bey Gelegenheiten sich als auf bekannte Sachen beziehet.”

30 Bodmer applied the same structural ‘improvement,’ to a later hexameter translation of the Nibelungenlied that follows the same trajectory as Chriemhild’s Revenge, “Die Rache der Schwester” or “The Sister’s Revenge.” One must note that Bodmer, like other Enlightenment-era translators, used hexameter for all reworkings of medieval poetry (Bender 40).

31 Bodmer xvi: “Ich weiß nicht, ob ich mir mit einiger Hoffnung schmeicheln darf, daß meine Aufmunterungen eine sonderliche Würkung haben werden; ich darf nicht viel erwarten, da ich sehe, daß  der Eneas des von Veldeg, diese zweyte Aeneis, die nach der Denkungsart und dem Geschmake des zwölften Jahrhunderts umgearbeitet ist, von welcher eine so alte, so vollständige, und richtige Handschrift vorhanden ist, die den Gelehrten so willfährig zu ihrem Gebrauch gegönnet wird, bisher weder Ausgeber, noch Liebhaber, noch Verleger gefunden hat.”

32 Despite his enthusiasm for the newly discovered epic, Bodmer made other mistakes in the initial reception of the Nibelungenlied; particularly his misunderstanding of its verse form and attribution of authorship (of both Klage and Lied) to the Konrad mentioned in the Klage, which quickly became Konrad von Würzburg (Bodmer ix; Körner 6). In “Mutmaßen von der Person des Dichters der Chriemhilde” (1784), an article published posthumously in the Leipzig journal, Für Ältere Litteratur und Neuere Lectüre, Bodmer restated and fleshed out this position, advancing Cuonrat Marner as an alternative author (Körner 10). This position would be embraced, debated and refuted by many in the coming years.

33 Wehrli 95: “die Einsicht in den Eigenwert und die Eigenart des mittelalterlichen Epos wird in immer steigendem Maße getrübt.”

34 Müller’s review of Myller’s Der Nibelungen Liet in the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen. St. 36. 353-358. 1783. In the original: “diese vortreffliche Gedicht, auf welches die Nation stolz thun darf” (Müller 1783, 354).

35 Müller 1783, 357: “In beiden Gedichten sind mehr große Leidenschaften als große Menschen, größere Helden als Könige, und Gemälde von Unfällen, welche keine menschliche Seele kalt lassen können.”

36 Müller 1783, 357-358: “Es ist hier der Ort nicht, ausführlich darzuthun, worin und warum der Grieche so hoch über den Deutschen ist, als der Jupiter, dessen Augenbrauen durch ihre Bewegung den Himmel erschüttern, über den Zwerg Alberich; aber das dürfen wir versichern, daß, wenn der Nibelungen Lied nach Verdienst bearbeitet wird (nicht aber zu sehr, sondern seiner antiken Gestalt ohne Schaden), auch unsere Nation eine Probe wird aufstellen dürfen, wie weit es die Natur im Norden zu bringen vermochte” (Cited in countless treatments of the reception history of the Nibelungenlied, for example, Ehrismann 2002).

37 “Der Nibelungen Lied könnte die Teusche Ilias werden.” On page 121 of Müller’s Geschichte der schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft (Leipzig, 1786) quoted by Körner (14) and many others.

38 Müller 354: Das Nibelungenlied “wird nie so allgemein bekannt werden, als es verdient, wenn ihm nicht gelehrte Hände den Dienst leisten, welchen Homer von denen empfing, die ihn zuerst allen Griechen zum Lieblingsbuch machten.”


39 Körner 12.

40 See Müller 1998, 7.

41 Frembs 21 and See 59.