Famous Men of the Middle Ages
The time came when the people of Western Europe learned to believe in one God and
were converted to Christianity, but the old stories about the gods and Valkyries and
giants and heroes, who were half gods and half men, were not forgotten.
These stories were repeated from father to son for generations, and in the twelfth century
a poet, whose name we do not know, wrote them in verse. He called his poem the
Nibelungenlied (song of the Nibelungs). It is the great national poem of the Germans.
The legends told in it are the basis of Wagner's operas.
"Nibelungs" was the name given to some northern dwarfs whose king had once possessed
a great treasure of gold and precious stones but had lost it. Whoever got possession of
this treasure was followed by a curse. The Nibelungenlied tells the adventures of those
who possessed the treasure.
In the grand old city of Worms, in Burgundy, there lived long ago the princess
Kriemhilda. Her eldest brother Gunther was king of Burgundy.
And in the far-away Netherlands, where the Rhine pours its waters into the sea, dwelt a
prince named Siegfried, son of Siegmund, the king.
Ere long Sir Siegfried heard of the beauty of fair Kriemhilda. He said to his father, "Give
me twelve knights and I will ride to King Gunther's land. I must win the heart of
After seven days' journey the prince and his company drew near to the gates of Worms.
All wondered who the strangers were and whence they came. Hagen, Kriemhilda's uncle,
guessed. He said, "I never have seen the famed hero of Netherlands, yet I am sure that
yonder knight is none but Sir Siegfried."
"And who," asked the wondering people, "may Siegfried be?"
"Siegfried," answered Sir Hagen, "is a truly wonderful knight. Once when riding all
alone, he came to a mountain where lay the treasure of the king of the Nibelungs. The
king's two sons had brought it out from the cave in which it had been hidden, to divide it
between them. But they did not agree about the division. So when Seigfied drew near
both princes said, 'Divide for us, Sir Siegfried, our father's hoard.' There were so many
jewels that one hundred wagons could not carry them, and of ruddy gold there was even
more. Seigfied made the fairest division he could, and as a reward the princes gave him
their father's sword called Balmung. But although Siegfried had done his best to satisfy
them with his division, they soon fell to quarreling and fighting, and when he tried to