Книга Famous Men of The Middle Ages. Содержание - The Nibelungs

Then all the gods wept, the summer breeze wailed, the leaves fell from the sorrowing trees, the flowers faded and died from grief, and the earth grew stiff and cold. Bruin, the bear, and his neighbors, the hedgehogs and squirrels, crept into holes and refused to eat for weeks and weeks.

The pleasure of all living things in Baldur's presence means the happiness that the sunlight brings. The sorrow of all living things at his death means the gloom of northern countries when winter comes.

The Valkyries were beautiful female warriors. They had some of Woden's own strength and were armed with helmet and shield and spear. Like Woden, they rode unseen through the air and their horses were almost as swift as Sleipnir himself. They swiftly carried Woden's favorite warriors to Valhalla , the hall of the slain. The walls of Valhalla were hung with shields; its ceiling glittered with polished spearheads. From its five hundred and forty gates, each wide enough for eight hundred men abreast to march through, the warriors rushed every morning to fight a battle that lasted till nightfall and began again at the break of each day. When the heroes returned to Valhalla the Valkyries served them with goblets of mead such as Woden drank himself.

The Teutons believed that before there were any gods or any world there was a great empty space where the world now is. It was called by the curious name Ginnungagap, which means a yawning abyss.

To the north of Ginnungagap it was bitterly cold. Nothing was there but fields of snow and mountains of ice. To the south of Ginnungagap was a region where frost and snow were never seen. It was always bright, and was the home of light and heat. The sunshine from the South melted the ice mountains of the North so that they toppled over and fell into Ginnungagap. There they were changed into a frost giant whose name was Ymir (e'mir). He had three sons. They and their father were so strong that the gods were afraid of them.

So Woden and his brothers killed Ymir. They broke his body in pieces and made the world of them. His bones and teeth became mountains and rocks; his hair became leaves for trees and plants; out of his skull was made the sky.

But Ymir was colder than ice, and the earth that was made of his body was so cold that nothing could live or grow upon it. So the gods took sparks from the home of light and set them in the sky. Two big ones were the sun and moon and the little ones were the stars. Then the earth became warm. Trees grew and flowers bloomed, so that the world was a beautiful home for men.

Of all the trees the most wonderful was a great ash tree, sometimes called the "world tree." Its branches covered the earth and reached beyond the sky till they almost touched the stars. Its roots ran in three directions, to heaven, to the frost giants' home and to the under-world, beneath the earth.

Near the roots in the dark under-world sat the Norns, or fates. Each held a bowl with which she dipped water out of a sacred spring and poured it upon the roots of the ash tree. This was the reason why this wonderful tree was always growing, and why it grew as high as the sky.

When Woden killed Ymir he tried to kill all Ymir's children too; but one escaped, and ever after he and his family, the frost giants, tried to do mischief, and fought against gods and men.

According to the belief of the Teutons these wicked giants will some day destroy the beautiful world. Even the gods themselves will be killed in a dreadful battle with them. First of all will come three terrible winters without any spring or summer. The sun and moon will cease to shine and the bright stars will fall from the sky. The earth will be shaken as when there is a great earthquake; the waves of the sea will roar and the highest mountains will totter and fall. The trees will be torn up by the roots, and even the "world tree" will tremble from its roots to its topmost boughs. At last the quivering earth will sink beneath the waters of the sea.

Then Loki, the spirit of evil, will break loose from the fetters with which the gods have bound him. The frost giants will join him. They will try to make a secret attack on the gods. But Heimdall, the sentry of heaven, will be on guard at the end of the rainbow-bridge. He needs no more sleep than a bird and can see for a hundred miles either by day or night. He only can sound the horn whose blast can be heard through heaven and earth and the under-world. Loki and his army will be seen by him. His loud alarm will sound and bring the gods together. They will rush to meet the giants. Woden will wield his spear — Tiew his glittering sword — Thor his terrible hammer. These will all be in vain. The gods must die. But so must the giants and Loki.

And then a new earth will rise from the sea. The leaves of its forests will never fall; its fields will yield harvests unsown. And in a hall far brighter than Woden's Valhalla the brave and good will be gathered forever.

The Nibelungs


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 Kriemhilda."

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 separate them they made an attack on him. To save his own life he slew them both. Alberich, a mountain dwarf, who had long been guardian of the Nibelung hoard, rushed to avenge his masters; but Siegfried vanquished him and took from him his cap of darkness which made its wearer invisible and gave him the strength of twelve men. The hero then ordered Alberich to place the treasure again in the mountain cave and guard it for him."

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