The Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelung) was composed in ca. 1200 by an anonymous poet in Passau based on older legends and is one of the great literary achievements in the world. With the manuscripts A (Cgm 34) and D (Cgm 31) the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) owns two of the most important textual testimonials of the epic. Since July 2009, manuscript A has been listed among the world documentary heritage of UNESCO’s “Memory of the World”.
Based on (often only locally important) people and events of the great migration period that can to a large extent no longer be identified, a whole series of legendary cycles were formed during the Middle Ages through oral traditions, embellishments and by piecing together previously unconnected narratives. Stories surrounding the hero Siegfried and the kings Attila and Theodoric the Great as well as about the fall of the Burgundians are part of this cycle.
Based on this rich, today hardly reconstructable oral tradition, in ca. 1200 an anonymous author created the Song of the Nibelung as it is known to us today. Scholarship mostly considers the Passau court of Bishop Wolfger von Erla (ca. 1140 – 1218) as the place of creation because of considerations in language and content. In 39 aventures (“adventures” = chapters) and ca. 2,400 stanzas, life and death of the hero Siegfried as well as Kriemhild’s vengeance on the Burgundians are extolled.
As a stand-alone text after the Song of the Nibelung in nearly all manuscripts preserved follows the lament, in which more than 4,000 verses tell the story after the fall of the Burgundians and interpret it in a Christian key.
With 35 manuscripts and fragments, the Song of the Nibelung belongs to the best-preserved texts of the Germanophone middle ages – a proof of its great popularity. Even after the end of the mediaeval period, knowledge of this material never entirely disappeared – as the song of the giant Seyfried, as a theatre play by Hans Sachs or finally as a book of folk tales, it continued to enjoy a certain popularity.
After the discovery of the manuscript C of the Song of the Nibelung in the castle library of Hohenems by Jacob Hermann Obereit (1755) started the rediscovery of the mediaeval epic. The first printed edition by Christoph Heinrich Myller as part of a larger collection (1782) as well as the first scholarly edition by Karl Lachmann (1826/1878) and the widely disseminated translation by Karl Simrock (1827) led to a continuous engagement with the Song of the Nibelung. Nonetheless, until 1945, its continuing popularity was often enough influenced by a one-sided nationalist interpretation.
Because of its importance as an extraordinary example of mediaeval epic, UNESCO included the Song of the Nibelung in July 2009 among the list of works registered under “Memory of the World”. For this inclusion, the three most important textual testimonials were selected:
Manuscript A (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 34)
Manuscript B (Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen, Cod. Sang. 857)
Manuscript C (Badische Landesbibliothek Karlsruhe, Cod. K 2037).