The story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild’s revenge.
The Nibelungenlied is based on pre-Christian Germanic heroic motifs (the “Nibelungensaga”), which include oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries. Old Norse parallels of the legend survive in the Völsunga saga, the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, the Legend of Norna-Gest, and the Þiðrekssaga.
This work has been undertaken in the belief that a literal translation of as famous an
epic as the “Nibelungenlied” would be acceptable to the general reading public whose
interest in the story of Siegfried has been stimulated by Wagner’s operas and by the
reading of such poems as William Morris’ “Sigurd the Volsung”. Prose has been
selected as the medium of translation, since it is hardly possible to give an accurate
rendering and at the same time to meet the demands imposed by rhyme and metre; at
least, none of the verse translations made thus far have succeeded in doing this. The
prose translations, on the other hand, mostly err in being too continuous and in
condensing too much, so that they retell the story instead of translating it. The present
translator has tried to avoid these two extremes. He has endeavored to translate
literally and accurately, and to reproduce the spirit of the original, as far as a prose
translation will permit. To this end the language has been made as simple and as
Saxon in character as possible. An exception has been made, however, in the case of
such Romance words as were in use in England during the age of the romances of
chivalry, and which would help to land a Romance coloring; these have been frequently
employed. Very few obsolete words have been used, and these are explained in the
notes, but the language has been made to some extent archaic, especially in dialogue,
in order to give the impression of age. At the request of the publishers the Introduction
Sketch has been shorn of the apparatus of scholarship and made as popular as a study
of the poem and its sources would allow. The advanced student who may be interested
in consulting authorities will find them given in the introduction to the parallel edition in
the Riverside Literature Series. A short list of English works on the subject had,
however, been added.
In conclusion the translator would like to thank his colleagues, C.G. Child and
Cornelius Weygandt, for their helpful suggestions in starting the work, and also to
acknowledge his indebtedness to the German edition of Paul Piper, especially in
preparing the notes.
— DANIEL BUSSIER SHUMWAY,
Philadelphia, February 15, 1909.