The Nibelungenlied
A.T. Hato (Translator)
Penguin Classics, 1969.

No debate of these cosmic proportions is complete without a paeon to the Nibelungenlied, the greatest of the medieval German epics. Composed by the ubiquitous Anon around 1200 A D. for the courts of Austria, this tale of blood and revenge is so remarkably vivid and dramatic that it needs very little rewriting by a storyteller. Pick almost any section at random and have a go at it.

Feminists take note: Brunhild rocks! In the part where she dons her gleaming shield and spear to battle Gunther and his men, she is clearly the superior warrior and is vanquished only by Siegfried's magic after she hurls the great boulder through the air. Today, her massive descendants are seen working in the cavernous Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall in Munich, serving masses of sausages and beer, clasping dozens of liter steins balanced on their heroic breasts, and screaming abuse at all and sundry. Returning to more scholarly matters, the Nibelungenlied obviously inspired Wagner's great opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen. [MI]
Buy The Nibelungenlied

How about the Niebelungenlied? Don't let Wagner scare you away: it's good, dramatic stuff in neat little extractable episodes. Many English translations exist, most of them in prose, many of them retellings. Here's one in verse, which was made with the intention of faithfulness to the original, both in sense and in sound:

The Song of the Nibelungs:
A verse translation from the Middle High German Nibelungenlied

Frank G. Ryder
Wayne State University Press, 1962

The Nibelungenlied is an epic poem in two parts about the heroic Sigfrid. It was written circa 1200, probably in what is now Austria. [AoF]
Buy The Song of the Nibelungs

Njal's Saga
H. Magnusson and H. Palsson (Translators)
Penguin Classics, 1971

Why sail all around the cold North Atlantic looking for fun when you can stay right at home in Iceland and enjoy a gory feud with your neighbors for half a century? Filled with ghosts, blood, auguries, and a gloomy northern Fate, this saga has been a perennial favourite for centuries. Don't miss the spectacular ending where Njal and his family are burned alive in their home. [MI]
Buy Njal's Saga

The North American Book of Icelandic Verse
Watson Kirkconnell
Louis Carrier & Alan Isles, Inc., 1930

This contains some short narrative verse gems:

The Ballad of Thrym (circa 900) - the story of how Thor regained his stolen hammer, Mjollnir, from the giant Thrym

The Lay of Attilla (circa 950) - a very gory story of murder, betrayal, and revenge, in two parts. The first part is separable from the whole. In the first part, Gunnar and Hogni are invited to a feast by Attila, who betrays and murders them for their hoard of gold. Gunnar's murder is particularly interesting: his hands are bound and he's thrown into a pit of serpents. There he plays the harp with his toes and puts all of the snakes to sleep but one, which bites and kills him. No kidding. The second part is too gross for me: Gunnar's sister serves Attila's two young sons to him in a stew and sets fire to the hall. Yuck.

The Norse Apocalypse (circa 950) - in three parts, Genesis/The Sibyl's Prophecy, Gotterdammerung, A Millenial Epilogue.

An excerpt from The Sword of Angantyr (circa 1000) - The excerpt itself is too short to stand as a story, but it would be great to lay hands on the whole of this poem, which details the tragic history of the cursed sword Tyrfing. The poem includes a strong female character (Hervor) who takes up arms.

A lovely poetic translation of Egil's Head-Ransom poem (tenth century)

The Battle of Nesia (tenth century) - a short poem about a naval battle

The rest of the anthology contains modern Icelandic verse. [AoF]

The Novellino of Masuccio
W. G. Waters (Translator)

As long as we're listing imitators of Bocaccio, we should also list some of those he took inspiration *from*, notably The Novellino of Masuccio. I'm not sure if this was the first such, but it was definitely an earlier example of "short stories within a frame story, organized by topic", and a strong influence on the Decameron. The content of this one is quite similar to the Decameron, if a bit less bawdy perhaps. Here can be found the story whose plot Shakespeare appropriated for Romeo & Juliet (Which actually does, briefly, contain pirates, though the Juliet-chacacter is *not* "Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter"). The standard English translation is by W. G. Waters, and is serviceable, if a bit dry and Victorian. It's not in print, but can easily be found for a low price at www.bookfinder.com. [AtS]
 
Back to Table of Contents

Contents © 1999-2006 Alex Newman for the Carolingian Storytellers Guild