Albrecht Classen

title.none: McConnell, The Lament of the Nibelungen (Div Chlage)

identifier.other: baj9928.9501.006 95.01.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: McConnell, Winder, trans. The Lament of the Nibelungen (Div Chlage). Series: Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994. xxiii, 219 pp.. ISBN: ISBN 1-879751-73-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.01.06

McConnell, Winder, trans. The Lament of the Nibelungen (Div Chlage). Series: Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994. xxiii, 219 pp.. ISBN: ISBN 1-879751-73-9.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

From the standpoint of a literary historian, there is hardly a more fascinating text from the past than one in which a poet comments on previous works, thereby indicating his/her awareness of the historical process and the transformation of culture through times. Bernard Silvestris' dictum of the dwarf on the shoulder of the giant, in a way, captures the essence of this concept quite appropriately.

In German critical discourse the term "Rezeptionsgeschichte" is used often, coined by H.-G. Gadamer and H. R. Jauss, meaning the history of literary adaptations and imitations, of poetic responses to older fictional texts and their ideological messages. In other words, it implies the merging of mental and historical horizons. Those writers who endeavored to complete the fragmentary romance Tristan which Gottfried von Strassburg left behind, above all Ulrich von Tuerheim and Heinrich von Freiberg, are primarily studied by those scholars examining "Rezeptionsgeschichte."

Perhaps the most fascinating example of a critical reflection upon a previous text can be found in the anonymous epic poem Diu Chlage dating from the third decade of the thirteenth century. We do not know much about the poet, except that he/she was certainly unhappy with the outcome of the tragic poem Nibelungenlied (from now on NL; composed about 1200) and wrote its continuation in his/her Diu Chlage ( The Lament).

The conclusion of the NL is tantamount to an Armageddon with the sole survivors King Attila, Duke Dietrich and his liege-man Hildebrand entirely shocked at the outcome. All the Burgundians who had come for a visit at Queen Kriemhilt's court, all their Hunnish opponents, and Dietrich's Amelung forces are dead.

The Chlage-poet takes this as his starting point and describes in 2180 rhyming couplets how the few heroes have come out of the fracas and face this catastrophe, what they do with the corpses, and how the news are disseminated in the world.

In contrast to the NL, the Chlage-poet strives for a different perception of the events. Here, Kriemhilt is no longer the traditional she-devil, although her responsibility for the slaughter is not eliminated altogether either. But Hagen's guilt is clearly revealed, and the people curse at him for being the major actor in this bloodbath (v. 1295ff.). Attila repeatedly laments that he would have prevented the ruthless and merciless fighting if he had heard the true story (e.g. v. 830ff.). In addition, Christianity is given new emphasis, albeit the Heathens are not viewed negatively, rather with a form of pity.

A summary of these observations and more of the relevant information concerning Diu Chlage can be read in Winder McConnell's introduction to his praiseworthy translation of this text. Although the manuscript tradition, which has almost always combined the NL with Diu Chlage, is a very rich one, and although 19th- and 20th-century scholarship has dedicated much attention to both texts, this is the first comprehensive translation into modern English. Diu Chlage was translated several times into modern German by 19th-century philologists, but no other attempt was made at providing linguistic access to this text for the non-expert.

One reason might have been the perceived lack of aesthetic quality, the repetitive syntax, and the limited range of thematic aspects. Basically, Diu Chlage does not present anything else than an endless stream of laments, crying, and weeping. A modern reader might indeed have difficulties with this theme, but a closer look could also reveal a highly self-conscious and literary minded author who not only strives to sketch a continuation of one of the most important epic poems of all times, but who also succeeds in exploring the wide range of emotions triggered at times of massive death. Moreover, Diu Chlage is an impressive example of a 13th-century poem which enters a carefully crafted dialogue with a previous writer/text, and in this parallels the intriguing narrative strategies employed in the episodic narrative Tristan als Moench from about the same time.

McConnell bases his translation on Ms. B found in the Stiftsbibliothek St. Gall, Switzerland (Cod. Sangall. 857), which also contains perhaps the most important version of the NL. K. Bischoff, H. M. Heinrichs, and W. Schroeder had published a facsimile of it in 1962, and Ms. B also constitutes the basis for K. Bartsch's critical edition from 1875 (rpt. 1964). Diu Chlage occupies the folios 416-451 and is written in two columns on each page. A concise transcription accompanies the translation on opposing pages and represents a diplomatic version of the text. In other words, the text as it can be found in Bartsch's critical edition shows deviations at a number of important junctures. McConnell's precise copy of the ms. presents, of course, some reading difficulties, since neither diacritical marks denoting length of vowels nor modern punctuations are used, because the original scribe ignored them entirely. Each line in the ms. ends with a period, which forces the reader to figure out for him/herself, what the sentence structure might be. At a number of places it remains uncertain whether a verse represents a subordinate clause or the beginning of a new, main clause. A further difficulty is the identical use of the letter "v" for "u," "v," "f," and "w."

McConnell's translation does not follow the text line by line, but renders the Middle High German verses into modern prose. Overall, McConnell succeeds in translating the original into a smooth and readable English, because he breaks up the complicated verse structure, moves up those parts of sentences which need to come first and vice versa, and supplies names where the poem has only pronouns. Many parts of the poem are highly formulaic, and therefore easy to translate. But at times both the syntax and the lexical difficulties are rather problematic, yet McConnell leads us safely and magisterially through the text, demonstrating his superb command of both Middle High German and a poetic form of modern English necessary for preserving the literary beauty of this text. A few times, though, I was not sure whether the English did not move too far away from the original, but in those cases a good alternative did not come to my mind either. Some examples will follow: "der tot het[er] minne/die da sterben solden" (v. 244f.) - "Death held dominion there over those doomed to die" (15). I would have suggested something like: "Death loved those, who were to die." Verses 295ff.: "Diz hiez man allez schriben./vnd vvaz ir von den vviben./vverde da gescheiden./vnd vvi in begonde / leiden./vor iamer daz leben allen." McConnell: "Directions were given to have all of this written down, how many died there and how, as a result of their bitter plight, life itself became detestable to them" (17). Perhaps we could consider the alternative: "Directions were given to have all of this written down, how many were separated from their wives (through death), and how all of their lives became miserable to them." Of course, this is more literal, and McConnell's version here captures the meaning in a more metaphorical sense. I would certainly prefer to have the number of "sehs hundert" (v. 325) of those who died in battle included in the translation, whereas McConnell's text reads: "magnificent an account the men from the one group or the other had frequently given of themselves" (19). The line "do sprach der beste vnder in" (2945) is rendered as "The best among them spoke up" (141), although I would rather suggest: "The most noble among them answered."

At other times McConnell's version strikes me as a highly skillful approach to very obscure text passages, thus when he renders: "er seich nider zv Rvedegere./des er chom vil sere./der edel Bernaere" (2107-09) as: "He sank down upon Ruedeger, which greatly startled the noble Veronese" (101); "ez mach im lihte noch gefrvmen./vnd ce grozzen staten chomen" (2537f.) as: "this may still be of some use to him and gain him honor and esteem" (121); "daz sich div chlagelichen./vvol mohte so si iahen./di dort di chlage sahen" (2774-76) as: "Their lament was comparable to the lament of those who had witnessed the tragedy" (133); or: "si vieln beide in vnchrapft./so daz ir zvecht meisterschapft./ver gaz vil gar der sinne" (3127-29) as: "They both began to swoon and the control that breeding exercises was completely abandoned" (149).

Differences in style or taste are to be expected from any translation, but I would tend to go with McConnell in most of the cases at dispute. Both the philologist and the general reader will be pleased with this publication, which not only presents an excellent English translation, but also the exact transcription of Diu Chlage from Ms. B.

A glossary of personal names and a bibliography conclude this volume. We can only hope that on the basis of this translation Diu Chlage will gain in respect once again and find new friends among the broader readership within the English speaking world.