With some friends we are still reading Das Nibelungenlied, a long term project which will be finished beginning next year. To be honest, it is not just for the text, but also for good company that we come almost weekly together. The history of Germanic heroic poetry is very complicated. Its background is the early period of the great migration from 400-800. Especially the invasion of the Huns under Atilla must have made a great impression as he and his court turn up in almost every Germanic epic. Of course this Attila (Etzel in Das Nibelungenlied and Atli in Old Norse) has but little to do with the historical Attila. With the exception of the Beowulf, these lays were not written down before 1200 in the various Germanic vernaculars. This means that the heroic epics of the Goths have not come down to us, as the Goths were already extinct for centuries. The long period between the time of origin and writing down also means that in oral transmission a lot of material must have been reworked and rearranged or simply lost. In Das Nibelungenlied a certain Walther is mentioned twice. This minor figure has however his own heroic song in the Waltharius, a Latin epic from the 9th or10th century – and in the Old English Waldere, but from this poem only two fragments have survived. The Waltharius is written in hexameters and the author clearly displays a good knowledge of Latin epic poetry. It is not quite certain who this author is but it is generally attributed to Ekkehard I, a monk from St Gall who died in 973. The Waltharius clearly displays in content the example (Vorlage in good German) of a Germanic heroic song. Walter, Hildegund and Hagen came in their childhood to the court of Atilla as hostages in order to secure the treatise Atilla had made with their respective fathers, all kings of various Germanic tribes. They are well treated and Walther and Hagen serve as young man as commanders (duces) of Attila’s troops. The girl Hildegund is treated with great reverence and is the personal servant of queen Ospirin. She also has the task of taking care of the treasures of Atilla. But all long for their homeland and Hagen is the first to flee. Walther and Hildegund fall in love and decide to flee too. In order to make an escape possible, Walther gives a big party in which everyone is made drunk. Deep in the night they escape and the following day their disappearance is discovered:
Ast urbis populus somno vinoque solutus
ad medium lucis siluit recubando sequentis.
Sed postquam surgunt, ductorem quique requirunt, 360
ut grates faciant ac festa laude salutent.
Attila nempe manu caput amplexatus utraque
egreditur thalamo rex Walthariumque dolendo
advocat, ut proprium quereretur forte dolorem.
Respondent ipsi se non potuisse ministri 365
invenisse virum, sed princeps sperat eundem
hactenus in somno tentum recubare quietum
occultumque locum sibi delegisse sopori.
Ospirin Hiltgundem postquam cognovit abesse
nec iuxta morem vestes deferre suetum, 370
tristior immensis satrapae clamoribus inquit:
«O detestandas, quas heri sumpsimus, escas!
O vinum, quod Pannonias destruxerat omnes!
Quod domino regi iam dudum praescia dixi,
approbat iste dies, quem nos superare nequimus. 375
En hodie imperii vestri cecidisse columna
noscitur, en robur procul ivit et inclita virtus:
Waltharius, lux Pannoniae, discesserat inde,
Hiltgundem quoque mi caram deduxit alumnam.»
ast = at
somno vinoque solutus: overwhelmed by sleep and wine
ad medium lucis sequentis: till the mid of the following day
sileo silui: to be silent
recubando = recubans the ablative of the gerund is used as a present participle In mediaeval Latin
recubo: to lie down
ductorem quique requirunt = et ii ductorem requirunt
requiro requisivi requisitum: to look for
grates (f pl. only in nom., acc. and abl. pl.): thanks
nempe: of course
manu caput amplexatus utraque: holding his head with two hands (the morning after condition!)
dolendo = dolens (in this case from a terrific headache…)
queror questus: to complain
forte: by chance
hactenus: thus far
tentum recubare quietum: stretched out (tentum) to lie down at rest
deligo delegi delectum: to choose, pick out
sopor -oris (m): sleep
iuxta morem suetum: according to the usual custom
satrapa (m) ruler, king (a Persian loanword)
heri: yesterday (from an older hesi, related to English yester- day)
Pannonias omnes: all of Pannonia (Pannonia, current Hungary, was the centre of Attila’s empire)
iam dudum: long ago
praescius: knowing before (Ospirin had warned Atilla that Walther and Hildegunt would flee)
approbo: to prove, demonstrate
quem nos superare nequimus: which we cannot survive (probably she refers to the downfall of the empire of Attila by Walther, but this theme is not treated in the Waltharius and no other sources are known.)
En hodie imperii vestri cecidisse columna noscitur: behold, today the pillar of your empire is known to have fallen
en robur procul ivit et inclita virtus: behold, the strength and famous virtue (Walther) has gone far away
discedo cessi cessum: to leave, dessert
inde: from here
There is unfortunately no English translation on internet.