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Kudrun - Marion E. Gibbs

This is a brilliant prose translation of the middle high German epic Kudrun. Often called the German Odyssey and always compared with the more popular Nibelungenlied. The poem is thought to have been composed as a reaction against the nihilistic and destructive world view of the Nibelungenlied, unlike Kriemhild the main female characters in this epic are viewed in a more peaceful and diplomatic light.

Similarities with the Nibelungenlied are evident throughout the poem. The Kudrun poet uses a similar metrical system to the Nibelungenlied, but the essential difference between the two poems is the last line of each stanza is identical with the others and does not contain the extra accented syllable characteristic of the Nibelungen metre. Characterisation and narrative themes are also similar to the Nibelungenlied. Characters such as Wate and and Hagen representing the older Germanic heroic tradition and characters such as Kudrun and Herwic representing the courtly chivalric tradition. Narrative themes that parallel the Nibelungenlied are Hagen's adventures on an other worldly island and the slaying of a Griffin, reminiscent of Siegfried's adventures in Nibelungenland and his slaying of the dragon. Wate is another character that is comparable with Hagen from the Nibelungenlied, both show loyalty, unflinching bravery and a knowledge of otherworldly matters.

The epic is seen to be composed in two different parts, again reminiscent of the Nibelungenlied. The first, the Hilde saga is thought to be the oldest, this theory was later reinforced by the finding of the fragments of the Yiddish epic Dukus Horant, which relates the same story of the bridal quest for Hilde. The epic is based on the old Germanic legend of the eternal battle of the Hjaðningavíg, the Norse tales of Hedin and Hogni and the much older references in the Old English Deor and Widsith. The second part is the story of Hilde's daughter Kudrun and is thought to be the original composition of the poems author or a christianisation of the eternal battle of the Hjaðningavíg. The whole story is based around traditional Germanic bridal quests and features the fearsome and unforgettable characters Hagen and the old Baltic sea giant Wate.

While comparisons with the Nibelungenlied abound, the Kudrunlied is a poem with its own artistic merits and deserves to have a wider audience. Hopefully this translation by Gibbs and Johnson will give English readers a chance to explore the German Odyssey for themselves. The translation is accompanied by an excellent introduction, bibliography and notes to guide the reader on their journey through this seafaring epic.