Germanic heroic legend
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Germanic heroic legend (Template:Lang-de) is the heroic literary tradition of the Germanic-speaking peoples, most of which originates or is set in the so-called Migration Period (4th-6th centuries AD). Stories from this time period, to which others were added later, were transmitted orally, traveled widely among the Germanic speaking peoples, and were known in many variants. These legends typically reworked historical events or personages in the manner of oral poetry, forming a heroic age. Heroes in these legends often display a heroic ethos emphasizing honor, glory, and loyalty above other concerns. Like Germanic mythology, heroic legend is a genre of Germanic folklore.
Heroic legends are attested in Anglo-Saxon England, medieval Scandinavia, and medieval Germany. Many take the form of Germanic heroic poetry (Template:Lang-de): shorter pieces are known as heroic lays, whereas longer pieces are called Germanic heroic epic (Template:Lang). The early Middle Ages preserves only a small number of legends in writing, mostly from England, including the only surviving early medieval heroic epic in the vernacular, Beowulf. Probably the oldest surviving heroic poem is the Old High German Hildebrandslied (c. 800). There also survive numerous pictorial depictions from Viking Age Scandinavia and areas under Norse control in the British Isles. These often attest scenes known from later written versions of legends connected to the hero Sigurd. In the High and Late Middle Ages, heroic texts are written in great numbers in Scandinavia, particularly Iceland, and in southern Germany and Austria. Scandinavian legends are preserved both in the form of Eddic poetry and in prose sagas, particularly in the legendary sagas such as the Völsunga saga. German sources are made up of numerous heroic epics, of which the most famous is the Nibelungenlied (c. 1200).
The majority of the preserved legendary material seems to have originated with the Goths and Burgundians. The most widely and commonly attested legends are those concerning Dietrich von Bern (Theodoric the Great), the adventures and death of the hero Siegfried/Sigurd, and the Huns' destruction of the Burgundian kingdom under king Gundahar. These were "the backbone of Germanic storytelling."Template:Sfn The common Germanic poetic tradition was alliterative verse, although this is replaced with poetry in rhyming stanzas in high medieval Germany. In early medieval England and Germany, poems were recited by a figure called the scop, whereas in Scandinavia it is less clear who sang heroic songs. In high medieval Germany, heroic poems seem to have been sung by a class of minstrels.
The heroic tradition died out in England after the Norman conquest, but was maintained in Germany until the 1600s, and lived on in a different form in Scandinavia until the 20th c. as a variety of the medieval ballads. Romanticism resurrected interest in the tradition in the late 18th and early 19th century, with numerous translations and adaptations of heroic texts. The most famous adaptation of Germanic legend is Richard Wagner's operatic cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, which has in many ways overshadowed the medieval legends themselves in the popular consciousness.Template:Sfn Germanic legend was also heavily employed in nationalist propaganda and rhetoric. Finally, it has inspired much of modern fantasy through the works of William Morris and J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Lord of the Rings incorporates many elements of Germanic heroic legend.