The Legend Of Dietric von Bern Summary
The hero Dietrich was a popular hero in German legend and literature. The collection of tales about Dietrich, was known as the Dietrichsage – “Sagas of Dietrich”.
Here, in the Dietrich Legend, there are not only tales about Dietrich, I have included the tales of Hildebrand, Waltharius (Walter), Gunther and Hagen. The story of Siegfried and the Nibelungs can be found in a separate page called Nibelungenlied.
Apart from the Nibelungenlied and the Hildebrandslied, I haven’t had much luck about finding translations of the tales about Dietrich stories, itself. Here, I relied on summaries and notes from other sources. When I do find a translation, I will give a more fuller detail about Dietrich.
If you wish to read about Dietrich’s life from his birth to his death, then I would suggest that you read the Norwegian saga, called Thidrekssaga. This is a new page, which I have recently completed before 2003’s Christmas.
|Dietrich von Bern (Verona) was based on the historical figure, Theodoric the Great, an Ostrogoth king who ruled Italy after Odoacer, another Ostrogoth king, who died in AD 493. Theodoric established a strong kingdom and reigned until his death in AD 526.
In Germanic legend, Theodoric was known as Dietrich, and he was made contemporary of other well-known historical figures, Attila the Hun (Etzel), Guntharius (Gunther) and Ermanaric (Jormunrek). Historically, Theodoric was born around 20 years after Attila’s death (AD 453) and around hundred years after Ermanaric, who died in AD 375. Guntharius was killed in AD 437.
Dietrich was the son Dietmar (Theodemir) who ruled his kingdom in Bern (Verona). Ermanaric the king of the Goths, invaded Bern and expulsed Dietrich from his kingdom.
Dietrich fled with many followers, including Hildebrand, and his two nephews Alphart and Wolfhart. Dietrich went to the kingdom of the Huns, where Attila welcomed him as guest. Dietrich became Attila’s adviser and vassal, marrying Attila’s niece.
During his stay in Attila’s court, he became friend of Hagen, Waltharius and other noble hostages of Attila. See Waltharius.
In the Nibelungenlied and the Norwegian Thiðrekssaga, Dietrich became unwillingly involved in the plots of Kriemhild, Attila’s second wife, to destroy Hagen and her family, because they were responsible for her husband’s murder. All of his followers, except Hildebrand, were killed in the battle between the warriors of Attila and Gunther (the Burgundians). Dietrich reluctantly fought and captured the Burgundian guests, Gunther and Hagen. Kriemhild murdered her brother, Gunther, and Hagen, Gunther’s henchman and Kriemhild’s archenemy. See Nibelungenlied for the full story.
After over thirty years as guest of Attila, Dietrich raised an army of Hunnish warriors to retake his kingdom. A battle was fought at Ravenna, where Dietrich defeated Ermanaric. Dietrich regained the throne and kingdom at Ermanric’s death.
According to the Die Rabenschlacht (“The Battle of Ravenna”), Dietrich’s brother and the two sons of Attila accompanied the hero. Though he won the battle, Witege, a champion of Ermanaric, killed the three youths. In grief and rage, Dietrich pursued Witege, and later returned to Attila’s court where he brought sad news of the death of Attila’s sons.
|As I had mentioned in the previous article (Deitrich), there are a number of Middle High German poems, between the 13th and 15th century, about Dietrich or his companions. Here, I will briefly list a few.
Laurin was a dwarf who guarded a rose garden from all intruders, including defeating powerful knights. Dietrich with a couple of companions (Dietleib and Witege (Vidga)) went to investigate the dwarf’s prowess.
Witege was the first to challenge Laurin and was easily overcome by the smaller foe. The source of the dwarf’s strength come from his magic girdle of might, similar to the one wore by the Norse god Thor.
Dietrich defeated the dwarf, when the hero cut the girdle, thereby reducing Laurin’s strength of a normal mortal.
Laurin had been married to Dietleib’s sister, Künolt (Kunolt), and invited the three knights to a feast. The treacherous dwarf had doped the wine, so that his guests had fallen in torpor. Laurin had thrown Dietrich and his companions in prison. Künolt freed her brother and the others, with the use of her magic ring.
Dietrich and his friends carried off the dwarf to Bern (Verona) where he was forced to convert to Christianity, and Laurin became one of Dietrich’s thanes.
This epic took place before Dietrich was forced into exile by his archenemy, Ermanaric. Dietrich went to rescue the Queen Virginal of Tyrol from a heathen king. Not only did Dietrich slays the heathen king, he had to fight a number of giants and dragons before he succeed his quest.
Biterolf (Biterulf) was the king of Toledo and he had a son, named Dietleib (Thetleif). Biterolf went on a quest, in search of adventure. Dietleib set off to find his father. Father and son found themselves in Worms, Burgundy, where they defeated Gunther, Hagen and Siegfried in combat, with the help of Dietrich. Part of the story is told in the Norwegian Thidrekssaga, where the father and son are known as Biterulf and Thetleif.
Dietrich encountered a giant, named Sigenot. The giant threw Dietrich into a cave, where he languished as prisoner. Hildebrand killed the giant and rescue Dietrich.
A maiden arrived in Etzel’s court (Attila’s), seeking protection from a hunter known as the Wunderer. Etzel and Rudiger refused to help the girl. Only Dietrich was willing to aid her. Dietrich confronted and killed the Wunderer in combat.
Alphart was the nephew of Hildebrand and a mighty warrior of Dietrich. Alphart had defeated Witege (Vidga), a henchman of Ermanaric, in single combat. But Alphart was killed when he was unfairly confronted with Witege and Heime (Heimir).
|Waltharius was a heroic poem written in Latin, around the 9th century. The poem is based on an ancient German legend, set in the time of Attila (Etzel or Atli) and Guntharius (Gunther or Gunnar).
Waltharius (Walther) was mentioned in the Nibelungenlied, as Walter of Spain, where it was said that Hagen (Haganos in this story) was his friend.
Attila, the king of the Huns, had established himself a powerful empire, east of the Rhine. His empire was steadily approaching the Rhine, where there were several powerful, but smaller kingdoms in what is now France.
From these smaller kingdoms, three kings decided to send hostages and pay tributes to Attila, in order to keep their independence. When one kingdom give hostage to another, it was normal practice to send hostage who were of noble birth such as son or daughter of the ruler. Hostages were used to guarantee that the kingdom either continue to pay tribute to a stronger kingdom or that the treaty concluded were honoured. Usually the hostages were treated well, and if the hostages were young than they received the best education the kingdom holding them could provide.
Gibicho ruled the Franks. A young Frankish noble, named Hagano (Hagen) became the hostage of Attila. While Heriricus ruled the people known as the Burgundians, and the king had sent his daughter Hiltgunt as hostage. Alphere ruled the kingdom of Aquitaine, a large region in south-west of France. Alphere’s son became Attila’s third hostage. When Waltharius and Hiltgunt were children, their parents had arranged that they would marry. So Waltharius and Hiltgunt were betrothed at young age.
The event had changed when Gibicho, Haganos’ king, died. Gibicho’s son, Guntharius had become king.
In Attila’s court, Waltharius and Haganos became friends. When Haganos learned that his new king decided to not to pay tributes to Attila, Haganos escaped and fled back to Franconia. Haganos’ escape make sense, since he was a hostage, Attila had the right to kill his hostage if no one pay him tribute.
In order that Waltharius become loyal to him, Attila thought it would be best to marry the son of Alphere to a Hunnish princess. However, Waltharius didn’t want to marry any princess except to Hiltgunt, the girl he was betrothed to. So Waltharius also escaped, taking Hiltgunt and their treasures with him.
It seemed that Attila didn’t send any force to pursue the couple of escapees, but Waltharius and Hiltgunt were confronted from opposition when they crossed the Rhine, into Burgundian territory.
When Guntharius found out that about the presence of the two escapees, the Frankish king decided to pursue them, hoping to take their treasures from them.
When they found out that they were chased by Guntharius and Haganos, Waltharius took the defensible position in the narrow ravine in the Vosges. At the bottom of the ravine, Waltharius was able to confront his enemies, one at the time. Waltharius killed one Frankish warrior after another, until Waltharius had killed eleven men.
At night, Waltharius was able to rest, before continuing on their journey. When Guntharius and Haganos caught up with Waltharius and Hiltgunt, the hero had to fight them both at the same time. Haganos was reluctant to confront Waltharius, since they became friends at Attila’s court, but Guntharius was his liege lord and king.
In the encounter all three warriors were seriously wounded, but none of them died. Waltharius and Hiltgunt managed to escape. Waltharius and Hiltgunt fled to Aquitaine where they were married.
In the more briefer version of the Thiðrekssaga (c. 1210), there is a different variation to theme and setting.
Waltharius was called Valtari of Vaskenstien, and the nephew of Erminrek (Ermanaric), which make him a cousin of the hero Thiðrek. While Hiltgunt was called Hildigunn; she was the daughter of Earl Ilia of Greece and niece of King Osantrix of the Vilkinamen.
Attila and Erminrek became friends and exchanged hostages. Valtari (Waltharius) was only 12 at the time. Two years later Hildigunn (Hiltgunt) who was only seven, also became hostage of Attila. As time went by, the two young hostages fell in love with one another.
One day, Valtari persuaded Hiltigunn to leave Attila’s kingdom with him, promising to marry her. Hiltigunn agreed. They left the castle of Susa, taking with them the treasures.
When Attila learned of their escape, he ordered Hogni (Hagen) and eleven warriors to bring back the gold and Valtari’s head. Valtari seeing the pursuers, the young hero armed himself so he could confront his enemies until nightfall. By then, Valtari had killed the eleven warriors and Hogni fled into the forest.
Valtari and Hildigunn camped that night, in the clearing, eating their supper, when Hogni returned with the intention of killing his younger opponent. Instead of drawing his sword to defend himself, Valtari hurled a large bone that struck Hogni on the cheek and knocking an eye out. Again, Hogni fled from Valtari and returned to Attila with news of his ill-fated pursuit and encounter with Valtari.
Valtari took Hildigunn to Italy to his uncle Erminrek (Ermanric). Erminrek appeased Attlia by offering gifts and gold.
Later, in the war between Thiðrek (Dietrich) and Erminrek, Valtari and Vildifer killed one another in single combat.
|Hildebrandslied was a fragmented alliterative heroic poem, written in Old High German, probably in the early 9th century. The poem centred around the hero Hildebrand and his son Hadubrand. A large part of the poem was a dialogue between the two characters.
Two armies face one another at the battleground. Hildebrand the aged adviser and champion of Dietrich, meet a much younger warrior between two armies. Hildebrand had been exiled with Dietrich for 60 years in Attila’s court.
Hildebrand asked his younger opponent his name. When the younger warrior told him that he was Hadubrand, Hildebrand’s own son, the old warrior became distressed.
Hildebrand told the younger warrior that he was his father, but Hadubrand didn’t believe the old man, thinking it was a trick to trap or kill him. No matter what Hildebrand told him, he was unconvinced. Hadubrand believed that his father went into exile with Dietrich, when Otacher (Odoacer, the Ostrogothic king of Italy) deprived Dietrich of his kingdom. Hadubrand also believed that his father had died in battle.
The ending of the poem is missing, but most scholars believed that Hildebrand fought his son, and he had killed Hadubrand in single combat.
There are a couple of later poems that had much happier endings, though they less powerful than the original.
There is another poem called The Younger Lay of Hildebrand (c. 15th century), where it ended with reconciliation between father and son.
And in another poem of the same theme – the Jüngres Hildebrandslied (c. 13th century), there was also a recognition and reconciliation scene between the old warrior and his son, where Hadubrand brought his father back home, after being exiled for 32 years. Hildebrand was reunited with his wife Ute.