GUDRUN (Kudrun), a Middle High German epic, written probably in the early years of the 13th century, not long after the Nibelungenlied, the influence of which may be traced upon it. It is preserved in a single MS. which was prepared at the command of Maximilian I., and was discovered as late as 1820 in the Castle of Ambras in Tirol. The author was an unnamed Austrian poet, but the story itself belongs to the cycle of sagas, which originated on the shores of the North Sea. The epic falls into three easily distinguishable parts—the adventures of King Hagen of Ireland, the romance of Hettel, king of the Hegelingen, who woos and wins Hagen’s daughter Hilde, and lastly, the more or less parallel story of how Herwig, king of Seeland, wins, in opposition to her father’s wishes, Gudrun, the daughter of Hettel and Hilde. Gudrun is carried off by a king of Normandy, and her kinsfolk, who are in pursuit, are defeated in a great battle on the island of Wülpensand off the Dutch coast. The finest parts of the epic are those in which Gudrun, a prisoner in the Norman castle, refuses to become the wife of her captor, and is condemned to do the most menial work of the household. Here, thirteen years later, Herwig and her brother Ortwin find her washing clothes by the sea; on the following day they attack the Norman castle with their army and carry out the long-delayed retribution.
The epic of Gudrun is not unworthy to stand beside the greater Nibelungenlied, and it has been aptly compared with it as the Odyssey to the Iliad. Like the Odyssey, Gudrun is an epic of the sea, a story of adventure; it does not turn solely round the conflict of human passions; nor is it built up round one all-absorbing, all-dominating idea like the Nibelungenlied. Scenery and incident are more varied, and the poet has an opportunity for a more lyric interpretation of motive and character. Gudrun is composed in stanzas similar to those of the Nibelungenlied, but with the essential difference that the last line of each stanza is identical with the others, and does not contain the extra accented syllable characteristic of the Nibelungen metre.
Gudrun was first edited by von der Hagen in vol. i. of his Heldenbuch (1820). Subsequent editions by A. Ziemann and A. J. Vollmer followed in 1837 and 1845. The best editions are those by K. Bartsch (4th ed., 1880), who has also edited the poem for Kürschner’s Deutsche Nationalliteratur (vol. 6, 1885), by B. Symons (1883) and by E. Martin (2nd ed., 1901). L. Ettmüller first applied Lachmann’s ballad-theory to the poem (1841), and K. Müllenhoff (Kudrun, die echten Teile des Gedichts, 1845) rejected more than three-quarters of the whole as “not genuine.” There are many translations of the epic into modern German, the best known being that of K. Simrock (15th ed., 1884). A translation into English by M. P. Nichols appeared at Boston, U.S.A., in 1889.
See K. Bartsch, Beiträge zur Geschichte und Kritik der Kudrun (1865); H. Keck, Die Gudrunsage (1867); W. Wilmanns, Die Entwickelung der Kudrundichtung (1873); A. Fécamp, Le Poème de Gudrun, ses origines, sa formation et son histoire (1892); F. Panzer, Hilde-Gudrun (1901). For later versions and adaptations of the saga see O. Benedict, Die Gudrunsage in der neueren Literatur (1902.)