1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hildebrand, Lay of

HILDEBRAND, LAY OF (Das Hildebrandslied), a unique example of Old German alliterative poetry, written about the year 800 on the first and last pages of a theological manuscript, by two monks of the monastery of Fulda. The fragment, or rather fragments, only extend to sixty-eight lines, and the conclusion of the poem is wanting. The theory propounded by Karl Lachmann, that the poem had been written in its present form from memory, has been discredited by later philological investigation; it is clearly a transcript of an older original, which the copyists—or more probably the writer to whom we owe the older version—imperfectly understood. The language of the poem shows a curious mixture of Low and High German forms; as the High German elements point to the dialect of Fulda, the inference is that the copyists were reproducing an originally Low German lay in the form in which it was sung in Franconia.

The fragment is mainly taken up with a dialogue between Hildebrand and his son Hadubrand. When Hildebrand followed his master, Theodoric the Great, who was fleeing eastwards before Odoacer, he left his young wife and an infant child behind him. At his return to his old home, after thirty years’ absence among the Huns, he is met by a young warrior and challenged to single combat. Before the fight begins, Hildebrand asks for the name of his opponent, and discovering his own son in him, tries to avert the fight, but in vain; Hadubrand only regards the old man’s words as the excuse of cowardice. “In sharp showers the ashen spears fall on the shields, and then the warriors seize their swords and hew vigorously at the white shields until these are beaten to pieces....” With these words the fragment breaks off abruptly, giving no clue as to the issue of the combat. There is little doubt, however, that, as in the Old Norse Asmundar saga, where the tale is alluded to, the fight must have been fatal to Hadubrand. But in the later traditions, both of the Old Norse Thidreks saga (13th century), and the so-called Jüngere Hildebrandslied—a German popular lay, preserved in several versions from the 15th to the 17th century—Hadubrand is simply represented as defeated, and obliged to recognize his father. The Old High German Hildebrandslied is dramatically conceived, and written in a terse, vigorous style; it is the only remnant that has come down from early Germanic times of an undoubtedly extensive ballad literature, dealing with the national sagas.

The MS. of the Hildebrandslied, originally in Fulda, is now preserved in the Landesbibliothek at Cassel. The literature on the poem will be found most conveniently in K. Müllenhoff and W. Scherer, Denkmäler deutscher Poesie und Prosa aus dem VIII. bis XI. Jahrh., 3rd ed. (1892), and in W. Braune, Althochdeutsches Lesebuch, 5th ed. (1902), to which authorities the reader is referred for a critical text. The poem was discovered and first printed (as prose) by J. G. von Eckhart, Commentarii de rebus Franciae orientalis (1729), i. 864 ff.; the first scholarly edition was that of the brothers Grimm (1812). Facsimile reproductions of the MS. have been published by W. Grimm (1830), E. Sievers (1872), G. Könnecke in his Bilderatlas (1887; 2nd ed., 1895) and M. Enneccerus (1897). See also K. Lachmann, Über das Hildebrandslied (1833) in Kleine Schriften, i. 407 ff.; C. W. M. Grein, Das Hildebrandslied (1858; 2nd ed., 1880); O. Schröder, Bemerkungen zum Hildebrandslied (1880); H. Möller, Zur althochdeutschen Alliterationspoesie (1888); R. Heinzel, Über die ostgotische Heldensage (1889); B. Busse, “Sagengeschichtliches zum Hildebrandslied,” in Paul und Braune’s Beiträge, xxvi. (1901), pp. 1 ff.; R. Koegel, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, i. (1894), pp. 210 ff.; and R. Koegel and W. Brückner, in Paul’s Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, 2nd ed., ii. (1901), pp. 71 ff.  (J. G. R.)