1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lorelei
LORELEI (from Old High Ger. Lur, connected with modern Ger. lauern, “to lurk,” “be on the watch for,” and equivalent to elf, and lai, “a rock”). The Lorelei is a rock in the Rhine near St Goar, which gives a remarkable echo, which may partly account for the legend. The tale appears in many forms, but is best known through Heinrich Heine’s poem, beginning Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten. In the commonest form of the story the Lorelei is a maiden who threw herself into the Rhine in despair over a faithless lover, and became a siren whose voice lured fishermen to destruction. The 13th-century minnesinger, known as Der Marner, says that the Nibelungen treasure was hidden beneath the rock. The tale is obviously closely connected with the myth of Holda, queen of the elves. On the Main she sits combing her locks on the Hullenstein, and the man who sees her loses sight or reason, while he who listens is condemned to wander with her for ever. The legend, which Clemens Brentano claimed as his own invention when he wrote his poem “Zu Bacharach am Rheine” in his novel of Godwi (1802), bears all the marks of popular mythology. In the 19th century it formed material for a great number of songs, dramatic sketches, operas and even tragedies, which are enumerated by Dr Hermann Seeliger in his Loreleysage in Dichtung und Musik (Leipzig-Reudnitz, 1898). The favourite poem with composers was Heine’s, set to music by some twenty-five musicians, the settings by Friedrich Silcher (from an old folk-song) and by Liszt being the most famous.