Peter von Cornelius, Hagen versenkt den Nibelungenhort, 1859

If you want to enjoy the Song of the Nibelungs, you must try to do one thing: forget Wagner. His music drama Der Ring der Nibelungen is such an overwhelming aesthetic experience—he was only slightly exaggerating when he claimed to have composed a Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work of art”—that it has inevitably eclipsed the medieval saga on which it was based.

Yet Das Nibelungenlied is a remarkable work of art in its own right. Among medieval epics, it...

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