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The religion of the ancient Germans, probably the same with that of the Scandinavians *, contained, like it, Alfs, Dwarfs, and Giants. The Alfs have fallen from the popular creed, but the Dwarfs still retain their former dominion. Unlike those of the North, they have put off their heathen character, and, with their human neighbours, have embraced a purer faith. With the creed they seem to have adopted the spirit of their new religion also. In most of the traditions respecting them we recognize benevolence as one of the principal traits of their character.
The oldest monuments of German popular belief are the poems of the Heldenbuch (Hero-book) and
According to the system of Rask, the Gothic is the national class, of which the Germans and Scandinavians are stems. This explains why we suppose their religious systems to have been originally the same, and accounts for our em. ployment of the term Gothic, in vol. i. p. 101, et seq.
the spirit-stirring Nibelungen Lied. In these poems the Dwarfs are actors of importance.
In the Nibelungen the Dwarf Albrich appears as the guardian of the celebrated Hoard which Sifrit (Siegfried) won from the Nibelungen. The Dwarf is twice vanquished by the hero who gains his Tarn-kappe, or Mantle of Invisibility *.
In the Heldenbuch we meet the Dwarf-king Laurin, whose garden Dietrich of Bern and his warriors broke into and laid waste. To repel the invader the Dwarf appears in magnificent array: twenty-three stanzas are occupied with the description of his banner, helmet, shield, and other accoutrements. A furious combat ensues, in which the Dwarf-whom his magic ring and girdle endow with the strength of twenty-four men, and his Hel Keplein † (Tarnkappe) renders invisible at pleasure had long the advantage. At length, by the advice of Hildebrand, Dietrich strikes off the Dwarf's finger, breaks his girdle, and pulls off his Hel Keplein, and then succeeds in vanquishing his enemy. Laurin afterwards is reconciled to the heroes, and prevails on them to enter
* Tarn from taren, to dare, says Dobenek, because they gave courage along with invisibility. Kappe is properly a cloak, though the Tarnkappe or Nebelkappe is generally represented as a cap, or hat.
+ From hehlen, to conceal.
the mountain in which he dwelt, and partake of a banquet. Having them now in his power, he treacherously makes them all his prisoners. His queen, however, Ditlaub's sister, whom he had stolen away
from under a linden, releases them : their liberation is followed by a terrific engagement between them and Laurin, backed by a numerous host of Dwarfs. Laurin is again overcome; he loses his queen ; his hill is plundered of its treasures, and himself led to Bern, and there reduced to the extremity of earning his bread by becoming a buffoon.
In “ Hornen Sifret"* the Dwarf Eugel renders the hero good service in his combat with the enchanted Dragon, who had carried off the fair Chrimhild from Worms, and enclosed her in the Drachenstein. When Sifret is treacherously attacked by the Giant Kuperan, the ally of the Dragon, the Dwarf flings his Nebelkappe over him to protect him.
* Horny Siegfried; when he slew the dragon, he bathed himself in his blood, and became horny and invulnerable every where except in one spot between his shoulders, where a linden leaf stuck. In the Nibelungen Lied, Hagene says, Yet still more know I of him—this to me is certain, A terrible Lind-dragon the hero's hand hath slain ; He in the blood him bathed, and horny grew his skin ; Hence woạndeth him no weapon, full oft it hath been seen.
Nib. Lied. l. 409.
But the most celebrated of Dwarfs is Elberich *, who aided the emperor Otnit to gain the daughter of the Paynim Soldan of Syria.
Otnit ruled over Lombardy, and had subdued all the neighbouring nations. His subjects wished him to marry, and he held a council on the affair. No maiden mentioned was deemed noble enough to share his bed. At last his uncle Elias, king of the " wild Russians,” says,
I know of a maiden, noble and high-born,
The monarch's imagination is inflamed, and, regardless of the remonstrances of his council, he determines to brave all dangers, to sail with a powerful army to Syria, and to win the maiden, or die. He regulates his kingdom, and says to his uncle,
Elberich, as we have said (vol. i. p. 59), is Oberon. From the usual change of l into u (as al, au, col, cou, &c.), in the French language, Elberich or Alberich (derived from Alp, Alf) becomes Auberich ; and ich not being a French termination, the usual one of on was substituted, and so it became Auberon, or Oberon ; a much more likely origin than that from L'aube du jour, which is entitled to no more atten. tion than that of Mab from amabilis.