Alberich

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Alberich, by Arthur Rackham.

In German heroic legend, Alberich is a dwarf. He features most prominently in the poems Nibelungenlied and Ortnit. He also features in the Old Norse collection of German legends called the Thidreksaga under the name Alfrikr. His name means "ruler of supernatural beings (elves)", and is equivalent to Old French Auberon (English Oberon).[1]

The name was later used for a character in Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Mythology[edit]

Alberich plays a prominent role in the Nibelungenlied, where he is the guardian of the Nibelung's treasure and has the strength of twelve men. Siegfried overpowers him using his cloak of invisibility (Tarnkappe), after which the dwarf serves the hero. Siegfried later pulls his beard in mock combat when he arrives unannounced to claim the treasure.[2]

In the poem Ortnit, Alberich, here described as having the form of a small child and visible only to the possessor of a magical ring, seduces the queen of Lombardy and sires the hero Ortnit. When Ortnit later seeks to woo the daughter of the heathen king Machorel, Alberich reveals his paternity to Ortnit and aids him in his quest, playing tricks on the heathen king and even impersonating the heathen god Mahmet. When Ortnit sets out on his final fatal adventure against a plague of dragons, Alberich takes back the magic ring and warns Ortnit not to go on his quest.[2]

In the Thidrekssaga, Alfrikr makes the swords Eckisax and Nagelringr, giving this last sword to Thidrek.[1]

References to Alberich outside of heroic poetry are rare.[1]

Wagner[edit]

In Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, Alberich is the chief of the Nibelungen race of dwarfs and the main antagonist driving events. In Das Rheingold, the first opera in the cycle, he gains the power to forge the ring after renouncing love and stealing the gold of the river Rhein, of which the ring is made. His brother, the smith Mime, creates the Tarnhelm for Alberich. News of the gold robbery and ring of power incites gods and giants alike to action. The giants Fafner and Fasolt demand the ring in payment for building Valhalla, and carry off Freia as a hostage. In Götterdämmerung (the fourth opera in Wagner's cycle), Hagen, the murderer of the hero Siegfried, is the half-human half-dwarf son of Alberich by Grimhilde, a human woman. This detail of Hagen's origin is Wagner's invention, not taken from the myth or epic poems, in which Hagen is an ordinary human being with human parents.

Wagner's Alberich is a composite character, mostly based on Alberich from the Nibelungenlied, but also on Andvari from Norse mythology. He has been widely described, most notably by Theodor Adorno, as a negative Jewish stereotype, with his race expressed through "distorted" music and "muttering" speech;[3][4][5] other critics, however, disagree with this assessment.[6]

Legacy[edit]

In the World War I, the German retreat to fortified positions in the Hindenburg Line, which was officially named after Siegfried despite its common name, was named Operation Alberich.[7]

See also[edit]

  • Oberon (the French translation of Alberich used for the name of the "King of Fairies" in French and English texts)
  • Elegast/Elbegast/Alegast— elf guest, elf spirit (Dutch, German, and Scandinavian texts, respectively)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Gillespie 1973, p. 4.
  2. ^ a b Gillespie 1973, p. 3.
  3. ^ Schausten, Monika (2003). ""Only Germany raises real men for the world": Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen, Nation, and the Third Reich". In Kosta, Barbara. Writing against boundaries: nationality, ethnicity and gender in the German-speaking context. Rodopi. pp. 9–27. 
  4. ^ Rose, Paul (1996). Wagner: Race and Revolution. Yale University Press. pp. 69–70. 
  5. ^ Weiner, Mark (1997). Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 135–143. 
  6. ^ See e.g. Cooke, Deryck. I Saw the World End: A study of Wagner's Ring. Oxford University Press. p. 264. 
  7. ^ Hayes, Geoffrey; Iarocci, Andrew; Bechthold, Mike (2007-03-23). Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 10. ISBN 9781554580958. 

References[edit]

  • Bulfinch, Thomas. 1834. Bulfinch's Mythology. Reprinted by New York: Harper & Row, 1970, p. 354–356, 903. ISBN 0-690-57260-3.
  • Gillespie, George T. (1973). Catalogue of Persons Named in German Heroic Literature, 700-1600: Including Named Animals and Objects and Ethnic Names. Oxford: Oxford University. ISBN 9780198157182. 
  • Guerber, Helene A.. 1895. Myths of Northern Lands - Index. p. 218, p. 295 index. File retrieved 7/15/2007.