After I wrote about the Volksoper’s production of Nestroy’s Tannhäuser parody, commenter Julien recommended Ernst von Pidde’s 1932 book Richard Wagners Ring des Nibelungen in light of German criminal law (Richard Wagners Ring des Nibelungen im Lichte des deutschen Strafrechts). It has turned out to be quite the interesting specimen (thanks, Julien!). Since there's no English edition, I have translated an excerpt for your appreciation.
Also, published in 1932. 1932?!?!? There's slightly more to this than deciding that Sieglinde can get off with a fine.
In hilariously methodical fashion, von Pidde goes through each opera and considers each potential crime with reference to the German Criminal Code, concluding in each case whether a crime has taken place and if so what the appropriate punishment would be. Here he is on Siegmund's sword acquisition. I have retained some convoluted syntax for that unique charm of German legalese (also because I am a lazy translator).
Criminal Offense: The Removal of the Sword (pp. 43-47)Siegmund, insufficiently equipped for a duel with his host, discovers to his pleasant surprise a sword embedded in the centerpiece of Hunding’s interior decoration, an ash tree. The usurper immediately baptizes it:
So nenn ich dich, Schwert.
Zeig deiner Schärfe
heraus aus der Scheide zu mir!
(Needed! Needed!/ So I name you, sword./ Needed! Needed! / precious steel/ show your sharpness/ out of your scabbard to me!)
(He pulls the sword from the tree with a powerful movement and shows it to the astonished and enchanted Sieglinde.)
Suspicion surrounds the theft. We can see that this act has a precondition: the stolen object is “foreign.” Simply put: Is Hunding the possessor of the sword? If yes, how did he come into its ownership?
Sieglinde reports that during her nuptials with Hunding a “Greis in blauem Gewand”--i.e. no less than Wotan himself--infiltrated the wedding party and in full view of all stuck the sword in the ash tree:
Dem sollte der Stahl geziemen,
der aus dem Stamm ihn zög’.
Der Männer alle,
so kühn sie sich mühten,
die Wehr sich keiner gewann.
und Gäste gingen,
die stärksten zogen am Stahl--
keinen Zoll entwich er dem Stamm.
(the blade would belong to whom/ could pull it from the trunk/ All the men / as hard as they tried / failed to win the weapon./ Guests came/ and guests went/ the strongest pulled on the sword/ it didn't move an inch from the trunk.)
Conventional wisdom would close the matter here: Hunding loses possession of the sword after its removal. The sword belongs to Siegmund, who alone fulfilled the conditions entailed for the acquisition of ownership.
This conjecture is indeed important, but premature. It neglects to consider that ownership can be acquired by means other than agreement and handover (i.e. forcible obtainment of the object, §§ 929 854 BGB*), such as for example through acquisitive possession. This, however, would require ten years of uninterrupted custody of the object (§ 937 BGB). Whether at the point of the sword’s theft Hunding and Sieglinde have been married this long is not recorded in the facts of the case, so recourse must be taken to another condition of possession.
If a moveable object is connected in the form of a lot of land, such that the object becomes an essential component of the lot, the ownership of the lot extends to include this object. (§946 BGB)
The reasonable but unprofessional objection that the ash is not part of the parcel of land is rebutted by § 946 BGB: The essential components of a lot belong along with the ground when they constitute a fixed bound object... seeds with the sown ground, a plant with its grafted parts all constitute essential components of the lot.
Thus the stipulated object is plainly not to be seen as a component part of the lot should it be kept in pots, jugs, vases, etc., that is to say if it can be removed from the lot without extenuating circumstances. Similar conditions apply to a planted nursery of trees, whose connection with the soil is only intended to constitute a temporary condition.** Therefore, neither apply in the case of the ash, whose strong, noble roots lose themselves deep in the ground (stage direction). An extrication without severe encroachments into the floorboards can hardly be imagined.
But the classification of the ash tree as an integral component of Hunding’s interior decoration says nothing with respect to the question of whether the sword, for its part, becomes an integral component of the ash and therefore indirectly of the entire property.
This question is to be answered in the negative. The defining attribute of the nature of a component is whether its separation leads to the destruction of monetary worth or if the component after the separation still maintains its value.*** As shown by the blow in the duel later on, the sword has through its liberation from the tree trunk suffered no decrease in its utility, the same can be said in retrospect in the case of the ash.
The bond between the sword and the ash is therefore not so close that Hunding, as owner of the tree, would automatically also becomes the possessor of the sword. Wotan’s determination that it should belong to the one who can remove it remains: the sword belongs rightfully to Siegmund, theft has not taken place.
Whether the ash serves as a “repository” in the sense of German Criminal Code § 243 subsection 2**** can therefore be left unexplored.
*Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (German Civil Code) --trans.
**See Civil Court Decisions, vol. 105, page 215.
*** Palandt, German Civil Code, footnote 3 to §93.
****In particularly severe cases the thief will be punished with imprisonment between three months up to ten years. A particularly severe case exists when the perpetrator... steals something that is specially secured against removal by means of a locked case or other protective device.
~~~There's a summary of the appropriate punishments at the end of the book. Almost everyone goes to jail, including life sentences for Alberich (theft of the Ring, conspiracy to murder Siegfried), Fafner (abduction of Freia, murder of Fasolt), Fricka (conspiracy to murder Siegmund), Hagen (poisoning, murder of Siegfried and Günther), and Brünnhilde (conspiracy to murder Siegfried, arson in the first degree). (Note: no death penalty.)
Where did this odd little book come from? The one-page introduction to my Hoffmann und Campe edition (1995) only notes that von Pidde was born in 1877, died in 1966, and was a circuit judge in Gifhorn and ardent Wagner buff. It claims that he was a richly productive writer, but this book is his only work listed in the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek so I'm not sure if I buy that. It also notes that this work dates from a few weeks after Hitler's "seizure of power." (Emphasis mine, because, !!!) All that follows is interpretive conjecture.
Looking at it in this way, the book becomes less a humor piece than a covert argument that modeling your modern behavior on that of mythic characters is a bad idea. It's funny, especially if you appreciate German humor, and von Pidde clearly adores Wagner. But by taking everything far too literally to a comic extreme, he reminds you that you shouldn't be taking this too literally yourself.
In the epilogue, he wonders what should be done about the immorality of the Ring. He points out (intentionally) turgidly that "It would be indeed be different if the singer playing Alberich, when he is in possession of the Ring, really wielded boundless power, or if the bass singing Fafner really killed the bass singing Fasolt. Neither is the case." But! He reminds us that there is legal protection for freedom of expression, with a provision for artworks whose ethical substance is questionable. His solution is to perhaps not allow anyone under 18 to see the Ring, because Wagner's music has a special "narcotic" property for adolescents. He quotes Wilhelm Tell: "strange magic pulls the youth away." That's OK if it happens in Switzerland, he says (ha). But Germans should protect their youth.
I think I know what he's getting at there.
Note: I am using von Pidde's post-war edition, and while the epilogue I believe is original, the prologue is not, and the legal references were updated for postwar West German law (because accuracy matters in this kind of thing!).
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