1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oberon

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OBERON (Fr. Alberon, Auberon, Ger. Alberich, i.e. rich, Goth. reiks, “ruler” — cf. Lat. rex — and O.H. and M.H. Ger. pi. elbi, elbe, “elves,” pl. alp), king of the elves. In the legendary history[1] of the Merovingian dynasty he figures as a magician, and is the brother of Merowech (Mérovée). He wins for his eldest son Walbert the hand of a princess of Constantinople. In the Nibelungenlied he guarded the treasure of the Nibelungen, but was overcome by Sigfrid. In the German medieval poem of Ortnit, the hero is aided in his wooing by his father Alberich, the king of the dwarfs. As Oberon, king of the fairies, he fills a similar rôle in Huon of Bordeaux (q.v.). The fairy element in the romance provided Shakespeare with the fairy scenes of the Midsummer Night's Dream, and Wieland with the subject of his epic Oberon (1780). Ben Jonson wrote a masque of Oberon, or the Fairy Prince (Works, 1616). Weber's opera, Oberon, to the words of J. R. Planché, was first produced at Covent Garden on the 12th of April 1826. In the Wagner dramas Alberich is the Nibelung who steals the magic gold from the Rhine maidens. He is there the father of Hagen, and has throughout the Ring a darker character than that assigned to him in the original legend. There have been attempts to find the original Oberon in the Celtic Gwyn Aron, but there is no doubt of his Germanic origin, although his history, as given by the poet of Huon of Bordeaux, contains elements derived from Celtic tradition — the magic cup which remains full for the virtuous, and his parentage (he is the son of Morgan la fay and Julius Caesar). With Oberon in the character of guardian of the treasure should be compared Andvari, the dwarf of Scandinavian legend, who, in the shape of a pike, was seized by Loki and made to give up his treasure and the magic ring by which he could create more gold. This ring, the Andvaranautr, with the curse of Andvari upon it, caused the misfortunes of the Volsungs and the Burgundian Nibelungs, and is known in German romance as the Ring of the Nibelungen.

See also C. Voretzsch, Epische Studien. Die Kompositionen des Huon von Bordeaux (Halle, 1900); J. Seemüller, “Die Zwergensage von Ortnit,” in Zeitschr. für deut. Altert. vol. xvi. (1882).

  1. The last history of Hugo of Toul (12th century) was the authority of Jacques de Guyse (14th century) in his Annales historiae ill. princip. Hannoniae (Mon. Germ. xxx.), where there is an account (bk. ix. ch. 6) of Alberich.