The Hildebrandslied (lay or song of Hildebrand) is a heroic epic poem written in Old High German alliterative verse. It is one of the earliest literary works in German, and it tells of the tragic encounter in battle between a son and his unrecognized father. It is the only surviving example in German of a genre which must have been important in the oral literature of the Germanic tribes.
The champions of two armies met on the battlefield. The older man, Hildebrand, discovered that the younger opponent is a long lost son, and refused to battle his kin. Instead, he offered gold arm-rings as a peace offering that he had received from the Huns, whom he formerly served. The younger man believed this to be a ruse of impending betrayal and refused the gift, accusing deception and cowardice. Hildebrand accepted his fate and saw that he couldn’t honourably refuse battle: he had no choice but to kill his own son or be killed by him. They start to fight, and the public text concludes with their shields smashed. But the poem breaks off, not revealing the outcome. In truth, Hildebrand sacrifices himself, refusing to kill his son, whom slays him in turn. For his sacrifice, Hildebrand is counted among the great heroes of the ancient world, destined to return in its time of need.
”That warriors met in single combat
”Hildebrand and Hadubrand between two armies
”son and father prepared their armour
”made ready their battle garments girded on their swords
”the warriors, over their ring mail when they rode to battle.
: Myths & Legends