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Saga of the Volsungs Combination of Myth, Legend and History.

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1 Saga of the Volsungs Combination of Myth, Legend and History.
Most popular of the Icelandic fornaldar sagas. Action set in the Völkerwanderung ( CE) Material also treated in the medieval German epic, das Nibelungenlied (c. 1200) – an Austrian version from the other corner of the Germanic world. Saga based on oral lore roughly 800 years old. Direct sources for Volsunga saga are the poems of the Poetic Edda (recommended reading, ).

2 Saga of the Volsungs Volsunga saga composed in Iceland in present form around Oldest manuscript from 1400. Saga style, much shorter and more intensive than the verse epic Nibelungenlied. Many inconsistencies exist between the Eddic poems and the two epic versions. In addition to the ancient Germanic legends, there are also Celtic and romance elements. Völkerwanderung as age of heroic myth. Sigurd as the Germanic Hero.

3 Saga of the Volsungs Why was the work so famous?
National cultural identity (esp. in Norway) Dynastic considerations and divine legitimacy Epic tragedy of monumental proportions Age of Myth, heroic legends Many representations in Norse art Influence of the Volsunga saga Richard Wagner, W. Morris, J.R.R. Tolkien

4 Saga of the Volsungs Timeline of the Volsunga Saga History
Prehistory of mythological events and legends. Historical events (c CE) of the Germanic Völkerwanderung. Legend mentioned in early heroic poems and lays, Beowulf and Lay of Ragnar, CE. Legend spreads throughout the Germanic world, from Austria to Greenland. Oral poetry. Nibelungenlied in Germany c. 1200, Volsunga saga in Iceland c.1270.

5 Saga of the Volsungs Divisions within the Saga:
1. Prehistory of Sigurd (1-13) 2. Mythological foundation (14-16): Otter’s Ransom 3. Heroic Legend (17-20) Sigurd’s revenge, dragon 4. Legendary Romance (21-25) Brynhild 5. History and Legend (26-33) Gjuki and Gudrun 6. History (34-44) Gudrun and Atli

6 Characters named after (*or possibly inspired by) Historical Figures
Saga of the Volsungs Characters named after (*or possibly inspired by) Historical Figures Many mentioned by the Eastern Roman historian Jordanes, Origins and Deeds of the Goths, 551 CE. Gunnar (Burgundian king Gundahar d. 437 CE) Gjuki (Burgundian king, Gibica d. 407 CE) *Brynhild (Visigothic/Frankish Queen Brunhilda, d. 613 CE) *Sigurd (Frankish king, husband of Brunhilda, Sigebert I d. 575 CE) Jormunrek (Gothic King Ermanaric d. 376 CE) Atli (Atilla the Hun d. 453 CE) Svanhild, Hamdir and Sorli (Sunhilda, Ammius and Sarus mentioned by Jordanes in connection with Ermanaric).

7 Saga of the Volsungs 1-2 Sigi, son of Odin, kills a thrall (Bredi) and is outlawed – called “wolf in hallowed places” (35). Odin guides Sigi to a new land where he gives Sigi command of warships; he wins the kingdom Hunland. Here imagined as a Germanic kingdom. When Sigi was old, his wife’s brothers attacked him – familial strife a recurrent theme! Sigi falls, but his son Rerir seeks vengeance against his own relatives.

8 Saga of the Volsungs 2-3 Rerir and his wife have no children, so Rerir prays to Frigg – she has Odin send a wish maiden (giantess Hljod) with a fertility apple (36). Rerir dies, but his wife gives birth (by C-section) to Volsung after a 6 year pregnancy! The dynasty is named after Volsung. (Engl. Waels in Beowulf). Volsung then marries Hljod – a sort of incest? Twins Sigmund and Signy born, and 10 others. King Siggeir of Gautland asks for Signy in marriage; Volsung hosts a wedding feast.

9 Saga of the Volsungs 3-4 Odin appears (disguised) in the hall, thrusts a sword into the tree Barnstock and calls it a gift for the one who pulls it from the tree (38). Everyone tries, but only Sigmund can pull it out. King Siggeir offers to buy the sword, but Sigmund refuses to part with it. Siggeir marries Signy, who foretells only misery from the marriage (39). King Siggeir invites Volsung to visit him – treachery planned – also a common theme.

10 Saga of the Volsungs 5 Volsung arrives at Gautland for the feast, but Signy warns him that he has been trapped. Volsung refuses to retreat from any battle – he fights bravely, but is overwhelmed and killed. His 10 sons are taken captive: Signy delays her brothers’ execution. A she-wolf kills one son each night in the forest. Signy send a servant to prepare the honey-trick. Sigmund kills the she-wolf and escapes (41f.).

11 Saga of the Volsungs 6-7 Sigmund dwells alone in the forest, hiding from King Siggeir – primitive, stone-age life. Signy has two sons, sends them to her brother to be tested: famous flour-sack trial (42). Sons fail the test; Sigmund kills his nephews on advice of their mother. Signy swaps appearance with a sorceress, visits her brother in the forest, sleeps with him. Incest. Signy gives birth to Sinfjotli, who passes the famous flour-sack trial with Sigmund.

12 Saga of the Volsungs 8 Sigmund and Sinfjotli live together in the forest, hunt men for their money. They come across two men, steal their wolf skins, become werewolves themselves. Possibly a memory of youthful “wolfpacks” in Indo-European bronze-age culture. When Sinfjotli is grown, they plot vengeance. They attack Siggeir; Sinfjotli kills his two half-brothers, but he and Sigmund are taken captive.

13 Saga of the Volsungs 8 King Siggeir has Sigmund and Sinfjotli buried alive, separated by a great stone slab (46). Signy smuggles Sigmund’s sword to them before they are enclosed; they use it to escape. They then set fire to Siggeir’s hall in the night. They ask Signy to leave, but she confesses her incest out of desire for vengeance – she is now content to die with Siggeir. Sigmund returns to Hunland, becomes king.

14 Saga of the Volsungs 8-10 King Sigmund marries Borghild, has son Helgi. Little is heard of Sinfjotli until later – incestuous line does not continue. Prince Helgi wins battles, fights King Hodbrod to win the latter’s reluctant fiancée, Sigrun. Helgi was a famous king in other sagas, but plays no further role in the Volsunga saga. Sinfjotli desires fiancée of Queen Borghild’s brother – kills him to get the woman. Marital conflicts a recurrent theme in this saga.

15 Saga of the Volsungs 10-11 Borghild offers poison to Sinfjotli – Sigmund drinks it twice, but is too drunk the third time. Sinfjotli knows it is poison, drinks and dies. Sigmund takes his body to the forest, where Odin appears and takes the body away. Sigmund drives away Borghild, she dies. Sigmund decides to marry Hjordis, which starts a war with her first suitor, King Lyngi. Lyngi attacks old Sigmund – but he cannot be defeated until Odin appears to break his sword.

16 Saga of the Volsungs 12-13 Queen Hjordis escapes death in the battle, finds her dying husband Sigmund and collects the shards of his famous sword. Hjordis swaps clothes and names with servant. Danish Viking Alf appears, takes the girls and treasure back to his father in Denmark. King Hjalprek discovers her true identity; Hjordis marries his son, King Alf. Hjordis gives birth to Sigmund’s son, Sigurd.

17 The Ramsund carving in Sweden, depicting Sigurd and many of his adventures.

18 The Ramsund carving of Sigurd.
1) Sigurd is touches the roasting heart. 2) The birds tell Sigurd of Regin’s planned treachery. 3) Regin is dead, lying beside his own head. 4) Sigurd's horse Grani is laden with the dragon's treasure. 5) Sigurd killing Fafnir. 6) Ótr from the mythological beginning of the saga.

19 Saga of the Volsungs 13-14 Sigurd grows up in Hjalprek’s hall “in great love and honor.” Regin, Sigurd’s foster-father, persuades him to confront the Dragon Fafnir and take his wealth. Regin recounts the Tale of Otter’s Ransom (57). Hreidmar, with sons Fafnir, Otr, and Regin. Otr is a shape-shifter, hunts salmon in the shape of an otter. Loki kills Otr with a stone, not knowing his true identity.

20 Saga of the Volsungs 14 Odin, Hœnir, and Loki arrive at Hreidmar’s hall that evening, show their “lucky catch” to their host, and are taken prisoner. The Ransom of the Gods is to fill the Otter skin with gold and then cover it with gold. Loki goes to fetch the ransom; he uses Ran’s net to catch the dwarf Andvari in the form of a pike. Andvari surrenders his gold, even his last little ring, but curses the ring and the golden treasure.

21 Saga of the Volsungs 14 Loki ransoms Odin and Hœnir; the gold just manages to cover the erect Otter skin – one whisker protrudes, and Odin covers that with Andvari’s ring (Andvaranautr). Andvari’s curse is thus transferred to Hreidmar’s family: Fafnir kills his father and takes all the gold for himself. While lying on his gold, his evil and greed transform Fafnir into a dragon – Lingworm. Regin wishes to exploit Sigurd to recover his gold.

22 Saga of the Volsungs 14-16 Sigurd is willing to aid Regin, asks only for a sword worthy of such a great feat. Sigurd breaks the first two swords fashioned by Regin. Fetishism of the magic weapon. Sigurd collects the shards of his father’s sword, Gram (broken by Odin), uses those to fashion a new sword – it cleaves the anvil in half! Before Sigurd can slay the dragon, he must first avenge his father, King Sigmund. Gripir tells Sigurd of his future (short chapter).

23 Saga of the Volsungs 17-18 Sigurd collects an army and sails to attack the sons of Hunding. He meets a man (Hnikar or Fjolnir – Odin), who gives Sigurd advice before the battle. In battle, Sigurd wades through blood to kill every living son of Hunding – Sigmund avenged! Regin reminds Sigurd of his promise to kill Fafnir: he advises Sigurd to lie in a hole and wait for the dragon to pass overhead… Sigurd advances bravely; Regin runs home, afraid.

24 Saga of the Volsungs 18 As Sigurd digs his hole, Odin arrives to tell him to dig several extra holes (for the dragon blood). Sigurd waits for Fafnir, thrusts the sword Gram into the dragon’s heart, causing his death wound. Lengthy Dialogue ensues between Sigurd and the dying Dragon, Fafnir: “Who are you, and tell me about your parents…” Fafnir tells Sigurd that with the gold he will inherit the curse of Andvari – Sigurd takes the gold anyway.

25 Saga of the Volsungs 19-20 Regin returns when it is safe, having hid like a coward while Sigurd confronted Fafnir. Regin is unsure whether to gloat, to mourn his dead brother, or to seek vengeance against Sigurd. Regin asks Sigurd to roast his own brother’s heart so that he can eat it. While roasting the heart, Sigurd tastes the blood to see if the meat has been cooked – when it touches his tongue he can understand the language of birds (nuthatches in some versions).

26 Saga of the Volsungs 19-20 The birds tell him of the wisdom to be gained by eating the heart, and also of Regin’s treachery. The birds also tell him that he would be better off if he killed Regin, took the gold, and seduced the beautiful Brynhild. So Sigurd lops off Regin’s head and eats most of the dragon heart himself. He also gets the gold. He loads his horse Grani with the gold, almost too much to carry, rides off.

27 Saga of the Volsungs Sigurd and Grani
Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867 –1939) for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle Operas.

28 Saga of the Volsungs Reforging Gram
Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867 –1939) for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle Operas.

29 Saga of the Volsungs Gram reforged
Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867 –1939) for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle Operas.

30 Saga of the Volsungs Fafnir, the Dragon

31 Saga of the Volsungs Fafnir, the Dragon

32 Saga of the Volsungs Fafnir is slain

33 Saga of the Volsungs Sigurd tastes Fafnir’s blood

34 Saga of the Volsungs Brynhild behind the wall of flames

35 Saga of the Volsungs 21 Sigurd rides to Frakkland (land of the Franks), sees a great light – a wall of fire. Sigurd discovers the Valkyrie Brynhild asleep, cuts off her armor and awakens her (67). She tells him that she was punished by Odin for supporting young Agnar against old Hjalmgunnar in a battle: cursed with marriage! She vowed she would only marry a man who knew no fear – who could only be Sigurd.

36 Saga of the Volsungs 21-22 Sigurd asks the Valkyrie to teach him “the way of mighty things.” She recites a long poem, telling him of runes and magic (67-71). Compare to the Eddic poem, “Sigrdrifumal.” Brynhild recites more wisdom to him – very similar to the lines of Havamal, where Odin speaks of how a good Viking warrior should act. Sigurd is impressed by her beauty and wisdom: He swears that he will marry her, and she wants that too; they pledge vows between them.

37 Saga of the Volsungs 23-25 Sigurd’s appearance described (72).
Chivalric elements have been added to the text here – some contamination from medieval courtly romance (“courtesy,” for example). Sigurd’s Second Meeting of Brynhild at Heimar – textual corruption or inconsistency? Brynhild stays in her bower, embroiders tapestry with Sigurd’s noble deeds – he sees her in the tower, but does not remember her.

38 Saga of the Volsungs 25 Author attempts to reconcile different traditions about the relationship between the hero and the Valkyrie. The hero has a divine and a mortal lover. Sigurd vows to gain her affection (through gold!). Brynhild tells Sigurd that they cannot marry, for she is a “shield-maiden” destined to fight, and he is fated to marry Gudrun. Sigurd insists “no king’s daughter will entice me” and swears a second time to marry her.

39 Saga of the Volsungs 26-27 The Burgundians are introduced:
King Gjuki (and evil Queen-witch Grimhild), his sons Gunnar, Hogni and Guttorm, and his daughter Gudrun. King Atli (Attila the Hun) introduced as well – here he is the brother of Brynhild. Gudrun dreams of a hawk – she decides to visit Brynhild for an interpretation (76). Brynhild interprets dream of a stag (cite 77f.).

40 Saga of the Volsungs 28 Grimhild decides that Sigurd would be a good catch for her family. She brews the “Ale of Forgetfulness” that causes him to forget Brynhild and his love for her. Sigurd stays for nearly 3 years. King Gjuki offers him his daughter Gudrun, and Sigurd agrees to the marriage. Gunnar and Hogni swear a “Pact of Brotherhood” with their new brother-in-law.

41 Saga of the Volsungs 28-29 Norse society generally patrilocal – bride travels to her husband’s home. Sigurd’s position thus unusual, vulnerable, in his wife’s land. Sigurd gives Gudrun some of Fafnir’s heart, making her “grimmer and wiser” than before. Queen Grimhild suggests that her son Gunnar marry Brynhild! He likes the idea. Brynhild again surrounded by a fire wall – only the man brave enough to pass can marry her!

42 Saga of the Volsungs 29 Gunnar is unable to pass through the fire, even on Sigurd’s horse, Grani. Sigurd exchanges shapes with Gunnar, Grani leaps the flames, and Sigurd seduces Brynhild (while pretending to be Gunnar). Brynhild is astonished that someone other than Sigurd could pass through the flames, but he passed her test, so she agrees to marry him.

43 Saga of the Volsungs 29 Sigurd sleeps with Brynhild for three nights, but places his sword Gram between them. A similar scene in Tristan, a medieval German epic. Sigurd takes a trophy from Brynhild – Andvaranaut – the cursed ring he had given her! Brynhild travels to marry Gunnar. She leaves behind Aslaug, her daughter by Sigurd. After the wedding celebration, Sigurd gets his memory back; he is full of sorrow, but keeps his thoughts to himself.

44 Saga of the Volsungs 30 Two Queens in any kingdom are too many. Brynhild and Gudrun dispute over who should be more esteemed. Pride and Insults. Gudrun proves that her husband Sigurd is best, because he was the one who … took Brynhild herself! And Gudrun has the ring to prove it! Brynhild is deeply insulted, feels betrayed by Sigurd, publicly insulted by Gudrun, and humiliated by her marriage to second-rate Gunnar.

45 Saga of the Volsungs 31 Brynhild’s grief only increases. She takes to her bed, depressed, will not talk to anyone. Brynhild insults her husband Gunnar (85) and curses his mother, evil Queen Grimhild, who caused the whole misfortune. Brynhild tries to murder Gunnar, but his brother Hogni prevents her; she vows never again to be happy. More lamentation; she hides in her room. Sigurd is asked to speak with Brynhild.

46 Saga of the Volsungs 31 Sigurd and Brynhild speak together (cite 87).
They now both remember their earlier meeting. He still loves her, regrets his past mistakes, desires that she become his wife. She still loves him, but now wants him dead! It’s a thin line between love and hate. Brynhild tells Gunnar a lie – that Sigurd had sex with her while they were together behind the wall of fire (88). Gunnar plots revenge.

47 Saga of the Volsungs 32 Betrayal of Sigurd: Gunnar and Hogni vow to get vengeance for Brynhild (and get the gold). They do not wish to break their vows, so they persuade their brother Guttorm to kill Sigurd. They feed Guttorm snake and wolf, until he becomes violent and fierce through witchcraft. Guttorm attacks while Sigurd is sleeping, skewers him to his bed. Before he dies, Sigurd throws Gram and slices Guttorm in half.

48 Saga of the Volsungs 32-33 Gudrun awakes in bed covered with Sigurd’s blood – Brynhild laughs when she hears Gudrun crying. Brynhild soon laments the death of heroic Sigurd. She bestows gold, gives a final prophesy – the deaths of everyone – then stabs herself. Sigurd, Brynhild, and Sigurd’s son (by Gudrun) are all burned together on a funeral pyre (93). “Brynhild’s Ride to Hel” reunites her with Sigurd, whom she was fated to love (Edda, 192-4).

49 Saga of the Volsungs 34 Gudrun now becomes the central figure of the saga. She leaves her brothers, travels through the wilderness to Denmark, stays 7 seasons. Grimhild wants Gudrun back, travels with brothers to Gudrun, offer compensation – and an evil potion with runes (94f.). Gudrun forgets her grievances – but she still dislikes Grimhild’s plan for her to marry Atli (95).

50 Saga of the Volsungs 34-35 Grimhild convinces Gudrun to marry Atli, though she is unhappy with the idea – her life with Atli contains little affection. Atli has bad dreams, which Gudrun interprets (96). Atli lusts after Sigurd’s gold, now in the hands of Gunnar and Hogni. He has a claim, since the inheritance should pass through Gudrun to him. Atli invites Burgundians to his hall – Gudrun suspects treachery, ties wolf hairs onto a ring and sends secret runes to warn her brothers.

51 Saga of the Volsungs 35-37 Ambassador Vingi recarves the warning runes, presents the invitation and offer of power (97). Kostbera, Hogni’s wife, reads the runic warnings correctly and warns Hogni. Kostbera has dreams, which Hogni interprets very poorly (98). Glaumvor, Gunnar’s (new) wife, also has dreams which he interprets poorly (99). The brothers know the danger, but decide to face their fate anyway.

52 Saga of the Volsungs 37-38 Ambassador Vingi brings them to Atli’s hall, where they see the trap set for them. They kill boastful Vingi by beating him with the blunt ends of their axes. Atli welcomes them and demands they hand over Sigurd’s gold: Gunnar and Hogni refuse (100). Atli swears to avenge Sigurd; fighting becomes general – Gudrun joins her brothers in the fight. Atli loses much in the battle, laments his fate.

53 Saga of the Volsungs 39 All of the Burgundians are eventually killed except Hogni and Gunnar. Gunnar is captured and put in chains. Hogni fights resolutely, but he too is overpowered and captured (102). Faces torture bravely. Thrall (slave) Hjalli’s heart is cut out, shown to Gunnar, who can tell by its tremulous quaking that it is not Hogni’s! Hogni’s resolute heart is cut out – he laughs while being killed! Example of Viking pride!

54 Saga of the Volsungs 39-40 Gunnar recognizes Hogni’s heart – knows he is now the Last of the Burgundian Kings (103). Gunnar bound and thrown into a Snake Pit to die – Gudrun throws him a harp which he plays with his toes! Gunnar calms all the snakes except one large hideous adder which kills him (103). Atli gloats over his victory to Gudrun, who pretends to bow to his will, but plots vengeance. A funeral feast is prepared for Gunnar and Hogni.

55 Saga of the Volsungs 40 Gudrun seizes her two sons by Atli, slits their throats, and serves them to Atli (104). Atli is (justifiably) outraged by Gudrun’s behavior. Niflung, Hogni’s son, helps Gudrun get her vengeance. Together, they skewer drunken Atli in his bed (104). (Compare with Attila and Ildico). Gudrun and dying Atli exchange lies and taunts – but she agrees to bury him well, which she does. Gudrun sets fire to Atli’s hall before she leaves, killing all those remaining inside (105).

56 Saga of the Volsungs Andvari’s Cursed Gold has now killed:
Hreidmar the Giant His sons Regin the Smith and Fafnir the Dragon Sigurd the Dragon Slayer Brynhild the Valkyrie The Burgundian Kings Gunnar and Hogni Dozens or hundreds of lesser characters (all of the warriors belonging to Gunnar and to Atli). Only Gudrun is left: the curse now follows her.

57 Saga of the Volsungs 41-42 Gudrun wishes to die, tries to drown herself, but is carried by waves to the fortress of King Jonakr. Beautiful Svanhild, daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun, goes with her. Jonakr marries Gudrun, they have 3 children: Hamdir, Sorli and Erp – the names Sunhilda, Sarus, and Ammius mentioned in Roman chronicles (Jordanes’s history of the Goths). Svanhild betrothed to Jormunrek (historical Erminrichus, d. 376 CE).

58 Saga of the Volsungs 42 Jormunrek foolishly sends his young son, Randver, and evil advisor, Bikki, to fetch beautiful Svanhild. Bikki advises Randver to seduce Svanhild, since he deserves a beautiful young wife more than his aged father (107). Bikki tells Jormunrek that his son has betrayed him and become the lover of his betrothed! Jormunrek has Randver hanged, and he has Svanhild trampled to death by horses (107).

59 Saga of the Volsungs 43-44 Gudrun hears of her daughter’s violent death and urges her young sons to vengeance (107). Lamentations of Gudrun (108) is taken from the poem “The Whetting of Gudrun” (Edda 234-7). Gudrun prays to Sigurd, that he might ride from Hel and take her to his world. Suggestion of death. Meanwhile, Gudrun’s sons are given magic that protects them from metal (but not from stone). They ask their brother Erp if he will help them – his cryptic answer leads them to kill him (108).

60 Saga of the Volsungs 44 They soon realize the wisdom of Erp’s answer, regret their rashness in killing him. They attack Jormunrek, slice off his hands and his feet – but Erp is not there to slice off his head, so Jormunrek is able to call for help! The defenders attack, but their weapons will not bite into the magic armor of Hamdir and Sorli. A tall, ancient, one-eyed man appears and advises them to stone the boys to death, and it is done. Odin puts an end to this line – everyone dead!

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