Sigurd (Old Norse: Sigurðr) is a legendary hero of Norse mythology, as well as the central character in the Völsunga saga. The earliest extant representations for his legend come in pictorial form from seven runestones in Sweden1 and most notably the Ramsund carving (c. 1000) and the Gök Runestone (11th century).
As Sivard Snarensven(d) he was the hero of several medieval Scandinavian ballads.
The name Sigurðr is not the same name as the German Siegfried. The Old Norse form would have been Sigruþr, a form which appears in the Ramsund carving that depicts the legend.2 Sivard is another variant name of Sigurðr; these name forms all share the first element Sig-, which means victory.
In the Völsunga saga, Sigurd was supposedly the posthumous son of Sigmund and his second wife, Hiordis. Sigmund dies in battle when he attacks Odin (who is in disguise), and Odin shatters Sigmund's sword. Dying, Sigmund tells Hiordis of her pregnancy and bequeaths the fragments of his sword to his unborn son.
Hiordis marries King Alf, and then Alf decides to send Sigurd to Regin as a foster. Regin tempts Sigurd to greed and violence by first asking Sigurd if he has control over Sigmund's gold. When Sigurd says that Alf and his family control the gold and will give him anything he desires, Regin asks Sigurd why he consents to a lowly position at court. Sigurd replies that he is treated as an equal by the kings and can get anything he desires. Then Regin asks Sigurd why he acts as stableboy to the kings and has no horse of his own. Sigurd then goes to get a horse. An old man (Odin in disguise) advises Sigurd on choice of horse, and in this way Sigurd gets Grani, a horse derived from Odin's own Sleipnir.
Finally, Regin tries to tempt Sigurd by telling him the story of the Otter's Gold. Regin's father was Hreidmar, a magician, and his two brothers were Ótr and Fafnir. Regin was a natural at smithing, and Ótr also had magical talents; he liked to take the form of an otter and swim at a waterfall, where the dwarf Andvari lived. Andvari often assumed the form of a pike and swam in the pool as well.
One day, the Æsir saw Ótr with a fish on the banks, thought him a real otter, and Loki killed him for his pelt. They took the pelt to the nearby home of Hreidmar to display their catch. Hreidmar, Fafnir and Regin promptly seized the Æsir and demanded compensation for the death of Ótr. The compensation was to stuff the body with gold and cover the skin with fine treasures. Loki got the net from the sea giantess Rán, caught Andvari (as a pike), and demanded all of the dwarf's gold. Andvari willingly gave the gold, except for a ring. Loki took this ring, too, although it carried a curse of death on its bearer. The Æsir used this gold to stuff Ótr's skin and then cover it. They then covered the last exposed place (a whisker) with the ring of Andvari. Afterwards, Fafnir murdered Hreidmar and took the gold, denying Regin his share.
Sigurd agrees to avenge Regin and Hreidmar and kill Fafnir, who has been turned into a dragon by a curse sourced in Andvari's ring and gold which he's protecting. Sigurd has Regin make him a sword, which he tests by striking the anvil. The sword shatters, so he has Regin make another. This also shatters. Finally, Sigurd has Regin make a sword out of the fragments that had been left to him by Sigmund. The resulting sword, Gram, cuts through the anvil. To kill Fafnir, Regin advises him to dig a pit, wait for Fafnir to walk over it, and then stab the dragon. Odin, posing as an old man, advises Sigurd to dig trenches also to drain the blood, and to bathe in it after killing the dragon; bathing in a dragon's blood confers invulnerability. Sigurd does so and successfully kills Fafnir; Regin then asked Sigurd to give him Fafnir's heart for himself. Sigurd drinks some of Fafnir's blood and gains the ability to understand the language of birds. Birds advise him to kill Regin, since Regin has also been corrupted by the ring and is plotting Sigurd's death. Sigurd beheads Regin, roasts Fafnir's heart and consumes part of it. This gives him the gift of "wisdom" (prophecy).
Sigurd met Brynhildr, a "shieldmaiden," after killing Fafnir. She pledges herself to him but also prophesies his doom and marriage to another. (In Völsunga saga, it is not clear that Brynhild is a Valkyrie or in any way supernatural.)
Sigurd went to the court of Heimar, who was married to Bekkhild, sister of Brynhild, and then to the court of Gjúki, where he came to live. Gjuki had three sons and one daughter by his wife, Grimhild. The sons were Gunnar, Hogni and Guttorm, and the daughter was Gudrun. Desiring Sigurd's ring and gold for her own family, Grimhild made an "Ale of Forgetfulness" to force Sigurd to forget Brynhild, so he could marry Gudrun. Later, Gunnar wanted to court Brynhild. Brynhild's bower was surrounded by flames, and she promised herself only to the man daring enough to go through them. Only Grani, Sigurd's horse, would do it, and only with Sigurd on it. Sigurd exchanged shapes with Gunnar, rode through the flames, and won Brynhild for Gunnar.
Some time later, Brynhild taunted Gudrun for having a better husband, and Gudrun explained all that had passed to Brynhild and explained the deception. For having been deceived and cheated of the husband she had desired, Brynhild plots revenge. First, she refuses to speak to anyone and withdraws. Eventually, Sigurd was sent by Gunnar to see what was wrong, and Brynhild accuses Sigurd of taking liberties with her. Gunnar and Hogni plot Sigurd's death and enchant their brother, Guttorm, to a frenzy to accomplish the deed. Guttorm attacks Sigurd in bed and they are both killed in the struggle. Brynhild kills Sigurd's three year-old son Sigmund (named for Sigurd's father). Brynhild then wills herself to die, and builds a funeral pyre for Sigurd, his son, Guttorm and herself. Before this tragedy, Sigurd and Brynhild had the daughter Aslaug who married Ragnar Lodbrok.
Sigurd and Gudrun are parents to the twins Sigmund (named after Sigurd's father) and Svanhild.
The Old Norse Þiðrekssaga (chapters 152-168) relates a slightly different tale, with Regin as the dragon and Mimir as Regin's brother and foster-father to Sigurd. In this version, King Sigmund returns home from travel and hears that his wife Sisibe has been accused of illicit relations with a thrall. Although the accusation is a lie told by two of his noblemen whose lustful advances Sisibe rejected, Sigmund believes it and orders the noblemen to take her into the forest and kill her. One is moved by pity for her, and the two fight. As they fight, Sisibe gives birth to a child (Sigmund's) and places it in a crystal vessel, which is kicked into a river and travels downstream. Sisibe dies; the vessel is found by a doe, which nurses the infant. Later, the young child is found by a wise smith of the forest, Mimir who names him Sigurd (although a few times the saga calls him Sigfred) and takes him as his own. When the child grows large and willful, Mimir asks his brother, Regin, a dragon, to kill Sigurd. But Sigurd slays the dragon and then kills his disloyal foster-father.34
In chapters 225-230, Sigurd marries Gunnar's sister Grimhild, despite having promised to marry Brynhild. Later, Gunnar marries Brynhild, but she resists his attempts to consummate the marriage because she loves only Sigurd. As a favor to his brother-in-law, Sigurd sleeps with Brynhild, who is thereafter unable to resist Gunnar, as her strength came from her virginity.56
In the Middle High German Nibelungenlied, Sîfrit (Siegfried) is a prince of Xanten who is later revealed to have a heroic background including killing a dragon and winning lands and an immense fortune from a pair of brothers. From bathing in the dragon's blood, he is invulnerable except for a spot on his back where a leaf adhered to his skin. Determined to marry Kriemhild, the sister of King Gunther of the Burgundians, he assists Gunther in wooing Brünhild, queen of Iceland, using his cloak of invisibility to enable Gunther to beat the phenomenally strong queen at javelin throwing, boulder tossing, and the long jump. He also single-handedly conquers Nibelungenland to provide troops in case Brünhild tries to kill Gunther and his kin. Finally married to Kriemhild, he then wrestles Brünhild into submission, again invisible, so that Gunther can consummate his marriage. He gives Kriemhild Brünhild's ring and belt. After some years, the two queens quarrel over precedence and Kriemhild shows Brünhild the ring and belt and calls her Siegfried's concubine. Siegfried and Gunther make peace but Gunther's courtier Hagen von Tronje plots to kill Siegfried and Gunther and his brothers go along with the plan. Hagen has Kriemhild place a cross on the spot on Siegfried's back where he is vulnerable, and spears him when he is drinking from a stream on a hunting trip, thus fulfilling a prophecy that whomever Kriemhild marries will die violently. He throws Siegfried's treasure into the Rhine so that Kriemhild cannot raise an army. The second half of the epic concerns her revenge.
The Ramsund carving depicts
- how Sigurd is sitting naked in front of the fire preparing the dragon heart, from Fafnir, for his foster-father Regin, who is Fafnir's brother. The heart is not yet fully roasted, and when Sigurd touches it, he burns himself and sticks his finger into his mouth. As he has tasted dragon blood (some blood was on the heart), he starts to understand the birds' song.
- The birds say that Regin will not keep his promise of reconciliation and will try to kill Sigurd, which causes Sigurd to cut off Regin's head.
- Regin is dead beside his own head, his smithing tools with which he reforged Sigurd's sword Gram are scattered around him, and
- Regin's horse is laden with the dragon's treasure.
- is the previous event when Sigurd killed Fafnir, and
- Ótr from the saga's beginning.
- The best-known adaptation of the Sigurd legend is Richard Wagner's cycle of music dramas Der Ring des Nibelungen (written between 1848 and 1874). The Sigurd legend is the basis of Siegfried and contributes the stories of Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung.
- William Morris's epic poem Sigurd the Volsung (1876) is a major retelling of the story in English verse.
- In 1884 the French composer Ernest Reyer wrote the lesser-known opera Sigurd, which condenses the story into a single evening's drama.
- The illustrator Arthur Rackham drew 70 vibrant renderings of the story for the book Siegfried & The Twilight of the Gods, translated by Margaret Armour (1910).
- Arthur Peterson published a translation of the myth of Sigurd titled Andvari's Ring, in 1916.
- Fritz Lang and his then-wife Thea von Harbou adapted the story of Sigurd (called Siegfried) for the first part of their 1924 pair of silent films Die Nibelungen.
- Fantasy author Diana L. Paxson retold the story in her trilogy Wodan's Children: The Wolf and the Raven (1993), The Dragons of the Rhine (1995), and The Lord of Horses (1996).
- Stephan Grundy retold the story in his novel Rhinegold (1995).
- JRR Tolkien wrote his version of the Volsunga saga in "The legend of Sigurd and Gudrun", published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien in 2009. The book comprises two narrative poems: "The new lay of the Volsungs" and "The new lay of Gudrun". They are in Modern English but the meter is that of ancient Scandinavian allitterative poetry.
- An article at the Museum of Foteviken, Sweden, retrieved January 19, 2007.
- Brate, Erik (1922). Sveriges Runinskrifter. p. 126.
- Rank, Otto. The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. New York: Vintage, 1932, pp. 56-59. Haymes, Edward R., trans. The Saga of Thidrek of Bern. New York: Garland, 1988.
- summary of the Thiðrekssaga at Timeless Myths
- Two marriage episodes from The Saga of Thidrek of Bern, retrieved April 19, 2009.
- summary of the Thiðrekssaga at Timeless Myths
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