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Sigurd (Old Norse: Sigurðr) or Siegfried (Middle High German: Sîvrît) is a legendary hero of Germanic mythology, who was famous for having killed a dragon. He played a prominent role in both medieval German and Old Norse literature, being featured most prominently in the Nibelungenlied in Germany, and the Poetic Edda and the Völsunga saga in Scandinavia. He also appears in numerous other works in both Germany and Scandinavia.
As Sivard Snarensven(d), he was the hero of several medieval Scandinavian ballads.
The names Sigurd and Siegfried do not share the same etymology. Both have the same first element, Proto-Germanic *sigi-, meaning victory. The second elements of the two names are different however: in Siegfried it is Proto-Germanic *-frið, meaning peace; in Sigurd it is Proto-Germanic *-ward, meaning protection.
The normal form of Siegfried in Middle High German is Sîvrîd, with the *sigi- element contracted. This form of the name had been common even outside of heroic poetry since the ninth century, though the form Sigevrit is also attested, along with the Middle Dutch Zegevrijt. In Early Modern German, the name develops to Seyfrid or Seufrid. The modern form Siegfried is not attested frequently until the seventeenth century, after which it becomes more frequent.
The Old Norse name Sigurðr is contracted from an original *Sigvǫrðr.
The name Siegfried is first attested at the end of the seventh century, meaning that it is possible that Sigurd more accurately represents the original name. Forms equivalent to Siegfried are first attested in Anglo-Saxon Kent and become frequent in Anglo-Saxon England in the ninth century.
Unlike many figures of Germanic heroic tradition, Sigurd cannot be easily identified with a historical figure. The most popular origin theory is that Sigurd has his origins in one or several figures of the Merovingian dynasty of the Franks: the Merovingians had several kings whose name began with the element *sigi-. In particular, the murder of Sigebert I, who was married to Brunhilda of Austrasia, is often cited as a likely inspiration for the figure. The parallels are, however, not exact.
Another theory is that Sigurd and his slaying of the dragon represented a mythological version of Arminius's defeat of Publius Quinctilius Varus at the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in 9 AD. This theory is usually dismissed as tenuous speculation; the slaying of the dragon is rather seen as having a purely mythological origin.
In the Völsunga saga, Sigurd is 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. In this way Sigurd acquires Grani, a horse directly descended from Odin's own horse, Sleipnir.
Finally, Regin tries to tempt Sigurd by telling him the story of the Otter's Gold. Regin explains to Sigurd that his father is Hreidmar, a powerful magician, and that his two brothers are Ótr and Fafnir. Regin explains that he is a master at smithing. He also describes how his brother, Ótr possesses many magical talents. Regin tells a story of how Ótr enjoys taking the form of an otter and swimming at a waterfall, where the dwarf, Andvari, resides. Andvari often assumes the form of a pike and swims in the same pool as well.
One day, the Æsir see Ótr in the form of an otter carrying a fish in his mouth on the banks and mistake him for a real otter. Loki kills him for his pelt. They take the pelt to the nearby home of Hreidmar to display their catch. Hreidmar, Fafnir, and Regin promptly seize the Æsir and demand compensation for the death of Ótr. The Æsir consent to stuff Ótr's body with gold, cover his skin with fine treasures, and deliver the corpse back to the three dwarves along with all of the treasure as compensation for having killed Ótr to begin with. Loki acquires a net from the sea giantess, Rán. Loki then uses the net to catch Andvari in the form of a pike. Loki orders Andvari to give him all of his gold. Andvari willingly gives him all of the gold, except for one ring. Loki takes this ring also, unaware of the fact that it carries a curse of death on its bearer. The Æsir use this gold to stuff Ótr's skin and then cover it. They then cover the last exposed place (a whisker) with the ring of Andvari. Afterwards, Fafnir murders Hreidmar and takes all of the gold, denying Regin his rightful share.
Sigurd agrees to avenge Hreidmar by killing Fafnir, who has been turned into a dragon by the curse on Andvari's ring. Sigurd requests for Regin to make him a sword and tests the sword by striking it against the anvil. The sword shatters, so he orders Regin to make another. This one also shatters. Finally, Sigurd orders Regin to make a sword out of the fragments that have been left to him by Sigmund. The resulting sword, Gram, cuts straight through the anvil. To kill Fafnir, Regin advises Sigurd to dig a pit, wait for Fafnir to walk over it, and then stab the dragon once he has fallen into the pit. Odin, posing as an old man, advises Sigurd to dig trenches also to drain the blood. Odin advises Sigurd to bathe in the dragon's blood after killing the dragon, telling him that bathing in a dragon's blood confers invulnerability. Sigurd follows the instructions given to him by both Regin and Odin and successfully kills Fafnir. Regin then asks 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. The 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).
After defeating Fafnir, Sigurd meets Brynhildr, a "shieldmaiden." She pledges herself to him but also prophesies his doom and marriage to another. (In Völsunga saga, it is not clear whether or not Brynhild is a Valkyrie or in any way supernatural.)
Sigurd travels to the court of Heimar, who is married to Bekkhild, sister of Brynhildr. Afterwards, he travels to the court of Gjúki, where he comes to live. Gjuki has three sons and one daughter by his wife, Grimhild. The sons are Gunnar, Hogni, and Guttorm. The daughter is Gudrun. Desiring Sigurd's ring and gold for her own family, Grimhild makes an "Ale of Forgetfulness" to force Sigurd to forget Brynhild, so he will be able to marry Gudrun. Later, Gunnar decides to court Brynhild. Brynhild's bower is surrounded by flames and she promises herself only to the man daring enough to go through them. Only Grani, Sigurd's horse, is willing to do it, and only with Sigurd on it. Sigurd exchanges shapes with Gunnar, rides through the flames, and wins Brynhild for Gunnar.
Some time later, Brynhild taunts Gudrun for having a better husband. In response, Gudrun reveals everything that has happened to Brynhild and explains the deception. Brynhild plots revenge against Grimhild for having deceived her and cheated her out of the husband she had desired. First, she refuses to speak to anyone and withdraws. Eventually, Sigurd is sent by Gunnar to see what is wrong. 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 produce a daughter, Aslaug, who marries 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.
In chapters 225-230, Sigurd marries Gunnar's sister Gudrun, 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.
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.
Das Lied vom Hürnen Seyfrid
Das Lied vom Hürnen Seyfrid (the song of horn-skinned Siegfried) is a late medieval/early modern heroic ballad that gives an account of Siegfried's adventures in his youth. It agrees in many details with the Old Norse accounts over the Nibelungenlied, suggesting that these details existed in an oral tradition about Siegfried in Germany. The most prominent of these is that Siegfried is raised by a smith who attempts to have him killed by a dragon. Siegfried later rescues Kriemhild from a dragon as well.
The Ramsund carving depicts:
- Sigurd 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 tastes the dragon blood from the heart, he begins to understand the birds' song.
- The birds telling Sigurd 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 lying dead on the ground beside his own head with his smithing tools with which he reforged Sigurd's sword, Gram, scattered around him.
- Regin's horse laden with the dragon's treasure.
- Sigurd slaying Fafnir, and
- Ótr from the saga's beginning.
Adaptations of the legend
- 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 to 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.
- James Baldwin retold the story in a work intended for older children, The Story of Siegfried (1905).
- Arthur Peterson published his own poetic adaptation of the Sigurd/Nibelung legend, Andvari's Ring, in 1916. The work consists of two long poems, Sigurd (first published independently in 1910) and Attila.
- 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. The two films are based on Nibelungenleid.
- J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his version of the Volsunga saga in The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún about 1930, 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 alliterative poetry.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Siegfried.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Sigurd.|
- An article at the Foteviken Museum, Sweden, retrieved January 19, 2007.
- Gillespie 1973, p. 122.
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- Public domain work available online: https://archive.org/details/andvarisring00pete
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