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Volsung Cycle

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Title: Volsung Cycle  
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Volsung Cycle

The Völsungasaga (often referred to in English as the Volsunga Saga or Saga of the Völsungs) is a legendary saga, a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan (including the story of Sigurd and Brynhild and destruction of the Burgundians). It is largely based on epic poetry. The earliest known pictorial representation of this tradition is the Ramsund carving, Sweden, which was created c. 1000 AD.

The origins of the material are considerably older, however, and it echoes real events in Central Europe during the Migration Period. On the other hand, the only manuscript of the saga, Ny kgl. Saml. 1824 b 4to, which is held by the Royal Library of Denmark, dates to about 1400. In this manuscript, the saga leads straight in to Ragnars saga loðbrókar.

The Middle High German epic poem Nibelungenlied is based largely on the old stories, which were commonly known in all of the Germanic lands from the early Middle Ages on, but reworks the material into a courtly medieval setting.

Among the more notable adaptations of this text are Richard Wagner's tetralogy of music dramas Der Ring des Nibelungen, Ernest Reyer's opera Sigurd, William Morris's epic poem The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs, and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.

Odin in the Völsunga saga

Throughout the saga, elements of the supernatural are interwoven into the narrative. One recurring theme is the periodic appearance of Odin, the foremost among Norse deities, associated with “war, wisdom, ecstasy, and poetry.” [1] He is typically depicted as a mysterious, hooded old man with one eye. [2]

Odin appears a number of times to assist characters with his magic and powers. At the start of the saga, he guides his son Sigi out of the underworld. [3] He also sends a wish maiden to Sigi’s son Rerir with an enchanted apple that finally allowed Rerir and his wife to have a child. [4]Later, he appears as an old, one-eyed stranger and sticks his sword into the tree Barnstokkr during a feast at the palace of King Völsung, declaring that “he who draws this sword out of the trunk shall receive it from me as a gift, and he himself shall prove that he has never carried a better sword than this one,” which King Volsung’s son Sigmund does. [5]

Odin also directly intervenes during key points in the narrative. During a battle, Odin, again in the guise of an old, one-eyed man, breaks Sigmund’s sword, turning the tide of the battle and ultimately leading to his death. [6] He also stabs Brynhild with a sleeping thorn and curses her never to win another battle as an act of revenge for killing Hjalmgunnar, a rival king to whom Odin had promised victory. [7]

Sigurd the Dragon Slayer

The subtitle of the book, "The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer", implies that the entire book is about Sigurd even though he is seen only through about half of the tale. However, the slaying of Fafnir, the serpent-brother of Regin, is a critical point in this epic. This is the decision that Sigurd makes in his reach for a glorious life full of fame.

When Regin makes a sword for Sigurd that lives up to his standards, he requests that Sigurd fulfill a vow and kill Fafnir, who is hiding treasure. After avenging his father and other kinsmen, Sigurd agrees to attempt to kill the dragon. They arrive at the spot where Fafnir guards the treasure and Sigurd delivers a fatal blow to the dragon. Before Fafnir dies, they have an important conversation that reveals the truth to Sigurd about the treasure. With this enlightenment, Sigurd takes a taste of the blood of the dragon and can hear the birds speaking of the two men. "There sits, Sigurd, roasting Fafnir's heart. Better he should eat it himself."..."There lies Regin, who wants to betray the one who trusts him."..."He should strike Regin's head off; then he alone would control the huge store of gold." With this advice and the other words from the birds, Sigurd drew his sword and cut off Regin's head and took all the gold from the treasure that Fafnir had previously guarded. [8]


External links

  • R. G. Finch (ed. and trans.), The Saga of the Volsungs (London: Nelson, 1965), available at A fine translation with facing page Old Icelandic text and a good (if dated) introduction.
  • Völsunga saga in Old Norse from «Kulturformidlingen norrøne tekster og kvad» Norway.
  • LibriVox
  • Timeless Myths: Volsunga Saga
  • Andrew Lang.
  • Read the Icelandic Text and the English translation by Kaaren Grimstad
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