Sigurd

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Sigurd

Nationality/Culture

Norse

Pronunciation

Sl-gurd

Alternate Names

Sivard, Siegfried (German)

Appears In

The Volsunga Saga, the Nibelungenlied

Lineage

Son of Sigmund and Hjordis

Character Overview

In Norse myth and legend, the warrior Sigurd was a member of the royal family of Denmark and a descendant of the god Odin (pronounced OH-din). He was raised by a blacksmith named Regin (pronounced RAY-gin), who made him a special sword from pieces of a sword owned by Sigurd's father.

Sigurd used his sword to kill the dragon Fafnir (pronounced FAHV-nir) and so acquire its golden treasure. When Sigurd roasted and ate the beast's heart, he was able to understand the language of the birds around him. They warned him that Regin was going to betray him, so Sigurd beheaded the blacksmith. Sigurd took the treasure and put a ring on his finger. He was unaware that the ring bore a curse that brought misfortune to its wearer.

After slaying Fafnir, Sigurd came upon a castle where he awakened the warrior maiden Brunhilde (pronounced BROON-hilt), whom Odin had cast into a deep sleep. Sigurd gave his ring to Brunhilde and promised to return to marry her. But during his journey Sigurd was given a magic drink that made him forget Brunhilde, and he married the princess Gudrun (pronounced GOOD-roon) instead.

Gudrun's brother Gunnar tried to win Brunhilde for himself, but Gunnar was unable to cross the wall of flames that surrounded Brunhilde's castle. Sigurd, having forgotten Brunhilde completely and wanting to help his brother-in-law, assumed Gunnar's shape and courted Brunhilde in his place. Believing that Sigurd had abandoned her, Brunhilde agreed to marry Gunnar, whom she did not love. When Brunhilde discovered that she had been tricked by Sigurd, she was both angry with Sigurd and heartbroken at the loss of his love. She had him slain and then killed herself.

Sigurd in Context

Sigurd reflects the Norse idea of the ultimate human hero: strong, brave, clever, forthright, and willing to help others. Sigurd also reflects the human flaws that are seen in nearly all Norse characters, both god and human alike. He is susceptible to magic and deception, and falls victim to a curse about which he is not aware. This reflects Norse beliefs in fate and destiny: certain events are unavoidable no matter how hard one might struggle to prevent them.

Key Themes and Symbols

The story of Sigurd largely deals with the themes of betrayal and vengeance. Sigurd is told that Regin, the man who raised him, is planning on betraying him for his treasure, so Sigurd cuts off Regin's head—itself an act of betrayal against the only father he has known. Later, Sigurd, under the power of a magical potion, betrays Brunhilde by marrying Gudrun, and deceives her when he pretends to be Gunnar. Brunhilde avenges this betrayal by killing Sigurd.

Sigurd in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Aside from being the main tale of the Volsunga Saga, the story of Sigurd and Brunhilde is also told in slighdy different form in the German epic poem Nibelungenlied, where Sigurd is known by the German name Siegfried. This version of the story was central to Richard Wagner's series of operas known as Der Ring des Nibelungen {The Ring of the Nibelung), one opera of which is titled Siegfried. The Volsunga Saga was also used as the basis for the bleak and futuristic young adult novel Bloodtide (1999) by Melvin Burgess.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

In the myth of Sigurd, the hero's downfall occurs because of a cursed ring he obtains as part of a treasure when he kills Fafnir. In modern times, certain treasures are in a sense cursed because of their origins; so-called “blood diamonds,” for example, are taken from war-torn areas and may be used to finance large-scale murder. As another example, many of the priceless valuables and heirlooms taken from Jewish families before they were imprisoned during World War II were kept by those who cooperated with the Nazis. Do you think items such as these carry with them a “curse”—even a symbolic one—for those that know their origins?

SEE ALSO Brunhilde; Nibelungenlied, The; Norse Mythology

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Sigurd

In Norse* myth and legend, the warrior Sigurd was a member of the royal family of Denmark and a descendant of the god Odin*. He was raised by a blacksmith named Regin, who made him a special sword from pieces of a sword owned by Sigurd's father.

Sigurd used his sword to kill the dragon Fafnir and so acquire its golden treasure. When Sigurd roasted and ate the beast's heart, he was able to understand the language of the birds around him. They warned him that Regin was going to betray him, so Sigurd beheaded the blacksmith. Sigurd took the treasure and put a ring on his finger. He was unaware that the ring bore a curse, which brought misfortune to its wearer.

After slaying Fafnir, Sigurd came upon a castle where he awakened the warrior maiden Brunhilde, whom Odin had cast into a deep sleep. Sigurd gave his ring to Brunhilde and promised to return to marry her. But during his journey Sigurd was given a magic drink that made him forget Brunhilde, and he married the princess Gudrun instead.

Note

In German legends, Sigurd is called Siegfried; Gudrun is called Kriemhild; and Gunnar is called Gunther.

Gudrun's brother Gunnar tried to win Brunhilde for himself, but Gunnar was unable to cross the wall of flames surrounding Brunhilde's castle. Sigurd, having forgotten Brunhilde completely, assumed Gunnar's shape and courted Brunhilde in his place. Believing that Sigurd had abandoned her, Brunhilde agreed to marry Gunnar, whom she did not love. When Brunhilde discovered that she had been tricked, she was both angry with Sigurd and heartbroken at the loss of his love. She had him slain and killed herself. The story of Sigurd and Brunhilde is central to Richard Wagner's series of operas known as Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

See also Brunhilde; Nibelungenlied; Norse Mythology.

*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

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Sigurd in Norse legend the equivalent of the Germanic Siegfried, the last of the Volsungs who kills the dragon Fafnir and takes his treasure; betrothed to the Valkyrie Brynhild, he is tricked into forgetting her and marrying the Nibelung princess Gudrun. He wins Brynhild for Gudrun's brother Gunnar, but when Brynhild discovers the part he has played, she incites Gunnar and his brother Hogni into killing Sigurd.

The stories of Sigurd are told in a number of poems in the Poetic Edda. William Morris made him the subject of his long narrative poem, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs (1876).

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Sigurd. Opera in 5 acts by Reyer to lib. by Du Locle and Blau. Comp. 1866–70. Prod. Brussels and CG 1884, New Orleans 1891. Lib. is based on Nibelung legend which supplied basis of Wagner's Ring tetralogy.

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