Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


In Norse mythology, Sigurd (also Siegfried) was a legendary hero, as well as the central character in the Saga of the Volsungs and Richard Wagner's opera, Siegfried, which see for more details.

Table of contents
1 In the Volsung Saga
2 In later traditions
3 Use of the Legend

In the Volsung Saga

In the Volsungsaga, Sigurd is the posthumous son of Sigmund and his second wife, Hjordis. Sigmund dies in battle when he attacks Odin, and Odin shatters Sigmund's sword. Dying, Sigmund tells Hjordis of her pregnancy and bequeaths the fragments of his sword to his unborn son.

Hjordis marries King Alf, and Alf sends Sigurd to Regin as a fosterling. Regin tempts Sigurd to greed and violence by first asking Sigurd if he has control over Sigmund's gold. When Sigmund 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) advises Sigurd on choice of horse, and in this way Sigurd gets Grani, a horse derived from Odin's own Sleipnir.

Finally, Regin tempts Sigurd by telling him the story of the Otter's Gold. Regin's father was Hreidmar, and his brothers were Fafnir and Otr. Regin was a natural at smithing, and Otr was natural at swimming. Otr used to swim at Advari's waterfall, where the dwarf Advari lived. Advari often assumed the form of a pike and swam in the pool. One day, the Aesir saw Otr with a fish on the banks, thought him an otter, and Loki killed him. They took the carcas to the nearby home of Hreidmar to display their catch. Hreidmar, Fafnir, and Regin seized the Aesir and demanded compensation for the death of Otr. The compensation was to stuff the body with gold and cover the skin with gold. Loki got the net from the sea giantess Ran, catches Advari (as a pike), and demands all of the dwarf's gold. Advari gives the gold, except for a ring. Loki takes this ring, too, although it carries a curse of death on its bearer. The Aesir stuffed Otr's body with gold and covered its skin in gold and covered the last exposed place (a whisker) with the ring of Advari. Afterward, Fafnir killed Hreidmar and took the gold.

Sigurd agrees to kill Fafnir, who has become a dragon out of greed. 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 Sigurd. The resulting sword, Gram, cuts through the anvil. To kill Fafnir the dragon, Regin advises him to dig a pit, wait for Fafnir to walk over it, and then stab the dragon. An old man (Odin) advises Sigurd to dig several trenches also to drain the blood. Sigurd does so and kills Fafnir. Regin then asks Sigurd to give him Fafnir's heart. Sigurd tastes Fafnir's blood and gains the power to understand the language of birds. Birds advise him to kill Regin, since Regin 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 Brynhild, a "shield maiden," after killing Fafnir. She pledges herself to him but also prophecies his doom and marriage to another. (In Volsungsaga, it is not clear that Brynhild is a Valkyrie or in any way supernatural.)

Sigurd went to the court Heimar, who was married to Bekkhild, sister of Brynhild, and then to the court of Gjunki, where he came to live. Gjunki had three sons and one daughter by his wife, Grimhild. The sons were Gunnar, Hogi, and Guttorm, and the daughter was Gudrun. Grimhild made an "Ale of Forgetfulness" to make Sigurd forget Brynhild, and he then married 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 Hogi plot Sigurd's death and enchant their brother, Guttorm, to a frenzy to accomplish the deed. Guttorm kills Sigurd in bed, and Brynhild kills Sigurd's three year old son. Brynhild then wills herself to die, and a funeral pyre is built for Guttorm (killed by Sigurd), Sigurd, Brynhild, and Sigurd's son.

In later traditions

Sigurd was the foster son of Regin, who sent the young Sigurd to retrieve a fortune in gold that Regin's father, Hreidmar, acquired from Andvari. Regin and his brother, Fafnir, had killed Hreidmar for the gold. Fafnir then turned into a dragon because he wanted to keep all the gold for himself (dragons frequently symbolize greed in European folklore).

Regin forged a marvelous sword for Sigurd, but it quickly broke. Sigurd found his father's (Sigmund) sword, Gram (or Balmung) and a cloak of invisibility, and had it fixed and reforged by Mimir and used it to kill Fafnir. He gained wisdom from licking the dragon's blood because Fafnir could talk to birds. Sigurd, who had discovered that Regin was planning on killing him to get the gold, killed his stepfather and took the gold.

Sigurd then rescued the Valkyrie Brünnehilde, who had been imprisoned in a ring of fire by her father, Odin, for her insubordination. She had either been cursed to stay there in a charmed sleep until rescued by a brave enough hero and/or she swore to only marry the hero who rescued her. Sigurd bravely entered the ring of fire (in the shape of a hero who had previously failed at the task, Gunnar), awoke her from a magical sleep; they fell in love and he gave her his cursed ring, Andvarinaut, unaware that it was cursed. Sigurd then betrayed Brünnehilde for a different woman, Gudrun (Gunnar's sister), because he was unknowingly bewitched by the sorceress Grimhild. Brünnehilde killed herself.

Use of the Legend

Not only were the elements of this story used by J.R.R. Tolkein in The Hobbit (the story of the cursed golden ring and the dwarven gold), but there are parallels in other legends (the sword Sigmund draws from Barnstock is similar to the sword drawn by Arthur from the stone). Additionally, the Norwegian royal family claimed derivation from Sigurd and the Volsungs. Furthermore, because dragons were seen as symbols of Satan in medieval typologies, the story of Sigurd slaying Fafnir was often depicted in Christian churches in Scandinavia.