Volsunga Saga


Volsunga Saga
(Saga of the Volsungs)
(ca. 1270)
   The Volsunga Saga is the best known of the fornaldar sogur (Legendary sagas) to come out of medieval Iceland.Whereas the family sagas, such as the much admired EGILS’S SAGA and NJAL’S SAGA, deal with historical persons and their descendants, the sagas of legend were written later, and imitate the narrative prose style of the family sagas but take Old Norse legend as their subject matter. The saga survives in one manuscript from about 1400, and in later paper manuscripts, though it seems clear that the saga was written between 1250 and 1300. The theme of the Volsunga Saga is the story of Sigurd, Brynhild, and the ancient wars among the Burgundians, Huns, and Goths—a story that had been popular among the Germanic tribes for centuries and that had been told, earlier in the 13th century, by an anonymous German poet in the NIBELUNGENLIED. There is no evidence that the author of the Old Norse text knew the Nibelungenlied; however, it is clear that the writer based his saga on the earlier poems in the Old Norse POETIC EDDA, where the events he describes have their first Norse expression. Indeed, the author includes a number of poetic passages in his text, including nearly the complete text of one of the poems from the Edda.
   The saga is complex and somewhat sprawling. It might be divided into six major parts. The first section of the text, depicting the birth of Volsung, has no source in the Poetic Edda. Here Rerir, king of the Huns, cannot beget an heir, and his prayers are answered by a golden apple delivered to him by the gods.His wife conceives after tasting the apple, but Rerir dies before his child is born. His queen remains pregnant for six winters, then dies, asking that the child be cut from her womb. Thus Volsung is born nearly a full-grown man.Volsung succeeds his father as king of the Huns, marries Hljod, and fathers 10 powerful sons, including Sigmund. The second part of the saga, the story of Sigmund and his twin sister, Signy, has no counterpart in the Edda either, and may be from a lost poem. Here Signy marries Siggeir, the treacherous king of the Goths. During the wedding feast, the god Odin visits in disguise, and plunges the magic sword Gram into the great oak tree in the center of Volsung’s hall. The sword gives its wielder the power to win all battles, but only Sigmund is able to draw the sword from the tree. Siggeir tries to buy the sword from Sigmund, but when he is denied, he plots revenge. That revenge involves an ambush of Volsung and his sons as they come to visit Siggeir’s palace, and the death of all but Sigmund, who escapes with Signy’s help. For years they plot revenge on Siggeir, and when Signy’s sons by Siggeir prove too weak to help them, she insists they be killed. Then in disguise, she visits her brother and is impregnated by him. She gives birth to Sinfjotli, who ultimately helps Sigmund kill Siggeir and burn his palace. Signy comes to them and reveals the fact that Sinfjotli is Sigmund’s son. At that point, Signy, who ordered the deaths of her own children, turns and enters the burning palace to die with her husband.
   The third section of the poem, based on Eddic poems, concerns Sigmund’s son Helgi. The complex fourth section deals with the Sigurd, Brynhild, and Gudrun story, told in six poems of the Edda. Sigmund marries Hjordis, but is killed in battle with King Lyngi, her former suitor, after breaking his magic sword. He gives the pieces of the sword to Hogni and tells her to have their child reforge it and take revenge. Hjordis bears Sigurd, who is raised in Denmark by his stepfather,King Alf.After reforging his father’s magic sword, Sigurd helps his tutor Regin obtain a magic ring and cursed treasure from the dragon Fafnir (Regin’s brother), and upon eating the heart of the dragon, Sigurd learns to understand the talk of birds, who warn him that Regin plans to betray him and keep the treasure for himself. Sigurd kills Regin, but he also learns from the birds of a sleeping Valkyrie placed within a ring of fire by Odin. Intrigued, Sigurd rides through the ring of fire, makes love to the Valkyrie Brynhild, and gives her the cursed ring, promising to return for her. Meanwhile Sigurd travels to Burgundy, where, as a result of a magic potion, he forgets Brynhild and marries Gudrun, daughter of the king.He swears an oath to Gudrun’s brother Gunnar, and on Gunnar’s bidding he wins Brynhild while disguised as his brother-in-law.After the potion wears off, he reveals the whole truth to Gudrun, who, in a quarrel with Brynhild, reveals to her who really won her. The enraged Brynhild tells Gunnar that Sigurd took advantage of her and demands he kill Sigurd or she will leave him. Sigurd is murdered by Gunnar’s brother Guttorm, after which Brynhild kills herself, asking that she be burned on Sigurd’s funeral pyre, since she had always loved him.
   The fifth part of the story uses the Eddic poems Atlakvi´?a and Atlamál, and depicts Gudrun’s marriage to Attli (Attila), king of the Huns. Having learned of Sigurd’s treasure, Attli invites Gunnar and his brother Hogni to Hunland to try to get the secret of the treasure from them. Distrusting Attli, the brothers sink Sigurd’s treasure into the Rhine and vow never to reveal its location. At Attli’s palace, the Burgundians are attacked, and all are killed but Gunnar and Hogni, who are captured. Both brothers refuse to reveal the treasure’s location, though Gunnar tells Attli that he will give him the treasure if Attli cuts out his brother’s heart.When Attli does so, Gunnar laughs and says that now that the only other person who knows where the treasure was is dead, he will never reveal it. Gunnar is then killed by snakes. In revenge, Gudrun secretly cuts the throats of the sons she bore to Attli and serves him their hearts, after which she runs Attli through with a sword.
   The final section of the story, based on the Eddic poem Jam´?ismál, concerns Gudrun’s later life and that of Svanhild, her daughter with Sigurd. King Jormunrek sends his son Randver to woo Svanhild, but on the advice of the evil counselor Bikki, Randver marries her himself. When Jormunek discovers this, he hangs his son and has Svanhild trampled to death by horses. Gudrun’s sons are killed trying to avenge their sister. The Volsunga Saga is valuable in a number of ways. For one thing, it preserves the story of Sigmund and Signy, which has not survived elsewhere. Further, the saga was based on a complete text of the Poetic Edda, and therefore preserves the contents of two central poems on Sigurd that are missing or fragmentary in the surviving text of the Edda. In addition, the saga was one of the major sources for Wagner’s Ring cycle operas in the 19th century, and events in the saga (the reforged sword, the magic but cursed ring) inspired Tolkien’s perennially popular Lord of the Rings in the 20th.
   Bibliography
   ■ Finch, Robert G. “Atlakvi ´?a, Atlamál and Volsunga Saga: A Study in Combination and Integration.” In Speculum Norroenum: Norse Studies in Memory of Gabriel Turville-Petre, edited by Ursula Dronke, 123–138. Odense, Denmark: Odense University Press, 1981.
   ■ ———. “The Treatment of Poetic Sources by the Compiler of Völsunga saga,” Saga-book 16 (1962–1965): 315–353.
   ■ The Saga of the Volsungs: The Icelandic text according to MS Nks 1824 b, 4°. Translation, introduction, and notes by Kaaren Grimstad. Saarbrücken, Germany: AQ-Verlag, 2000.
   ■ The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. Introduction and translation by Jesse L. Byock. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Volsunga saga — Völsunga saga La Volsunga saga (ou Völsunga saga ou volsungasaga) est une saga légendaire nordique racontant l histoire du clan Volsung au cours des générations. C est une histoire d aventures, d amour et de tragédie dont l origine reste… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Volsunga Saga — [väl′sooŋ gə] n. [ON Völsunga saga, lit., saga of the Volsungs, the descendants of Volsi, prob. appellation of Odin] an Icelandic saga relating the legend of Sigurd and the Nibelungs: also told, with variations, in a Germanic version, the… …   English World dictionary

  • Volsunga saga — The Völsunga saga is a legendary saga, a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Volsung clan (including the story of Sigurd and Brynhild and destruction of the Burgundians). It is largely based on epic poetry …   Wikipedia

  • Völsunga saga — Die Völsunga saga ist eine isländische Saga aus der zweiten Hälfte des 13. Jahrhunderts und zählt zu den Vorzeitsagas. Dabei handelt es sich um eine Prosaparaphrase der in der Liederedda enthaltenen Heldenlieder, beginnend mit den Helgi Liedern… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Volsunga-Saga — Die Völsunga saga ist eine isländische Saga aus der zweiten Hälfte des 13. Jahrhunderts und zählt zu den Vorzeitsagas. Dabei handelt es sich um eine Prosaparaphrase der in der Liederedda enthaltenen Heldenlieder; beginnend mit den Helgi Liedern… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Völsunga-Saga — Die Völsunga saga ist eine isländische Saga aus der zweiten Hälfte des 13. Jahrhunderts und zählt zu den Vorzeitsagas. Dabei handelt es sich um eine Prosaparaphrase der in der Liederedda enthaltenen Heldenlieder; beginnend mit den Helgi Liedern… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Völsunga saga — Vọ̈lsunga sạga   [v ], um 1260 auf Island entstandene umfangreiche Saga über die Geschichte der Wölsungen (der Nibelungen in der deutschen Überlieferung) mit der zentralen Gestalt des Sigurd (Siegfried), gegenüber dem »Nibelungenlied« erweitert… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Völsunga saga — La Volsunga saga (ou Völsunga saga ou volsungasaga) est une saga légendaire nordique racontant l histoire du clan Volsung au cours des générations. C est une histoire d aventures, d amour et de tragédie dont l origine reste incertaine… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Volsunga Saga — /vol soong geuh sah geuh/ an Icelandic saga of the late 13th century, concerning the family of the Volsungs, the theft of the cursed treasure of Andvari, the adventures of Sigurd, his wooing of Brynhild, his enchantment and marriage to Gudrun,… …   Universalium

  • Volsunga saga — /ˌvɒlsʊŋgə ˈsagə/ (say .volsoongguh sahguh) noun an Icelandic saga about the Nibelungs and the Volsungs, centring on the adventures of Sigurd. {Icelandic Völsungasaga} …   Australian English dictionary


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.