Volsung Saga

THE SAGA OF THE VÖLSUNGS 

Brian Colless

    Scandinavia: Sigurd the dragon-slayer

SYNOPSIS

The Völsungasaga (Saga of the Volsungs) is preserved on a parchment manuscript in the Royal Library in Copenhagen; also numerous copies on paper (made from this book).
The manuscript is from the 14th century, and  the saga was composed in the 13th century.
There are 42 chapters, and we can divide the whole saga into 5 parts, each a saga in itself.
(1) Sigurd’s ancestry (1-12)
The chief god Odin (Woden, as in Wednesday), presumably by his consort Frigg (Friya, as in Friday) fathers Sigi, a murderer but a great warrior,  and king over ‘Hunland’. Sigi’s son is named Rerir; his wife can not conceive, and they pray to Odin and Frigg; she becomes pregnant, for six years; Rerir dies in that period, and she asks for the baby to be removed, and then she dies. The boy is called Volsung; he becomes king and marries a Valkyrie (one of Odin’s warrior-maidens), namely Hjlod, daughter of the giant Hrimnir. Volsung fathers ten sons, and one daughter, Signy, twin-sister of the first-born son, Sigmund. Thus the Volsung family is descended from gods and giants. Signy is given in marriage to King Siggeir of  Gautland (the Geatland of Beowulf). At the wedding celebrations an old one-eyed man (Odin) comes in and thrusts a sword into the oak-tree that grows in King Volsung’s hall (Barnstokk, ‘child-trunk’, or Branstokk, ‘sword-trunk’?). Like the Arthurian sword in the stone,  it is for the worthy man who can draw it out. Only Sigmund can do this; Siggeir is envious and feels slighted; immediately after the consummation-night  he sails home, inviting them all to his place in three months’ time. On that occasion, he massacres them all, though Sigmund survives; he lives in hiding in Gautland, protected by his sister.  To continue the Volsung line she contrives to become pregnant with a child of Sigmund. This is Sinfjotli (called Fitela in Beowulf). Eventually they burn Seiggir and his entourage to death in his hall. Signy confesses to them both, and goes back to die in the fire. King Lyngvi, son of King Hunding, competes with King Sigmund for the hand of the beautiful Hjordis, daughter of King Eylimi. Sigmund wins, but in a subsequent battle the one-eyed man (Odin) appears and holds out his spear; Sigmund’s sword breaks into two pieces. Sigmund lies wounded, and he gives the broken sword to Hjordis, telling her to take care of the illustrious son she will bear. She is then taken away by Vikings and given protection.
(2) Sigurd’s youth (13-24)
Sigmund’s son is named Sigurd. He has a foster-father called Regin, who repairs Sigmund’s sword and tells him to use it against Fafnir, Regin’s brother, who had changed himself into a dragon and is sitting on a hoard of gold and refusing to share it. Sigurd first gets revenge on the sons of Hunding, then returns to slay the dragon. When Sigurd tastes the heart-blood of Fafnir he understands the language of birds; they advise him to hew the treacherous Regin’s head off, and then ride to Hindarfell, where Brynhild is. Sigurd finds her sleeping there (surrounded by light, but not fire); he wakens her, and she instructs him; she will accept him because she will only wed a man who knows no fear.
(3) Sigurd and the Gjukings (25-31)
Gjuki rules a kingdom south of the Rhine river. His consort is Grimhild, a cruel practitioner of magic. Their three sons are Gunnar, Hogni, Gutthorm; Gudrun is their accomplished daughter. Gudrun goes to Brynhild to have her dreams interpreted. Brynhild tells her all that will happen: “Sigurd will come to you, the one whom I chose to be my husband. Grimhild will give him mead mixed with evil, and this will bring us all into great strife. You will have him, but will soon lose him. Then you will marry King Atli (Attila). You will lose your brothers, and then you will kill Atli.”
Well, that’s all we need to know! Under the influence of the potion of forgetfulness, Sigurd helps Gunnar woo Brynhild, by disguising himself and passing through the fire encircling Brynhild’s hall.  He places the sword Gram between them in the bed; he takes back the ring he had given her, and gives her another. Amid the tensions in the hall of the Gjukings, Sigurd is murdered while he is in  bed with his wife Gudrun (by Gutthorm, not by Hogni/ Hagen while hunting). When Sigurd’s pyre is aflame, Brynhild joins him there in death.
(4)  Gudrun’s revenge (32-38)
In the struggle for possession of the gold, Gudrun brings about the death of Gunnar and Hogni, and of her husband Atli and their children; she gives Atli the blood of his children to drink, and stabs him in his bed.
(5) Svanhild’s death (39-42)
Svanhild, daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun, is put to death. Gjukings (and Volsungs?) die out.  

Note that Attila the Hun fought at Gallipoli in 443, destroying the Roman forces. In 453 he died (cerbral haemmorhage?) in his marriage bed  with a German girl “Ildico” (little Hilde?)

 The Völsung Saga          

The Völsungasaga (Saga of the Volsungs) is preserved on a parchment manuscript in the Royal Library in Copenhagen; there are also numerous copies on paper (made from this book).
The manuscript is from the 14th century.
The saga was composed in the 13th century.
The story is set in the 5th century, the time of the Burgundians, Franks, Huns.
There are 42 chapters, and we can divide the whole saga into 5 parts, each a saga in itself.

(1) Sigurd’s ancestry (1-12)

In the Beowulf epic we saw Almighty God (the Christian Deity) directing the action. In the Volsung saga, events are controlled by the chief god Odin (or Woden, as in Wednesday, and Wagner’s Wotan).  Indeed, Odin is the procreator of the Volsung family. The mother is not named, but it was presumably his consort Frigg (or Friya, as in Friday, and Wagner’s Fricka), though it may have been a human female he mated with, as Zeus did.

[1] In the first sentence of the saga we read: “Here the story begins, and tells us about a man who was called Sigi, said to be a son of Odin”.

The dynasty does not have a good beginning, as Sigi commits murder and becomes an outlaw, though Odin keeps a protective eye (singular, for a reason which will soon appear) on his son. So  Sigi  becomes a great warrior, and wins much glory, because in warfare killing is legal, and it is not classified as murder.
[Remember that, if you ever have occasion to quote the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. It really says, “You shall not commit murder”(along with theft and adultery).]

Sigi becomes ruler over ‘Hunland’ (the age-old confusion between Huns and Germans; but Attila, a true Hun, will eventually emerge in this narrative). Sigi fathers  a son named Rerir, who grows up tall and valiant. The wife of Rerir (no name given, as usual) can not conceive, so they both pray to the gods. Frigg hears their plea, and she urges Odin to do something about it. Odin summons one of his Valkyries (‘slain-choosers’, his twelve shield-maidens, war-like young women who assist Odin’s chosen warriors in battle, and if any of the men fall, they do not go to Hell, but the Valkyries take them to their reward in the hero-hall in the sky, namely Valhalla, ‘hall of the slain’, in Asgard, the realm of the gods). This particular Valkyrie is a daughter of a giant named Hrimnir; so the idea that the Valkyries were daughters of Odin does not work; Brynhild, the most celebrated of the Valkyries, was fathered by a man named Budli. (Wagner has them all as Wotan’s daughters, by Erda, the Earth goddess.)

At Odin’s command, this unnamed giant Valkyrie carries an apple to Sigi and his queen.

[2] They eat the apple, and in no time there is a baby on the way. But this unborn child is in no hurry to be born into the real world, and the pregnancy goes on longer than the normal nine months. Rerir does the manly thing (a man’s gotta do whotta a man’s gotta do) and goes off to war, to defend his country against the people he attacks. However, he sickens, and goes home to Odin, considered to be “a desirable thing in those days”, the author comments (presumably from a Christian perspective).

After six years of confinement (and we might well think this is a case of false pregnancy, and the bubble is going to burst, but we would be wrong) the queen  decides she can take no more of this, and asks a surgeon to apply his knife. The boy who is plucked out of her is said to have kissed his mother before she died. (After all, he is six years old. We have heard of infants being on the breast for that number of years, but not skulking [a good Norse word] like a wallaby in its mother’s pouch.)  The name of this prince is Volsung; he is the one we have been waiting for, but he has a seemingly impossible name; it means “son of Vols”, but his father was named Sigi. Be that as it may, all his descendants will be called Volsungs (or Waelsings in German). 

Volsung succeeds his father Sigi as King of ‘Hunland’. Appropriately, he takes to wife that Valkyrie who delivered the apple to his parents (though she must be old enough to be his mother); we already know that her father is Hrimnir the giant, and we are now informed that her name is Hjlod.

They live happily, producing ten sons and one daughter, Signy, twin-sister of the first-born son, Sigmund. So the Volsungs are descended from the gods and the giants, and from a Valkyrie.

Now, as we would expect from our study of Beowulf, King Volsung builds a magnificent ‘hall’, a clubhouse where honey-mead, beer, and wine were consumed. The unique feature of this palace is the oak-tree growing inside it, with its limbs outspread over the roof. Its name is given as Barnstokk, not referring to the livestock sheltering in the barn in winter, but apparently meaning ‘child-trunk’. Long ago when I started learning Danish, by reading the Bible and Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, barn was one of the first words I encountered: et barn ‘a child’, barnet, ‘the child’. This is clearly a cousin of Scottish and North English ‘bairn’, Old English ‘bearn’, obviously derived from the verb beran, ‘to bear, give birth to’.  Accordingly, ‘Bairn-stock’ would be a tree where children loved to play.

But corruption is suspected (I am talking about the text): George K. Anderson supposes it would have been bran-stokk, ‘sword-trunk’, which makes more sense in the context, as we shall now see.

[3] Suddenly the oak becomes an apaldr, literally ‘apple-tree’, but this term would *apply to any tree that bears fruits or nuts (including acorns).

At this point we meet King Siggeir of Gautland (which is  the Geatland of King Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon epic). He has come to marry Princess Signy, daughter of King Volsung and Queen Hjlod, and the wedding is being celebrated in the great hall. An old man enters, barefooted, wearing linen breeches laced at the knees, a spotted cloak, and a broad hat, not properly dressed for a wedding, we might judge. He has only one eye, and as intimated earlier, this feature allows us to recognize Odin in disguise. Odin gave one of his eyes to the water-spirit Mimir, in exchange for knowledge of his future doom. This is Wagner’s mysterious Wanderer, Wotan with an eye-patch, who has a quiz-competition with Mime the dwarf, who is struggling to forge Siegmund’s broken sword for the young orphan Siegfried.

This uninvited stranger brandishes a sword and thrusts its blade into the oak-tree, so that only the hilt is now visible (a variation of the Arthurian sword in the stone). Before departing, he tells the company that it is the best sword in the world, and whoever is worthy can draw it forth and keep it. Sigmund (Odin’s great-grandson) is the one who won, of course. The new son-in-law, King Siggeir, is envious, and he offers to purchase it for three times its weight in gold. Siegmund refuses, saying it is obviously not meant for Siggeir.  He feels slighted but does not reply.

[4] And so to bed, with his bride Signy; but Siggeir is not concentrating; he is contemplating revenge, and in the morning he prepares to sail away. Signy is reluctant to go; she is so overcome with foreboding that she wants the marriage to be broken off; but her father will not agree to this. All the wedding guests are invited to Gautland in three months’ time.

[5] On that occasion King Seiggir attacks them with his army. In the battle, King Volsung and his men are slaughtered; his ten sons are captured and condemned to death. Perhaps playing for time, Signy asks that her brothers be placed in restraining stocks in the forest. To her horror, every night a huge old she-wolf comes and eats one of the brothers, till only Sigmund is left. Signy sends her messenger to smear honey on Sigmund’s face and in his mouth. The wolf licks the honey off his face and then puts her tongue in his mouth; he grasps it with his teeth, and when she tries to pull it out it comes away, and she dies; happily in the tussle she breaks his stocks.

[6] Signy had an underground home made for Sigmund, and for many years she sent provisions to him. She had two sons, whom she sent one after the other to Siegmund, but she let him kill them (why? because they were no good, for gaining revenge on Seiggir, their father).

[7] How is the Volsung line going to continue now?! Signy has a plan: she changes body-appearance with a witch-woman, an attractive witch-wench, not a crone. King Seiggir unwittingly takes the witch to bed, because she looks just like Signy. At the same time, Signy transmogrified is asking for a night’s lodging in Sigmund’s hiding place. He likes what he sees, thinks to himself that it has been a long time since, and she stays three nights. Eventually Signy gives birth to Sigmund’s child, and she calls him Sinfjötli. He is the pure Volsung who will obtain vengeance for the death of all his kinsfolk. Note that Sinfjotli is the ‘Fitela’ named as the nephew and companion of ‘Sigemund’ the dragon slayer.

[8] Does Sigmund know that Sinfjotli is his own son? No, not yet. However, when they finally destroy the evil King Siggeir, by setting fire to his hall, Signy comes out and confesses the truth to them, and having achieved her revenge through the surviving two Volsungs, she walks back into the fire to die with Siggeir and all his people.

Sigmund and Sinfjotli return to the homeland (‘Hunland’) and have more adventures. The first task is to remove the usurper who had taken over the Volsung throne. Then Sigmund takes a wife, Borghild, the first in a bevy of Hildas in this saga. Watch for Brynhild (a nice Valkyrie) , Grimhild (a nasty brewer of potions and poisons), and Svanhild (nice but has a nasty death). There was a historical Svanhild (Sunilda), and also a (H)ildico.

Sigmund and Borghild produce two sons: Helgi and Hámund. At the birth of Helgi, the three Norns (female Fates) come and foretell that he will be a very famous king.

[9] Helgi is victorious over King Hunding and his sons, and he won a kingdom for himself; he marries Sigrun. He does indeed become a celebrated king, but, as our author declares: “hereafter he has nothing to do with this saga”.

[10] And now we hear about the end of Sinfjotli. He and a brother of Borghild (his stepmother, and his aunt, doubly) fight over a fair maiden they both desire. When her brother is killed in this quarrel, Borghild poisons Sinfjotli. Consequently, Sigmund banishes Borghild, and she dies.

[11] Sigmund is now seeking a new wife (he has already got through two, though the first was not in a sanctioned marriage, with his twin-sister). A king named Eymli has a daughter called Hjördis, “fairest and wisest of all women”. All three parties agree that this is an ideal match, but another less suitable suitor wants her, namely King Lyngvi, a son of King Hunding (we shudder and hiss at every mention of the name Hunding, the son of a bitch, or son of hound-dog, anyway). Siegmund wins the prize, but this means war. In the subsequent battle, the one-eyed man (Odin again) confronts Sigmund with his spear. When Sigmund strikes the spear, the sword (which Odin had previously given to him) breaks into two pieces. Sigmund loses heart, and, when his wife Hjordis comes to the battlefield in the night, he will not allow her to heal him. He entrusts the broken sword to her, and requests that it be repaired and given the nam Gram. The son she will bear will win renown through it.

Why did Odin intervene on this occasion?

Wagner has Wotan decreeing that Hunding shall slay Siegmund, and he sends his favourite Valkyrie, Brünnhilde, to attend to this; when she disobediently assists Siegmund, Wotan steps in with his spear, as happens in the saga, and the sword (Nothung) is broken in two. Hunding is the husband of Sieglinde, Wagner’s name for Siegmund’s twin-sister, and Siegmund has committed adultery and incest with her (as also in the saga). Wotan’s consort Fricka vehemently insists that the sanctity of marriage must be upheld. This may likewise be Odin’s motive here in the saga.

The way is now open for Sigurd (Wagner’s Siegfried) to shine as the supreme hero.

(2) Sigurd’s youth (13-24)

[13] The widowed Hjordis has been taken away by a viking, Prince Alf, to the country of his father, King Hjalprek. After the birth of Sigurd, she marries this king, and takes a back seat in the theatre.

Sigurd has a foster-father  named Regin son of Hreidmar, a dwarf, who teaches him crafts, chess, runes (writing), and languages. One day Sigurd met an old man with a beard, who helped him find a splendid horse, named Grani. This time the author states plainly: “It was Odin he met”.  Grani was a descendant of Odin’s horse Sleipnir, who had eight legs (as do some hobby-horses, it is said).

[15] Regin repairs Sigurd’s inherited sword, with difficulty, but when Sigurd first wields Gram it cleaves the anvil. Regin then persuades him to use it against Fafnir (Regin’s brother), who has changed himself into a dragon and is sitting pretty (or ugly) on a hoard of gold (as dragons do) and refusing to share any of it with the family.

[17] Sigurd goes off and gets revenge on the sons of Hunding, killing them all. Sigurd Sigmundson is now hailed as “the most famous young man alive”.

[18] Now for the dragon. Regin, before withdrawing to a safe place, advises Sigurd to hide in a pit along the dragon’s track to his water-source, and strike his heart as he goes over (if any one faces up to him, he blows fiery venom on them). The old man with the long beard appears and tells Sigurd to dig a number of pits, to drain the blood, or he will drown in it. This is Odin again, we presume.

Incidentally, one critic ridiculed the very idea that the chief god would concern himself with the affairs of a human family, taking an interest in their progress, assisting them whenever he can, and punishing them when they transgress (Sigmund and Signy?).  But this sounds just like Yahweh and his dealings with the children of Israel in the Bible.

Sigurd felt no fear in the pit as the dragon passed overhead and shook the ground. He drove home his sword and inflicted a mortal wound, not so deadly as to deny the monster to sing a long farewell duet with the tenor. The dragon is astonished that a prisoner-of-war (which Sigurd is, actually) could be so brave. At the end of this conversation, Fafnir exclaims that his gold will become the death of anyone who owns it.

[19] Regin, now wanting the treasure for himself, comes out of hiding and remonstrates with Sigurd, starting with the recrimination: “You killed my brother”. When Sigurd tastes blood from the heart of the dragon, as it roasts on a spit, he understands the language of birds (though Regin also drinks some of it when he cuts the heart out of Fafner’s broken body). The birds warn Sigurd against the treachery of Regin, and so he hews off Regin’s head. He then rides up to Fafnir’s dwelling, a house, not a cave, and among other things he took ‘the helmet of terror’, for frightening off enemies (but it is not mentioned again?). In other accounts he has the tarnhelm, for changing his form and even making him invisible.

[20]  Sigurd rides a long distance southwards and comes to a mountain, where a great light is shining, “as if a fire were burning” (not a ring of almost impenetrable fire, as Wagner has it in Siegfried). Climbing over a rampart of shields, he sees a man sleeping there in full war-gear. When he removes the helmet, he sees that it is a woman. Wagner makes great play of this; his Siegfried has never seen a woman, and his cry of surprise always gets a laugh from the audience: “Das ist kein Mann” (That’s not a man).  When she wakes up, after a very long sleep, she assumes it is Sigurd Sigmundson  with Fafner’s helmet (she is psychic), and he says he has heard about Brynhild, and her beauty and wisdom, and he would like a taste of both. She tells him how she came to be there (without mentioning the word Valkyrie, but the clues are there): when two kings were fighting, she felled the one that Odin favoured (same as in Wagner but quite different), and so “Odin stung her with a thorn of sleep in punishment, and told her she would be married (presumably to the man who woke her), but she vowed that she “would marry no one who could know fear” (and Wagner follows this line).

Then she pours him a drink in a goblet, and begins his higher education. This is all in verse stanzas, taken from an older poem. She uses ‘kennings’ (compound expressions): ‘sail-steed’ (horse with a sail) for ‘ship’; ’weapon-tree’ (tree with weapons hanging on it) for ‘warrior’. She teaches him first aid, and where babies come from, instructing him in all kinds of ‘runes’ (magic spells) for wounds, childbirth, ale-making, and boating.

[21] Then, more prosaically, Brynhild instructs Sigurd in correct behaviour, towards women, enemies, dead men. and so on; it sounds like the lessons in chivalry that Perceval/ Parzival was given. Sigurd suddenly blurts out that she is so wise that he will have no other woman. (Of course, that’s what Adam said to Eve: “You are the only one for me”, but in his case it was a truism.) Brynhild responded in this wise: “I would take you first, though I had all men to choose from!” And so they bound themselves together with oaths, my oath they did. Together forever!

[22] Quote: “Then Sigurd rode away”. He put a dragon-image on his shield and all his weapons, and everything was adorned with gold, so that everyone knew that he was Sigurd the slayer of Fafnir.

If you would like a description: his hair was brown and in long locks; his beard was the same colour, thick and short; his face was broad, and so were his shoulders, equal to two men, and his height matched his breadth fittingly. And he was so wise he never lost an argument. He never lost a fight, either, for he was never afraid.

[23] Sigurd meets a man named Heimir, who is married to a sister of Brynhild, namely Bekkhild. Sigurd befriends their son Alsvid.

[24] Coincidentally, Brynhild finishes up in the same place, Heimir being her foster-father. She works on a tapestry depicting Sigurd’s great deeds. Again she offers him a drink, in a golden goblet, and puts his arms around her and kisses her, saying: “No woman has ever been born more beautiful than you”.  This approach never works. She tells him bluntly that they are not fated to live together, because she is a shield-maiden (meaning a Valkyrie, as we know) and has to wear a helmet among the princes in battle. And she foretells that he will marry Gudrun, the daughter of Gjuki.

Sigurd nevertheless affirms: “No king’s daughter will beguile me.... I swear by the gods that I will possess you or no other woman!”

And the author says: “She swore the same” (or similar, we should add). Sigurd gave her a gold ring (the accursed ring from the dragon’s hoard?) and, in spite of everything, “they swore their oaths anew”.

(3) Sigurd and the Gjukings (25-31)

[25] We now learn who Gudrun and Gjuki are. Gjuki ruled over a kingdom south of the Rhine. His consort is Grimhild, a cruel practitioner of magic. Their three sons are Gunnar, Högni, Gutthorm; and Gudrun is their accomplished daughter.

Gudrun goes to Brynhild to have her dreams interpreted. Brynhild tells her all that will happen: “Sigurd will come to you, the one whom I chose to be my husband. Grimhild will give him mead mixed with evil, and this will bring us all into great strife. You will have him, but will soon lose him. Then you will marry King Atli (Attila). You will lose your brothers, and then you will kill Atli.”

That’s all we need to know! There’s the whole of the remaining seventeen chapters prematurely unveiled. Everybody knows their fate. Why go on?

[26] Sigurd is welcomed to the hall of King Gjuki. Queen Grimhild gives him a drinking-horn containing a potion of forgetfulness, and he drinks it. As the the drug takes its effect she tells him he is now one of the family, and he forgets Brynhild. Before long he has taken an oath of blood-brotherhood with Gunnar, and he is drinking the bridal draught with Gudrun.

[27]  Gunnar has decided that Brynhild would be the ideal wife for him. But her hall is surrounded by fire, and she will only marry the man who can ride fearlessly through the flames. The story seems to be in a muddle here; with Wagner’s version in mind, we would think that Sigurd had already done that.  Wagner has Siegfried go Brünnhilde’s  mountain twice; in the saga he goes to the mountain (surrounded by by light but not fire) and later to her home.Thus, still under the influence of the amnesia drug, Sigurd helps Gunnar woo Brynhild, by disguising himself and passing through the fire encircling Brynhild’s hall.  She is obliged to accept him, as Gunnar, not recognizing that he is Sigurd. He places the sword Gram between them in the bed; he takes back the ring he had given her, and gives her another.

After the wedding festivities, Sigurd suddenly remembers all the vows he made to Brynhild, but he remains silent. One day Brynhild and Gudrun have words about superiority, Brynhild claiming that her Gunnar had done mightier acts than Gudrun’s Sigurd. Gudrun foolishly tells her rival that she has been deceived by her “first husband”, Sigurd. The quarrel continues for some time.

[30] Amid the tensions in the hall of the Gjukings, the brothers plot to kill Sigurd, because he took Brynhild’s virginity. Sigurd is murdered while he is in  bed with his wife Gudrun (by Gutthorm, who had not taken an oath of blood-brotherhood with him; and not by Hogni/ Hagen while hunting). Sigurd is able to hurl the sword Gram at his assassin; it cuts him asunder in the middle (crosswise not lengthwise, for the record). Gudrun had been sleeping in the arms of Sigurd, and she awoke in horror to find the bed awash with blood. Sigurd makes a long speech, to console her, and accepts that it is impossible to escape from one’s allotted fate.

[31] When Sigurd’s pyre is aflame, Brynhild joins him there in death. Before she departed she told them all their fortunes, and her words to her husband Gunnar will suffice as a summary of the remaining chapters.

“The daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun will be called Svanhild; she will be born most beautiful of all women. Gudrun, against her will,  shall be married to Atli (Attila, Brynhild’s brother in this saga). You will desire to marry Oddrun (Atli’s sister) but Atli will forbid it, and so you two will have secret meetings. Atli will betray you and put you in a snake pit. Later Atli and his sons will be killed, by Gudrun. Afterwards great waves will carry Gudrun to the stronghold of King Jonak, where she will bear famous sons. Svanhild will be sent from the land and wedded to King Jörmunrek, and on the advice of his evil counsellor Bikki, she will be put to death. “

(4)  Gudrun’s revenge (32-38)
In the struggle for possession of the gold, Gudrun brings about the death of Gunnar and Hogni, and of her husband Atli and their children; she gives Atli the blood of his children to drink, and stabs him in his bed.

Note that Attila the Hun fought at Gallipoli in 443, destroying the Roman forces. In 453 he died (cerebral haemmorhage?) in his marriage bed  with a German girl “Ildico” (little Hilde?).

(5) Svanhild’s death (39-42)
Svanhild, daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun, is put to death, by horses trained to trample on her. When she looks at the horses they hold back. So a cover is put over her head, and the task is completed. Gudrun sends her three new sons to get revenge. On the way Hamdir and Sorli kill their young brother Erp, for no great reason.  When they were attacked they defended themselves well, but along came “a  man tall and aged, with but one eye” who told the attackers to “stone them to Hel”.  Odin has the last word in this book.

Gjukings thus die out. And Volsungs, also?

But wait, there’s more: in Chapter 27, Sigurd and Brynhild had produced a daughter named Aslaug, so it is acknowledged there that each was the first spouse of the other (in fact they were both bigamists); and when she went off to marry Gunnar, she entrusted the child to her foster-father Heimir; and in another saga Aslaug eventually becomes the  wife of Prince Ragnar of Denmark. The bloodline has not been lost!

As in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, lust for power and gold brought about the downfall of those who followed this path.

As Brynhild said, or sang, to Gudrun during their long argument:
    Sigurd killed the dragon and that will be
    unforgotten while the world endures.

Next we can read the German version of this story, in the Nibelungenlied.

The  Saga of the Völsungs, translated and annotated by George K. Anderson (1982)