Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Siegfried by James Baldwin
The Story of Siegfried by  James Baldwin

Back Matter

The After Word

SUCH is the story of Siegfried (or Sigurd), as we gather it from various German and Scandinavian legends. In this recital I have made no attempt to follow any one of the numerous originals, but have selected here and there such incidents as best suited my purpose in constructing one connected story which would convey to your minds some notion of the beauty and richness of our ancient myths. In doing this, I have drawn, now from the Volsunga Saga, now from the Nibelungen Lied, now from one of the Eddas, and now from some of the minor legends relating to the great hero of the North. These ancient stories, although differing widely in particulars, have a certain general relationship and agreement which proves beyond doubt a common origin. "The primeval myth," says Thomas Carlyle, "whether it were at first philosophical truth, or historical incident, floats too vaguely on the breath of men: each has the privilege of inventing, and the far wider privilege of borrowing and new modelling from all  that preceded him. Thus, though tradition may have but one root, it grows, like a banian, into a whole overarching labyrinth of trees."

If you would follow the tradition of Siegfried to the end; if you would learn how, after the great Hoard had been buried in the Rhine, the curse of the dwarf Andvari still followed those who had possessed it, and how Kriemhild wreaked a terrible vengeance upon Siegfried's murderers,—you must read the original story as related in the Volsung Myth or in the Nibelungen Song. Our story ends with Siegfried.

The episodes which I have inserted here and there—the stories of Ægir, and of Balder, and of Idun, and of Thor—do not, as you may know, belong properly to the legend of Siegfried; but I have thrown them in, in order to acquaint you with some of the most beautiful mythical conceptions of our ancestors.

A grand old people were those early kinsmen of ours,—not at all so savage and inhuman as our histories would sometimes make us believe. For however mistaken their notions may have been, and however ignorant they were, according to our ideas of things, they were strong-hearted, brave workers; and, so far as opportunity was afforded them, they acted well their parts. What their notions were of true manhood,—a strong mind in a strong body, good, brave, and handsome,—may be learned from the story of Siegfried.


Note 1.—Siegfried's Boyhood. Page 4.

"All men agree that Siegfried was a king's son. He was born, as we here have good reason to know, 'at Santen in Netherland,' of Siegmund and the fair Siegelinde; yet by some family misfortune or discord, of which the accounts are very various, he came into singular straits during boyhood, having passed that happy period of life, not under the canopies of costly state, but by the sooty stithy, in one Mimer, a blacksmith's shop."—Thomas Carlyle , The Nibelungen Lied.

The older versions of this story represent Siegfried, under the name of Sigurd, as being brought up at the court of the Danish King Hialprek; his own father Sigmund having been slain in battle, as related in this chapter. He was early placed under the tuition of Regin, or Regino, an elf, who instructed his pupil in draughts, runes, languages, and various other accomplishments.—See Preface to  Vollmer's Nibelunge Not,  also the Song of Sigurd Fafnisbane,  in the Elder Edda,  and the Icelandic Volsunga Saga.

Note 2.—Mimer. Page 18.

"The Vilkinasaga  brings before us yet another smith, Mimer, by whom not only is Velint instructed in his art, but Sigfrit (Siegfried) is brought up,—another smith's apprentice. He is occasionally mentioned in the later poem of Biterolf, as Mime the Old. The old name of Münster in Westphalia was Mimigardiford; the Westphalian Minden was originally Mimidun; and Memleben on the Unstrut, Mimileba. . . . The elder Norse tradition names him just as often, and in several different connections. In one place, a Mimingus, a wood-satyr, and possessor of a sword and jewels, is interwoven into the myth of Balder and Hoder. The Edda  gives a higher position to its Mimer. He has a fountain, in which wisdom and understanding lie hidden: drinking of it every morning, he is the wisest, most intelligent, of men. To Mimer's fountain came Odin, and desired a drink, but did not receive it till he had given one of his eyes in pledge, and hidden it in the fountain: this accounts for Odin being one-eyed. . . . Mimer is no Asa, but an exalted being with whom the Asas hold converse, of whom they make use,—the sum total of wisdom, possibly an older Nature-god. Later fables degraded him into a wood-sprite, or clever smith."—Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie,  I. p. 379.

Concerning the Mimer of the Eddas,  Professor Anderson says, "The name Mimer means the knowing. The Giants, being older than the Asas, looked deeper than the latter into the darkness of the past. They had witnessed the birth of the gods and the beginning of the world, and they foresaw their downfall. Concerning both these events, the gods had to go to them for knowledge. It is this wisdom that Mimer keeps in his fountain."—Norse Mythology,  p. 209.

In the older versions of the legend, the smith who cared for Siegfried (Sigurd) is called, as we have before noticed, Regin. He is thus described by Morris:—

"The lore of all men he knew,

And was deft in every cunning,

save the dealings of the sword.

So sweet was his tongue-speech fashioned,

that men trowed his every word.

His hand with the harp-strings blended

was the mingler of delight

With the latter days of sorrow:

all tales he told aright.

The Master of the Masters

in the smithying craft was he;

And he dealt with the wind and the weather

and the stilling of the sea;

Nor might any learn him leech-craft,

for before that race was made,

And that man-folk's generation,

all their life-days had he weighed."

Sigurd the Volsung, Bk. II.

Note 3.—The Sword. Page 12.

"By this sword Balmung also hangs a tale. Doubtless it was one of those invaluable weapons sometimes fabricated by the old Northern smiths, compared with which our modern Foxes and Ferraras and Toledos are mere leaden tools. Von der Hagen seems to think it simply the sword Mimung under another name; in which case, Siegfried's old master, Mimer, had been the maker of it, and called it after himself, as if it had been his son."—Carlyle, on the Nibelungen Lied,  note.

In Scandinavian legends, the story of Mimer and Amilias is given, differing but slightly from the rendering in this chapter.—See  Weber and Jamieson's Illustrations of Northern Antiquities.

In the older versions of the myth, the sword is called Gram, or the Wrath. It was wrought from the shards, or broken pieces, of Sigmund's sword, the gift of Odin. It was made by Regin for Sigurd's (Siegfried's) use, and its temper was tested as here described.

Note 4.—Sigmund the Volsung. Page 16.

Sigmund the Volsung, in the Volsunga Saga,  is represented as the father of Sigurd (Siegfried); but there is such a marked contrast between him, and the wise, home-abiding King Siegmund of the later stories, that I have thought proper to speak of them here as two different individuals. The word "Sigmund," or "Siegmund," means literally the mouth of victory. The story of the Volsungs, as here supposed to be related by Mimer, is derived mainly from the Volsunga Saga.

Note 5.—Siegfried's Jounrey into the Forest. Page 22.

"In the shop of Mimer, Siegfried was nowise in his proper element, ever quarrelling with his fellow-apprentices, nay, as some say, breaking the hardest anvils into shivers by his too stout hammering; so that Mimer, otherwise a first-rate smith, could by no means do with him there. He sends him, accordingly, to the neighboring forest to fetch charcoal, well aware that a monstrous dragon, one Regin, the smith's own brother, would meet him, and devour him. But far otherwise it proved."—Carlyle, on The Nibelungen Lied.

Note 6.—The Norns. Pages 26, 53.

The Norns are the Fates, which watch over man through life. They are Urd the Past, Verdande the Present, and Skuld the Future. They approach every new-born child, and utter his doom. They are represented as spinning the thread of fate, one end of which is hidden by Urd in the far east, the other by Verdande in the far west. Skuld stands ready to rend it in pieces.—See  Grimm's Teutonic Mythology,  p. 405, also Anderson's Norse Mythology,  p. 209.

The three weird women in Shakespeare's Tragedy of Macbeth  represent a later conception of the three Norns, now degraded to mere witches.

Compare the Norns with the Fates of the Greek Mythology. These, also, are three in number. They sit clothed in white, and garlanded, singing of destiny. Clotho, the Past, spins; Lachesis, the Present, divides; and Atropos, the Future, stands ready with her shears to cut the thread.

Note 7.—The Idea of Fatality. Pages 17, 53.

Throughout the story of the Nibelungs and Volsungs, of Sigurd and of Siegfried,—whether we follow the older versions or the more recent renderings,—there is, as it were, an ever-present but indefinable shadow of coming fate, "a low, inarticulate voice of Doom," foretelling the inevitable. This is but in consonance with the general ideas of our Northern ancestors regarding the fatality which shapes and controls every man's life. These ideas are embodied in more than one ancient legend. We find them in the old Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf.  "To us," cries Beowulf in his last fight, "to us it shall be as our Weird betides,—that Weird that is every man's lord!" "Each man of us shall abide the end of his life-work; let him that may work, work his doomed deeds ere death comes!" Similar ideas prevailed among the Greeks. Read, for example, that passage in the Iliad describing the parting of Hector and Andromache, and notice the deeper meaning of Hector's words.

Note 8.—Regin. Page 28.

As we have already observed (Note 1), the older versions of this myth called Siegfried's master and teacher Regin, while the more recent versions call him Mimer. We have here endeavored to harmonize the two versions by representing Mimer as being merely Regin in disguise.

Note 9.—Gripir. Page 30.

"A man of few words was Gripir;

but he knew of all deeds that had been;

And times there came upon him,

when the deeds to be were seen:

No sword had he held in his hand

since his father fell to field,

And against the life of the slayer

he bore undinted shield:

Yet no fear in his heart abided,

nor desired he aught at all:

But he noted the deeds that had been,

and looked for what should befall."

Morris's Sigurd the Volsung,  Bk. II.

Note 10.—The Hoard. Page 51.

This story is found in both the Elder  and the Younger Eddas,  and is really the basis upon which the entire plot of the legend of Sigurd, or Siegfried, is constructed. See also Note 18.

Note 11.—The Dragon. Page 62.

The oldest form of this story is the Song of Sigurd Fafnisbane, in the Elder Edda.  The English legend of St. George and the Dragon was probably derived from the same original sources. A similar myth may be found among all Aryan peoples. Sometimes it is a treasure, sometimes a beautiful maiden, that the monster guards, or attempts to destroy. Its first meaning was probably this: The maiden, or the treasure, is the earth in its beauty and fertility. "The monster is the storm-cloud. The hero who fights it is the sun, with his glorious sword, the lightning-flash. By his victory the earth is relieved from her peril. The fable has been varied to suit the atmospheric peculiarities of different climes in which the Aryans found themselves. . . . In Northern mythology the serpent is probably the winter cloud, which broods over and keeps from mortals the gold of the sun's light and heat, till in the spring the bright orb overcomes the powers of darkness and tempest, and scatters his gold over the face of the earth." This myth appears in a great variety of forms among the Scandinavian and German nations. In the Eddas,  Sigurd (Siegfried) is represented as roasting the heart of Fafnir, and touching it to his lips. We have ventured to present a less revolting version.—See  Baring-Gould's Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.

"The slaying of the dragon Fafnir reminds us of Python, whom Apollo overcame; and, as Python guarded the Delphic Oracle, the dying Fafnir prophesies."—Jacob Grimm.

Note 12. Page 64.

In order to harmonize subsequent passages in the story as related in different versions, we here represent Siegfried as turning his back upon the Glittering Heath, and leaving the Hoard to some other hero or discoverer. In the Younger Edda,  Siegfried (Sigurd) rides onward until he comes to Fafnir's bed, from which "he took out all the gold, packed it in two bags, and laid it on Grane's (Greyfell's) back, then got on himself and rode away."

Note 13.—Bragi. Page 67.

This episode of Bragi and his vessel is no part of the original story of Siegfried, but is here introduced in order to acquaint you with some of the older myths of our ancestors. Bragi was the impersonation of music and eloquence, and here represents the music of Nature,—the glad songs and sounds of the spring-time. "Above any other god," says Grimm, "one would like to see a more general veneration of Bragi revived, in whom was vested the gift of poetry and eloquence. . . . He appears to have stood in pretty close relation to Ægir."

Note 14.—Aegir Page 82.

"Ægir was the god presiding over the stormy sea. He entertains the gods every harvest, and brews ale for them. The name still survives in provincial English for the sea-wave on rivers."—Anderson's Norse Mythology. See  Carlyle's Heroes and Hero-Worship.

Note 15.—The Valkyries. Page 89.

See Grimm's Teutonic Mythology,  p. 417, and Anderson's Norse Mythology,  p. 265.

Note 16.—Brunhild. Page 95.

In the Elder Edda,  Brunhild's inaccessible hall stands on a mountain, where she was doomed to sleep under her shield until Sigurd should release her. In the Nibelungen Lied, she is represented as ruling in Isenland, an island far over the sea. The well-known story of the Sleeping Beauty is derived from this myth.

Note 17.—Nibelungen Land. Page 99.

"Vain were it to inquire where that Nibelungen Land specially is. Its very name is Nebel-land, or Nifl-land, the land of Darkness, of Invisibility. . . . Far beyond the firm horizon, that wonder-bearing region swims on the infinite waters, unseen by bodily eye, or, at most, discerned as a faint streak hanging in the blue depths, uncertain whether island or cloud."—Carlyle, on The Nibelungen Lied.

Note 18.—Schilbung and Nibelung. Page 101.

"Old King Nibelung, the former lord of the land, had left, when he died, a mighty hoard concealed within a mountain-cavern. As Siegfried rode past the mountain-side alone, he found Schilbung and Nibelung, the king's sons, seated at the mouth of the cavern surrounded by more gold and precious stones than a hundred wagons could bear away. Espying Siegfried, they called upon him to settle their dispute, offering him as reward their father's mighty sword Balmung."—Auber Forestier's Translation of the Nibelungen Lied. 

We have here made some slight variations from the original versions. (See also Note 12.)

An ancient legend relates how King Schilbung had obtained the Hoard in the upper Rhine valley, and how he was afterwards slain by his brother Niblung. This Niblung possessed a magic ring in the shape of a coiled serpent with ruby eyes. It had been presented to him by a prince named Gunthwurm, who had come to him in the guise of a serpent, desiring the hand of his daughter in marriage. This ring, according to the Eddas,  was the one taken by Loki from the dwarf Andvari, and was given by Sigurd (Siegfried) to Brunhild in token of betrothal. It was the cause of all the disasters that afterwards occurred.—See W. Jordan's Sigfridssaga.  See also Note 10.

Note 19. Page 105.

". . . Siegfried the hero good

Failed the long task to finish:

this stirred their angry mood.

The treasure undivided

he needs must let remain,

When the two kings indignant

set on him with their train;

But Siegfried gripped sharp Balmung

(so hight their father's sword),

And took from them their country,

and the beaming, precious hoard."

The Nibelungenlied,  Lettsom, 96, 97

Note 20.—Siegfried's Welcome Home. Page 113.

In the Nibelungen Lied  this is our first introduction to the hero. The "High-tide" held in honor of Siegfried's coming to manhood, and which we suppose to have occurred at this time, forms the subject of the Second Adventure in that poem.

Note 21.—Kriemhild's Dream. Page 124.

This forms the subject of the first chapter of the Nibelungen Lied.  "The eagles of Kriemhild's dream," says Auber Forestier, "are winter-giants, whose wont it was to transform themselves into eagles; while the pure gods were in the habit of assuming the falcon's form."

Note 22.—Idun. Page 135.

The story of Idun and her Apples is related in the Younger Edda.  It is there represented as having been told by Bragi himself to his friend Ægir. This myth means, that the ever-renovating spring (Idun) being taken captive by the desolating winter (Thjasse), all Nature (all the Asa-folk) languishes until she regains her freedom through the intervention of the summer's heat (Loki).—See  Anderson's Norse Mythology.

Note 23.—Balder. Page 166.

The story of Balder is, in reality, the most ancient form of the Siegfried myth. Both Balder and Siegfried are impersonations of the beneficent light of the summer's sun, and both are represented as being treacherously slain by the powers of winter. The errand of Hermod to the Halls of Death (Hela) reminds us of the errand of Hermes to Hades to bring back Persephone to her mother Demeter. We perceive also a resemblance in this story to the myth of Orpheus, in which that hero is described as descending into the lower regions to bring away his wife Eurydice.

Note 24. Page 172.

The making of rich clothing for the heroes is frequently referred to in the Nibelungen Lied.  Carlyle says, "This is a never-failing preparative for all expeditions, and is always specified and insisted on with a simple, loving, almost female impressiveness."

Note 25.—The Winning of Brunhild. Page 175.

The story of the outwitting of Brunhild, as related in the pages which follow, is essentially the same as that given in the Nibelungen Lied.  It is quite different from the older versions.

Note 26.—Sif. Page 204.

Sif corresponds to the Ceres of the Southern mythology. (See Grimm, p. 309.) The story of Loki and the Dwarfs is derived from the Younger Edda.  It has been beautifully rendered by the German poet Ohlenschläger, a translation of whose poem on this subject may be found in Longfellow's Poets and Poetry of Europe.

Note 27.—Eigill. Page 214.

Eigill is the original William Tell. The story is related in the Saga of Thidrik.  For a full history of the Tell myth, see Grimm's Teutonic Mythology,  p. 380, and Baring-Gould's Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,  p. 110.

Note 28.—Welland the Smith. Page 215.

The name of this smith is variously given as Weland, Wieland, Welland, Volundr, Velint etc. The story is found in the Vilkina Saga,  and was one of the most popular of middle age myths. (See Grimm's Mythology.)  Sir Walter Scott, in his novel of Kenilworth,  has made use of this legend in introducing the episode of Wayland Smith.

Note 29.—Vidar the Silent. Page 216.

"Vidar is the name of the silent Asa. He has a very thick shoe, and he is the strongest next to Thor. From him the gods have much help in all hard tasks."—The Younger Edda  (Anderson's translation).

Note 30.—Loki. Page 236.

"Loki, in nature, is the corrupting element in air, fire, and water. In the bowels of the earth he is the volcanic flame, in the sea he appears as a fierce serpent, and in the lower world we recognize him as pale death. Like Odin, he pervades all nature. He symbolizes sin, shrewdness, deceitfulness, treachery, malice etc."—Anderson's Mythology,  p. 372.

He corresponds to the Ahriman of the Persians, to the Satan of the Christians, and remotely to the Prometheus of the Greeks.

Note 31.—The Quarrel of the Queens. Page 258.

In the ancient versions, the culmination of this quarrel occurred while the queens were bathing in the river: in the Nibelungen Lied   it happened on the steps leading up to the door of the church.

Note 32.—Hagen. Page 281.

Hagen corresponds to the Hoder of the more ancient myth of Balder. In the Sigurd Sagas  he is called Hogni, and is a brother instead of an uncle, of Gunther (Gunnar).

Note 33.—The Death of Siegfried. Page 282.

This story is related here essentially as found in the Nibelungen Lied.  It is quite differently told in the older versions. Siegfried's invulnerability save in one spot reminds us of Achilles, who also was made invulnerable by a bath, and who could be wounded only in the heel.

Note 34.—The Burial of Siegfried. Page 284.

The story of the burning of Siegfried's body upon a funeral-pile, as related of Sigurd in the older myths, reminds us of the burning of Balder upon the ship "Ringhorn." (See p. 162.) The Nibelungen Lied  represents him as being buried in accordance with the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. This version of the story must, of course, have been made after the conversion of the Germans to Christianity. "When the Emperor Frederick III. (1440-93) visited Worms after his Netherlands campaign," says Forestier, "he undertook to have the mighty hero's bones disinterred, probably in view of proving the truth of the marvellous story then sung throughout Germany; but, although he had the ground dug into until water streamed forth, no traces of these became manifest."

Note 35.—The Hoard. Page 286.

The story of bringing the Hoard from Nibelungen Land belongs to the later versions of the myth, and fitly closes the First Part of the Nibelungen Lied.  Lochheim, the place where the Hoard was sunk, was not far from Bingen on the Rhine.

Note 36.—A Short Vocabulary of the Principal Proper Names Mentioned in this Story.

Aegir .  The god of the sea.
Alberich and Andvari .  Dwarfs who guard the great Hoard.
Asa .  A name applied to the gods of the Norse mythology.
Asgard .  The home of the gods.
Balder .  The god of the summer sunlight.
Bragi .  The god of eloquence and of poetry.
Draupner .  Odin's ring, which gives fertility to the earth.

Fafnir .  The dragon whom Siegfried slays.
Fenris-Wolf .  The monster who in the last twilight slays Odin.
Freyja .  The goddess of love.
Frey .  The god of peace and plenty.
Gripir .  The giant who gives wise counsel to Siegfried (Sigurd).
Gunther .  In the older myths called Gunnar.
Heimdal .  The heavenly watchman.
Hela .  The goddess of death.
Hermod .  The quick messenger who is sent to Hela for Balder.
Hoder .  The winter-god. He slays Balder.
Hoenir .  One of the three most ancient gods.
Hugin .  Odin's raven, Thought.
Idun .  The goddess of spring.
Ivald .  A skilful dwarf.
Jotunheim .  The home of the giants.
Kriemhild .  In the older myths called Gudrun.
Loki .  The mischief-maker. The god of evil.
Mimer .  In the later German mythology a skilful smith. In the older mythology a wise giant.
Norns .  The three Fates,—Urd, Verdande, and Skuld.
Odin .  The chief of the gods.
Regin .   The teacher of Sigurd, by whom he is slain.
Siegfried .  In the older myths called Sigurd.
Sif .  Thor's wife.
Sleipner .  Odin's eight-footed horse.
Tyr .  The god of war.
Thor .  The god of thunder. The foe of the giants.
Valhal .  The hall of the slain.
Valkyries .  The choosers of the slain. Odin's handmaidens.
Vidar .  The silent god.
Ymir .  The huge giant out of whose body the world was made.

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