Sagas & Sea-Kings
Sigurd the Volsung ·
The Northern World ·
the Dragon-Slayer is the hero of the anonymous thirteenth-century
Icelandic prose epic Völsungasaga, based on legends of Old
Scandinavian folk culture that survive in the Elder Edda (or
Poetic Edda) and the Younger Edda (or Prose Edda).
The story of Sigurd the Volsung in turn
served as a source for authors from Richard Wagner to William Morris
to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Contemporary with Völsungasaga is another version of the tale,
the Middle High German
epic the Nibelungenlied. Here the story of the hero (called
Siegfried) takes on a High Gothic gloss of knighthood, where
Völsungasaga retains the primitive and pagan force of its
The nineteenth century saw a real vogue for the saga
tales, and the English William Morris and the German Richard Wagner
represent the most important resurgence of the Eddic
material and spirit ... [Robert W. Gutman, in the Introduction
to Volsunga Saga, Collier Books, 1962]
William Morris's 1870 translation of the Volsunga Saga was
the crowning achievement of his translations from the Norse sagas,
and in turn fathered his lyric poem Sigurd (1877), a retelling
of the Saga with elements from the Nibelungenlied
contemporaneous with Wagner's Ring cycle. Morris's
saga translations also influenced his Tale of the House of
the Wolfings, and All the Kindreds of the Mark Written in Prose and
in Verse (1889).
When the young J.R.R. Tolkien won the Skeat Prize for English in
the spring of 1914, he used the proceeds to purchase copies of
Morris's Volsunga Saga and The House of the Wolfings:
In this book Morris had tried to recreate
the excitement he himself had found in the pages of early
English and Icelandic narratives. The House of the Wolfings
is set in a land which is threatened by an invading force of
Romans. Written partly in prose and partly in verse,
it centres on a House or family-tribe that dwells by
a great river in a clearing of the forest named
Mirkwood, a name taken from ancient German
geography and legend.... Its style is highly
idiosyncratic, heavily laden with archaisms and poetic
inversions in an attempt to recreate the aura of ancient
legend. Clearly Tolkien took note of this, and it would seem
that he also appreciated another facet of the writing:
Morris's aptitude, despite the vagueness of time
and place in which the story is set, for describing
with great precision the details of his imagined
landscape. [Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography,
1977, p. 70]
The tale of Sigurd Fafnirsbane is repleat with
dragon-treasure, a broken sword reforged, shield-maidens, and
a dwarf-ring that brings a curse on its wearers.
Story of Sigurd, from Andrew Lang's
Fairy Book, at the University of Virginia.
Story of the Volsungs with excerpts from the Poetic Edda,
translated from the Icelandic
(Old Norse) by William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson
(from the 1888 Walter Scott Press edition), at the Online
Medieval and Classical Library at Berkeley.
saga in Old Norse.
Story of Sigurd the Volsung, excerpts from William Morris's
epic poem, at Representative Poetry Online
at the University of Toronto.
Sigurd the Volsung,
an essay on Sigurd's place in Morris's work, from
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18
Volumes (1907–21), online at Bartleby.com.
Nibelungenlied, a text based the translation by Daniel B.
Shumway (Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1909) at the
Online Medieval and Classical Library at Berkeley.
In Parentheses, and
Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Niblung:
Siegfried & The Twilight of the Gods, both translated by
Margaret Armour, c. 1910.
The Story of the Ring
has links to synopses and libretti of Wagner's Ring cycle; it's
at Mike Rudolph's Walhall.
in Medieval Literature of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen"
and William Morris's "Sigurd the Volsung," a
thesis by Jane Susanna Ennis of the University of London,
excerpted by the author at the Richard
Wagner Archive in Finland.
All for the Tale: The Epic Macropoetics of Morris' Sigurd the Volsung [PDF]
by Herbert F. Tucker, from
Victorian Poetry Vol. 34, no. 3 (1996), a peer-reviewed scholarly journal devoted to
British and colonial poetics of the Victorian age (1830-1914).
Sons of Odin: A Heroic Analysis of the Volsunga Saga
by Devyn Christopher Gillette, at Raven
Notes on the Illustrations ·
10 July 2004