Völsunga Saga: The Definitive Guide (Sigurd and Everything Else)

Völsunga Saga

Völsunga Saga: The Definitive Guide (Sigurd and Everything Else)

Völsunga Saga (Volsunga Saga or Volsungasaga) was the story of love and betrayal, adventure and tragedy, expanding over several generations, began with the son of Odin named Sigi. An unknown author from Iceland wrote the Volsunga Saga in the thirteenth century.

The Volsunga Saga was about the heroism and tragedy of two families, the Volsungs and the Giukings (Niflungs or Nibelungs).


The Volsunga Saga can be divided into two or three parts:

  • The first part was the ancestors of Sigurd, particularly about Sigmund (Sigurd’s father) and Signy, children of Volsung.
  • The second part is about Sigurd, the central character of the Völsunga Saga.
  • After Sigurd’s death, the story revolved around Sigurd’s wife (Gudrun) and his brother-in-laws (the family in Burgundy was known as the Giukings (Niflungs) or Nibelungs in the Germanic literature).
Volsungs Sigurd and the Guikings
Signy & Sigmund
Death of Sigmund & Sinfjotli
Ottergild (Otter’s Ransom)
Sigurd, Fafnir’s Bane
Sigurd &amp Brynhild
Gudrun and the Fall of the Niflungs
Fate of Svanhild


Related Pages:

Norse Heroes
Minor Norse Characters


Geneology: House of the Volsungs and the Giukings (Niflungs)




Signy & Sigmund
Death of Sigmund & Sinfjotli



Sigi was a great hunter, yet a thrall of Skadi named Bredi, who had matched his prowess in hunting, bested him. In a jealous rage he killed Bredi hiding the body in a snowdrift. When Skadi found his thrall dead in a snowdrift, he declared Sigi an outlaw. Later, Sigi, became king of the Huns. Sigi made many enemies in his long reign, among the enemies were his brother-in-laws. In his old age, his enemies had him killed.

His son, Rerir, succeeded Sigi. Rerir, who was an even greater king than his father, in bravery and combat, avenged his father, killing his uncles and other enemies. He built a great empire through his numerous victories in wars against his neighbours. However, he and his wife had problems with producing an heir. Desperately wanting a son, Rerir prayed to the gods. Frigg, wife and consort of Odin, asked for a golden apple from the giant, Hrimnir. The apple was delivered to Rerir by crow, which dropped the apple in his laps. Immediately realising the importance of this divine sign, Rerir shared the apple with his wife. Soon, Rerir’s wife was pregnant.

Rerir, who fought a war to fight, fell ill and died. Rerir’s wife was pregnant for an impossible six winters! Dying, the queen asked them to cut the baby out of her womb. Volsung was born almost a man in size and strength.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga is an Icelandic Saga, written about 1250.
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Sigi, Rerir, Volsung.


Signy & Sigmund

Volsung was born an orphan, but unlike children, but he was huge in size and strength, succeeded his father, becoming king of Hunland. Volsung became even powerful than father. His palace was built, with the oak tree called Branstock, in the middle of his great hall.

Hrimnir send his daughter Ljod (Hljod) to marry Volsung. Volsung became the father of ten mighty sons and a daughter, Signy. Signy was the twin sister of Sigmund and enjoyed a close relationship with her brother.

One day, Siggeir, king of Gothland, came and asked for Volsung, his daughter’s hand in marriage. Volsung agreed, though Signy did not want to marry Siggeir, knowing him to be treacherous and murderous king.

During the feast, Odin disguised as old man, came to the hall and drove a great sword into Branstock. Odin told them it would be his gift to the person who could draw the sword out of great oak tree.

It was said that Volund (or Wayland the Smith) made the sword, and the magic sword was later called Gram (Balmung or Mimung in German myth). The sword had the power to make the owner win all his battles. No one in the hall except Sigmund, Volsung’s younger son, could extract the sword from Branstock.

Siggeir, who could not draw the sword from Branstock, wanted the sword for himself, offered to buy the sword off Sigmund. Sigmund scornfully rejected Siggeir’s offer of gold. Offended by the young man’s reply, Siggeir was determined to destroy Volsung’s family.

Signy unsuccessfully tried to persuade her father not to marry her to the king. She had forboding that Siggeir will betray them. Volsung refused to heel her warning.

After Siggeir married the reluctant Signy, he invited Volsung to come to his home.

Again, Signy warned her father, fearing her new husband would attack them, but again Volsung ignored her warning. The moment Volsung and his sons arrived in Siggeir’s territory, they were ambushed in the woods. Volsung was killed in the fighting and all his sons were captured.

Siggeir had Signy’s entire brothers bound in the trees in chain. Helpless, a she-wolf would come each night to kill and devour them. One by one, the brother was killed by the she-wolf until only Sigmund was left. Signy secretly went to her brother and smeared honey all over his face and inside his mouth. When the she-wolf came, instead of biting Sigmund, she licked his face and inside of the youth’s mouth. Sigmund bit hard on the wolf, until died. Somehow, Sigmund managed to get out of his chain and hid in a cave in the woods.

Signy found her brother alive, and together they plotted to destroy Siggeir and his men.

As Sigmund recovered in the cave, Signy had several children to the king. When Signy’s eldest son reach the age of eleven, she sent him to her brother. Sigmund was to train her son to destroy Siggeir. However, Sigmund found that Siggeir’s son was too weak for such task. Signy told her brother to then kill her son.

The following year, Signy sent her second son to her brother, but once again, Sigmund found him also to be weak; hence her second son was killed.

Realising that none of her children by her husband would be strong enough to avenge her father and brothers’ death against her husband Siggeir; Signy sought help from a beautiful witch. The witch help Signy by transforming her to look exactly like the witch.

In the form of the witch, Signy visited her Sigmund, making love with her brother for three nights. Returning to her husband she was changed back to her own form. Later she discovered she was pregnant by her brother. She gave birth to Sinfjotli.

When Sinfjotli reach the age of eleven, Signy sends her son to Sigmund. Sigmund thought that Sinfjotli was Siggeir’s son. Nor did Sinfjotli recognise his real father. Only Signy knew of the true relationship between Sigmund and Sinfjotli.

Sinfjotli had already grown to man in size and strength. Sigmund discovered that Sinfjotli was suitable to help him avenge his family. When Sigmund told Sinfjotli about his family and Siggeir’s betrayal, Sinfjotli agreed to help. Sigmund trained Sinfjotli, until it was time for vengeance.

Sigmund and Sinfjotli tried to use stealth to reach the palace. However, Siggeir’s two remaining children discovered them and told their father about armed strangers in the palace. Signy ordered her brother to kill her last two children to Siggeir, but he refused to kill any more of his sister’s children. Sinfjotli had no such compunction and murdered his siblings.

Siggeir’s men captured Sigmund and Sinfjotli and had them entombed alive. Signy however managed to secretly give Sigmund’s magic sword to him. Sigmund and Sinfjotli used the sword and dug their way out of the barrow.

Together they set fire to Siggeir’s palace, while he and his men slept. Signy came to them, revealing Sinfjotli was Sigmund’s own son by her. Because she had ordered death of her own children, she returned to the burning palace to die with her hated husband.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga.
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Volsung, Sigmund, Signy, Siggeir, Sinfjotli.

Odin sheathed a sword into Branstock

In the hall of Volsung, Odin thrusting a sword into Branstock
Alan Lee
Illustration, 1984


Death of Sigmund & Sinfjotli

Sigmund returned to his home (Hunland) with Sinfjotli, where Sigmund had to drive out the king, who had set himself as ruler since Volsung’s death. Once again, the Volsungs re-established a mighty kingdom. Sigmund married Borghild and became the father of Helgi and Hamund.

At the age of fifteen, Helgi fought many wars and won his own kingdom. Helgi earned the named Helgi Hundingsbani, when he fought two battles and killed Hunding and his sons. Helgi then went on to defeat defeat Hodbrodd and Granmar, to win his marriage to Sigrun, daughter of King Hogni (this Hogni should not be confused with the Burgundian Hogni) Sigrun was probably a Valkyrie (shield-maiden). (See The Two Helgi for the full legend about Helgi and Sigrun.)

Borghild was jealous of her stepson Sinfjotli’s prowess, and plotted his death. Sigmund, who was immune to all poison, drank two of the mugs of wine that Borghild had offered to Sinfjotli. Sinfjotli however drank the third mug and died from the poison.

Borghild was banished from Hunland, for poisoning her stepson.

Sigmund carried Sinfjotli’s body into the wood. Sigmund met a ferryman at the fjord. The ferryman offered to help him cross, but the boat was only large enough to take one passenger. So Sigmund allowed the ferryman to take his son’s body to otherside of the fjord first.

As the boat reached the middle of the fjord, the boat along with Sinfjotli’s body disappeared. Apparently the ferryman was none other than Odin. It seemed that Odin was personally taking Sinfjotli to Valhalla.

Sigmund sought another wife. He fell in love with Hjordis (Sisibe or Sieglind), the beautiful daughter of King Eylimi. Sigmund wooed Hjordis but he had to compete against other powerful and younger kings, including Lyngi (Lyngvi), the son of King Hunding.

Sigmund won Hjordis’ despite being a much older man than the other suitors were, and married Hjordis. War broke out between Sigmund and the Hundings, because Lyngi refused to give up Hjordis.

Sigmund and Eylimi were winning the battle. Yet, according to the Norns, Sigmund was fated to die that day. Yet Sigmund could never be defeated, nor he could be wounded, while he wielded his magic sword (Gram or Balmung) in battle.

To fulfil Sigmund’s doom, Odin came into the battlefield with his invincible spear, Gungnir. When Sigmund saw Odin, he attacked the god, but when he struck the Gungnir, Sigmund shattered the sword into two.

The tide of the battle turned against Sigmund’s army and he was defeated. Sigmund and his father-in-law, King Eylimi, had fallen in battle.

At night, Hjordis, who was still pregnant with Sigmund’s child, found her husband mortally wounded in the battlefield. Sigmund advised his wife to gather the shards of his shattered sword, so that their son could make forge a new sword. Sigmund foretold that his unborn son would avenge him and Hjordis’ father.

Lyngi, who still wanted to marry Hjordis, but could not find her or her treasure, for she had fled to King Alf, whom she married.

Hjordis gave birth to a son, whom she named Sigurd. Alf, the son of King Hjalprek of Denmark, brought up Sigmund’s son as if he was his very own son.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga.
From the Poetic Edda:
First Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani
Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani
Helgakvida Hiorvardssonar (Poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson
Death of Sinfjotli (Fra Daudi Sinfiotla)
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Sigmund, Borghild, Sinfjotli, Helgi, Sigurd, Sigrun, Odin.

Sigmund and Hjordis (Sieglinde)

Sigmund and Sieglinde (Hjordis)
F. Leeke
Oil on canvas, 1895




Sigurd and the Guikings

Sigurd, like his father (Sigmund) and grandfather, Volsung, grew at rapid pace, both in size and in strength. His stepfather (Alf) gave permission to Sigurd to select any horse he wished from his stable. Sigurd met an old man with one eye (Odin in disguised again) and advised Sigurd to choose the young grey, telling the young hero that this horse was bred by Sleipnir (Odin’s horse). Sigurd chosen the grey as his horse and named it Grani (Greyfell).


Ottergild (Otter’s Ransom)
Sigurd, Fafnir’s Bane
Sigurd &amp Brynhild
Related Information
Related Articles
Sigurd, Sigmund, Odin.


Otter’s Ransom

Sigurd had a tutor named Regin, who was his foster-father.

Regin was the son of Hreidmar, and brother of Otter and Fafnir.

Regin hoping to use Sigurd to gain the famous treasure from his brother, told the youth of his family history.

Otter was able to shift-change into an otter. Loki, who was travelling with Odin and Hoenir, saw Otter by the river, killed him and skinned the otter. Loki wore the pelt over his shoulder.

When Odin, Loki and Hoenir came to Hreidmar’s estate and imposed upon the owner for hospitality, Hreidmar discovered that Loki had killed his son. Hreidmar captured three strangers and chained the three gods. Hreidmar will released the gods, on the condition that one of them pay a ransom. Loki agreed to perform the task and was released.

Loki knew that the only ransom that would be able to release Odin and Hoenir, was the treasure of Andvari.

Andvari was a dwarf who not only owned a treasure hoard, but also a magic gold ring called Andvaranaut. Andvaranaut could help him find or make more gold. Loki managed to steal the treasure but Andvari escaped with the ring by changing himself into a salmon. Loki managed to capture the dwarf and forced Andvari to give up the Andvaranaut.

As Loki left the dwarf, Andvari hurled a curse upon the Andvaranaut, causing tragedy to fall on any mortal who wore the ring.

Loki returned with the ransom, now known as the Ottergild (meaning Otter’s Ransom, which was later called Rhinegold), and the other gods were released. Hreidmar forgot about his grief over his son at the sight of the treasure.

Hreidmar’s two sons wanted a share in the treasure, but in his greed, Hreidmar refused to share with Fafnir and Regin. Fafnir, wanting the treasure for himself murdered his own father and drove Regin away.

The greed of Fafnir transformed the son of Hreidmar into a great dragon. Fafnir lived with his treasure on what was called Gnitaheath or “Glittering Heath”.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga.
From the Poetic Edda:
Reginsmal (Lay of Regin)
Skaldskaparmal, from the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson.
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Hreidmar, Otter, Regin, Fafnir, Loki, Odin, Hoenir, Andvari.


Sigurd, Fafnir’s Bane

After Regin’s story, Sigurd agreed to help his foster-father to gain the Ottergild.

To face the dragon, Sigurd needed a great sword. Twice, Regin made Sigurd a sword, and each time the sword broke on the anvil. Finally Hjordis gave her son the shard of Sigmund’s broken sword. Regin forge a new with the shard, Sigurd called the sword Gram. With Gram, Sigurd cleaved the anvil in two.

Before Sigurd sought out Fafnir, he gathered an army, to avenge his death of his father (Sigmund) and grandfather (Eylimi). Sigurd killed all the sons of Hunding, including Lyngi (Lyngvi) and Hjorward.

Sigurd and Regin then went to Gnitaheath or “Glittering Heath”. Sigurd dug a pit to hide in and wait for Fafnir. When Fafnir went to drink from the stream, Sigurd attacked and killed the dragon.

Regin wanting the treasure for himself, told Sigurd that he would not seek revenge for killing his brother if Sigurd would cut out Fafnir’s heart and roast it for him. The dragon’s heart would give any man who devours the heart, with power over other men. Sigurd agreed.

As Sigurd cook the heart over a fire, he tested the heart to see if it was cooked, but burned his fingers from the juice (heart-blood). Sigurd instinctively put his fingers in his mouth and immediately understood the language of the bird and some other animal.

The birds told Sigurd that Regin would betray him once he ate the heart, and take the whole treasure for himself.

The bird also told him about Brynhild, a Valkyrie, slept within a Ring of Fire at Hindfell.

Sigurd killed Regin by striking off his head. Sigurd ate Fafnir’s heart himself. Among the treasure he found the magic ring Andvaranaut, the sword Rotti (Hrotti), the Aegishjálmr (Helm of Awe, Aegishjalmr) and the Golden Byrnie (cuirass). Sigurd then left Glittering Heath and journeyed north to Hindfell.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga.
From the Poetic Edda:
Fafnismal (Lay of Fafnir)
Reginsmal (Lay of Regin)
Gripisspa (Gripir’s Prophecy)
Skaldskaparmal, from the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson.
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Sigurd, Regin, Fafnir, Sigmund.

Sigurd and Fafnir

Sigurd and Fafnir
Alan Lee
Illustration, 1984


Sigurd Roasting Fafnir's Heart

Sigurd Roasting Fafnir’s Heart
Wood-carving on the door posts in Hylestad Church Setesdal, Norway


Sigurd & Brynhild

Brynhild was the daughter of Budli. She was a Valkyrie punished by Odin for disobedience. Her punishment was that she was to wed a mortal. She would sleep, surrounded by a circle of fire, at the mountaintop, at the place known as Hindfell. She would sleep until a mortal warrior was brave enough to ride through the flame.

Sigurd sought out Brynhild and went to Hindfell. Sigurd rode Grani through the flame and wakened the beautiful battle-maiden. They fell in love with one another. Sigurd stayed with her, until he decided it was time to leave.

It was obviously that they had made love in the mountain, since Brynhild had a daughter named Aslaug.

Sigurd told Brynhild, that he had duties to perform, but he would come back for her. Brynhild agreed and told the hero she would sleep in the Ring of Fire and wait for his return. Sigurd gave the magic ring (Andvaranaut) to Brynhild as a token of his love. But the token was cursed.



As Sigurd journey north, he reached the kingdom, south of the Rhine (Burgundy), ruled by Giuki. Giuki had married Grimhild, a wise-woman or witch, and had three sons – Gunnar, Hogni and Guttorm. They also had beautiful daughter named Gudrun.

Gudrun had a dream of the Sigurd, symbolised as a falcon and later a hart or stag, a hero she would marry and love, but who would be kill by her own family and Brynhild. Gudrun also dreamed of her second husband whom she loathed, Atli, brother of Brynhild. Atli was symbolised as a wolf, which would in the end, kills her brothers.

When Sigurd arrived at the home of the Giukungs, Gudrun had fallen in love with the hero, but Sigurd was still in love with Brynhild. Gudrun’s mother, Grimhild, had a magic potion to make Sigurd forget Brynhild. Because he had no memory of Brynhild, Sigurd fell in love with Gudrun and married her. They had a son named Sigmund, named after Sigurd’s father. A couple years later they would have a daughter named Svanhild.

As a brother-in-law, Sigurd swore an oath to Gunnar, and helped the Burgundian king win many wars.

Shortly after Sigurd and Gudrun’s first child, Grimhild told Gunnar that he must marry a woman who was worthy to be his wife. Gunnar wanted Brynhild for his wife. Gunnar went to Hindfell with Sigurd to woo Brynhild. The problem with Gunnar was that the king was no great hero. Gunnar could not ride his horse through the flame.

Even when the king sat on Grani, Sigurd’s horse refused to move at Gunnar direction. The king asked Sigurd to help him win Brynhild for him. With the magic potion of Grimhild, Sigurd and Gunnar exchange appearance with one another. Gunnar returned home.

Sigurd, disguised as Gunnar, again rode Grani through the flame and awakened Brynhild. Brynhild was disappointed that it was not Sigurd who woke him but she agreed to marry Gunnar. Brynhild left her daughter to Sigurd, named Aslaug, with Heimir, a chieftain and husband of her sister Bekkhild.

For three day they rode toward Gunnar’s home. Each night as the disguised Sigurd slept with Brynhild, Sigurd placed the sword between them. Sigurd exchanged the ring from Gunnar with the magic ring (Andvaranaut), which the hero had given to Brynhild in their first meeting.

When they reached the palace, Sigurd resumed his own appearance. Gunnar happily married Brynhild. It was only after the wedding of Gunnar and Brynhild, that the drug worn off, and Sigurd was able to recalled that he had promised to marry Brynhild in the mountain, and realised that he had broken his vow with her. Yet Sigurd could do nothing.

Returning to his own wife, Sigurd told Gudrun everything that happened. Sigurd then gave the magic ring (Andvaranaut) to Gudrun. The ring would take a tragic consequence several years later.

One day when Sigurd and Gudrun came to visit, Gudrun and Brynhild had a quarrel of whose husband was better. Brynhild told Gudrun, that Sigurd was nothing but a vassal. Gudrun foolishly revealed that it was Sigurd, who rode through the flame twice, not her husband, and that Sigurd changed his form to ressembled Brynhild’s husband. Brynhild did not believed her, until Gudrun showed her the Andvaranaut, which Brynhild had once received from Sigurd.

Brynhild, who had never stopped loving Sigurd, was enraged to learn that her husband and Sigurd had tricked her. No one could comfort Brynhild. When Sigurd visit her, he revealed that he had been deceived by the magic of Grimhild, causing him to forget her and married Gudrun, yet it was too late for him to correct matters after Brynhild married Gunnar. Brynhild kept insisting that she wanted to kill Sigurd for his betrayal. Not even when Sigurd offered her his treasure could he reconcile with her. When Sigurd offered to leave Gudrun and make her as his wife, Brynhild flatly rejected the offer.

Brynhild sought vengeance upon Sigurd and the Giukings (Niflungs). That night, Brynhild falsely accused Sigurd that he had taken advantage of her when the two had travelled to Giukungs’ home from the mountain, therefore Sigurd had dishonoured his oath of brotherhood to Gunnar. She told Gunnar to kill his brother-in-law or else she would leave him.

Gunnar, who had always envied the hero’s prowess, decided to plot for Sigurd’s death. But since Gunnar and Hogni were bound by oath to Sigurd, the king could not kill his brother-in-law. Gunnar called upon his younger brother to slay Sigurd.

After two unsuccessful attempted to kill Sigurd, Guttorm decided to wait for Sigurd to sleep. With his sword Guttorm mortally wounded Sigurd. Sigurd woke and speared his sword into Guttorm’s back as the killer tried to flee. Gudrun woke, to find her husband dying. Sigurd tried to comfort Gudrun, who was pregnant with their son, before he died.

When Gudrun weep for husband, Brynhild laughed and mocked at her sister-in-law’s wretched state.

In the Poetic Edda poem called the First Lay of Gudrun, Gudrun sat beside Sigurd’s body. Gudrun was so numb and overwhelmed by her grief that she could not weep that her friends thought she would die from sorrow. Each lady tried to convince her to weep by relating to their own experience, but Gudrun was unmoved. Finally on wise woman, uncovered Sigurd’s body and told her to kiss her husband as if he was alive. Gudrun finally broke down and wept.

At the funeral of Sigurd, however, Brynhild suffering from her own grief over the hero. Then Brynhild told her husband, the truth, that Sigurd had never broken his oath to Gunnar, nor had the hero ever taken advantage of her.

Brynhild foretold the tragedy that would befall upon the Guikings. Gunnar and Hogni would be captured and killed by her brother Atli. Brynhild also revealed Atli’s own death by Gudrun, as well as the death of Gudrun’s daughter and sons.

At the pyre, Brynhild ordered Sigmund’s death, the son of Sigurd and Gudrun (this Sigmund should not be confused with Sigurd’s father, who was already dead before Sigurd was born). Brynhild then killed herself, asking her husband, that she would be laid in the pyre beside Sigurd, whom she never ceased to love.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga.
From the Poetic Edda:
Sigrifumal (Lay of Sigrifa)
Skaldskaparmal, from the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson.
Related Articles
Sigurd, Brynhild, Gudrun, Gunnar, Hogni, Guttorm, Grimhild.

Grimhild with Sigurd

Grimhild Gives Magic Potion to Sigurd
Arthur Rackham
Illustration, 1910


The Funeral of Sigurd

The Funeral of Sigurd
(Sigurd and Brynhild)
C. Butler
Oil on canvas, 1909


Gudrun and the Fall of the Niflungs

Gunnar tried to console his sister for his part in Sigurd’s death, as well as the death of her son Sigmund. Gudrun could not be comforted.

One day, finding that she could no longer live with her family. She took her daughter and fled to Denmark, and sought refuge in King Alf’s court. Alf was Sigurd’s stepfather and when Sigurd’s mother (Hjordis) had died, the king had remarried to Thora. Both Alf and Thora had welcomed Gudrun. Here, Gudrun stayed for many years, finally finding comfort.

Gudrun would have happily stayed in Denmark, but Atli, king of the Huns, went to Gunnar’s court, to ask for her hand in marriage. Gunnar and his mother Grimhild agreed, mainly because they feared that Atli would invade their land, for not preventing the death of Brynhild, who was Atli’s sister.

They went to Denmark, and tried to persuade her with gift of gold at first. Gudrun refused to marry Atli and ignored the conciliating pleas from her mother and brothers. Gudrun also warned them if she was to marry Atli, her new husband would one day destroy their family. They ignored her warning.

Again Gudrun’s mother (Grimhild) used her potion, this time to make Gudrun forget about her grief for Sigurd. Without her memory of Sigurd, Gudrun agreed to marry Atli.

It was only after they were married, that her memory had also returned to her. Gudrun bore two sons to the king of Hunland.

Atli had learned of the treasure of Sigurd that should have belonged to Gudrun at his death. Atli wanted to gain possession of Sigurd’s cursed treasure from Gunnar. Atli invited Gunnar to come to a feast in Hunland.

Unlike the German tradition (ie. the Nibelungenlied), Gudrun was more loyal to her brothers than her second husband (Atli). Gudrun did not seek to avenge Sigurd upon her brothers.

Gudrun immediately discovered her husband’s intention and tried to warn her brothers of the betrayal. When Atli sent a message to lure his brother-in-laws to Hunland, Gudrun carved runes to her message, and also wrapped wolf’s hair from the cursed ring, Andvaranaut. But the message was distorted by Atli’s messenger, Vingi, who could read runes. So Vingi changed the runes so that urged Gunnar and Hogni to come to visit her.

Vingi came to Gunnar’s court, inviting the brothers to visit their sister and her husband. They received gold from Atli, and Vingi told the Gunnar that there would be more gold if he and Hogni would visit their sister. Gunnar and Hogni were suspicious of Atli’s generosity. Both Gunnar and Hogni were puzzled that the wolf hair on Gudrun’s ring (Andvaranaut), despite the altered message on the ring. The wolf hair must signify danger, so that Gudrun was advising her brothers not visit Atli.

Gunnar’s new wife, named Glaumvor, also warned the king not to go. Gunnar and Hogni, however, decided to go, but they sank Sigurd’s treasures in the Rhine, before each of them swore an oath, never to reveal the location of Sigurd’s treasure, which now became known as Rhinegold. The Giukings, with their followers then set out for Atli’s court.

When they arrived, Atli immeditately demanded the treasure of Sigurd. Gunnar flatly refused, so Atli had the guests ambushed. Fierce battle broke out, and though the Burgundians proved to be great warriors, they were helplessly outnumbered.

Gudrun seeing her brothers’ plight, so she went to them and greeted both her brothers with kisses, before asking if it was possible them to have peace with husband. They said peace was not possible, so she donned a mail coat and took up the sword, where she joined the Burgundians, and fought as bravely as her brothers. However her aid, wasn’t enough to save her brothers. Eventually, all the Burgundian warriors were killed in the fighting, except Gunnar and Atli, who bravely fought on, until Atli’s warriors managed to capture Gunnar and Hogni alive.

Neither brother would reveal the location of the treasure. When threatened with tortures, Gunnar told Atli, he would reveal the location, on the condition that the king cut out his brother’s heart. Gunnar told the king, he did not want his brother learning of his betrayal.

Atli had the heart of the thrall, named Hjalli, cut out and brought to Gunnar, pretending this was the heart of Hogni. Gunnar took one look at the heart, and was not deceived by Atli’s trickery. Gunnar told the king that this was the heart of the coward Hjalli, because it quaked tremendously. So Atli had Hogni murdered and cut out his heart. Gunnar then knew his brother was dead, because Hogni’s heart does not tremble in his hand, because Hogni was brave.

Then Gunnar laughed at Atli, telling the treacherous king that he would never tell them the secret of treasure’s location. For while Hogni was alive, Gunnar wavered, but now that his brother was dead, he is the only person who could reveal its location. Gudrun came to her husband and cursed him for betraying her and her brothers.

Realising that Gunnar would not reveal the treasure whereabouts, the enraged king ordered Gunnar to be thrown into a pit full of adders.

Gudrun learning of his brother’s fate, threw a harp to Gunnar. Since his hand were tied tightly to his body, Gunnar played the harp with his toes so well that all but one adder fell to sleep by his sweet music. But that one adder was enough to kill him. According to Snorri’s Prose Edda, the adder had struck the bottom of Gunnar’s breastbone, burying its head into Gunnar’s liver.

Atli boasted over the death of Gudrun’s brothers, but tried to reconcile with his wife with gift of gold. Gudrun was satified to live with Atli as his wife, while Hogni lived. With Hogni’s death, Gudrun sought to avenge her brothers.

Gudrun had a huge funeral feast prepared in honour of her brothers and those of Atli’s kins who had died. While Atli and his guests became intoxicated with wine, Gudrun went into her sons’ room. Gudrun, who could not rest after the death of her brothers, cut the throats of her two sons, Erp and Eitil; her sons that she bore to Atli. Gudrun had mixed their blood with the wine and roasted their hearts in the spits before serving them to the drunken king and his guests.

When Atli asked his wife where their sons were, (rather sweetly) Gudrun told him he had eaten their flesh. Gudrun then took up a sword and stabbed Atli to death. Gudrun bitterly told her dying husband that she still loved Sigurd, and though she could live with being a widow to Sigurd, she could not bear it with her being married to him (Atli).

With the help of her nephew, Niflung, son of Hogni, they set the entire hall in flame, killing her husband’s drunken guests.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga.
From the Poetic Edda:
Fragment poem about Sigurd
Gudrunarkvida I (First Lay of Gudrun)
Sigurdarkvida in skemmal(Short poem about Sigurd)
Brynhild’s Ride to Hel
The Death of the Niflungs
Gudrunarkvida II (Second Lay of Gudrun)
Gudrunarkvida III (Third Lay of Gudrun)
Oddrun’s Lament
Atlakvida (Lay of Atli)
Atlamal (Greenlandic Poem of Atli)
Skaldskaparmal, from the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson.
Related Articles
Gudrun, Gunnar, Hogni, Atli, Sigurd, Brynhild, Grimhild.
Fact and Figures: The Norse Way.

Death of Gunnar

Gunnar playing a harp with his toe in a snake-pit
Wood-carving on the door posts in Hylestad Church
Setesdal, Norway

Fate of Svanhild

With the death of her sons and husband, whom she had murdered, Gudrun sought to end her life, by throwing herself into the sea. She was however saved by King Jonakr, who made her his wife. Gudrun bore three sons: Hamdir, Sorli, and Erp. Gudrun had her daughter Svanhild brought here to live with their new family.

Years later, King Jormunrek wanted to marry Svanhild, daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun, and sent his son Randver, to help him woo her.

Before Jormunrek was to marry Svanhild, Jormunrek’s treacherous counsellor named Bikki, told Randver it would be better if he was to marry Svanhild, rather than his father. Randver told Svanhild that he was in love with her, which she seemed to readily return. Bikki then told the king of his son’s betrayal and Svanhild’s unfaithfulness. Jormunrek had his own son hanged. Before Randver’s execution, he had plucked all the feathers of his father’s favourite hawk, so that his father could not produce a new heir for his kingdom. Jormunrek ordered wild horses to trampled Svanhild to death, but the horses refused to harm the maiden, because her eyes so captivated the horses. So Bikki had a bag covered Svanhild’s head, and only then would the horses trample her to death.

Snorri’s version in the Prose Edda was slightly different. Svanhild was bleaching her hair in the forest, when Jormunrek and his men were hunting; they came upon her on their horses as she sat there and trampled her to death.

Gudrun having heard of her daughter’s execution, she asked her sons to avenge her Svanhild death. Erp made a comment that his brother misunderstood. They thought that Erp refused to help them with the vengeance, so they killed Erp. Accoridng to Snorri, Erp was Gudrun’s favourite of the 3 sons, and Hamdir and Sorli killed their brother to cause their mother more pain.

Anyway, Hamdir and Sorli attacked Jormunrek, cutting off the king’s hands and feet. Before they could behead the king, Jormunrek’s men attack the brothers, but was driven back. The armours that Hamdir and Sorli worn, made then invulnerable to swords, spears and arrows. Then Odin appeared suddenly and advised the king to have them stoned. Jormunrek’s men then stoned Hamdir and Sorli to death. Here ended the last of the Giukings.

Related Information
Volsunga Saga.
From the Poetic Edda:
Gudrunarhvot (Wheting of Gudrun)
Hamdismal (Lay of Hamdir)
Skaldskaparmal, from the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson.
Related Articles
Gudrun, Svanhild, Jormunrek.

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