Based on Viking Age poems, The Saga of the Volsungs combines mythology, legend and sheer human drama At its heart are the heroic deeds of Sigurd the dragon slayer who acquires magical knowledge from one of Odin s Valkyries Yet it is also set in a very human world, incorporating strands from the oral narratives of the fourth and fifth centuries, when Attila the Hun and other warriors fought on the northern frontiers of the Roman Empire One of the great books of world literature, the saga is an unforgettable tale of princely jealousy, unrequited love, greed and vengeance With its cursed treasure of the Rhine, sword reforged and magic ring of power, it was a major influence for writers including William Morris and J R R Tolkien and for Wagner s Ring cycle


10 thoughts on “The Saga of the Volsungs

  1. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    Now Sigurd rode away His ornamented shield was plated with red gold and emblazoned with a dragon Its top half was dark brown and its bottom half light red, and his helmet, saddle, and buffcoat were all marked in this way He wore a mail coat of gold and all his weapons were ornamented with gold In this way the dragon was illustrated on all of his arms, so that when he was seen, all who had heard the story would recognize him as the one who had killed the great dragon called Fafnir by the Vae Now Sigurd rode away His ornamented shield was plated with red gold and emblazoned with a dragon Its top half was dark brown and its bottom half light red, and his helmet, saddle, and buffcoat were all marked in this way He wore a mail coat of gold and all his weapons were ornamented with gold In this way the dragon was illustrated on all of his arms, so that when he was seen, all who had heard the story would recognize him as the one who had killed the great dragon called Fafnir by the Vaerings Move over, St George Step aside, St Michae And save some of that ale and meat, Beowulf For there is another dragon slayer in town, and his name is Sigurd Most of us have heard of these other dragon slayers, but few have heard of Sigurd Maybeof us has heard of him by his German name Siegfried, from the tales of the Nibelungenlied Some people might know the name of this hero from the composer Richard Wagner who drew from both the Icelandic and German sagas for inspiration while creating his grand musical dramas Unless you are from one of the cold Nordic countries, you probably have not had much of an opportunity to hear about the exploits of the warrior Sigurd Sigurd is descended from the Volsung family, and let me tell you, this is one crazy, brutal, blood to the shoulder kind of family Any perceived slight is a cause for violence odds such as 10 to 1 or 100 to 1 are never calculated More men just meansskulls to crack,arms to lob off, andspleens to split A Volsung sword once unsheathed is a weapon that will not be put away without blood dripping from the tip A lot of these old sagas would be lost, except for the diligent interest and meticulous work shown by Icelandic writersIt is not by chance that in Scandinavia so much of the narrative material about the Volsungs was preserved in Iceland Fortunately for posterity, writing became popular among the Icelanders in the thirteenth century, when interest in old tales was still strong Almost all the Old Norse narrative material that has survived whether myth, legend, saga, history, or poetry is found in Icelandic manuscripts, which form the largest existing vernacular literature of the medieval West After reading that, my mind just kind of goes KABLOOEY.The tiny, sparsely populated, volcanic churning, bitter cold country of Iceland is where the Northern oral traditions were best preserved Still to this day, Icelanders are intense readers who have a wonderful reading tradition that is a part of their Christmas holiday It is no surprise that they are one of the most literate countries in the worldThe Nordic countries dominated the top of the charts, with Finland in first place and Norway in second, and Iceland, Denmark and Sweden rounding out the top five Switzerland followed in sixth, with the US in seventh, Canada in 11th, France in 12th and the UK in 17th placeHey United Kingdom, what gives Let me introduce Sigurd s fatherSigmund had a much smaller force A fierce battle commenced, and, although Sigmund was old, he fought hard and was always at the front of his men Neither shield nor mail coat could withstand him, and again and again that day he went through the ranks of his enemies, and no one could foresee how it would end between them Many a spear and arrow was cast in the air Sigmund s spaewomen female spirits , however, shielded him so well that he remained unscathed, and no one could count how many men fell before him Both his arms were bloody to the shoulderYou thought I was kidding about the bloody to the shoulder thing, didn t you Sigmund has many rather bizarre encounters in his lifetime, including this French snogging action with a she wolfShe licked his face all over with her tongue and then reached her tongue into his mouth He did not lose his composure and bit into the wolf s tongue She jerked and pulled back hard, thrusting her feet against the trunk so that is split apart Patooeywolf slobbers Behind all of these circumstances is that shifty, one eyed bastard Odin who appears out of the mist to offer his help and then disappears into the mouth of the chaos he has left behind him There are numerous Lady Macbeth characters sprinkled throughout this saga Women who areambitious and, in many ways,vicious than their men They goad their husbands lovers into rash, usually violent actions It goes well beyond Eve tempting Adam with an apple, as war or revenge are the usual objective There is also a healthy dose of betrayal, jealousy, incest, sorcery, gore, greed, unrequited love, fratricide, and filicide One shudder worthy moment was a mother serving a father wine in the skulls of his sons There are stories in this saga that would make Quentin Tarantino turn a paler shade of white Michael Ridpath s intriguing Icelandic mystery Where the Shadows Lie turned me onto The Saga of the Volsungs which, now that I ve read that story, has encouraged me to pursue evenancient tales, such as Njal s Saga, The Saga of Grettir the Strong, Egil s Saga, The Vinland Sagas, The Nibelungenlied, The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, and The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok These will, of course, lead tosagas, and as I gain a working knowledge of these tales, my enjoyment of them will continue to grow as well If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at


  2. E. G. E. G. says:

    List of MapsIntroduction, by Jesse L ByockNote on the Translation The Saga of the Volsungs The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer NotesEddic Poems Used by the Saga AuthorGlossary


  3. Alex Alex says:

    oh hai VikingsI have a great love for Vikings, who are terrific insulters and murderers Here s the type of thing Vikings do this one guy Sinfjotli is like This drink is poison, I can tell, and the other guy s all That s okay, you can filter the poison out through your mustache, and Sinfjotli s like Good plan and then he dies because that s not how mustaches work You can t read enough of stories like that.Sinfjotli is one of the many ill fated men of the Volsung line, and this gets compl oh hai VikingsI have a great love for Vikings, who are terrific insulters and murderers Here s the type of thing Vikings do this one guy Sinfjotli is like This drink is poison, I can tell, and the other guy s all That s okay, you can filter the poison out through your mustache, and Sinfjotli s like Good plan and then he dies because that s not how mustaches work You can t read enough of stories like that.Sinfjotli is one of the many ill fated men of the Volsung line, and this gets complicated so here s a family tree drawn by someone on deviantArt Helpful, right No, not really, it s a nice job but it mostly just points out how complicated this is I found it best to not worry too much about which specific Volsung is on any given page Volsungs isn t really about plot It s not about style either there s nothing exceptional here What you read it for is to bask in that weird Viking world where people try to filter poison through their mustaches and proper battles are 50% carnage and 50% just standing around insulting each other.This insult battle is the senna, or flyting, whichever, and it s the exact ancestor of the dozens, and yet another example of the spiritual connection between Vikings and rappers, a theme we ve discussed before You are a great liar, says Sinfjotli I do not think you could sire anyone because you were gelded by the giant s daughters on Thrasness Sick burn, Sinfjotli sick burn.The second half of Volsungs mostly settles down into the story of Sigurd, who has lady problems He s in love with Brynhild, who s both a Valkyrie and the sister of Attila the Hun, because why not, but he gets cursed and forgets they re a thing, and then he pretends to be this other guy and nails her so she ll fall in love with the other guy, which works because he s awesome at nailing so she marries the other guy, and Sigurd marries this other lady altogether but then later on he remembers Brynhild but she s like I will not have two kings in one hall Lol, I see what you did there Brynhild view spoiler She means vaginahide spoiler Viking stuff is great If you re going to read one Viking book, you should start with the Prose Edda if you want to keep reading, grab yourself a copy of the Volsungs And a proper Viking helmet to wear while reading it


  4. Antonomasia Antonomasia says:

    It s thrilling that this is a legend from a time when there were hardly any written records the 4th 5th centuries It is of course a later mashup characters meet, marry and fight who were alive at different times and not written down until the thirteenth century, but it s tantalisingly close to the edge of history Many readers pick up The Saga of the Volsungs because of Tolkien or Wagner, but for me it was this, one of the first times we can hear an account from the barbarians of the Migra It s thrilling that this is a legend from a time when there were hardly any written records the 4th 5th centuries It is of course a later mashup characters meet, marry and fight who were alive at different times and not written down until the thirteenth century, but it s tantalisingly close to the edge of history Many readers pick up The Saga of the Volsungs because of Tolkien or Wagner, but for me it was this, one of the first times we can hear an account from the barbarians of the Migration Period, and especially in an interesting and readable narrative It s very different from dry chronicle type works like popular academic primary source text Two Lives of Charlemagne The concrete, action based narrative of sagas in which little or no interiority is shown, but characters do and say plenty probably isn t for those who need stylistically rarefied writing, but for much of the text, I found the straightforwardness, the absolutes, and clarity of purpose refreshing Just about everything, including online, looked like ridiculous clutter when I surfaced from the book Much of the action is Game of Thrones type stuff, but swift and matter of fact, in minimalist phrasing Saga of the Volsungs doesn t have too many instances of those wonderfully likeable metafictional interjections so and so entered the saga And he is out of the saga , but there is a clear sense of its differentness from later novels It was amazing being reminded of possible historical details I d read of elsewhere, such as when Sigmund and his son, both of them wearing wolf skins, set out into the forest, each going his own way They agreed then that they would risk a fight with as many as seven men, but not with , and that the one being attacked bywould howl with his wolf s voice. This has been suggested as a relic of an initiation rite found in a number of prehistoric Indo European cultures in which bands of young men wore dog skins, with similar practices hinted at in the Rig Veda not as straightforwardly as the article suggests see p.23 24 in the long conference presentation version if you re really into this stuff and eight i.ethan seven is a number associated with various types of warrior bands This is from archaeologist David Anthony, author of The Horse the Wheel and Language, much of which has become widely accepted and supported by further evidence The clarity of purpose in the characters does not last, however When Brynhild becomes angry and sulky around Chapter 31, it feels as emotionally messy as any later text it is not simply so and so is an oathbreaker, they must die as it might have been earlier And thus, rippling out from one grimly resolute and affronted, but implicitly conflicted, person begins a Greek tragedy like series of events in which almost everybody ultimately ends up dead over a number of years Patterns of blame are sometimes notably far from what contemporary western psychology considers healthy or correct something often noticeable in classic texts, including farrecent examples than this which to some extent will be connected with the honour shame culture In addition, to the modern reader, as characters consider life or death events to be fated, it seems as if this should obviate blame, though it does not.Jesse Byock s introduction to this Penguin edition is usefully informative about the historical context the extent to which whole peoples moved around, and can t be associated for long eras with specific locations, still seems remarkable like Goths from Scandinavia to the Black Sea to Poland to Ostrogoths along the Danube and Italy and the Visigoths to Spain because of the current habituation to fixed countries, although quite a lot of those have not been there for very long either on the timescales concerned He goes into just the right amount of detail about likely origins for the characters I still can t believe that most of these are Burgundians and that I hadn t heard that before and also about Wagner s use of the saga I have always labelled Wagner boring , and although in recent years I ve been exploring some of the classical music I shunned as a kid, and even didn t find all traditional opera terrible any , I d continued to ignore Wagner, so this info was new to me Plenty of people over the years have recommended that one should listen to Wagner for the music, and not be put off by the politics one of the first instances was probably a Stephen Fry column in his collection Paperweight and I think my mother went to see the whole Ring Cycle in the 1970s, but the dubious history was always a good extra excuse to keep ignoring him But if I was going to actually try, surely this was the time And in the first minute of Das Rheingold I thought I heard roots of certain German techno tunes I love And the music as a whole like a couple of Russian operas I got to like has plenty of lower notes to please a bass fan, and a drama and definiteness to it that makes it interesting when coming from contemporary music, unlike the waftier sort of symphony where the current bit often seems difficult to distinguish from what it sounded like ten minutes ago Anyway, whatever it may be, it s not boring I ve been listening to this one from Dutch National Opera which I was lucky to catch as it was officially streaming for a limited time until 8th June I ve been reading about and around the Icelandic sagas for so long I first got that big Penguin book of them nearly 20 years ago that I can hardly believe this which I started in December, perhaps ausual time to read these things is the first one I ve finished The sagas are missing from so many lists of classics, like 1001 and several others why that even when I started trying to readfrom those, there weren t the prompts Anyway, especially in the first two thirds, this one made me wish I could just keep on readingsagas Though for the moment there are other books I should turn to


  5. Chrissie Chrissie says:

    What is presented here is a tale of Scandinavian folklore, a tale about several generations of the V lsung clan, tales passed down by word of mouth for centuries An epic poem, it was first drawn on stone in 1030 A.D in Ramsund, Sweden, as a pictorial carving with the addition of rune lettering In the thirteenth century it came to be written down in Icelandic.It is a tale of myth and magic with animals whose words are understood by man, dragons, magical potions and Gods mingling with human bein What is presented here is a tale of Scandinavian folklore, a tale about several generations of the V lsung clan, tales passed down by word of mouth for centuries An epic poem, it was first drawn on stone in 1030 A.D in Ramsund, Sweden, as a pictorial carving with the addition of rune lettering In the thirteenth century it came to be written down in Icelandic.It is a tale of myth and magic with animals whose words are understood by man, dragons, magical potions and Gods mingling with human beings walking the earth It is also a tale of vengeance and retribution, gruesome, bloody killings and gory deaths It is quite different from a Grimm fairy tale It is Scandinavian in its essence the events told are dark, grim and foreboding.The story itself is not easy to follow Beside the gruesome details, many of the character names sound very similar On completing the saga, I went and read this article on Wiki helped me gain clarity on what I had just read.I ll tell you some of the things I thought about as I listened to this The importance of folkloric inheritance in shaping a culture the stories told here have a very Scandinavian ambiance Maybe we view here why people are so frightened by wolves it is not so strange if people have been raised on stories such as these People seem to enjoy listening to scary stories People seem to need stories to explain to themselves why life is so difficult, and they need stories of terrible deeds to minimize their own misdeeds It is kind of shocking to observe how all the things one absolutely should not do have been done by people for ages I am glad to have read this, although I cannot say I enjoyed it The lines have a lyrical resonance to them that is quite beautiful once you get into the swing of the prose I noted this as I reached the end Antony Ferguson narrates the audiobook The detailed introduction he reads way too fast, but once the story is begun the speed is no longer a problem Three stars for the narration


  6. Markus Markus says:

    A real classic An ancient Nordic epic of sword and sorcery that inspired tons of stories from our time, from Tolkien to Vikings.


  7. Andrea Andrea says:

    Some strange things I learned while reading the book 1 You can start out as a hunted criminal, and be raised to a place of honor and respect by pillaging villages,2 Weak children must be killed off Spartans have nothing on these guys,3 Incest is okay as long as you switch bodies with someone else before doing it,4 You want this guy He tells you he would leave his wife for you You get the guy killed,5 When your evil stepmother gives you poisoned ale twice, you have good faith in the third Some strange things I learned while reading the book 1 You can start out as a hunted criminal, and be raised to a place of honor and respect by pillaging villages,2 Weak children must be killed off Spartans have nothing on these guys,3 Incest is okay as long as you switch bodies with someone else before doing it,4 You want this guy He tells you he would leave his wife for you You get the guy killed,5 When your evil stepmother gives you poisoned ale twice, you have good faith in the third time,6 Talk in riddles to your brothers, if you want them to kill you for no reason They will feel really bad about it after the fact though, if that s any consolation.Forthoughts on this awesome book head over to Through the Pages


  8. Bettie Bettie says:

    Drawn from one of the best known Icelandic sagas, a powerful new dramatisation of the tragic story of Sigurd Volsung and Brynhild, the woman he loves, With an introduction by the author By Melissa MurraySigurd David SturzakerRegin David SchofieldGunnar Carl PrekoppHod Gerard McDermottGudrun Lyndsey MarshalBrynhild Abbie AndrewsSadhbh Isabella InchbaldArvid Clive HaywardAlf Rupert HollidayDrawn from one of the best known Icelandic sagas, a powerful new dramatisation of the tragic story of Sigurd Volsung and Brynhild, the woman he loves, With an introduction by the author By Melissa MurraySigurd David SturzakerRegin David SchofieldGunnar Carl PrekoppHod Gerard McDermottGudrun Lyndsey MarshalBrynhild Abbie AndrewsSadhbh Isabella InchbaldArvid Clive HaywardAlf Rupert Holliday EvansHjordis Kath WeareWarriors Tayla Kovacevic Ebong, Gary Duncan, Philip BrethertonThe Last of the Volsungs is based, at times loosely, on part of the 13th century Icelandic Volsunga Saga The sagas are an extraordinary rich and varied cultural treasury In style they can be domestic, historical, heroic, funny and tragic and can claim with a lot of justification to be the earliest European novels or at least the precursors to them The Volsung saga falls within the heroic tradition and it has been the inspiration for many William Morris, Tolkien and of course Wagner.At the bedrock of the heroic saga is the idea of Ragnarok, the doom of the Gods At the end of time the Gods go out and fight a last battle with their enemies, the Frost Giants and their allies, and in the conflict the universe is destroyed The Gods die This is not a Last Judgement there are no morally justified winners and damned sinners It s just the end the inevitable, organic end of everything What s deemed admirable although post apocalypse there s actually no one left to admire it is the stoicism, the courage of the warriors as they rally round Odin All Father facing certain annihilation in that final battle It s a stark enough philosophy It leads to a warrior classthan half in love with bloody death, their own as much as their enemies.


  9. Marquise Marquise says:

    Holy Wotan s tits, Batman This is revenge porn at its finest, like only the Norsemen can pull out Monsieur le Comte de Monte Cristo has nothing on these fellows of the North when it comes to vengeance, justice, fire n blood Ahem.I can see why Herr Wagner liked this saga so much he readapted the plot for his The Ring of the Nibelungs opera quartet, it has everything a proper head spinningly melodramatic intergenerational imbroglio should contain, albeit in doses not exactly recommendable for Holy Wotan s tits, Batman This is revenge porn at its finest, like only the Norsemen can pull out Monsieur le Comte de Monte Cristo has nothing on these fellows of the North when it comes to vengeance, justice, fire n blood Ahem.I can see why Herr Wagner liked this saga so much he readapted the plot for his The Ring of the Nibelungs opera quartet, it has everything a proper head spinningly melodramatic intergenerational imbroglio should contain, albeit in doses not exactly recommendable for reading at meal times As I came to this story because of the opera, my introduction to the Volsung Nibelung legend, I ve been reading this side by side with The Nibelungenlied, and it was quite enlightening to note and compare which parts Richard Wagner cherry picked for his own version, which is the one everyone knows There are several quite significant differences, really many, that make it look as if the only consistent element in common the V lsunga saga Nibelungenlied Der Ring trifecta have in common is that all three share Siegfried and his lady problems Heh.Anyway, for those interested in knowing the original story, I recommend they pick up The Saga of the Volsungs first, and they can stop without missing anything if they don t continue on to the Song of the Nibelungs, which is much less readable andconfusing, although as epic in the bloody mess Norse sense of epic as this one Just don t expect much similarity if the musical adaptation is what you mostly know about this saga


  10. Neil Neil says:

    The Volsunga Saga is a Norse prose retelling of the Norse Eddic versions of the Nibelungen Volsung legends and is preserved in a late 13th century manuscript that also contains the Saga of Ragnar Lo br kar The manuscript tells the story of the Volsung family from its mythical origins to the death of the historical semi legendary Ragnar Lo br kar Unfortunately this edition and translation by R G Finch only includes the Volsunga Saga, meaning that the reader wishing to pursue the saga in its The Volsunga Saga is a Norse prose retelling of the Norse Eddic versions of the Nibelungen Volsung legends and is preserved in a late 13th century manuscript that also contains the Saga of Ragnar Lo br kar The manuscript tells the story of the Volsung family from its mythical origins to the death of the historical semi legendary Ragnar Lo br kar Unfortunately this edition and translation by R G Finch only includes the Volsunga Saga, meaning that the reader wishing to pursue the saga in its wider manuscript context will need to acquire Margaret Schlauch s older or Ben Waggoner srecent translation of Ragnar s Saga.Finch begins his edition with an introduction that introduces the reader to the Volsung legend in all its various Norse and German guises and his own theories on problems on transmission of the legends, literary structure of the work and manuscript history The saga itself is given in the original Icelandic text with an excellent English translation on the facing page The story itself recounts the mythical deeds of Frankish, Burgundian, Gothic and Hunnish royal dynasties from the Migration Period, but instead of the southern Germanic Migration Period the saga presents the characters in a Viking Age come Icelandic farmstead context Many of the characters and events in the saga have historical counterparts such as the fall of the Arian Christian Burgundians at the hands of the Huns and the story of the Gothic Ermanaric Unlike the earlier German Nibelungenlied which recounts the same legends in a courtly fashion, the Volsunga Saga is interspersed with elements of the supernatural These otherworldly encounters usually involve Odin the Norse god of war guiding the human events of the saga The prose of the saga writer is often interspersed with sections from older poems from the Poetic Edda and contains a prose passage lifted directly from the Norwegian Thidrekssaga af Bern in which the author gives a physical description of Sigurd Fafnesbane.This edition of the Volsunga Saga contain three appendices, one on the expression at s kja heim Odin and hja Odin gista the second is a translation of the section from Ragnar s Saga on Aslaug and Heimer Most useful of all though is the section on correspondence between the saga and its extant literary sources, a very useful tool for those doing a comparative study of the Poetic Edda, Thidrekssaga and Volsunga Saga.The Volsunga Saga has inspired numerous modern adaptions including Wagner s Ring opera, William Morris s Sigurd poem andrecently Tolkien s Sigurd and Gudrun, making the saga relevant to a modern readership Since Finch s 1965 edition, both George Anderson and Jesse Byock have produced newer English translations While Anderson s edition is peppered with mistakes in translation and Byock s edition is aimed at the general reader, thus lacking in critical apparatus, the Finch edition is still the scholars choice