Volsunga Saga  (in Icelandic):

multi-generational saga of heroes descended from Odin through Sigi, to Sigurd’s daughter, Swanhild. Little or no Christian coloring: fatalism seem loosely guided by Odin.

Niebelungenlied  (in Middle High German)

little reference to Sigmund’s ancestors;

Strong Christian coloring: mass and other ceremonies mark the time; (comparatively) little sense of fatalism.

Much of Sigurd’s renown comes of his vendetta against Sigmund’s killers, while he was ‘still a boy’.

Siegmund remains king, even present at the funeral of Siegfried. His story begins when he comes of age (at 18) and proves himself in knightly competition

Sigurd wins power as the slayer of Fafnir, eats of the dragon’s heart and takes the helm of Awe (oddly of little importance in his story).


Siegfried has slain a great dragon (no details) and bathed in its blood, which has made him invincible except where a linden leaf clung to his back. He also has a cloak of invisibility, taken from dwarf Alberich, which gives him the power of 12 men.

Sigurd falls in love with Brynhild, when he wakens her in (magical realm of) Hindfell; against her protests and prophecies,  they ‘plight troth’ there and again at (her foster father) Heimir’s.  But Sigurd is drugged by Grimhild, mother of Gunnar and Gudrun

Siegfried seems to know of Brunhilda’s  beauty and prowess, but he falls in love with Gunther’s sister, Kriemhild.

Siegfried agrees to help Gunther win Brunhilda in exchange for marriage to Kriemhild.

Sigurd changes ‘semblance’  with Gunnar,  to breach the wall of fire and win Brynhild.

He takes from her Andvaranaut, the cursed ring of Fafnir’s hoard

In Iceland, Siegfried uses his cloak of invisibility to aid Gunther in test of strength against Brunhilda.


Sigurd  has married Gudrun; Gunnar weds Brynhild

Siegfried weds Kriemhild; Gunther, Brunhilda.

Gunther’s first night was infelicitous, so Siegfried (invisible) assists him the 2nd night

The two wives quarrel over which has the better man: Gudrun shows the ring Andvaranaut  and shames Brynhild with tale of how Sigurd ‘took her maidenhead’

The two wives quarrel over which has the better man: Brunhilda scorns Siegfried as a mere vassal, only to be told how it was really he who ‘took her maidenhead’. Kriemhild shows a ring and girdle.

Siegfried, now remembering his love for Brynhild, tries to console her and promises to put away Gudrun and (re)marry Brynhild. She rejects him.

   Her sorrow deepens; she urges Gunnar to murder Sigurd. Gunnar and brother Hogni are bound by oath, but their younger brother, Guttorm, is unsworn so he is called upon to do the deed (they feed him a stew of snake and wolf and ale).

Hagen, Gunther’s faithful vassal, undertakes to kill Siegfried to assuage the shame and sorrow of his queen. He tricks Kriemhild into sewing a tiny cross upon the back of Siegfried’s tunic, right over the fateful spot of the linden leaf. Hagen takes Siegfried on a hunt and spears him at the fateful spot.

Siegfried is buried in a gold and silver coffin, in a church cemetery.

Brynhild takes her life and demands to be laid upon the pyre of Sigurd:  list ritual details.


Gudrun is forced to marry Atli, and he covets their vast wealth (including  Sigurd’s take from Fafnir).

Kriemhild divines the truth of her husband’s murder and uses Siegfried’s wealth (from the Niebelung bros.) to win powerful allies. She marries King Etzel (in Hungary). She lures Gunther and Hagen to Hungary. (Hagen is warned by fairies)

Atli lures Gunnar and Hogni to his palace and tortures them. He cuts out Hogni’s heart.  Gunnar is bound and cast in a snake pit, plays the lyre with his feet  to charm them, but one fell serpent strikes.

At a jousting match, quarrel breaks out over a fatality; Etzel tries to make peace. But Kriemhild sends out her son,  Ortlieb, whom Hagen beheads. Battle ensues: Gunther and Hagen are beheaded.

Svanhild’ story, a grim footnote:  Gudrun, finally in despair, walks out to sea to end her life but comes ashore in Iceland, where she marries again, mothers more children, and raises Sigurd’s daughter. Svanhild is wooed by foreign king, Jormunrek;  but she is falsely accused of adultery with his son and trampled to death by horses. Her brothers avenge her but meet their death by stoning, at Odin’s urging.