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Posts Tagged ‘norse

Sigurd as the “chosen one”

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We have previously made some remarks concerning Tolkien’s recently published Lays of Sigurd and Gudrun.  One thing I neglected to mention was Tolkien’s one major departure from his sources: namely, his portrayal of Sigurd as the “chosen one” of the gods, whose presence at the Last Battle will determine its outcome and the future of the world to follow.  The Norse Poetic Edda begins with the famous poem Voluspa, which describes the prophecy of the Seeress concerning the Ragnarok, or the Doom of the gods.  Tolkien begins his Lay of Sigurd with his own version of the Voluspa; however, he inserts several stanzas describing the role of Sigurd in the Last Battle:

If in day of Doom
one deathless stands,
who death hath tasted
and dies no more,
the serpent-slayer,
seed of Odin,
then all shall not end,
nor Earth perish.

This conception of Sigurd is not at all present in any of the Norse texts.  One wonders why Tolkien felt it necessary to introduce such an element into the mythology.  Christopher Tolkien points out in his commentary to the Lay the connections to his father’s own imagined mythology, in particular to the tale of Turin Turambar:

This mysterious conception […] reappeared as a prophecy in the Silmarillion texts of the 1930s: so in the Quenta Noldorinwa, ‘it shall be the black sword of Turin that deals unto Melko [Morgoth] his death and final end; and so shall the children of Hurin and all Men be avenged.’

In general, the parallels between Sigurd and Turin are of course quite clear:  Turin as the Dragon-slayer, the wearer of the Dragon-helm, etc.

Written by uncudh

October 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

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The grief of Gudrun

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Apparently, Tennyson’s poem “Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead” was inspired by a translation of the First Lay of Gudrun from the Poetic Edda. Here is the Tennyson poem:

HOME they brought her warrior dead:
She nor swooned, nor uttered cry:
All her maidens, watching, said,
‘She must weep or she will die.’

Then they praised him, soft and low
Called him worthy to be loved,
Truest friend and noblest foe;
Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
Lightly to the warrior stepped
Took the face-cloth from the face;
Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee—
Like summer tempest came her tears
‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’

The Eddaic lay begins (Hollander trans.):

Erst Gjuki’s daughter     unto death was nigh
as o’er Sigurth she sate     sorrowfully;
she whimpered not,     nor her hands she wrung,
nor wept, either,     as do women else.

Went to the widow     wise earls kindly,
the heavy heart     of her to ease;
nor yet Guthrun     her grief could weep,
in her bosom through     her heart would burst.

Curiously, in the Norse lay, it is not the placing of her child on her knee that causes Gudrun to finally express her grief, but rather it is the uncovering of Sigurd’s corpse that causes her to burst into tears.

Written by uncudh

June 8, 2009 at 11:30 pm

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Tolkien’s Lays of Sigurd and Gudrun

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I spent the day reading Tolkien’s recently published The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (rather than working or doing something else productive).  The book consists of two “lays” written in the style of the Norse Eddaic poems.  The first is the “Lay of the Volsungs” and tells the legend of Sigurd; the second is the “Lay of Gudrun” and tells the legend of the downfall of the Niflungs.  Each poem is an attempt to organize the material of the Eddaic lays concerning Sigurd and the Niflungs respectively into a single coherent narrative.

Since Tolkien is trying to compile material from several complete works into a single poem (or rather, two poems), the narrative in his version is necessarily extremely terse and compressed.  E. V. Gordon notes in his Introduction to Old Norse with regards to the compilation of the prose Volsungasaga that “each of the poems that [the saga author] used was a complete tragedy, and the result of joining them is accumulated horror”—a remark that could potentially apply to Tolkien’s compilation as well.

Due to the extreme compression of the narrative in Tolkien’s poems, the work can be somewhat difficult to follow.  Christopher Tolkien notes in the introduction that “it must also be said that his poems are not at all points easy to follow, and this arises especially from the nature of the old poems that were his models.”  I would imagine that Tolkien’s poems may be near incomprehensible to folks not already familiar with the Sigurd legend from the principal Norse sources (poetic Edda, Snorra Edda, and Volsungasaga).  However, Christopher Tolkien provides a very helpful commentary, which mostly serves to place Tolkien’s narrative choices within the context of his sources.  Even with the commentary, I’d say it’s still a tough read.

For my part though, I found the work fascinating, and I thought that the poetry was excellent.  Here is one stanza from the “Lay of the Volsungs” (II.24):

Through and through them
thrice went Sigmund;
as grass in Gautland
grimly mowed them.
His shield he shed:
with shining sword
smoking redly
slew two-handed.

Written by uncudh

May 13, 2009 at 1:13 am

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Forthcoming publications

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There are a couple of books coming out soon whose upcoming release I am awaiting with interest.  The first is Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.  The book consists of Tolkien’s verse renderings of the Norse tales concerning Sigurd the Volsung (the most notable of the Norse sources being the Volsungasaga).  We have previously made reference (here and here) to William Morris’s version of the Sigurd legend.  It will be interesting to compare Tolkien’s version.

The second is Arora and Barak’s Complexity Theory: A Modern Approach.  The standard reference in this area for a long time was Papadimitriou’s book Computational Complexity, but it is now somewhat old and  does not contain the latest research.  Arora and Barak have posted an early draft of their book online, and it looks like it could quite possibly replace Papadimitriou as the standard computational complexity text.

Written by uncudh

March 22, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Regin and Sigurd

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Here is another passage from Morris’ Sigurd the Volsung.  In this passage Regin is telling Sigurd of the gold that his brother, who has now become the dragon Fafnir, has taken from him.  After telling him the tale of how the brothers acquired the gold, Regin sends Sigurd on a mission to kill Fafnir and recover the treasure.

“And some day I shall have it all, his gold and his craft and his heart
And the gathered and garnered wisdom he guards in the mountains apart
And then when my hand is upon it, my hand shall be as the spring
To thaw his winter away and the fruitful tide to bring.
It shall grow, it shall grow into summer, and I shall be he that wrought,
And my deeds shall be remembered, and my name that once was nought;
Yea I shall be Frey, and Thor, and Freyia, and Bragi in one:
Yea the God of all that is,-and no deed in the wide world done,
But the deed that my heart would fashion: and the songs of the freed from the yoke
Shall bear to my house in the heavens the love and the longing of folk.
And there shall be no more dying, and the sea shall be as the land,
And the world for ever and ever shall be young beneath my hand.”

Written by uncudh

December 3, 2008 at 7:27 pm

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The death of Fafnir

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The passage quoted below is from William Morris’ long poem Sigurd the Volsung.  It describes the dying words of the dragon Fafnir, spoken to his killer Sigurd.  The tale of Sigurd is well-known and told in many medieval versions, notably the Norse prose version of the Volsungasaga, which Morris, along with Eirikr Magnússon, had previously translated.

“Woe, woe! in the days passed over I bore the Helm of Dread,
I reared the Face of Terror, and the hoarded hate of the Dead:
I overcame and was mighty; I was wise and cherished my heart
In the waste where no man wandered, and the high house builded apart:
Till I met thine hand, O Sigurd, and thy might ordained from of old;
And I fought and fell in the morning, and I die far off from the Gold.”

Then Sigurd leaned on his sword, and a dreadful voice went by
Like the wail of a God departing and the War-God’s misery;
And strong words of ancient wisdom went by on the desert wind,
The words that mar and fashion, the words that loose and bind;
And sounds of a strange lamenting, and such strange things bewailed,
That words to tell their meaning the tongue of man hath failed.

Then all sank into silence, and the Son of Sigmund stood
On the torn and furrowed desert by the pool of Fafnir’s blood,
And the Serpent lay before him, dead, chilly, dull, and grey;
And over the Glittering Heath fair shone the sun and the day,
And a light wind followed the sun and breathed o’er the fateful place,
As fresh as it furrows the sea-plain or bows the acres’ face.

Written by uncudh

December 1, 2008 at 4:15 am

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