Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 11

Part Four: Twilight of the Gods

The Insidious Hagen

A deathly silence reigned in Valhalla. A sad autumn light illuminated the abode of the gods. A deep sorrow gripped their immortal souls. Wotan refused the mead and fruit that Freia insistently offered him. He was sure that the hour of his death and the extinction of the divine lineage was at hand. He, the king of the gods, realised that for a long time he had nourished desires and envy and had acted in anger, like a common mortal.

What about the Nibelung Ring, had he done anything to restore it to the undines of the Rhine? Disguised as a wayfarer, he had tried to stop Siegfried in his ascent, but the latter had broken the mighty spear of the god. With the fragments of the spear in his hands, Wotan brooded over the past, awaiting the fatal hour of the ruin of Valhalla and the twilight of the gods.

Meanwhile, down below, on the earth, in a rocky cavern, Siegfried and Brunhild lived happily. Brunhild had given the hero the horse Grane, which had lost, along with her, its divine properties and therefore could not fly above the clouds.

Time passed slowly and smoothly for them, but Siegfried could not bear the quiet life and decided to run away for the world.

When he took leave of Brunhild, the hero entrusted her with the ring he had found in Fafner’s cave. He embarked on a great ship and sailed up the Rhine. He carried the Valkyrie’s horse and the magic helmet.

To live more safely and free from intruders, the Valkyrie preferred to wait for her beloved on the hilltop, surrounded by the ring of fire, as when she was asleep.

Along the course of the Rhine stretched the kingdom of the Gibichungs, ruled by Prince Gunther, a weak and vain man. His sister Gutrune, an unattractive young woman, lived with him.

When Siegfried’s boat arrived at the castle of King Gunther and Gutrune, the hero blew his horn. He was met by Hagen, the prince’s half-brother, a crafty man, fearsome for his cunning. He knew from his father, the Nibelung Alberich, that Siegfried had the ring of the Undines of the Rhine, so that as soon as he saw the hero he conceived the idea of stealing it.


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Editor’s note: Alberich, the dwarf who, according to some critics hostile to the Wagnerian legacy, personifies the Jew in the tetralogy, speaks to Hagen in this drawing by Arthur Rackham. In the Germanic language, Hagen is the name of a Burgundian warrior who appears in epic tales. Hagen is often identified as the brother or half-brother of King Gunther. He is the main antagonist of the hero Siegfried, for whom he feels great envy. The story of Siegfried, the Nibelungenlied and the Rhine Gold has been told in various languages, each with its specific characteristics. The main tradition is the Germanic one, the best-known and most famous version of which is the Nibelungenlied.


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Hagen brought the hero into the presence of his half-brothers and made the introductions.

“The strongest and bravest warrior, the fearless Siegfried, comes to honour our abode.”

And turning to him, he said:

“Gunther and his sister Gutrune are my half-brothers, who, I am sure, will be very happy to have as a guest a hero of your fame, O illustrious Siegfried!”

Siegfried was lodged with dignity, and that same night, while the traveller slept, the cunning Hagen made his half-brothers a proposition:

“My brothers: I think the time has come for you to marry. You, Gunther, must procure yourself a faithful wife, and you, Gutrune, a gallant and strong husband.”

“Have you thought of proposing to me a young woman from my village?” asked Gunther.

“No,” replied Hagen, “I know of a young woman worthy of you. Her name is Brunhild. She is in a deep sleep, surrounded by a ring of fire. Only a hero who knows no fear can pierce the fire and awaken her, and this hero is Siegfried, our host. He can undertake the enterprise and bring you Brunhild to marry her.”

“And do you think he will?”

“He will if you give him the hand of Gutrune.”

The girl was glad to hear the latter, but at once, expressing the thought that was in her mind, she asked her half-brother:

“Do you think Siegfried will ask for my hand? A young man like him will want a beautiful and graceful girl.”

“Trust me,” interrupted Hagen. I will prepare a filter that will cloud our guest’s mind, and then he will find you more beautiful than any of the daughters of men. You will see that he will fall in love with you; he will forget all his tormented past and dedicate his future life to you.”

The next day Siegfried, on rising, thanked Gunther for the cordial hospitality so generously extended to him, and placed himself at his command.

“I can offer you nothing in token of the immense gratitude and friendship that fills my heart, for I have brought nothing with me in the boat.”

“What do you mean, nothing? Have you not a ring in your saddlebags that is worth more than a treasure?”

“Yes, I have it; but I have it not with me; I have left it in pledge to a young lady. I have nothing here but this warrior’s helmet.”

“I know that with that helmet you can transform yourself into another being, if you like. A helmet with such magical virtue is a very valuable thing for a warrior like you. But let us leave treasures and valuables and drink.”

At that moment Gutrune approached, and offered Siegfried a cup filled with the wine that Hagen had enchanted just before.

As soon as the hero had drunk he felt a slight trembling in his legs and shortly afterwards his mind was clouded. He forgot Brunhild, and, looking at Gutrune, fell in love with her.

He no longer thought of continuing his journey and continued to enjoy the hospitality so generously offered him by Gunther, for all he could think of was Gutrune’s beauty. One evening, the young hero asked the prince if he thought him worthy to ask for Gutrune’s hand. Gunther replied:

“I will grant you my sister’s hand, but only on one condition, that you help me to get the wife I desire.”

“Who is she?”

“Brunhild, the Valkyrie asleep on the high rock surrounded by fire. Only you, my friend, can disenchant her and bring her out of her sleep. If you do so and bring her to me, I will give you my sister Gutrune to wife.”

“If I wake her,” said Siegfried, “you will have gained nothing, for she will not want to marry but me.”

Hagan, who was listening in hiding, and had been following all this conversation behind a thick trunk, came forward and said:

“That is very easily arranged, dear Siegfried. If you put on the magic helmet, you can take on Gunther’s countenance when you wake the Valkyrie, and she will come to life with Gunther’s image in her mind.”

“That’s right! I hadn’t thought of that.”

Once the pact was made, Siegfried and Gunther swore allegiance to each other, and in token of their friendship they drank again, thus sealing the pact.

At dawn the next day, the two young men set sail and followed the course of the Rhine to the Valkyrie’s rock.

The wicked Hagen bade them farewell on the shore, and stood there for a long time watching the travellers, and seeing the boat lost in the mist that hung over the silent waters of the river.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 10

The Awakening of Brunhild

Following the little bird’s advice, Siegfried entered Fafner’s cave to seize the helmet and the Nibelung’s magic ring.

Meanwhile, Mime cautiously approached the den.

At the same instant, from a cleft in the rock, Alberich emerged. He glared at Mime with hatred and ran to stand in front of him to prevent him from entering the cavern.

“Where do you intend to go?” he asked sarcastically.

“And you? What are you doing in these parts?”

“Don’t think you can fool me,” replied Alberich. You have come to steal my treasure.

“The treasure belongs to me,” said Mime, “and to me alone.”

“Do you mind if I stand here watching you steal it?”

At Alberich’s ironic exit, Mime burst out:

“You can’t take from me the treasure that cost me untold labour!”

And Alberich replied, unperturbed:

“Did you steal the gold from the Rhine? Did you forge the ring?”

“No,” answered Mime, “but I built the magic helmet that moults and disguises the wearer. I raised Siegfried. Now, at last, he will repay me for all my care. You, on the other hand, can claim no right to the ring, for the giants took it from you.”“Ah,” interrupted Alberich, “you want to exploit and enjoy Siegfried’s glorious enterprise to take over the world, but you can’t even touch the ring!”

Mime remained thoughtful for a moment; then he proposed in a conciliatory tone:

“Well, you take the ring. It is enough for me if you remember that I am your brother. I’ll take the helmet. We will divide the spoils like good friends.”

Alberich burst out laughing.

“Who would rid me of your trickery? Do you think you can fool me like a child?”

At these words, Mime had a fit of rage.

“Do you want to leave me empty-handed, then? Will you grant me nothing?”

“Nothing,” replied Alberich dryly.

Then Mime, beside himself, shouted:

“Well, you shall have neither ring nor helmet. I will rely on Siegfried’s strength. Ah, there he is; he is coming out of the den.”

Alberich looked at the hero and said in a low voice:

“He is indeed taking the helmet and the ring.”

“Try to snatch them from him,” Mime suggested with an evil smile, as he hid in the woods so that Siegfried would not see him.

Alberich crawled back into the cleft of the rock and grumbled, “The ring must come back to me, though!”

Once out of the den, Siegfried gazed long and hard at the ring and helmet, saying, “I will keep them as a memento of this adventure.”

He had not finished saying this when he heard the voice of the little bird:

“Beware of Mime, Siegfried! He has decided to do away with you, and to do so he has prepared a brew to put you to sleep. Then he will try to kill you with your sword. But the dragon’s blood that you have brought to your lips gives you the power to read his thoughts directly, which he will try to mask with mellifluous and lying words.”

Indeed, at that moment Mime was approaching, saying to himself, “With my insidiousness and my flattery I will make him fall into the trap.” And turning to Siegfried, he asked him:

“Have you known fear?”

“No,” answered Siegfried, “I have not yet known fear.”

“Evil for evil’s sake, if I think that the world abounds with worse thieves than he, I am about to say that his death grieves me. More than the dragon I loathe him that made me kill him.”

Mime took the thing in jest, and, as if to continue the ironic game, went on:

“Patience! Anyway, you won’t have to put up with me for long, since I’ve decided to kill you to take away the treasure you have obtained.”

“Are you plotting against me,” Siegfried asked him in a low tone.

Mime, pretending to jest, answered in the tenderest of accents:

“Did I say that? Well, it is true. I have always hated you. My only aim was to get hold of Fafner’s treasure. If you don’t give it to me in kind… I shall be forced to kill you.”

“Will you attempt on my life?” Siegfried asked.

“I have prepared a brew for you: a filter that I have distilled drop by drop while you tempered your sword.”

“How, how?” insisted Siegfried, who was already at the end of Mime’s perfidy.

And the dwarf, with the gentlest smile, and the most benevolent tone, said despite himself:

“I have said that the brew will close your eyes and you will fall into eternal sleep. Then I can get the ring and the helmet.”

“So you want to kill me with that drink?”

“You have misunderstood. With my drink, you will fall into a restful sleep. A deep darkness will envelop your mind. During your unconsciousness, your body will remain inert, and rigid… Then I will collect the spoils and hide them. It will be for me, for me alone.”

As he said this, he poured the drink into a horn and offered it to the young man with an inciting gesture:

“Drink, drink, my son!”

Siegfried raised his sword and with one blow the perfidious dwarf lay lifeless. Through the cleft was heard the laughter of Alberich, hidden in the rock.

Siegfried threw Mime’s corpse into the cavern and dragged the dragon’s huge body to the entrance.

“Stay in the treasure cavern, evil one! I leave you a good guard to guard the entrance.”

After this ironic farewell, the young man sat down at the foot of a lime tree. As he gazed at the foliage, the memory of the little bird came to his mind.

“How gladly would I now hear your melodious song,” he muttered; “I see you flying from branch to branch; next to you sit your brothers and sisters, all chirping and twittering merrily. I am strong, mighty, and invincible, but I am alone, without brothers or family. My mother died when I was born, my father perished in a duel. In all the years I have lived in the middle of the forest I have found no one to talk to, no one to go hunting or fishing with me. Only a perfidious dwarf took care of me, not because he loved me but because he intended to use my strong arm for his petty purposes. I had to kill him to prevent him from attempting my life.”

After a pause, Siegfried continued in his mind: “My little bird friend, show me a faithful companion. How often have I sought him, and always in vain! What can I do? What advice do you give me?”

As he got no answer, the young man continued: “Do not leave me in uncertainty, little bird. Don’t leave me alone. I need company.” Suddenly the bird’s voice filled the air:

“You will not be alone, Siegfried. On a high rock, protected by a wall of fire, sleeps a maiden. Only a man who ignores fear can get there. Only you can pass through the zone of fire that surrounds her. She is destined to be the wife of an invincible hero like you.”

The bird flew away and the hero followed after it with great strides.

At a turn in the path, he met a passerby wrapped in a shabby cloak. He wore a rough hat pulled down over his eyes.

“What are you looking for on the side of this hill?” asked the old man.

“Why do you ask so many questions? If you know anything about the place where the sleeping maiden is, tell me; otherwise, let me pass, for I am in a hurry.”

“Be patient, young man,” replied the passer-by calmly, “and, above all, respect the elders.”

“Who are you? Why do you wear that big hat? Why don’t you show your face? Stand aside at once, if you don’t want to meet the fate of the Nibelung dwarf!”

In a calm tone, the passer-by replied:

“If you knew who I am, you would not utter impolite words and threats. It is I who have lulled the maiden to sleep and surrounded her with a wall of fire on the hilltop. I am here as the guardian of the high rock. I have always been the protector of your line, my son, though at times my blind rage overcame my love for you. I advise you to stay away from the fire that burns high above, around the sleeper. It is an all-destroying forge.”

Siegfried understood nothing of the speech of this mysterious personage. The words of the wayfarer came to him without meaning, like a strange jargon. He brandished his sword and shouted again:

For the last time: get out of the way!

“Since you insist, I shall be forced to stop you with my spear,” cried the old man, who was none other than Wotan, disguised as a poor wayfarer.

“You ignore the strength of my arm, stubborn old man, and do not know the power of this sword.”

“Oh! I know it very well. I broke it in two pieces once.”

“Ah, it was you! It was you, then, who murdered my father!”

And rushing at Wotan, he swung his sword hard at him. The god parried the blow with the spear, but it broke with a clang.

Siegfried stood for a moment perplexed as he saw Wotan, not caring for him, pick up the fragments of the spear. Before disappearing, the god turned to the hero and said in a soft, solemn tone:

“Pass on. I can no longer stop you. May your destiny be fulfilled.”

Then from the high rock came the gleams of the fiery barrier, and it swept down the slope like an army of fiery serpents. Like vivid red roses, the flames came dangerously close to Siegfried. But the young man pressed on, undaunted, smiling at the prospect of reaching the sleeper through the vast hedge of fire. Unaware of fear, he climbed through the flames, which pressed in his wake. At dawn, he reached the top of the hill and saw a clump of fir trees, at the foot of one of which shone a crystalline light. Amid this gleam was Brunhild’s lying body. When Siegfried reached it, he stopped in admiration and gazed at her for a long time. The Valkyrie slept on a bed of moss. She was dressed in splendid armour. Her beautiful face stood out against the burnished steel of the breastplate.

The hero bent down and with great delicacy untied the helmet’s brim. The maiden’s hair spilled like a golden waterfall.

A deep silence reigned. Siegfried felt his heart pounding from inside his chest. He began to breathe deeply. A certain anguish was coming over him and he thought it was fear. Then the feeling became pleasurable. The agitation in his chest disappeared. He approached the sleeper. He gently touched her hair and kissed her.The Valkyrie woke up, opened her eyes and looked at the hero in astonishment.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Siegfried. I came through the hedge of fire that surrounded you, to wake you up. A little bird showed me the way, and said to me: ‘On the top of a high mountain sleeps the maiden who is to be your wife; run and wake her’.”

Correspondence Der Ring des Nibelungen

A comment

by Benjamin

I’m still following your Ring updates. I felt very moved by Wotan’s honour-bound burden, particularly listening to the music you attached. More so than Alberich, of whom it could be expected, and despite the chronology, I found myself very angry at the lord of Valhalla’s wife, the rules of hospitality relativised with regard to a racial enemy’s transgression. The duty is misunderstood and ranked above the love for kin.

The spiralling consequences for Wotan… The need for his intervening spear. The great loss of his daughter. The father’s heart was torn. His wife had the satisfaction of impressing her social function, but her rigidity to an awarded task measured against a god’s honour, the lesson was disregarded beyond its action alone.

There’s no racial consciousness there. I think this insistent, mechanical absolutism, contrasted with the sheer implications from a man’s perspective (who, I would feel, could somehow have ‘bent the rules’, just a little, in private, and then in swift male decision and action, given that Hunding was a racial enemy, where it not for the naïve, sympathetic literality of his wife’s open opinion having curtailed all hope of that)—that’s the tragedy of this story to me, in essence. The mundane and the terrible ramifications of a woman’s love for obedience to more than the man beside her.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 9

The fight against the dragon

When Mime and Siegfried arrived at Fafner’s cave, Fafner, transformed into a dragon, was dozing at the entrance. As soon as he heard the sound of footsteps, he raised his ugly head. Mime, frightened, backed away and hid behind a log.

“There you have it! Aren’t you afraid, Siegfried?”

Without heeding the dwarf’s question, Siegfried advanced cautiously, watching the dragon’s movements, as he did when fighting a bear, panther or boar.

The monster let out a hideous roar, but the young man did not flinch. He continued to advance with his sword in his right hand, and when the dragon swung to fall upon him, he stepped back a few paces. The beast fell heavily, and before it could recover and get to its guard, Siegfried advanced with lightning speed and buried the sword in its throat.

The dragon swung again, and the hero fell back again. A thick stream of blood gushed from his throat and soaked the ground.

After several attempts to crush his attacker, the monster raised its tail to reach him despite the distance. With the effort, he slipped on his blood and lay down. Siegfried, attentive to the dying creature’s every move, seized the moment to plunge his sword into its chest. Bellowing roars and gasps of agony, the beast thrashed for more than an hour. Finally, its body became rigid. Thus Mime’s wishes were satisfied.

Siegfried reached over to pull out the sword, which had been sunk into the monster’s chest. As he grasped it and withdrew it, a gush of blood gushed into his hand. The blood was so hot that the hero put his hand to his mouth.

Feeling the warmth and taste of blood on his lips, Siegfried heard a gurgling sound in the silence of the forest. He looked up at a high branch of a lime tree and saw that a little bird was singing to him. Little by little he understood the bird’s language: “The dragon’s blood gives you the power to understand my language, Siegfried. That monster you have slain was the giant Fafner. In his cavern, you will find treasure. You are now the owner of all his riches. Enter and take possession of the magic helmet, which will allow you to change your shape or countenance, transforming you into a ferocious animal or any object, if you prefer; and the ring forged from the gold of the Rhine, a sign of power and dominion over the world.”

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 8

Part Three: Siegfried


The non-white Mime

Sieglinde lived for nine months in the shelter of a rock in the middle of a vast forest. She fed on wild fruits all that time and carefully kept the pieces of Sigmund’s sword.

When she felt that the day of her son’s birth was near, she travelled through the forest in search of a hut where she could give birth.

One night, after so much walking, she came to a cave that looked like a blacksmith’s workshop. She went in and lay down on a bed of straw in a corner.

After a few hours, the owner of the workshop came in. It was Mime, Alberich’s brother, whom Alberich had forced to do hard labour when he wore the gold ring of the Rhine on his finger. Both one brother and the other had taken up residence near the giant Fafner’s cave. Fafner kept watch day and night to ensure that no greedy Nibelung would steal his treasure. To guard it better, the giant had transformed himself into a dragon, to terrify, with his monstrous form, those who dared to steal it.

Neither Alberich nor Mime dared to confront the terrible monster, who never left the treasure.

When Mime reached his workshop, he heard a creature wailing. He found Sieglinde, who had just given birth, dying. The unhappy mother recommended the dwarf take charge of her child’s upbringing.

“Call him Siegfried, a name that means ‘joy of victory’. He will be a strong and valiant hero. Here are the fragments of his father’s sword. It is a gift from the gods. With it my son will be invincible,” she told him in a faint voice, feeling death approaching.

Siegfried, cared for by the dwarf smith, grew strong and healthy in the middle of the forest. Mime forged arrows for him, with which the sturdy boy hunted birds and deer. When he grew out of childhood, he began to face bears and wild boars.

More than once, the young boy had asked his guardian for the name of his father.

“I am your father,” replied Mime; “I have seen you born and raised you; I have taught you to handle the bow so that you will be invincible.”

“You have brought me up and trained me in the handling of weapons, but you are not my father,” replied Siegfried. “I see that the nestlings of the nests are like the birds that raise them. I observe that the cubs of wild beasts are similar to the mothers that nurse them. How can you pretend to be my father when I am white and blond, tall and slender, and you are swarthy and wrinkled, short and hunchbacked? Or do you think you are deceiving me?”

Mime was silent then and continued to pound on his anvil.

Siegfried spent his time hunting, fishing or chasing the wild beasts that crossed his path. Since he knew no fear, he dared everything. His powerful arm would tear apart animals that would have taken a giant, and his accurate arrows would shoot down the swiftest flying birds.

Towards evening he would return to the cave and pester the dwarf with his questions.

“For the last time! Who was my father?”

“Your father was the hero Sigmund. He died in a duel. Hundingo killed him.”

“You haven’t taught me how to handle a sword yet. I’m old enough for that. I want to avenge my father.”

“Fine. I’ll forge you a sword. See these two pieces of steel? I’ll put them together and you’ll have a weapon worthy of your strong arm.”

And indeed, Mime worked day and night in his attempt to weld the fragments of Sigmund’s sword together. In vain. As soon as Siegfried took the weapon and struck a blow on the anvil, the two pieces separated.

“What is it about this steel that does not bind?” wondered the dwarf.

And Siegfried answered:

“You are an unskilful smith, Mime.”

“That’s all we needed, that you pretend to teach me how to forge swords.”

“You teach me, then, and I’ll try to put those pieces together.”

Siegfried and the Nibelung Mime
by Hans Toepper

Siegfried could not put the two fragments together either. Then the young man had an idea. He filed the steel and reduced it to powder, a task that took him days and days of hard work. Then he melted the powder, strained the liquid and finally tempered a new weapon.

“Here is my sword, Mime!”

“Try it on my anvil,” the dwarf replied.

And Siegfried, without a word, struck such a blow on the anvil that it was split to the core.

“Admirable, my son, I congratulate you!”

“I told you not to call me son!” shouted the young man, advancing with a menacing air.

Mime recoiled in fright. He realised that he no longer had any ascendancy over the young man. The hero was ripe for great deeds, and it was necessary to handle him with cunning to make use of him.

“Siegfried, listen to me,” he said to him one night before going to bed, “there is one thing you have yet to learn, and that is fear.”

“Fear? What is that?”

“It is a feeling that shakes the heart and paralyses the will.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Didn’t you feel your heart pounding when you faced the bear that afternoon?”

“No. I couldn’t take care of my heart. I was attentive to the beast’s movements.”

“Did you feel nothing strange that stormy night when you got lost and arrived at dawn in the cave?”

“I only felt cold that night.”

“Well then. If you want to know fear you must face a dragon.”

“I’ve never seen a dragon. Are there any around here?”

“Yes, it lives in a nearby cavern.”

“Tomorrow you will lead me there. I want to see this animal.”

“It’s a monster that will pounce on you as soon as you get close.”

“I’ll keep my distance.”

“It will chase you. He’ll take you down with a single blow of the tail.”

“Then I’ll stand up to it. I’ll carry my sword.”

“Yes, but be careful.”

“That dragon can be no more agile than a panther, no stronger than a bear, no more furious than a wild boar. Tomorrow we will set out at dawn, and you will lead me to the dragon’s cavern. In a short time, I will give an account of him.”

Der Ring des Nibelungen

Wotan’s farewell to Brunhild

YouTube commenter:

When I first heard this recording (‘Highlights of the Ring’ under conductor Karl Bohm at Bayreuth circa 1966), I was blown away. Theo Adam is Wotan. He breathes so much personality life and fatherly divinity to this role that to this day I can’t think of a better interpreter even with all the ones that have sung the part—George London a close second James Morris. Theo has such a command for his native German language and for the music. Bohm conducts at a slow and very meaningful pace. The scene is set Wotan king of the gods on a lonely mountain top with his daughter the Valkyrie Brunnhilde whom he casts a sleeping spell upon and puts her in a magic circle of fire. This is one of the most beautiful moments if the Ring. Always gets to me.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 7

The fatal duel

At dawn, the voice of Hunding’s horn began to echo across the valley. It was a terrible sound, an inexorable challenge.

Siegmund and Sieglinde were sitting at the foot of a tree in the heart of the forest. She slept, resting her head on her beloved’s shoulder.

Brunhild, perched on a wooded promontory, was mournfully watching the young couple. Before the sun dissolved the mist that hung in the atmosphere of the forest, the Valkyrie descended, leading her steed from the cradle.

“A Valkyrie!”, cried Sigmund, startled at the sight of Wotan’s favourite daughter.

“You know, young man, that only heroes in danger of death can see Valkyries. I have come to warn you…”

“Yes, I know that soon I will have to measure myself against Hunding. I have heard the challenge of the horn.”

“So say goodbye to Sieglinde. Wake her up.”

“If I perish in battle, will you take me to Valhalla?”

“My horse will carry your body to the abode of the gods. There you will be part of the heroic guard.”

“Will you also take Sieglinde?”

“No. She has a mission to accomplish on Earth.”

“Your answer, Brunhild, increases my faith in the courage of my arm. Last night I plucked from the sacred ash tree the sword that Wotan promised me.”

“Your destiny will be fulfilled!” cried the Valkyrie, retreating behind some bushes.

Sigmund left Sieglinde asleep and went to meet his enemy, guided by the sound of the horn.

When the two warriors came face to face they crossed swords. Brunhild approached unseen by the combatants and covered Sigmund with her shield to protect him from his enemy’s blows. Wotan, who had expected her to break the hero’s sword, as he had commanded her, seeing his daughter’s disobedience, descended from Valhalla with lightning speed. He thrust his spear between the two blades, and Sigmund’s was shattered to pieces. With that, the god disappeared.

Hunding seized the advantage. With one blow he knocked down the hero of the Völsung and immediately fled from the scene.

In the meantime, Sieglinde had woken up. She ran towards the scene of the battle, guided by the clashing of swords. When she got there she saw that Brunhild was placing Sigmund’s corpse on her steed. She cried out in pain and collapsed. The Valkyrie carried her onto her horse and, after picking up the pieces of Sigmund’s sword, rode towards Valhalla. When she arrived she was reproached by her eight sisters. A Valkyrie could not disobey Wotan. The punishment that awaited Brunhild would surely be terrible.

When Sieglinde awoke from her faintness, she asked for death.

“I can no longer tolerate life on earth,” she cried in a pained accent.

“You must live, Sieglinde!” said Brunhild; “Sigmund’s son, who will be born of you, will avenge him. You shall call him Siegfried. He will be the bravest hero the ages have ever seen. Take the pieces of his father’s sword. He will unite them and accomplish with it the highest deeds. Let’s go! I will take you away before Wotan comes and punishes me for my disobedience.”

When the Valkyrie returned to Valhalla, Wotan was waiting for her with an angry gesture.

“How do you justify your disobedience, rebellious daughter?”

“Sigmund was my protégé, father. You raised him brave and strong so that one day he would bring glory to the Völsung race and honour the gods of Valhalla. That is why I tried to protect him with my shield.”

“You knew well that when I ordered you to break his sword, my heart bled. But Fricka forced me to obey the law of hospitality, which Sigmund had inflicted.”

“In any case, my father, I could not tolerate that before my eyes a hero of Sigmund’s stature should die in an unequal fight. If you had provided him with a sword, I could not break it, leaving the brave Völsung defenceless.”

“My orders are not disputed, neither in Valhalla nor on earth! No speeches can justify your disobedience. Therefore, the punishment reserved for rebellious gods will befall you. You will lose your immortal status. Valhalla will be closed to you. I will take you to Earth and put you to sleep on a mountaintop. The man who finds you and wakes you up will be your companion in your mortal life.”

Hearing this cruel sentence, the eight-sister Valkyries uttered exclamations of horror.

Brunhild knelt before Wotan and begged:

“Father, I accept your condemnation with submission. Make my sleep long, if possible, eternal. But if I am to be the companion of a mortal, make it so that he may not be a common man. Surround my sleeping body with such obstacles and dangers, that only a hero of indomitable courage can overcome them.”

“Granted, daughter. I will surround you with a ring of unquenchable fire. Only a man who is not afraid to break through that ring of flame will be able to make you his wife. Then you will be a hero’s wife.”

Father and daughter descended to earth. On a high mount, by a deep and dark valley, the Valkyrie lay on a bed of moss. When he had put her to sleep, Wotan looked at her for a long time, and it could be seen that his tough sentence broke his heart. Then he struck the hard ground three times, invoking Loge. The god of fire came and drew a ring of fire around Brunhild.

Wotan takes leave of Brunhild
(1892) by Konrad Dielitz

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 6

The condemnation of Siegmund

Meanwhile, in Valhalla, Wotan was anxious about the fate of his favourite Siegmund. He called his daughter, the Valkyrie Brunhild, and said to her:

“A deadly duel will take place tomorrow in the region of the Neidings. Siegmund has fled from Hunding’s hut, taking Sieglinde with him. When he wakes up, the fierce hunter will pursue the youths. The fight will be fierce. Siegmund is armed with the sword he plucked from the ash tree. Try to protect him and let the vultures take Hunding’s body.”

The Valkyrie was hastening down to earth to do Wotan’s bidding, when from afar was heard the cry of Wotan’s wife, Fricka, the goddess of the hearth, and therefore the jealous guardian of the laws of hospitality. It was up to her to see that they were observed. She approached her husband and said in an angry tone:

“A hunter named Hunding has brought his complaint to me. A man stayed in his hut and, abusing the hospitality he had received, fled during the night, taking the mistress of the house with him.”

Fricka, the goddess of marriage
and wife of the main god, Wotan.

“Yes,” answered Wotan with a sad accent. “It is true that the young Siegmund had been taken in at Hunding’s hut.”

“Taken in and cured of his wounds.”

“But it was Sieglinde who took him in and cured him.”

“Is not Sieglinde Hunding’s wife? Did she not act on behalf of the master of the house in taking in and healing the wounded man?”

“You must bear in mind, dear Fricka, that Sieglinde belongs to the Völsungs.”

“What does that matter?”

“Remember that she was brought to that Neiding home by force. Hunding killed all the members of her family and dragged her to the forest when she was still a child, forcing her to be his wife.”

“That does not justify or mitigate Siegmund’s fault. Sieglinde had a right to escape if she was forcibly held in that home which was an enemy of her race, but Siegmund should not go away from the hut by stealing the owner’s wife. It is an unpardonable act.”

“Your zealous application of the laws of hospitality comes to thwart my plans, dear Fricka.”

“I don’t know what plans you speak of, Wotan; I have never understood your continual entanglements.”

“It is not a question of entanglements, my wife; listen: I am very much afraid that the cunning Alberich will succeed in taking the ring from the giant Fafner, in which case we would again be exposed to the fatal power of that Nibelung dwarf. I cannot take the ring from Fafner. I gave it to him myself as a reward for his work. It would be a breach of contract. And so: Siegmund is the hero that I have bred so that one day he may seize the ring that Fafner keeps together with the magic helmet and the treasure of the Nibelung. For that, I will provide him with an invincible sword. But if you stand in the way, Siegmund, lacking my protection, will die at the hands of the spiteful Hunding.”

“When it is a question of circumventing a law or a covenant that you yourself have established, you string words and more words into a long speech. I am not here to listen to speeches. I have come to demand that the law of hospitality be observed. Here it is a very simple matter: a man was taken into a home, and he, in return for the hospitality he received, fled, taking the wife of the owner of the house with him.”

Wotan looked at Brunhild, who was waiting for his decision.

“Did you hear Fricka, my child?”

“Yes, father. I heard her. Stiff and implacable, as always.”

“It is her duty. The law of hospitality protects Hunding. For him not to succumb, my sword must break in Siegmund’s fist.”

“And you forsake your hero?” cried the Valkyrie.

“It is the law, my daughter. Siegmund has failed. He must die.”

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 5

Part Two: The Valkyrie



Alberich, of the race of the Nibelungs, had stolen the gold of the Rhine and forged a ring from it, which gave him power and wealth. The god Wotan was to reward the giants Fasolt and Fafner for having built Valhalla, and he gave them the riches and the golden ring which he had taken from Alberich the Nibelung. As Alberich had cursed the ring, as soon as Fasolt put it on his finger, his companion Fafner smashed his skull with a sledgehammer and he became the sole owner of everything.


The hero of the Völsungs

A long time had passed since the Nibelung Alberich had stolen the gold from the Rhine. In the meantime, men had begun their bloody feuds. The struggle was between two opposing sides: the Völsungs, protected by Wotan, and the Neidings, favourites of the Nibelungen.

The nine Valkyries, daughters of the lord of Valhalla, were present in the thick of the fighting and picked up the heroes who fell on the battlefields. On their horses, invisible as they were, the brave Amazons carried the bodies of the warriors to the abode of the gods, where their immortal souls formed the heroic guard of Valhalla.

Wotan reigned omnipresent over the gods, but he always thought of the ring forged by Alberich from the gold of the Rhine, which he, the god of justice, had torn from the hand of the Nibelung by doing violence to the Nibelung. He had then been forced to give the jewel to the giants in exchange for Freia, the goddess of eternal youth.

The ring was still in the possession of the giant Fafner, along with the magic helmet and all the riches that Wotan had taken from Alberich. The god could not take it from him; he was prevented from doing so by the pact made with the giant, inscribed on his ash-tree shaft; but he could conquer it by some hero of the Völsung race, who were his protégés.

On one of his wanderings through the earth, Wotan, wrapped in a wolf skin, entered the forest. In a hut, he heard the wandering of a child. He was alone, beside his dead mother.

The little boy was robust and vigorous. From his features, the prince of the gods saw that he was a Völsung and thought: “This may be the hero who will snatch the ring from Fafner. He named him Siegmund, raised him in the middle of the jungle and accustomed him to face the greatest dangers.

When he was barely out of infancy, Siegmund began to fight the enemies of his race. Over the years, many Nibelungs fell under his blows, but in an ambush, he lost his weapons, was wounded, and could only avoid death by fleeing through the forest amid a horrible storm.

After wandering through the forest all night, he came to a large hut. A young woman gave him hospitality and dressed his wounds. After several hours of rest, Siegmund sat up and asked the young woman her name and lineage.

“My name is Sieglinde,” she answered with a sad accent. “I am of Völsung stock, but my husband is not; he is a Neiding. His name is Hunding. He attacked my people and brought me here. I was almost a child then and he forced me to be his wife; from that day on I have been with him, much to my regret.”

Siegmund tried to get up.

“I am in the house of an enemy of my race,” he said. “I will not stay here a minute longer.”

“At this moment I am the mistress of this house, and I am of your race. For some days past Hunding has been engaged in a hunting party far away from here. Tomorrow, when you are recovered from your wounds, you may go.”

It was not yet dark when the door opened and Hunding entered.

Seeing the man lying by the fire, he questioned Sieglinde:

“He sleeps; he is wounded,” she answered. Let him rest until dawn, even if we don’t know who he is. Hospitality is sacred. Prepare me some mead. I am thirsty and tired. I will sleep soundly tonight, and rise early tomorrow.”

And indeed, Hunding fell into a much deeper sleep than he had imagined. Sieglinde poured a narcotic into the flask of mead she offered to the rough hunter. Confident that her husband would not wake before dawn, the young woman approached Siegmund and said:

“Let us flee, Siegmund! I can no longer be the slave of a man who destroyed my home and murdered my people.”

“I can leave the house of my enemy, but if I flee with you I will be committing a grave offence against the laws of hospitality. Consider that you are the wife of the owner of this hut in which you have sheltered me. Hunding will hunt us down and kill us both. The gods would protect him in the event of a fight, for he would act in defence of his sullied honour.”

“He is your enemy, and I am one of your blood, whom he holds prisoner as spoils of war! You have not received hospitality from him. It was I who took you into the hut. He would not have done so, surely.”

“We are running to certain death, believe me, Sieglinde. Hunding will kill us both. Me as a perfidious guest, an enemy of his race; you as a wife who has betrayed him. That is what will happen, and we cannot avoid it. “

“Don’t you trust your courage and strength, Sigmund?”

“I am unarmed. In my fight with Hunding, I could only win with the sword that Wotan promised me when I was a boy.”

“Have you ever seen Wotan? Did the lord of Valhalla speak to you?”

“Throughout my orphaned childhood, the god cared for me with loving solicitude. When I was no longer a child, he exposed me to the dangers of animals and men and accustomed me to the rigours of fighting. Because of the education I have received, nothing frightens me; I fear no one. In parting, Wotan said that when I possessed the necessary strength to be able to pull out a sword sunk in a log…”

“A sword sunk in a log, you say? Outside is the ash tree, in the trunk of which the hilt of Wotan’s sword glows at night. No Neiding has ever been able to pull it out of there, despite several attempts.”

As he said this. Sieglinde led Sigmund out of the hut and pointed to a dry tree with a tormented trunk. In the moonlight, the hilt of a sword gleamed in the strong wood.

Sigmund was overjoyed; at last he had found the promised sword! With it, he would be invincible and have nothing to fear. He approached the ash tree, grasped the hilt and gave a strong, vigorous tug.

The sword glittered like a jewel in the hero’s hand.

“Let us flee, Sieglinde. Destiny binds us together. No one shall separate us.”

And they walked away through the tangle of dense forest, through the branches of which the sun’s rays were beginning to filter.

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 4

The Barter

When the gods of Valhalla saw the immense treasure brought there by the Nibelungs, they understood the reason for Votan and Loge’s journey to the realm where Alberich ruled. With these riches, it was possible to seduce Fafner and Fasolt. They would agree to give Freia in exchange for jewels and precious stones so that the goddess could continue to cultivate the fruits that conferred eternal youth on the inhabitants of Valhalla.

Votan ordered Loge to call the giants to arrange the barter. When the giants saw the huge treasure deposited on the spacious esplanade of Valhalla, they opened their eyes wide.

“Come closer,” commanded Votan.

The giants approached the treasure and the lord of Valhalla continued:

“Do you see these jewels, these precious stones, these chests full of gold? I offer you all this in Freia’s stead.”

Fasolt was about to nod when he was stopped by a gesture from Fafner. He replied:

“Great and valuable is this treasure of the Nibelungenland; but Freia is worth more than all the riches of the world. She, and she alone, can confer eternal youth on the gods. Since the day she left Valhalla you have all grown somewhat older. As the days go by, your faces will be covered with wrinkles…”

“Enough!” cried Votan angrily.

The giants backed away in fear, and the god continued:

“Do you want more than this treasure to leave Freia to us?”

“I understand that in addition to the precious stones, the metal bars and the carved jewels, there was a helmet forged by Mime.”

“Take the helmet too,” interrupted Votan, tossing it onto the pile of jewels.

The giants remained mute. They neither denied nor nodded.

“Do you want anything else? Answer me!”

“On your hand shines the ring that Alberich forged from the gold of the Rhine,” continued Fafner.

“The ring was not part of Alberich’s treasure. The gold with which he forged it had been stolen.”

“Stolen or not, it was his until you and Loge took it from him.”

Votan hesitated for a moment. He looked at the faces of the gods who witnessed the scene and noticed in them obvious signs of ageing. In the eyes of all his sons, the lord of Valhalla read the desire not to prolong Freia’s absence any longer.

Throwing the ring on the pile of jewels, Votan exclaimed:

“Take the ring, and along with it, the curse of Alberich!”

Fasolt was the first to throw himself on the treasure and seized the ring.

Fafner demanded the jewel.

“Why should I give you the ring,” asked Fasolt.

“Because I got it. If it hadn’t been for me, you would have accepted Votan’s first offer, without the helmet and the ring.”

“That is not sufficient reason to claim the preference. The jewel is on my finger, and no speech of yours will suffice…”

Fasolt was unable to continue, for a tremendous blow from Fafner cracked his skull.

Fafner kills Fasolt by
Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

The murderer, after returning Freia, took the treasure, the magic helmet and the fatal ring.

Fasolt’s corpse lay there, at the mercy of the vultures’ voracity.

The Nibelung’s curse bore its first fruit.