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.