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Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 14

Brunhild’s immolation

When Siegfried fell, pierced by Hagen’s weapon, everyone looked at each other in astonishment. No one could explain the iniquitous act of the prince’s half-brother. Only the prince knew the murderer’s intentions. Under the pretext of avenging Brunhild, Hagen was killing the hero by wounding him in the back. Gunther did not agree with this sinister plan, but he was too weak to oppose the decisions of his devious half-brother. When he saw his stepbrother finally achieve his purpose, he could not hide his regret. He was convinced of Siegfried’s innocence. He knew that it had all happened because of the loss of the hero’s memory, caused by the filter that Hagen poured into the wine that Gutrune offered to the guest the day after his arrival when they prepared the intrigue.

The prince gave the order to bring the hero’s body to the palace. The march through the forest was slow. Before the funeral procession reached its destination, Hagen announced it with his hunting horn.

Gutrune waited for the sound of Siegfried’s horn to follow.

A few moments passed, and the waiting became anxious. With a horrible thought, the princess went out to meet the retinue and rushed weeping over the hero’s body. Then, standing before Gunther, she rebuked him fiercely:

“How could you do this, brother, to avenge the outrage done to your betrothed wife, you have killed the man who loved me!”

With a sad accent, the prince replied:

“Disbelieve yourself, sister: there was no outrage at all. Brunhild could not be my betrothed, for she was already Siegfried’s wife. All this is the work of our half-brother. The evil filter he poured into the wine you offered our guest caused him to lose all memory of his past. But he fell in love with you and offered to win his own wife for me. Having lost his memory, he acted like a blind child. So do not speak of revenge. I had no part in Siegfried’s death. I am incapable of such cowardly action as you suppose.”

At that moment Hagen stepped forward and said in a firm and imperious tone:

“No revenge was the motive for the hero’s death. A wild boar rammed him from behind and stuck its tusk into him.”

“You were the boar, traitor!” Gunther burst out then, at the height of despair. “You wounded him from behind to carry out your sinister plans! But you won’t get away with it, wretch! You will not seize the magic ring!”

“The ring is mine,” said Hagen. “It belongs to me by inheritance. It belonged to my father, Alberich; it was craftily taken from him by Wotan, and now I, his son, have it back; and it can never be taken from me!”

“You will not touch the hero’s hand!” said Gunther, standing up before his half-brother, as the latter, with the fury of a wild boar, thrust his sword through his chest, killing him. Gunther fell heavily, to the horror of his sister Gutrune.

At the sight of the prince’s fall, the bystanders made ready to take up their weapons, but Hagen stopped them with a resounding voice:

“With this sword, I will defend my rights; woe to him who dares to oppose my designs! He shall fall as Siegfried fell, and as my half-brother fell; no foe shall escape my hatred and the strength of my arm, now that I wield this invincible sword!”

The warriors, overpowered by the imperious tone of Alberich’s son, drew back in fear, while Gutrune continued to shed bitter tears over the corpse of her beloved.

Brunhild appeared, who had seen and heard everything from inside the palace. With slow steps, she approached the group with the expression of a sleepwalker.

Before the Valkyrie reached Siegfried’s body, Hagen tried to tear the ring from Siegfried’s finger. But the hero’s hand was raised threateningly, and the evil one recoiled in terror.

Amid the general stupor, Brunhild’s voice rose solemnly:

“Let the wailing and weeping to cease! gather together the oldest and most stout trunks! Light the most gigantic pyre that ages have seen, so that the glow of the flames that are to consume Siegfried’s body may reach Valhalla, and with the ruin of the divine abode bring about the twilight of the gods!”

When the first tongues of flame reached the hero’s corpse, Brunhild climbed up to the place where the body had been laid and took the magic ring. Turning to the waves of the river, on the banks of which the pyre was burning, the Valkyrie said aloud:

“Listen, daughters of the Rhine, listen! Soon the ring forged from the gold that has been taken from you will return to you. I will put it on my finger, and when my body, together with Siegfried’s, turns to ashes, advance over the remains of the bonfire and drag us all down into the murmuring waters…”

For long night hours, the logs burned. When the ashes of the hero’s and the Valkyrie’s bodies mingled with the last remnants of the burning logs, the waves of the Rhine surged towards the pyre.

Hagen, who had been attentive, rushed forward in search of the ring before the waters carried it away. But at that moment the Rhine daughters rushed forward and swept him to the bottom of the river. Thus perished Hagen, the evil genius, swallowed by the waters, along with the ashes of Siegfried and Brunhild.

As the Valkyrie had foretold, the flames from the pyre reached the heavenly heights and set Valhalla on fire. The gods could do nothing to save the divine abode. Wotan watched the hurricane of destructive fire grow and pondered the causes and reasons for this ruinous end.

The perfidy of men had also taken hold of the minds and hearts of the gods. He himself had been unjust, driven more than once by anger. Now he saw Valhalla collapsing, consumed by the fire of evil passions. With the last glow of the fire in the high abode of the gods, the gods were entering their final decline. The darkened world had only the hope of a new dawn.

Der Ring des Nibelungen Videos

The Ring of the Nibelung, 13

Siegfried’s death

Everyone waited anxiously for Siegfried to explain the valkyrie’s accusation, but the hero stated emphatically:

“I swear that what Brunhild says is false!”

So saying, he gave his arm to Gutrune, and the two lovers made their way to the palace, followed by a court of ladies and gentlemen.

On the terrace stood Hagen, Gunther and Brunhild.

Gunther looked dazed. His eyes questioned his half-brother, who had remained unmoved until then, and Hagen thought it was time to strike the decisive blow against the hero. He approached Brunhild and whispered in her ear:

“If you trust me, you can have your revenge.”

“You don’t know who he is. You can never harm him.”

“I am not ignorant of his courage and strength, but he will have some weaknesses.”

“He is invulnerable from the front. Only from behind can he be hurt; but he never turns his back on the enemy.”

The feast lasted all night. Great bonfires were lit, and the time passed with singing, shouts of joy, and libations of wine and mead in honour of Siegfried and Gutrune.

At dawn, Hagen organised the hunt according to his sinister plan. He would kill Siegfried from behind and claim that the hero’s death had been caused by a wild boar’s lunge.

The morning was cold. The air was dry and biting. The Rhine looked like a broad silver ribbon in the pale light of dawn.

The hunting party set off into the forest, preceded by the eagerly running dog tracks, tracking the prey.

Siegfried led the way. As soon as he saw the silhouette of a bear he broke away from the group and ran in pursuit of the beast with his bow drawn, ready to shoot the flying arrow. He passed through thickly wooded areas in pursuit of the bear, and after a strenuous march, he found himself back on the river bank. He sat down to rest and watched the eddies formed by the current as it crashed against the rocks. Suddenly the hero saw a blonde hair emerge from one of the reefs. It was Flosshilde, one of the Rhine’s daughters, who began to swim facing the rising sun. After a few moments, Siegfried heard the voice of the undine calling to her sisters:

“Come, the sun is up, its rays are warm! Come out, sisters, from the bottom of the river, which no longer has the gleam of gold since it was taken from us!”

The group of undines then emerged from the bottom of the father Rhine, and their hair looked like rivers of gold on the silvery waters.

Siegfried gazed at them in rapt attention, and to attract their attention he sounded his hunting horn.

“Welcome the hero!” cried Flosshilde.

“Let him come to the shore!” cried Woglinde.

“Let him give us back the ring!” added Wellgunde.

So said the daughters of the Rhine, as they swam towards the shore.

“Are you the ones who hid the bear I was chasing? When it reached the river, the bear disappeared as if by magic.”

The undines made their noisy laughter heard. They mocked the hero.

“What reward will we get if we give you back your prey?”

“I have nothing to offer you. I never carry anything with me.”

“What about the ring that glitters on your finger?” Wellgunde boldly suggested?

“Yes, that’s right! Give us the ring on your hand!” repeated the Rhine’s daughters in chorus.

“To get the ring,” answered Siegfried, “I had to face a terrible dragon.”

“How could you steal it?”

“I did not steal it. I took it from him.”

“We don’t believe you, Siegfried. It is no easy thing to snatch a ring from a terrible dragon.”

“True: it was not easy for me. The struggle was tremendous. More than once I thought I would succumb: but I finally defeated him, and now his body lies at the entrance to his horrible cavern.”

“How? Did you slay the dragon?”

“Yes, it was the only way to get hold of the ring.”

“Oh! And did you touch its blood?”

“Yes, I dipped my lips in it; that’s why I understand the language of the bird of the forest.”

“Poor Siegfried!”

“Unhappy hero!”

“What fate awaits you!”

So said the undines, pitying the sad end that awaited the invincible hero. The latter did not understand their lamentations and asked:

“Ah, you want to trick me into getting rid of it!”

“It is true what we say! That ring was made with the gold that Alberich stole from us. When it was stolen from him, the Nibelung put a curse on anyone who came into possession of it. You snatched it from the dragon; well, you must get rid of it before the misfortune that hangs over your head threatens to cut the thread of your life.”

Hearing the story and the threat contained in the tremendous prophecy, Siegfried was irritated. Unfamiliar with fear, it was not easy to make him believe in misfortunes near or far and in dangers present or future. Rather, he believed that all the chatter of the undines was intended to convince him to part with the ring forged from the gold of the Rhine, stolen from his sister nymphs.

He stood arrogantly on the rock and replied to the three swimmers:

“Your prophecy does not frighten me. I will never part with the ring.”

“Reflect, Siegfried! Our prophecy will be fulfilled. The ring brings misfortune. Throw it into the waves. The river-father will thus regain the gold that was taken from him, and you will be able to ward off the curse.”

“I have fought the dread dragon for the jewel; I have broken the spear of a god with the sword that I tempered myself; so shall I win and come out victorious from the plot of fate.”

“Pride blinds you, Siegfried. You are an invincible hero, you have broken the spear of Wotan; but you cannot escape your destiny, which is preparing a fateful end for you.”

“The dragon also spoke to me thus, but I cut off his talk with the edge of my sword. In the same way, I shall be able to defend myself against my enemies.”

“Is this your last word, and shall we return to the sad depths, orphaned of the gleam with which the gold that was taken from us illumined it?”

“Neither flattery nor threats, neither augury nor doom, can determine me to give you back the ring that shines in my hand. That is my will.”

In the face of this unexpected refusal, the undines, saddened, decided to sink once more into the waters of father Rhine. Before disappearing, they sang, in a sorrowful voice, a song that sounded to the hero’s ears like the prelude to a funeral march:

Fate has woven the web
from which no one can escape;
not even the hardest heroes
its iron meshes can break.

Thou, Siegfried, hast tempered a sword,
and with it you slew the dragon;
but the ring that is in thy hand
carries with it a curse.

The day is at hand
for the death that awaits you.
Soon your body will be ashes
in the flames of high fire.

Siegfried listened for a long time to the chorus of the Rhine daughters, until the voices were drowned out by the muffled murmur of the river waves.

Suddenly there came the echoes of hunting horns. The hero then decided to re-join his companions. He went back into the forest and, guided by the sound of the horns, came to a clearing in the jungle, where the other hunters were waiting for him. He was greeted with shouts of joy and cordial words, which ceased when they realised that he had returned without having taken any game.

“You don’t have any prey?” asked Hagen, approaching him with mock friendliness.

“No, I can’t add to the morning’s haul. Perhaps I shall have better luck in the afternoon’s raid.”

“Tell us something of your life, Siegfried,” said one of the hunters.

“Tell us, tell us!” insisted the crafty Hagen, while prince Gunther made a gesture of displeasure. He knew that his half-brother was trying to make the hero talk to learn all his secrets.

Siegfried noticed that everyone was interested in his story and began to narrate. His memory was slowly clearing as the effects of the brew prepared by Hagen, which the hero had drunk the day before, mixed with the wine that Gutrune had offered him, were wearing off.

“I was born in the cave of a dwarf of the Nibelung stock, named Mime. He raised me with great care and taught me the art of metal smelting and steel tempering. He planned to make me strong and brave so that I could face the dragon of the forest. That dragon was the custodian of this ring and a magic helmet. When I reached the age when I could accomplish the task, Mime gave me two pieces of a sword. This had been my father’s; only with it, I could defeat the terrible dragon.

”The dwarf had tried many times in vain to put the two pieces together. When I had succeeded in remaking and tempering my father’s sword, Mime took me into the forest and pointed out the cavern where the ring and the helmet were. It was a hard fight with the dragon that guarded it.

”At last, I killed it, and my hand was bathed in its blood. As I brought it unwillingly to my lips, I had the impression that it increased the power of my senses. I realised that I understood the language of a forest bird. This bird guided me for a whole day through the forest. When we reached the foot of a high rock, it told me to climb to the top. In the middle of the path, a passerby stood in my way and tried to stop me. He blocked my way, but with a blow of my sword, I smashed his mighty spear to pieces. To reach the top I had to pass through a ring of fire, in the middle of which lay a sleeping maiden.”

Siegfried stopped again. A dense fog again obscured the panorama of his memories. Hagen then malignantly inquired:

“Did you wake the sleeper?”

“Not at once. I gazed at her for a long time. I took off her helmet. I kissed her on the forehead…”

“And you made her your wife, didn’t you?” insisted Hagen.

“Yes, I made her my wife and entrusted her with the ring when I left. But now I see that it must all have been a dream because the ring is still shining on my finger. I don’t understand! I don’t remember!”

“You didn’t come back after your departure? You didn’t take it off by force?”

“Yes! I remember now that I took it off violently. But why? Yes, yes, Brunhild is my wife! She is still waiting for me on the rock; I’m going to look for her!”

Remembering the name of his beloved, Siegfried set out at once. After a few steps, he thought he heard the voice of the forest bird. He stopped to listen, and at that moment Hagen approached him, wielding his javelin. With a mighty thrust, he hurled it at the hero’s back, and he fell like an oak cut down by lightning.

“Farewell, Brunhild!” were Siegfried’s last words.


Editor’s Note:

So the original story ends in tragedy, not drama, like Tolkien’s tale, published about a hundred years after Wagner began writing his tragedy.

‘Frodo’ (who in Tolkien’s tale looked about thirty years old; not the teenager that Peter Jackson filmed for an increasingly infantilised white audience) doesn’t throw the ring. The hero keeps it, with fatal consequences not only for himself but for all his kindred, as we shall see tomorrow.

(Remember that the music we hear in the clip above, Siegfried’s death and the funeral march by the end of Götterdämmerung, was played by the Nazis just after Hitler died. It was a sign of the dark blackness that would cover not only Germany, but the entire West.)

Der Ring des Nibelungen

The Ring of the Nibelung, 12

The Betrayal

The days passed, slow and monotonous, and Brunhild waited anxiously for Siegfried’s return.

Attentive to the slightest rumour, she thought she heard every moment the distant sound of the Grane’s hooves. Deep melancholy darkened her face as she saw that her beloved was taking longer than promised.

One day she heard someone approaching on horseback. At once a Valkyrie appeared before her.

“Sister, have you come to visit me in disobedience to our father, or have you come down to earth with his permission? Has the wrath of the wrathful Wotan abated?”

“I have come down without permission to implore your help.”

“What is the matter?”

“Happiness no longer reigns in Valhalla. All is sadness up there. Over our father Wotan and all the gods, there is the anguish of great desolation.”

“I belong to the earth. The gods and Valhalla are indifferent to me. Besides, what can I do for the gods and the sons of the gods?”

Towards evening the sound of a horn was heard coming from the deep valley.

“Surely it must be Siegfried’s horn,” thought Brunhild. And her heart swelled at the impulse of her immense joy. She saw an arrogant figure advancing through the fire. It could be none other than her lover; what would be her astonishment when she saw that the features were not those of the hero!

“I have conquered the power of fire and conquered you!”

Thus spoke the stranger to her, taking her by the arm.

“Who are you, that you dare to approach the wife of the strongest hero in the land? My husband is Siegfried, and the ring he left me as a pledge of his love will give me strength to resist your daring.”

“I am Gunther, prince of the Gibichungs. I have conquered you and you will follow me. If that ring is an obstacle to my will, I will take it from you by force.”

Brunhild resisted bravely in order not to be deprived of the jewel, but her resistance was in vain.

The knight who claimed to be Prince Gunther was in fact, Siegfried. According to their pact, he had taken the countenance of his friend using the magic helmet. The hero, having forgotten all his past through Hagen’s brew, conquered Brunhild for the second time to hand her over to Gunther.

With desolation in her soul, the young woman descended into the valley followed by the false Gunther. In truth, he was on the bank of the river, in hiding.

Just as Brunhild was getting into the boat, the prince jumped on board and spread his sail. Meanwhile, Siegfried, who had returned to his true countenance, stood on the shore and watched the boat sail away. Then he embarked in a swift skiff and reached Gunther’s castle before the latter. Hagen greeted him with mock cordiality and asked him:

“Where is Brunhild?”

“She is in the boat with Gunther.”

“There were no problems?”


“What did she say to the young man when she was found?”

“She resisted. She called out my name several times. But I don’t remember seeing her before.”

The hero made an effort to evoke something of his past and felt his mind grow duller and duller, like a morning with dense fog.

Then Gutrune arrived and laid her head on Siegfried’s chest. The latter was still enraptured by her through the effects of the sly Hagen’s brew.

“Sister!” said the latter to Gutrune, “if Gunther and Brunhild are coming, it is only right that you should call the people to come and meet them.”

“You are right, brother. All will rejoice noisily at the double marriage of their princes, Gunther to Brunhild, and Gutrune to Siegfried.”

On a mound, Hagen blew his horn.

From every corner of the land the villagers came so that when Gunther and Brunhild reached the boat, they were greeted with shouts of welcome.

The Valkyrie advanced towards the castle as if in a dream. She was as if disturbed.

“Hail, dear Brunhild,” exclaimed Gutrune, advancing towards her, “I am highly honoured to be your sister-in-law. I am sure my brother will make you happy.” Brunhild did not answer. She was as if stunned amid the crowd’s welcoming din.

Gunther took the floor to respond to her sister’s greeting:

“Hail Gutrune, to you and your noble husband Siegfried!”

At the sound of this name, Brunhild snapped out of her morass.

“Siegfried? Where is Siegfried?”

“I am here and welcome you, Brunhild.”

Brunhild looked into his eyes, amazed that her beloved could speak to her so coldly. As she looked at his hands, she discovered the ring that the false Gunther had taken from her a short time before.

“Ah, it was you! It was you, not Gunther, who broke through the circle of fire that protected me from intruders! You have conquered me twice! And for what? To give me to this presumptuous man, who has taken advantage of your fearlessness to make me his wife? And you lent yourself to this infamous game? Traitor! Infamous traitor!”

A surge of anger kindled in the hero’s fierce face as he heard these insults, but he could not understand why Brunhild said that he had conquered her twice. He remembered nothing of his former adventures. He strove to draw from the depths of his mind some light that would clear up the mystery. In vain!

Brunhild was weeping now. She wept bitterly. When Gunther approached her, she turned him away violently.

“Vile and cowardly,” she cried, rising with the ancient fierceness of the Valkyries, “this is a land of infamous traitors!”

“Why do you say that, Brunhild,” asked Siegfried; “why do you claim that I have conquered you twice?”

“Yes, one morning you woke me with a kiss on my forehead, and last night you tore off the ring that you yourself had left me as a pledge of your love.”

At those words, which the young woman uttered with a heart-rending accent, Gunther was startled. Gutrune was looking around, doubting everything, and Siegfried was still without understanding, without remembering.

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.


______ 卐 ______


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.


______ 卐 ______


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