Brunhild and Gunther as Heroes of The Song of the Nibelungs and The Saga of the Volsungs
The Song of the Nibelungs belongs to one of the most famous epic works of mankind. Its roots date back to the ancient times, probably to the era of the Great Migration. There are various versions of the medieval German epic poem. The Saga of the Volsungs is based on the older version of the Norse legends; for this reason, heroes’ names differ from those in The Song of the Nibelungs: Niflungs instead of Nibelungs, Sigurd instead of Siegfried, Gudrun instead of Kriemhild, and Gunnar instead of Gunther.
Each source gives a new interpretation making an original story; however, the main storyline and the characters still remain almost the same in each version. Tragic colors of the tales, fatal doom of heroes do not indicate that heroes are spiritually broken and passively await their fate. They create their destiny themselves. The aim of this paper is to analyze Brunhild and Gunther, the heroes of The Song of the Nibelungs and The Saga of the Volsungs, and describe how their actions influence the course of events.
Relationship between Brunhild and Gunther and the Tragic Conflict
In The Saga of the Volsungs, Brunhild’s engagement with Sigurd was broken as he, after having a drink of forgetfulness, lost his memory and forgot their meeting with Brunhild and took Gudrun (Kriemhild) as a wife. In The Song of the Nibelungs, this episode is omitted. Then, Burgundian king Gunnar (Gunther) wooed Brunhild, and he dishonestly became her husband. It was a deceit as strong Sigurd (Siegfried) replaced his weaker friend taking the appearance of Gunnar during the first wedding night. According to the ancient myth, as soon as the strongest girl loses her virginity, she loses her power and becomes an ordinary woman. Gunnar (Gunther) had to make Brunhild lose her virginity and extraordinary strength. This episode clearly reflects the evolution and the change of outlook of the ancient Germans. In the era of the creation of Scandinavian epic, deprivation of virginity of a bride (Brunhild) by another man did not mean offending the honor of her husband (Gunther). However, later, the German version of the same story is perceived in the opposite way. Gunther entrusts Siegfried to tame unruly Brunhild; he asks Siegfried to do whatever he wants, but not to deprive her of virginity.
Thus, the Germans attitude towards the life in relation to such issues as honor and dishonor has radically changed, and evidence of this is the differences between Scandinavian and German versions of marriage between Brunhild and Gunther. When analyzing the episode of “taming of Brunhild”, there can be some differences in various sources, but all the sources describe the scene in which Siegfried took Brunhild’s attributes of virginity: belt and ring. He gave those most intimate female attributes to his wife Kriemhild. Later, during a quarrel between Gudrun (Kriemhild) and Brunhild, Kriemhild showed the attributes of virginity in public, proving that it was Siegfried who deprived Brunhild of virginity. Convinced of deception and insulted by the fact that the oath had been violated, and she did not get the strongest man, Sigurd, offended Brunhild instigated Gunnar’s (Gunther’s) vassal Hagen to kill Siegfried. Hagen completely fulfilled his queen’s order.
Taking into account all the sources, the relationship between Brunhild and Gunnar (Gunther) impacts the whole story in both books and both movies called Die Nibelungen and Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King. It is obvious that the tragic conflict begins in the matrimonial bedrooms of Brunhild and Gunther. A quarrel with Gudrun (Kriemhild) and Brunhild’s revenge are the tragic consequences of the relationship between recalcitrant Brunhild and spineless coward Gunther who is too weak to oppose her.
The Image of Brunhild
In Eddic poems, Brunhild appears as a very strong female; The Saga of the Volsungs identifies her as valkyrie woken from sleep by Sigurd. The events, connected with Brunhild, differ in various sources. For example, The Song of the Nibelungs does not describe Brunhild’s love to Sigurd and their broken engagement, as it is depicted in The Saga of the Volsungs. In The Saga of the Volsungs, Brunhild commits suicide asking to put her on the funeral pyre near the fire of her lover Sigurd. Brunhild’s wish indicates her selfless love to Sigurd, a man who is stronger than she, who overcame her in the battle and conquered her heart.
Death unites Brunhild with Sigurd. However, in The Song of the Nibelungs, Brunhild disappears from the poem after the disclosure of deception and murder of Siegfried. However, Brunhild’s characteristics as a hero of epic poems and legends remain the same. In all the sources, she is a powerful woman who always gets what she wants. She is vindictive; her desire for revenge is very strong. She is cruel to all who infringes on her honor. She gives a command to kill Siegfried as he betrayed her and took her maidenhood. On the one hand, Brunhild is merciless to Siegfried whom she still loves, according to The Saga of the Volsungs. On the other hand, she is a domineering woman who subjugates Gunnar. Surely, she is a formidable character but weak in love to the strongest man.
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The Depiction of Gunnar or Gunther
Gunnar (Gunther) is a Burgundian king. In the beginning of The Song of the Nibelungs, he is represented as a powerful ruler, a generous and wise king who cares about the welfare of their relatives and lieges. He appears to be a powerful character. However, Gunther’s attitude to the trials and tribulations is gradually reducing the idealized image of the ruler of Burgundians. The first part of the epic poem is based on the fact that in different life situations, Burgundian king is always substituted by Siegfried who came from the Lower Rhine. The most important substitution that changed all the following events was when Siegfried fought Brunhild instead of Gunther. Gradually, Gunther becomes a puppet in the hands of powerful Brunhild and other close people. Brunhild, playing on his ambition, influence Gunther to call his “vassal” Siegfried to Worms. She provokes a quarrel in which Gunther takes the side of his wife, not his sister. The initial feeling of gratitude for voluntary responsive Siegfried is replaced by the desire to kill him, not letting secret become revealed.
Gunther does not prevent the murder of Siegfried as he still cannot oppose his wife; he also hopes to avoid the shame that concerns their first wedding night. Gunther does not feel any guilt, because, in his mind, Siegfried’s morality does not coincide with the human morality. He easily eliminates a former friend as soon as he becomes dangerous. After three years and a half, Gunther visits Krymhild. He believes that Krymhild has forgiven him, and this, in turn, gives him a reason to do new villainy to his sister: once again, he succumbs to Hagen and intends to take the treasure of the Nibelungs. Now, he and his family will be called the Nibelungs, but the Rhine gold will bring them nothing except misfortune.
To conclude, as the readers may notice, some episodes connected with such mythical characters as Brunhild and Gunther (Gunnar) in two books, epic poem The Song of the Nibelungs and legendary saga The Saga of the Volsungs, differ. However, their original features are the same in all the sources. Both of them initiate the tragic conflict. Brunhild’s desire for revenge and Gunther’s weakness led to many deaths. Gunther, even being a Burgundian king and ostensibly a powerful ruler, has many flaws. In comparison with Brunhild, Gunther is weak both physically and morally, starting from their meeting, battle, the first wedding night, and throughout the whole story. He is sometimes afraid of her and does everything she wants, even kills his friend being afraid to confront his wife. What combines those two characters is the fact that they both act as villains.