1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sigurd
SIGURD (Sigurðr) or Siegfried (M. H. G. Sîfrit), the hero of the Nibelungenlied, and of a number of Scandinavian poems included in the older Edda, as well as of the prose Volsunga Saga, which is based upon the latter. According to both the German and Scandinavian authorities he was the son of a certain Sigmundr (Siegmund), a king in the Netherlands, or the “land of the Franks.” The exploits of this Sigmundr and his elder sons Sinfiötli and Helgi form the subject of the earlier parts of Völsunga Saga, and Siegmund and Fitela (i.e. Sinfiötli) are also mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. According to the Scandinavian story Sigmundr was slain in battle before the birth of Sigurd, but the German story makes him survive his son. Sigurd acquired great fame and riches by slaying the dragon Fáfnir, but the chief interest of the story centres round his Connexion with the court of the Burgundian king Gunnar (Gunther). He married Guðrun (Kriemhild), the sister of that king, and won for him by a stratagem the hand of the Valkyrie Brynhildr, with whom he had himself previously exchanged vows of love. A quarrel arose between Brynhildr and Guðrun, in the course of which the former learnt of the deception which had been practised upon her and this led eventually to the murder of Sigurd. According to the Scandinavian version he was slain by his brother-in-law Guttorm, according to the German version by the knight Hagen. Gunther's brothers were subsequently slain while visiting Atli (Etzel), who married Guðrun after Sigurd's death. According to the German story they were killed at the instigation of Kriemhild in revenge for Siegfried. The Scandinavian version of the story attributes the deed to Atli's lust for gold.
The story of Sigurd has given rise to more discussion than any other subject connected with the Teutonic heroic age. Like Achilles he is represented as the perfect embodiment of the ideals of the race, and, as in the case of the Greek hero, it is customary to regard his personality and exploits as mythical. There is no question, however, that the Burgundian king who is said to have been his brother-in-law was an historical person who was slain by the Huns, at the time when the Burgundian kingdom was overthrown by the latter. Sigurd himself is not mentioned by any contemporary writer; but, apart from the dragon incident, there is nothing in the story which affords sufficient justification for regarding his personality as mythical. Opinions, however, vary widely as to the precise proportions of history and fiction which the story contains. The story of Siegfried in Richard Wagner's famous opera-cycle Der Ring der Nibelungen is mainly taken from the northern version; but many features, especially the characterization of Hagen, are borrowed from the German story, as is also the episode of Siegfried's murder in the forest.
See Nibelungenlied and also R. Heinzel, “Über die Nibelungensage,” in Sitzungsberichte der K. Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna, 1885); H. Lichtenberger, Le Poème et la légende des Nibelungen (Paris, 1891); B. Symons, “Heldensage” in H. Paul's Grundriss der germ. Philologie, vol. iii. (Strassburg, 1900); and R. C. Boer, Untersuchungen über den Ursprung und die Entwicklung der Nibelungensage (Halle, 1906). Also T. Abeling, Nibelungenlied (1907).