Images of the Scandinavian epic had a significant impact on the European culture of the XIX-XX centuries. R. Wagner created the four operas of “The Ring of the Nibelung,” and J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, “The Silmarillion” based on Old Norse literary works. The popularity of the characters and plots of these works has given rise to many variations and interpretations not only in literature but also in painting, sculpture, and cinema. Therefore, the study of the Scandinavian epic and its cultural function is relevant for understanding not only the history of culture but also its present.
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The provided excerpt is from “Fafnismal” a continuation of the trilogy of poems about the adventures of Sigurth, part of “The Poetic Edda,” a collection of Old Norse poems that came from Iceland in the X-XIII century. Here, he kills the dragon, Fafnir, for his stepfather, Regin, in order to take the dragon’s treasures. The part of the excerpt shows the verbal duel between Sigurth and Fafnir, where the dragon tries to identify Sigurth’s name to pass the curse to the enemy.
In the excerpt from “The Tale of Fafnir,” Sigurth faces the problem of his own identity. When the dragon asks the hero whose son he is, Sigurth confesses that he does not know. He says: “I am called ‘clever beast,’ and I have always been a motherless son. I don’t have a father, like the sons of men do. I am always alone”. Sigurth’s statement about his loneliness and homelessness can be interpreted as the embodiment of ideas about the hero-ancestor, the archetype of the “first man.” Based on this assumption, a hero has to perform an epic deed, which in the case of Sigurth is the killing of the dragon Fafnir, which can be seen as another archetype, an act of a cultural hero, overcoming the forces of chaos.
The main character of the Scandinavian epic, Sigurth, retains the features of the first ancestor, a cultural hero who fights against the forces of chaos and obtains wisdom and treasures of the defeated. It is the first ancestor in mythical legends who passes the ritual of initiation. The image of Sigurth is closely connected not only with the motive of the cultural hero but also with a ceremony of initiation. The echoes of the initiation ritual are preserved in the motive of killing the dragon and in the motif of the wisdom shared by Fafnir. Initiated hero transforms into a cultural hero defeating the forces of chaos after receiving knowledge from the dragon, the master of elements. The emergence of the motive of dragon fighting is associated with the transition from barbarism to civilization, the first step to the creation of the state. Interestingly, the time of appearance of the poem matches with the settlement of Iceland, particularly the Althing, national assembly, which refused paganism and embraced Christianity (Short). Therefore, the whole scene between Sigurth and Fafnir becomes symbolic in terms of cultural identity and perspectives.
The excerpt from “The Tale of Fafnir” shows that Sigurth is much more than a simple dragon-slayer hero. He is a legendary and symbolic figure in the mythology of the Scandinavian nations. Sigurth represents the first ancestor, as well as, hope, and aspiration to find an authentic identity. Sigurth serves the function of a cultural hero who, after defeating the forces of chaos, receives wisdom and treasures.
Short, William R. “Hurstwic: Viking-Age Laws and Legal Procedures”. Hurstwic.Org, 2020.