THE POETIC EDDA
The Ballad of The Victory-Bringer
The so-called Sigrdrifumol, which immediately follows the Fafnismol in the Codex Regius without any indication of a break, and without separate title, is unquestionably the most chaotic of all the poems in the Eddic collection. The end of it has been entirely lost, for the fifth folio of eight sheets is missing from Regius, the gap coming after the first line of stanza 29 of this poem. That stanza has been completed, and eight more have been added, from much later paper manuscripts, but even so the conclusion of the poem is in obscurity.
Properly speaking, however, the strange conglomeration of stanzas which the compiler of the collection has left for us, and which, in much the same general form, seems to have lain before the authors of the Volsungasaga, in which eighteen of its stanzas are quoted, is not a poem at all. Even its customary title is an absurd error. The mistake made by the annotator in thinking that the epithet "sigrdrifa," rightly applied to Brynhild as a "bringer of victory," was a proper name has already been explained and commented on (note on Fafnismol, 44). Even if the collection of stanzas were in any real sense a poem, which it emphatically is not, it is certainly not the "Ballad of Sigrdrifa" which it is commonly called. "Ballad of Brynhild" would be a sufficiently suitable title, and I have here brought the established name "Sigrdrifumol" into accord with this by translating the epithet instead of treating it as a proper name.
Even apart from the title, however, the Sigrdrifumol has little claim to be regarded as a distinct poem, nor is there any indication that the compiler did so regard it. Handicapped as we are by the loss of the concluding section, and of the material which followed it on those missing pages, we can yet see that the process which began with the prose Fra Dautha Sinfjotla, and which, interrupted by the insertion of the Gripisspo, went on through the Reginsmol and the Fafnismol, continued through as much of the Sigrdrifumol as is left to us. In other words, the compiler told the story of Sigurth in mixed prose and verse, using whatever verse he could find without much questioning as to its origin, and filling in the gaps with hii own prose. Fra
Dautha Sinfjotla, Reginsmol, Fafnismol, and Sigrdrifumol are essentially a coherent unit, but one of the compiler's making only; they represent neither one poem nor three distinct poems, and the divisions and titles which have been almost universally adopted by editors are both arbitrary and misleading.
The Sigrdrifumol section as we now have it is an extraordinary piece of patchwork. It is most unlikely that the compiler himself brought all these fragments together for the first time; little by little, through a process of accretion and also, unluckily, through one of elimination, the material grew into its present shape. Certainly the basis of it is a poem dealing with the finding of Brynhild by Sigurth, but of this original poem only five stanzas (2-4 and 20-21) can be identified with any degree of confidence. To these five stanzas should probably, however, be added some, if not all, of the passage (stanzas 6-12) in which Brynhild teaches Sigurth the magic runes. These stanzas of rune-lore attracted sundry similar passages from other sources, including stanza 5, in which a magic draught is administered (not necessarily by Brynhild or to Sigurth), the curious rune-chant in stanzas 15-17, and stanzas 13-14 and 18-19. Beginning with stanza 22, and running to the end of the fragment (stanza 37), is a set of numbered counsels closely resembling the Loddfafnismol (Hovamol, stanzas 111-138), which manifestly has nothing whatever to do with Brynhild. Even in this passage there are probably interpolations (stanzas 25, 27, 30, 54, and 36). Finally, and bespeaking the existence at some earlier time of another Sigurth-Brynhild poem, is stanza 1, sharply distinguished by its metrical form from stanzas 2-4 and 20-21. Many critics argue that stanzas 6-10 of Helreith Brynildar belonged originally to the same poem as stanza 1 of the Sigrdrifumol.
The Sigrdrifumol, then, must be regarded simply as a collection of fragments, most of them originally having no relation to the main subject. All of the story, the dialogue and the characterization are embodied in stanzas 1-4 and 20-21 and in the prose notes accompanying the first four stanzas; all of the rest might equally well (or better) be transferred to the Hovamol, where its character entitles it to a place. Yet stanzas 2-4 are as fine as anything in Old Norse poetry, and it is out of the scanty material of these three stanzas that Wagner constructed much of the third act of "Siegfried."
The Sigrdrifumol represents almost exclusively the contributions of the North to the Sigurth tradition (cf. introductory note to the Gripisspo). Brynhild, here disguised by the annotator as "Sigrdrifa," appears simply as a battle-maid and supernatural dispenser of wisdom; there is no trace of the daughter of Buthli and the rival of Guthrun. There is, however, so little of the "poem" which can definitely be assigned to the Sigurth cycle that it is impossible to trace back any of the underlying narrative substance.
The nature and condition of the material have made editorial conjectures and emendations very numerous, and as most of the guesses are neither conclusive nor particularly important, only a few of their are mentioned in the notes.
Sigurth rode up on Hindarfjoll and turned southward toward the land of the Franks. On the mountain he saw a great light, as if fire were burning, and the glow reached up to heaven. And when he came thither, there stood a tower of shields, and above it was a banner. Sigurth went into the shield-tower, and saw that a man lay there sleeping with all his war-weapons. First he took the helm from his head, and then he saw that it was a woman. The mail-coat was as fast as if it had grown to the flesh. Then he cut the mail-coat from the
[Prose. The introductory prose follows without break the prose concluding the Fafnismol, the point of division being arbitrary and not agreed upon by all editors. Hindarfjoll: cf. Fafnismol, 42 and note. Franks: this does not necessarily mean that Sigurth was on his way to the Gjukungs' home, for Sigmund had a kingdom in the land of the Franks (cf. Fra Dautha Sinfjotla). Shields: the annotator probably drew the notion of the shield-tower from the reference in Helreith Brynhildar, 9. The flame-girt tower was not uncommon; cf. Mengloth's hall in Svipdagsmol.]
head-opening downward, and out to both the arm-holes. Then he took the mail-coat from her, and she awoke, and sat up and saw Sigurth, and said:
1. "What bit through the byrnie? | how
was broken my sleep?
Sigurth sat beside her and asked her name. She took a horn full of mead and gave him a memory-draught.
2. "Hail, day! | Hail, sons of day!
[1. This stanza, and the two lines included in the prose after stanza 4, and possibly stanza 5 as well, evidently come from a different poem from stanzas 2-4. Lines 3-4 in the original are obscure, though the general meaning is clear.
Prose (after stanza 1). In the manuscript stanza 4 stands before this prose note and stanzas 2-3. The best arrangement of the stanzas seems to be the one here given, following Müllenhoff's suggestion, but the prose note is out of place anywhere. The first sentence of it ought to follow stanza 4 and immediately precede the next prose note; the second sentence ought to precede stanza 5.
2. Sons of day: the spirits of light. The daughter of night (Not), according to Snorri, was Jorth (Earth).]
3. "Hail to the gods! | Ye goddesses,
4. "Long did I sleep, | my slumber was
Her name was Sigrdrifa, and she was a Valkyrie. She said that two kings fought in battle; one was called Hjalmgunnar, an old man but a mighty warrior, and Othin had promised him the victory, and
The other was Agnar, | brother of Autha,
Sigrdrifa, slew Hjalmgunnar in the battle, and Othin pricked her with the sleep-thorn in punishment for this, and said that she should never thereafter win victory in battle, but that she should be wedded. "And I said to him that I had made a vow in my turn, that I would
[Prose (after stanza 4). Sigrdrifa: on the error whereby this epithet, "victory-bringer," became a proper name cf. Fafnismol, 44 and note. Hjalmgunnar: in Helreith Brynhildar (stanza 8) he is called a king of the Goths, which means little; of him and his adversary, Agnar, we know, nothing beyond what is told here. The two lines quoted apparently come from the same poem as stanza 1; the two first lines of the stanza have been reconstructed from the prose thus: "Hjalmgunnar was one, | the hoary king, / And triumph to him | had Heerfather promised." A few editions insert in this prose passage stanzas 7-10 of Helreith Brynhildar, which may or may not have be longed originally to this poem.]
never marry a man who knew the meaning of fear." Sigurth answered and asked her to teach him wisdom, if she knew of what took place in all the worlds. Sigrdrifa said:
5. "Beer I bring thee, | tree of battle,
* * * * * *
6. Winning-runes learn, | if thou longest
7. Ale-runes learn, | that with lies the
[5. This stanza is perhaps, but by no means surely, from the same poem as stanza 1. Tree of battle: warrior. Runes: the earliest runes were not letters, but simply signs supposed to possess magic power; out of them developed the "runic alphabet."
6. Stanzas 6-12 give a list of runes which probably had no original connection with the Brynhild-Sigurth story. Tyr: the sword-god (cf. Hymiskvitha, 4 and note); "tyr" is also the name of a rune which became "T."
7. Regius gives only lines 1-6; lines 7-8 are added from Volsungasaga. Lies, etc.: a guest on his arrival received a draught of ale from the hands of his host's wife, and it was to prevent this draught from bewitching him that the runes were recommended. Need: the word "nauth," meaning "need," is also the name of the rune which became "N." Leek: leeks were long supposed to have the power of counteracting poison or witchcraft.]
On the horn thou shalt write, | and the
backs of thy hands,
8. Birth-runes learn, | if help thou wilt
9. Wave-runes learn, | if well thou
10. Branch-runes learn, | if a healer
[9. Sail-steeds: ships.
10. Branch-runes: runes cut in the bark of trees. Such runes were believed to transfer sickness from the invalid to the tree. Some editors, however, have changed "limrunar" ("branch runes") to "lifrunar" ("life-runes").]
On the bark shalt thou write, | and on
trees that be
11. Speech-runes learn, | that none may
12. Thought-runes learn, | if all shall
* * * * * *
13. Them Hropt arranged, | and them he
[11. Lines 3-6 look like an accidental addition, replacing two lines now lost. They mean, apparently, that the man who interweaves his speech with "speech-runes" when he pleads his case at the "Thing," or popular tribunal, will not unduly enrage his adversary in the argument of the case.
12. Here the list of runes breaks off, though the manuscript indicates no gap, and three short passages of a different type, though all dealing with runes, follow.
13. Stanzas 13-14 appear to have come from a passage regarding Othin's getting of the runes similar to Hovamol, 139-146. Editors have tried various combinations of the lines in stanzas 12-14. Hropt: Othin; cf. Voluspo, 62. The draught, etc.: apparently the reference is to the head of Mim, from which Othin derived his wisdom in magic (cf. Voluspo, 47 and note); Heithdraupnir ("Light-Dropper") and Hoddrofnir ("Treasure-Opener") seem to be names for Mim.]
Out of the draught | that down had
14. On the mountain he stood | with
* * * * * *
15. He bade write on the shield | before
the shining goddess,
16. On the paws of the bear, | and on Bragi's tongue,
[14. This stanza is clearly in bad shape; perhaps, as the manuscript indicates, a new stanza, of which most has been lost, should begin with line 3. Brimir: a giant (cf. Voluspo, 9 and 37); why Othin should have his sword is unknown.
15. Stanzas 15-17 constitute a wholly distinct rune-chant. Line 1 is unusually long in the original, as here. Shield: the shield Svalin ("Cooling") that stands in front of the sun; cf. Grimnismol, 38. Arvak ("Early Waker"') and Alsvith ("All Swift"): the horses that draw the sun's car; cf. Grimnismol, 37, Hrungnir: the slayer of the giant Hrungnir was Thor (cf. Harbarthsljoth, 14 and note), but the line is in bad shape; the name may not be Hrungnir, and "killer" is 2 conjectural addition. Sleipnir: Othin's eight-legged horse; cf. Grimnismol, 44 and note. Sledge: perhaps the one mentioned in Grimnismol, 49- 16. Bragi: the god of poetry; cf. Grimnismol, 44 and note.]
On the wolf's claws bared, | and the
17. On glass and on gold, | and on goodly
* * * * * *
18. Shaved off were the runes | that of
old were written,
19. Beech-runes are there, | birth-runes
[17. Charms: the wearing of amulets was very common. Gungnir: Othin's spear, made by the dwarfs, which he occasionally lent to heroes to whom he granted victory. Grani: Sigurth's horse; the Volsungasaga has "giantesses'."
19. Stanzas 18-19, which editors have freely rearranged, apparently come from another source than any of the rest. Shaved off: the runes were shaved off by Othin from the wood on which they were carved, and the shavings bearing them were put into the magic mead. Wanes: cf. Voluspo, 21, note.
19. Lines 3, 6, and 7 look like spurious additions, but the whole stanza is chaotic. Beech-runes: runes carved on beech trees.]
And the magic runes of might;
* * * * * *
[20. Stanzas 20-21 are all that remains of the dialogue between Brynhild and Sigurth from the poem to which stanzas 2-4 belong; cf. Introductory Note. In the intervening lost stanzas Brynhild has evidently warned Sigurth of the perils that will follow if he swears loyalty to her; hence the choice to which she here refers. Tree, etc.: warrior. The manuscript does not indicate the speaker of either this or the following stanza; the Volsungasaga names Sigurth before stanza 21.
21. It is quite possible that the original poem concluded with two stanzas after this, paraphrased thus in the Volsungasaga: "Sigurth said: 'Nowhere is to be found any one wiser than thou, and this I swear, that I shall have thee for mine, and that thou art after my heart's desire.' She answered: 'I would rather have thee though I might choose among all men.' And this they bound between them with oaths." Stanzas 22-37, which the Volsungasaga paraphrases, may have been introduced at a relatively early time, but can hardly have formed part of the original poem.]
Thy loving word | for mine will I win,
22. Then first I rede thee, | that free
23. Then second I rede thee, | to swear
24. Then third I rede thee, | that thou
at the Thing
25. Ill it is | if silent thou art,
[22. With this stanza begins the list of numbered counsels, closely resembling the Loddfafnismol (Hovamol, 111-138), here attributed to Brynhild. That the section originally had anything to do with Brynhild is more than improbable.
23. Wolf of his word: oath-destroyer, oath-breaker.
25. This chaotic and obscure jumble of lines has been unsuccessfully "improved" by various editors. It is clearly an interpolation, meaning, in substance: "It is dangerous to keep silent too long, as men may think you a coward; but if any one taunts [fp. 398] you falsely because of your silence, do not argue with him, but the next morning kill him as proof that he is a liar."]
Seldom safe is fame,
26. Then fourth I rede thee, | if thou
27. Eyes that see | need the sons of men
28. Then fifth I rede thee, | though
29. Then sixth I rede thee, | if men
[27. Probably another interpolation.
28. Silver of kinship: the passage is doubtful, but apparently it means the "marriage-price" for which a bride was "bought."
29. Line 1 comes at the end of the thirty-second leaf of Regius, and whatever further was contained in that manuscript has vanished [fp. 399] with the lost eight-leaf folio (cf. Introductory Note). The rest of stanza 29, and stanzas 50-37, are added from later paper manuscripts, which were undoubtedly copied from an old parchment, though probably not from the complete Regius. The Volsungasaga paraphrases these additional stanzas.]
30. Brawls and ale | full oft have been
31. Then seventh I rede thee, | if battle
32. Then eighth I rede thee, | that evil
33. Then ninth I rede thee: | burial
34. A bath shalt thou give them | who corpses be,
[30. Probably an interpolation.
31. The meaning is that it is better to go forth to battle than to stay at home and be burned to death. Many a Norse warrior met his death in this latter way; the burning of the house in the Njalssaga is the most famous instance.
34. Probably an interpolation.]
And hands and head shalt wash;
35. Then tenth I rede thee, | that never
36. Battle and hate | and harm, methinks,
37. Then eleventh I rede thee, | that
wrath thou shun,
[35. Lines 3-4 are probably interpolated. Race of wolves: family of a slain foe.
36. Probably an interpolation.
37. Lines 3-4 may well have come from the old Sigurth-Brynhild poem, like stanzas 2-4 and 20-21, being inserted here, where they do not fit particularly well, in place of the two lines with which the eleventh counsel originally ended. Perhaps they formed part of the stanza of warning which evidently preceded Brynhild's speech in stanza 20. In the Volsungasaga they are paraphrased at the end of Brynhild's long speech of advice (stanzas 20-37), and are immediately followed by the prose passage given in the note on stanza 21. It seems likely, therefore, [fp. 401] that the paper manuscripts have preserved all of the so-called Sigrdrifumol which was contained in the lost section of Regius, with the possible exception of these two concluding stanzas, and these may very well have been given only in the form of a prose note, though it is practically certain that at one time they existed in verse form.]