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This article is about the Valkyrja. For another Valkyrja of a similar name, see Hildr.

Brynhildr (Middle High German: Brünhilt, Modern German: Brünhild or Brünhilde) is a valkyrie and shield-maiden in Norse mythology. She appears as the main heroine in the Vǫlsunga saga and some other Eddic poems.

Richard Wagner made Brynhildr (as Brünnhilde) an important character in his opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. The majority of modern conceptions of the figure have been inspired or influenced by Wagner's depiction.

Brynhildr has been called "the paramount figure of Germanic legend." The Nibelungenlied introduces her by saying:


Ez was ein küneginne gesezzen über sê.
ir gelîche enheine man wesse ninder mê.
diu was unmâzen schoene. vil michel was ir kraft.
si schôz mit snellen degenen umbe minne den schaft.


There was a queen who resided over the sea,
Whose like no one knew of anywhere.
She was exceedingly beautiful and great in physical strength.
She shot the shaft with bold knights - love was the prize.


Etymology[]

The name Brunhild in its various forms is derived from the equivalents of Old High German brunia (armour) and hiltia (conflict). The name is first attested in the sixth century, for the historical Visgothic princess Brunhilda of Austrasia, as Brunichildis.

In the context of the heroic tradition, the first element of her name may be connected to Brynhildr's role as a shield-maiden.

In the Eddic poem Helreið Brynhildar, the valkyrie Sigrdrífa from Sigrdrífumál is identified with Brynhildr. This name consists of the elements sigr and drífa and can be translated as "driver to victory". It could simply be a synonym for valkyrie.

Norse traditions and attestations[]

Sigurðr awakes Brynhildr in Hindarfjall's flames.

Brynhildr was a popular figure in Scandinavia, with traditions about her firmly attested around 1220 with the composition of the Prose Edda. The Scandinavian tradition about Brynhildr shows knowledge of the continental Germanic traditions as well.

Poetic Edda[]

The Poetic Edda, a collection of heroic and mythological Nordic poems, appears to have been compiled around 1270 in Iceland, and assembles mythological and heroic songs of various ages. A large number of poems deal with the relationship between Sigurðr and Brynhildr, which seems to have been of special interest to the compiler.

Generally, none of the poems in the collection is thought to be older than 900 and some appear to have been written in the thirteenth century. It is also possible that apparently old poems have been written in an archaicizing style and that apparently recent poems are reworkings of older material, so that reliable dating is impossible. Much of the Brynhildr material is taken to have a relatively recent origin.

Grípisspá[]

In Grípisspá, Sigurðr receives a prophecy of his life from his uncle Grípir. Among the prophesied actions are that he will awaken a valkyrie who will teach him the runes. Later, he will betroth himself to Brynhildr at the court of Heimir. He will marry Guðrún but then aid Gunnarr in wooing Brynhildr, marrying but not sleeping with her. She, however, will later accuse Sigurðr of taking her virginity and have him killed.

The poem appears to distinguish between Sigrdrífa in the following Sigrdrífumál and Brynhildr as two different women. It also seems to identify Sigrdrífa with the valkyrie Sigrún from the preceding poems in the Edda about Helgi Hundingsbane.

It is generally taken to be a late poem that was written on the basis of the other poems about Sigurðr's life.

Fáfnismál[]

In Fáfnismál, once Sigurðr has tasted the blood of the dragon Fáfnir, Sigurðr understands the birds who tell him to go to a palace where the valkyrie Sigrdrífa sleeps surrounded by flames.

Sigrdrífumál[]

In Sigrdrífumál, Sigurðr rides to the mountain Hindarfjall, where he sees a wall of shields that surround a sleeping woman. The woman is wearing armour that seems to have grown into her skin, and Sigurðr uses his sword to cut it open. This awakens the maiden, who explains that she is the valkyrie Sigrdrífa and, in a prose interlude, tells how she had disobeyed Óðinn who then demanded she marry. She refused and said she would only marry a man without fear. She proceeds to teach Sigurðr wisdom and the runes.

The condition that Sigrdrífa will only marry a man without fear is the same as Sigurðr will later make, perhaps pointing to the two figures originally being identical.

Brot af Sigurðarkviðu[]

Brot af Sigurðarkviðu is only preserved fragmentarily: the surviving part of the poem tells the story of Sigurðr's murder. Brynhildr has evidently accused Sigurðr of having slept with her, and this has caused Gunnarr and Hǫgni to have their half-brother Guthorm kill Sigurðr. Once Sigurðr has been murdered, Brynhildr rejoices before admitting to Gunnarr that Sigurðr never slept with her.

Guðrúnarkviða I[]

In Guðrúnarkviða I, Brynhildr briefly appears while Guðrún mourns the death of Sigurðr. Brynhildr defends herself against the accusation that she is responsible for Sigurðr's death and accuses her brother Atli of responsibility. In a prose section at the close of the poem, Brynhildr commits suicide with several slaves.

The dialogue between Brynhildr and Guðrún is characterised by immense hostility, and Brynhildr is portrayed as evil.

Sigurðarkviða hin skamma[]

Sigurðarkviða hin skamma repeats the story of Sigurðr once again. Sigurðr wins Brynhildr for Gunnarr and weds her for him, but the two do not sleep together. Brynhildr desires Sigurðr, however, and decides to have him killed since she cannot have him. She threatens to leave Gunnarr if he does not kill Sigurðr, and he agrees. Once Sigurðr is dead, Guðrún breaks into a lament, and Brynhildr laughs loudly. Gunnarr chastises her for this, whereupon Brynhildr explains that she never wanted to marry Gunnarr and had been forced to by her brother Atli. She had then secretly betrothed herself to Sigurðr. Brynhildr then gives away all her possessions and kills herself, despite Gunnarr's attempts to convince her not to. As she dies, she prophesies the future misfortunes of Guðrún and Gunnarr. Finally, she asks to be burned on the same pyre as Sigurðr.

Although the title indicates the poem is about Sigurðr, the majority of the poem is actually concerned with Brynhildr, who justifies her actions. The song is generally thought to be a recent composition.

Helreið Brynhildar[]

Illustration of Helreið Brynhildar, 1893.

At the beginning of Helreið Brynhildar, Brynhildr's dead body is burned and she begins her journey to the Helheimr, the underworld. On her way, she encounters a giant who accuses her of having blood on her hands. In response, Brynhildr tells the story of her life, defending herself and justifying her actions. She accuses the Burgundians of having deceived her. Brynhildr hopes to spend the afterlife together with Sigurðr.

As Brynhildr narrates her life, she is clearly identified with the valkyrie Sigrdrífa and combines the story of Sigrdrífa's awakening with Sigurðr's wooing for Gunnarr as a single event. Óðinn himself is portrayed as requiring that only a man who knows no fear could awaken her. The song portrays Brynhildr as a victim and she achieves a sort of apotheosis at the end.


Munu við ofstríð
alls til lengi
konur ok karlar
kvikvir fæðask;
við skulum okkrum
aldri slíta
Sigurðr saman.
Sökkstu, gýgjar kyn.[1]


Ever with grief
and all too long
Are men and women
born in the world;
But yet we shall live
our lives together,
Sigurth and I.
Sink down, Giantess![2]


Prose Edda[]

The so-called Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson is the earliest attestation of the Scandinavian version of Brynhildr's life, dating to around 1220. Snorri tells the story of Brynhildr in several chapters of the section of the poem called Skáldskaparsmál. His presentation of the story is very similar to that found in the Vǫlsunga saga, but is considerably shorter.

After Sigurðr kills the dragon Fáfnir, he rides up to a house on a mountain, inside of which he finds a woman sleeping wearing armour. He cuts the armour from her, and she wakes up, and says that she was a valkyrie named Hildr, but called Brynhildr. Sigurðr then rides away.

Later, Sigurðr brings Gunnarr to Brynhildr's brother Atli to ask for Brynhildr's hand in marriage. Brynhildr lives on a mountain called Hindarfjall, where she is surrounded by a wall of flame. Atli tells them that Brynhildr will only marry a man who rides through the flame. Gunnarr is unable to do this, and Sigurðr switches shapes with him, riding through the flames. Sigurðr then weds Brynhildr as Gunnarr, but places a sword between the two of them on their wedding night. The next morning, he gives Brynhildr a ring from the hoard of the Niflunga, and Brynhildr gives him a ring in return. Gunnarr and Sigurðr then return to their own shapes and return to the court of Gunnarr's father Gjúki.

Some time later, Brynhildr and Guðrún quarrel while washing their hair in the river. Brynhildr says that she does not want the water that passes through Guðrún's hair to touch her own, because her husband Gunnarr is braver. Guðrún replies with Sigurðr's deeds of killing the dragon, but Brynhildr says that only Gunnarr had dared to ride through the wall of flame. Then Guðrún reveals to Brynhildr that Sigurðr was the one who rode through the wall, producing Brynhildr's ring as proof. Brynhildr then encourages Gunnarr to kill Sigurðr, which eventually he does. Once Sigurðr is dead, Brynhildr kills herself, and is burned on the same pyre as Sigurðr. It is possible that Snorri's account of the quarrel between Brynhildr and Guðrún derives from a lost Eddic poem.

Vǫlsunga saga[]

An argument between Brynhildr and Guðrún in the River Rhine. Illustration by Anders Zorn.

The Vǫlsunga saga tells the fullest version of Brynhildr's life in the Scandinavian tradition, explaining many unclear references found in the Poetic Edda. It follows the plot given in the Poetic Edda fairly closely, although there is no indication that the author knew the other text. The author appears to have been working in Norway and to have known the Þiðrekssaga (c. 1250), a translation of continental Germanic traditions into Old Norse. Therefore, the Vǫlsunga saga is dated to sometime in the second half of the thirteenth century. The saga is connected to a second saga, Ragnars saga Loðbrókar, which follows it in the manuscript, by having Ragnarr Loðbrók marry Áslaug, daughter of Sigurðr and Brynhildr.

According to the saga, Brynhildr is the daughter of Buðli and the sister of Atli. She is raised at a place called Hlymdalir by her King Heimir, who is married to her sister Bekkhildr. At Hlymdalir she is known as "Hild under the helmet" (Hildr und hjálmi) and is raised to be a shield-maiden or valkyrie. When she is twelve years old, King Agnar steals Brynhildr's magical swan shirt, and she is forced to swear an oath of loyalty to him. This causes her to intervene on Angar's behalf when he is fighting Hjálmgunnar, despite Óðinn's desire for Hjálmgunnar to win. As punishment, Óðinn stuck her with a sleep thorn and declared that she must marry. She swore that she would not awaken to marry unless a man came who knew no fear. Óðinn places the sleeping Brynhildr on mount Hindarfjall and surrounds her with a wall of shields.

Eventually, Sigurðr comes and awakens Brynhildr. She makes foreboding prophecies and imparts wisdom to him. The two promise to marry each other. After this, Brynhildr returns to Heimir. One day while Sigurðr is hunting, his hawk flies up and lands at the window of the tower where Brynhildr is living. Sigurðr feels love when he sees her and, despite her insistence she wants only to fight as a warrior, convinces her to renew her vow to marry him. Meanwhile, Guðrún has had a foreboding dream and goes to Brynhildr to have her interpret it. Brynhildr tells Guðrún all of the misfortune that will befall her.

Soon afterwards, Gunnarr, Guðrún's brother, decides to woo Brynhildr to be his wife. Sigurðr, who has married Guðrún after having been given a potion to forget his previous vows to Brynhildr, aids him. Brynhildr can only be wed by a man who will ride through the flames around her tower; Gunnarr is unable to do this, so Sigurðr takes his shape and performs the deed for him. While Brynhildr is reluctant to marry Gunnarr, Sigurðr in his disguise reminds her of her vow to marry the man who can cross the flames. The two then wed and Sigurðr places his sword between them for three nights while they share the marriage bed. Sigurðr and Gunnarr return to their normal shapes and take Brynhildr back to Gunnarr's hall.

The funeral of Sigurðr and Brynhildr.

One day, Brynhildr and Guðrún are bathing at a river; Brynhildr declares that she should not have to use the same water as Guðrún, as her husband is the more important man. Guðrún then reveals that Sigurðr had crossed the flames and not Gunnarr, and shows a ring that Sigurðr had taken from Brynhildr and given to her. The next day, the queens continue their quarrel in the king's hall. Brynhildr is so full of pain that she takes to bed. She demands vengeance against Sigurðr, despite Gunnarr's attempts to pacify her. Sigurðr comes and confesses his love for her, offering to leave Guðrún to be with her, but Brynhildr refuses. Afterwards, she demands that Gunnarr kill Sigurðr. Once the deed is done, Brynhildr laughs loudly when she hears Guðrún's cry of lament. She reveals that she had slandered Sigurðr by claiming that he had slept with her. She then stabs herself, and while dying holds a long conversation with Gunnarr in which she prophesies the future. According to her wish, she is burned on the same pyre as Sigurðr.

Ballads[]

Brynhildr proposes the creation of a wall of fire around her hall to her father Buðli in order to challenge Sigurðr. Faroese postal stamp from 1998.

Brynhildr lived on as a character in several late medieval and early modern Scandinavian ballads. These often have sources both from the Scandinavian tradition and from the continental tradition, either via the Þiðrekssaga or directly from German sources.

In the Danish ballad Sivard og Brynild (DgF 3, TSB E 101), Sigurðr wins Brynhildr on the "glass mountain" and then gives her to his friend Hagen. One day, Brynhildr fights with Sigurðr's wife Signild, and Signild shows Brynhildr a ring that Brynhildr had given Sigurðr as a love gift. Brynhild then tells Hagen to kill Sigurðr, and Hagen does this by first borrowing Sigurðr's sword then killing him with it. He then shows Brynhildr Sigurðr's head and kills her too when she offers him her love.

A ballad from the Faroe Islands, Brynhildar táttur (the song of Brynhildr, TSB E 100), also tells a version of the story of Brynhildr. The original form of this ballad likely dates to the fourteenth century, though it is clear that many variants have been influenced by the Danish ballads. In the ballad, Brynhildr refuses all suitors; she will only marry Sigurðr. To attract him, she tells her father Buðli to create a hall with a wall of fire around her. One day, Gunnarr comes and sues for her hand, but she refuses. Then Sigurðr comes, breaks through the wall of fire, and they sleep together. When he leaves, however, Guðrún and her mother Grímhildr cast a spell on Sigurðr so that he forgets Brynhildr and marries Guðrún. Some time later Brynhildr and Guðrún argue in the bath, with Guðrún refusing to share water with Brynhildr. She reminds Brynhildr that Sigurðr took her virginity, whereupon Brynhildr tells Hǫgni (or in some versions, Gunnarr) to kill Sigurðr. Buðli tries unsuccessfully to change his daughter's mind; once Sigurðr is dead, Brynhildr collapses in grief.

Historical basis[]

The feud between Brynhildr and Guðrún may be inspired by the feud between Brunhilda, who married the Merovingian King Sigebert I of Austrasia, and her arch-rival, Fredegunde, who married King Chilperic I of Neustria. Their feud spanned generations and resulted in the deaths of both of their husbands as well as other family members.

Modern description[]

According to the footnote from the novel Little Briar Rose by Brothers Grimm, the story of Brynhildr and Sigurðr's encounter is the relevant origin for the literature.

Comics[]

  • Brunnhilde/Valkyrie, one of the superheroine in the comics Thor, is based on the figure of the same name.

Anime and manga[]

  • The manga Brynhildr in the Darkness is named after her.
  • Warlords of Sigrdrifa is the anime which its title is derived from her nickname, Sigrdrífa.
  • Brynhildr serves as the main protagonist in the manga Record of Ragnarok. As the first of the 13 Valkyrie Sisters (note: Valkyries are described as demigods.) who takes care of humanity deeply, She commences Ragnarok, the deathmatch between humans and gods in order to prevent the extinction of mankind.
  • Mikami Kamika, a Japanese transfer student who was born in Sweden and one of the two main protagonists in Raisekamika, is later revealed by her former classmate Loki Skarsgård as the reincarnation of Brynhildr.

Video games[]

Gallery[]

Notes[]

References[]

  • Andersson, Theodore M. (1980). The Legend of Brynhild. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. ISBN 0801413028.
  • Böldl, Klaus; Preißler, Katharina (2015). "Ballade". Germanische Altertumskunde Online. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter.
  • Edwards, Cyril (trans.) (2010). The Nibelungenlied. The Lay of the Nibelungs. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923854-5.
  • Gentry, Francis G.; McConnell, Winder; Müller, Ulrich; Wunderlich, Werner, eds. (2011) [2002]. The Nibelungen Tradition. An Encyclopedia. New York, Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-8153-1785-2.
  • Gillespie, George T. (1973). Catalogue of Persons Named in German Heroic Literature, 700-1600: Including Named Animals and Objects and Ethnic Names. Oxford: Oxford University. ISBN 9780198157182.
  • Haymes, Edward R. (trans.) (1988). The Saga of Thidrek of Bern. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-8489-6.
  • Haymes, Edward R.; Samples, Susan T. (1996). Heroic legends of the North: an introduction to the Nibelung and Dietrich cycles. New York: Garland. ISBN 0815300336.
  • Haymes, Edward R. (2009). "Ring of the Nibelung and Nibelungenlied: Wagner's Ambiguous Relationship to a Source". In Fugelso, Karl (ed.). Defining medievalism(s). Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. pp. 218–246. ISBN 9781843841845.
  • Heinzle, Joachim, ed. (2013). Das Nibelungenlied und die Klage. Nach der Handschrift 857 der Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen. Mittelhochdeutscher Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar. Berlin: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag. ISBN 978-3-618-66120-7.
  • Holzapfel, Otto (Otto Holzapfel), ed. (1974). Die dänischen Nibelungenballaden: Texte und Kommentare. Göppingen: Kümmerle. ISBN 3-87452-237-7.
  • Lienert, Elisabeth (2015). Mittelhochdeutsche Heldenepik. Berlin: Erich Schmidt. ISBN 978-3-503-15573-6.
  • McKinnell, John (2014). "Female Reactions to the Death of Sigurðr". In McKinnell, John; Kick, Donata; Shafer, John D. (eds.). Essays on Eddic Poetry. Toronto: University of Toronto. pp. 249–267. ISBN 9781442615885. JSTOR 10.3138/j.ctt6wrf94.
  • Millet, Victor (2008). Germanische Heldendichtung im Mittelalter. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-020102-4.
  • Müller, Jan-Dirk (2009). Das Nibelungenlied (3 ed.). Berlin: Erich Schmidt.
  • The Poetic Edda: Revised Edition. Translated by Larrington, Carolyne. Oxford: Oxford University. 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-967534-0.
  • Sprenger, Ulrike (1999a). "Gudrunlieder". In Beck, Heinrich; Geuenich, Dieter; Steuer, Heiko (eds.). Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. 13. New York/Berlin: de Gruyter. pp. 149–153.
  • Sprenger, Ulrike (1999b). "Helreið Brynhildar". In Beck, Heinrich; Geuenich, Dieter; Steuer, Heiko (eds.). Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. 14. New York/Berlin: de Gruyter. pp. 341–342.
  • Sturluson, Snorri (2005). The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. Translated by Byock, Jesse L. New York, London: Penguin Books.
  • Quinn, Judy (2015). "Scenes of vindication. Three Icelandic heroic poems in relation to the continental traditions of Þiðreks saga af Bern and the Nibelungenlied". In Mundal, Else (ed.). Medieval Nordic Literature in its European Context. Oslo: Dreyers Forlag. pp. 78–125. ISBN 978-82-8265-072-4.
  • Uecker, Heiko (1972). Germanische Heldensage. Stuttgart: Metzler. ISBN 3476101061.
  • Voorwinden, Norbert (2002). "Brünhilds Schicksal - oder: Was machen Autoren und Regisseure im 20. Jahrhundert mit Brünhild?". In Zatloukal, Klaus (ed.). 6. Pöchlarner Heldenliedgespräch: 800 Jahre Nibelungenlied: Rückblick, Einblick, Ausblick. Vienna: Fassbaender. pp. 179–196. ISBN 3900538719.
  • Würth, Stephanie (2005). "Sigurdlieder". In Beck, Heinrich; Geuenich, Dieter; Steuer, Heiko (eds.). Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. 28. New York/Berlin: de Gruyter. pp. 424–426.

External links[]

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