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In Norse mythology, Völsungr (Old Norse: Vǫlsungr meaning "chosen one") was the son of Rerir and the eponymous forefather of the ill-fortuned Völsungr clan (Vǫlsungar), which includes his grandson Sigurðr, who is mentioned by his son Sigmundr as the one would be the greatest hero in his line.

Völsungr's story is recorded in the Völsungr cycle, a series of legends about the clan. The earliest extant versions of the cycle were recorded in medieval Iceland; the tales of the cycle were expanded with local Scandinavian folklore, including that of Helgi Hundingsbane (which appears to originally have been part of the separate tradition of the Ylfingar), and form the material of the epic poems in the Elder Edda and of Völsunga saga, which preserves material from lost poems. Völsungr is also the subject matter of the Middle High German epic poem Nibelungenlied and is mentioned as Wæls in the Old English epic Beowulf.

Synopsis

Völsungr was the great-grandson of Óðinn himself, and it was Óðinn's consort Frigg who made sure that Völsungr would be born. Völsungr's parents, who were the king and queen of Hunaland, could not have any children until the goddess sent them an apple of fertility carried by the giantess Hljóð. Völsungr's father, Rerir died shortly after this, but his wife was pregnant for six years, until she had had enough. She commanded that the child be delivered by Caesarean section, an operation that in those days cost the life of the mother. Völsungr was a strong child and he kissed his mother before she died.

He was immediately proclaimed king of Hunaland and when he had grown up he married the same giantess Hljod. Together they had ten sons and one daughter, including the twins Signý, their daughter, and Sigmundr, the most courageous and beautiful of their sons.

Völsungr built himself a great hall in the centre of which stood a large oak tree called the Barnstokkr. Siggeir, the King of the Geats, soon arrived and proposed to Signý. Both Völsungr and his sons approved, but Signý was less enthusiastic.

A great wedding was held in the hall, when suddenly a stranger appeared. He was a tall old man with only one eye and could not be anyone but Óðinn. He went to the oak tree, took his sword and stuck it deep into the trunk. Óðinn told everyone that the sword was meant for the man who could pull the sword from the oak tree. Then he vanished.

Everyone at the wedding tried to pull the sword but only Sigmundr succeeded, and he did so effortlessly. Siggeir, his brother-in-law, offered thrice its weight in gold for the sword, but Sigmundr scornfully said no. This greatly angered Siggeir, and he swore that one day the sword would be his and he would be avenged on the Völsungr family. He returned home the next day, ending the wedding feast early. Before he left he invited the Völsungar to conclude the feast with him when the winter had passed.

Three months later Völsungr and his sons sailed to Siggeir's land. They were met by Signý, who warned them that Siggeir intended to ambush them. They refused to turn back, whereupon Signý cried and implored them to go home. Soon they were attacked by Siggeir's army. Völsungr fell and his ten sons were taken captive.

For the continued story, see Sigmundr.

Modern retellings

The story of Völsungr and his children, from the marriage of Signý to Siggeir to Sigmundr's vengeance on Siggeir, is retold in the novelette "Vengeance" by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, which appeared in the magazine Adventure, 30 June 1925. Brodeur was a professor at Berkeley and became well known for his scholarship on Beowulf and other Norse sagas.

As Völsungakviđa en Nýja (The New Lay of the Völsungs) J. R. R. Tolkien retells the story in the Old Norse verse style of the Poetic Edda. It was published posthumously together with a poetic retelling of the Niflunga saga under the title, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.

The Völsungr tale was also the inspiration for much of Richard Wagner's second and third operas of the Ring cycle. Siegmund and his twin sister Sieglinde reconnect and fall in love in Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), and Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree. Their son Siegfried goes on to become a hero in the following opera, Siegfried.

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