The Saga of the Volsungs:
The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer
In his translation of The Saga of the Volsungs: the Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, Jesse L. Byock compiles many versions of this famous Norse epic and creates a very important scholarly work. Of special importance is the introduction, which provides a central working background to base readings upon. There are several themes echoed throughout the translation that reflect accurately on this portion of history. Byock does a superb job of illustrating these important aspects in his work. While the tale Byock tells is a fairy-tale handed down by generations of families, within the reader can find tell-tale signs of important aspects of Norse culture. For instance, important aspects of family life and the role of men and women surface. Likewise, the importance of wealth and material possessions on the power and prestige of a king is also evident.
While these aspects are important to the discussion of the narrative, there is another more important aspect to the story. While it is not necessary to relay the entire contents of the translation, it is important to know that the discourse is focused on the rise and fall of Sigurd the mighty dragon slayer. All events leading up to his birth merely foreshadow the coming of a great yet fated king. All events following his life and death merely relate the damnation suffered by him and his closest family members. That said, it can be stated that one of the most central aspects of the work is the role that fate and divine guidance play on the family and friends of Sigurd. This, in turn, says much about the importance of fate and religion to the medieval Norse peoples.
Crucial to the epic of Sigurd is the presence of Odin. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that this tale is weaved with threads from each of Odin’s most divine characteristics: war, wisdom, death, and ecstasy. Only Odin is there to see this epic through from beginning to end. Indeed, it was Odin who set the events in motion. It could reasonably be asserted that despite the favor shown towards Sigurd, Odin knew of Sigurd’s eventual downfall and the downfall of his family. When Odin set the world in motion, he knew what events would transpire and that he would be there to see them through.
Indeed, it is Odin who appears in person at crucial times in the story to jump-start or guide the mortals into his bidding. When it appears that one of Sigurd’s ancestor’s, Rerir, will be unable to produce a son, Odin sends an apple of fertility. In order to insure that young Sigurd will be properly armed, Odin sets a mighty sword into stone that only his ancestor Sigmund would be able to wield. Ironically it is in battle with Odin that Sigmund will break his fabled sword. The sword Gram, though broken in two, will eventually pass to Sigurd and aid in his slaying of...