Join Jesse Byock and Noah Tetnzer as they discuss one of the most legendary of the legendary sagas (fornaldarsögur): the Saga of the Volsungs (Völsunga Saga). We’ve collected some of the best parts of their conversation here, but you can listen to the full podcast here.
The Origins of the Saga of the Volsungs
Jesse and Noah begin their conversation with a big question: where did the Saga of the Volsungs come from? Jesse describes the oral origins of the story and how the legend of Sigurd the Dragonslayer spread across Scandinavia. Noah and Jesse exchange some of their favourite moments from the saga – you’ll have to listen to hear about Sigmund and the werewolves!
The World of the Saga of the Volsungs
Noah launches into another complicated question – who are the characters in the saga? Where do they come from, and how do they get bound together into an Icelandic prose saga? Jesse explains the connection between the tragic mythological Eddic poems of the Viking Age and the saga – and how our heroes and villains fit into the world of pre-Christian Scandinavia.
The History Behind the Saga of the Volsungs
“Where does one begin with the history of this saga?” Noah asks. Jesse tells us where and how the Saga of the Volsungs imagines Attila the Hun, as well as the Gothic and Burgundian kings that figure prominently in the saga. Jesse speaks to how the Saga of the Volsungs brings together and commemorates all sorts of peoples and cultures who the medieval Scandinavians told their oral tales about.
J.R.R. Tolkien and Retelling the Saga of the Volsungs
Noah and Jesse speculate on how the Saga of the Volsungs continues to be retold today, by people like Wagner and J.R.R. Tolkien. Jesse points to how Tolkien arranged Middle Earth around the world of the saga. Jesse and Noah also discuss how to learn Old Norse, and how learning the language of the Vikings can help to understand the sagas and early Scandinavian culture.
The Future of the Saga of the Volsungs?
Noah and Jesse discuss some of the ways in which Viking history and literature has exploded with popularity in the past few years. Jesse outlines what the future of Old Norse studies will look like (hopefully with JWP‘s help! ) as well as the ebbs and flows in the popularity of the Saga of the Volsungs.
Check out Saga of the Volsungs!
Based on Viking Age poems, composed in 13th-century Iceland, The Saga of the Volsungs combines mythology, legend, and sheer human drama in telling of the heroic deeds of Sigurd the dragon slayer. Sigurd is the Odinic hero who acquires runic knowledge from the Valkyrie, Brynhild. Although the saga deals with gods and heroes, it is set in a very human world. This Old Norse tale incorporates oral memories of the 4th and 5th centuries, when Attila the Hun and other warriors fought on the northern frontiers of the Roman empire. In his illuminating Introduction, Jesse L. Byock links the historical Huns, Burgundians, and Goths with the extraordinary saga events. With its ill-fated Rhinegold, the sword reforged, and the magic ring of power, the Saga of the Volsungs anticipates the South German epic, the Nibelungenlied, and has been a primary source for Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, and for J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.