Trigger Warning: Violence, murder, slight gore, suicide attempt, death of children.
After the death of Sigurd and Brynhild, Brynhild’s brother King Atli married Sigurd’s wife Gudrun and they had children together. King Atli invited Gudrun’s brothers Gunnar and Hogni to visit him. Gunnar and Hgni agreed to the visit but, before leaving home, they hid the gold in the Rhine and it has never been found since. “But King Atli met them with an armed force and fought Gunnar and Hogni and they were captured”. Atli had Hogni’s heart cut out while he was still alive, thus causing his death. He then had Gunnar thrown into a snake pit. But Gunnar was secretly provided with a harp which he played with his toes since his hands were tied. He played it in such a way that all the snakes fell asleep. That is all except for one adder which darted at him and “struck at the bottom of his breastbone, burying its head in the hollow and hanging on to his liver until he died”. (Gunnar and Hogni are known as Niflungs, and therefore gold is sometimes called Niflung’s inheritance). Soon after this, Gudrun killed her two sons and had Goblets made from their skulls with silver and gold. Then there was a funeral held for the Niflungs. At the feast, Gudrun had mead served to King Atli in these goblets, and it was mixed with the boys’ blood. She also had their hearts cooked and given to the king to eat. When he had finished drinking and eating this, “she told him of it to his face with many unsavory words”. There was so much meade consumed at this event that nearly everyone fell asleep where they sat. And that night, Gudrun, with her Hogni’s son, attacked and killed the king in his sleep. Then they sat the hall on fire and everyone inside burned up. After this, Gudrun went down to the sea and leapt into it trying to destroy herself. “But she drifted across the fiord and found herself in the land ruled over by King Ionakr. And when he saw her he took her in and married her”.
Thoughts: One thing that stands out in this Saga is that the deaths seem to get progressively more violent and involving greater levels of betrayal. I wonder if Andvari or Loki, either one, even knew how far this curse would go when it first started. And it begs the question, was all this aftermath actually from the curse, or did the curse hit its target and the greed factor create a generational impact? Or is the greed itself what’s causing these people to kill the ones with the gold regardless of whether or not it’s cursed? The other aspect that stands out to me, is the way Gudrun reacted when the brothers were killed. On one had, it shows a deep loyalty to the brothers that even goes too far into giving up everything because of losing them, including her own children. I can’t help but think about the multiple traumas she had witnessed before getting to this point. As if the loss of her brothers was the final breaking point for her. And though I can’t agree with the killing of everyone present, I can sympathize with the weight of this ongoing turmoil making one finally “snap” for lack of better term. And finally, I find the skull goblets an interesting spin. We hear very often the idea of vikings and norsemen drinking from the skulls of their enemies. True or not, in this tale, the insult (and horror) is even worse in that the king is forced to drink from the skulls of his own sons because of the wrong done to his wife and her kin. Interestingly, though not mythology, something like this happened in the original tale of Sleeping Beauty where the King’s wife, jealous of Sleeping Beauty having children by her husband, attempts to kill the children and feed them to their father the king. And there are other folk tales that had similar punishments of being made to eat ones own kin. Is it possible these tales were inspired by this scene from the Eddas? Or was this a common theme we just haven’t found proof of yet? These are just a few thoughts and questions I have. As always, feel free to comment and discuss below and I will respond as able. See you soon.