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.
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...he was free to do so of his own accord. However, therein lies an important lesson to the Norse storyteller. When man is given free reign to make decisions of his own accord, he must accept that he has made his dent in the fabric of fate and that his actions will effect generations thereafter. Sins of the father are passed on. In summary, with the gift of free will comes the burden of accountability.
This translation tells a wonderful tale and it is amazing that it has been preserved for this amount of time. Byock does a fantastic job of editing and telling his story. His introduction sets the stage very well, as it gives historical and cultural insight into his work. Several important lessons can be taken from the work and applied to the study of medieval Norse peoples. One of the most important aspects is the role that fate and divine intervention have on the lives of everyday man and that nothing happens by accident. The guidance of Odin and the reliance on fate are echoed throughout the work and serve as the backdrop for each characters action. This insight allows historians to dig into the narrative and extract special significance from the text.
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