Fáfnir

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A depiction of Sigurd slaying Fafnir on the right portal plank from Hylestad Stave Church, the so-called "Hylestad I", from the second half of the 12th century[1]

In Nordic and wider Germanic mythology, Fáfnir (Old Norse pronunciation: [ˈfɑːvnər])[2] is a mighty dwarf who is the son of Hreidmar, and brother of Regin and Ótr. Once cursed by Andvari's ring and gold, Fafnir slays his father out of greed and becomes a dragon. Fafnir's brother Regin assisted Sigurd in obtaining Gram, the sword he used to kill Fáfnir.

Narrative[edit]

There have been many renditions of Fáfnir's tale throughout history, but they all follow a standard structure. Loki kills the brother of Regin and Fáfnir, Ótr, while he is in the shape of an otter. As payment, Loki, Odin, and Hœnir had to fill the otter's skin with gold. Loki collects the gold from the pike Andvari and returns the ransom to Hreidmar, Otr's father. When Hreidmar refuses to share the gold, Fáfnir murders him out of greed. Fáfnir then takes his treasure into the wilderness and turns into a dragon to guard it. And by use of the sword, Gram, Sigurd defeats Fáfnir in his serpentine form. Regin, who joins Sigurd, cuts out Fáfnir's heart and convinces Sigurd to roast it. After only a tiny taste, Sigurd gains the ability to understand birds.

Beyond this, some versions of the story mention Fáfnir's sisters, Lyngheid and Lofnheid. While others have variations in Fáfnir's hoard, mentioning the swords Ridill and Hrotti, the helm of terror, and a golden coat of chainmail.

The Saga of the Volsungs[edit]

Regin recounts to Sigurd how Odin, Loki, and Hœnir were traveling when they came across Ótr, who had the likeness of an otter during the day. Loki killed the otter with a stone, and the three Æsir skinned their catch. The gods came to Hreidmar's dwelling that evening and were pleased to show off the otter's skin. Hreidmar and his remaining two sons seized the gods and held them captive. The gods sent Loki to gather the ransom: stuff the otter's skin with gold and cover its outside with red gold. Loki fulfilled the task by procuring the cursed gold of Andvari and the ring, Andvaranaut. As Loki left, Andvari warned the ring and gold would be the death of anyone to possess it. Fáfnir then killed Hreidmar to get all the gold for himself. He became ill-natured and greedy and ventured into the wilderness to keep his fortune. He turned into a serpent or dragon to guard his treasure. Fáfnir breathed poison into the land around him so no one would go near him and his treasure, wreaking terror in the people's hearts.

Plotting revenge to get the treasure, Regin sends his foster-son Sigurd to kill the dragon. Regin instructed Sigurd to dig a pit where he could lie in wait under the trail Fáfnir used to drink. And there plunge his sword, Gram, into Fáfnir's heart as he crawls over the pit to the water. Regin then ran away in fear, leaving Sigurd to the task. As Sigurd dug, Odin appeared as an old man with a long beard. He advised the warrior to dig more than one trench for the blood of Fáfnir to run into, and then disappeared. The earth quaked, and the ground nearby shook as Fáfnir made his way to the stream, blowing poison into his path. Sigurd, undaunted, stabbed Fáfnir in the left shoulder as he crawled over the ditch, mortally wounding the dragon. As the creature died, he spoke to Sigurd and asked for his name, his parentage, and who sent him on such a dangerous mission. Fáfnir figured out that his brother, Regin, plotted this and predicted that Regin would also cause Sigurd's death. Fáfnir warned, "You will ride there, where you will find so much gold that it will be plentiful for the rest of your days. And that same gold will be your death, as it will be the death of all who possess it." Sigurd stood up and said: "I would ride home, even though it would mean losing this great treasure, if I knew that I would never die. But every brave man wants to be wealthy until that one day. And you Fafnir, lie in your death throes until Hel has you."

Regin then returned to Sigurd after Fáfnir's death and cut Fáfnir's heart out with the sword Ridill. After drinking the dragon's blood, Regin requested to eat the heart, so Sigurd roasted it on a spit. He touched it to check its doneness, and it burnt his finger. He stuck his finger in his mouth, and once Fáfnir's blood touched his tongue, he could understand the speech of birds. He then overhears nearby birds warning him of Regin's treachery. The six birds advise him to eat the heart himself and kill Regin. He ate some of Fáfnir's heart and saved some. He then decapitated Regin with Gram.

Cultural influence[edit]

In Wagner[edit]

Fáfnir guards the gold hoard in this illustration by Arthur Rackham to Richard Wagner's Siegfried.

Fáfnir appears with the spelling "Fafner" in Richard Wagner's epic opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (1848–1874), although he began life as a giant rather than a dwarf. In the first opera, Das Rheingold (1869), which has some basis from the Gylfaginning, Fafner and his brother Fasolt try to kidnap the goddess Freia, a composite of the goddesses Freyja and Idun, who has been promised to them by Wotan, the king of the gods, in exchange for building the castle Valhalla. Fasolt is in love with her while Fafner wants her as without her golden apples the gods will lose their youth. The giants, mainly Fafner, agree to accept a massive hoard of treasure stolen from the dwarf Alberich instead. The treasure includes the magic helmet Tarnhelm and a magic ring of power. As they divide the treasure, the brothers argue and Fafner kills Fasolt and takes the ring for himself. Escaping to Earth, he uses the Tarnhelm to transform himself into a dragon and guards the treasure in a cave for many years before being ultimately killed by Wotan's mortal grandson Siegfried as depicted in the opera of the same name. However, while Fasolt is a romantic revolutionary, Fafner is a more violent and jealous figure, plotting to overthrow the gods. In many productions, he is shown to return to his original giant form while delivering his death-speech to Siegfried.

As inspiration for Tolkien[edit]

Much of J.R.R. Tolkien's work was inspired by Northern European mythology.[3] Many parallels can be drawn between Fáfnir and Smaug, the main antagonist of The Hobbit. The exchange between Smaug and Bilbo Baggins nearly mirrors Fáfnir's and Sigurd's. The main difference is that Sigurd's conversation occurs after the death blow has been struck. This is most likely due to dramatic effect, as Bilbo has much more at stake when speaking with Smaug.[3]

Glaurung, another dragon featured in Tolkien's legendarium, has many similarities to Fáfnir as well. In Tolkien's The Book of Lost Tales, Glaurung is described as a flightless dragon that hoards gold, breathes poison, and has "Great cunning and wisdom". In Tolkien's book The Children of Húrin, he is slain by Turin Turambar from below, much like Fáfnir. Turin and Glaurung also have an exchange after the mortal blow is dealt.

Fáfnir's downfall due to obsessive greed is also mirrored in Tolkien's character Gollum, who appears in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Both are driven to murder out of lust for treasure (in both cases, a magical ring) and flee into exile to hoard it. As with Fafnir, that which Gollum so covets proves to be his curse. Both characters are seen devolving into wicked creatures, living only to guard the treasures that have consumed their minds, until that which is so valuable to them finally leads to their own destruction.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gunnar Nordanskog, Föreställd hedendom: tidigmedeltida skandinaviska kyrkportar i forskning och historia, 2006, p. 241. ISBN 978-91-89116-85-6
  2. ^ Fáfnir.
  3. ^ a b Unerman 2002, pp. 94–101.
  4. ^ Flieger, Verlyn (2004). "Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of the Hero". In Zimbardo, Rose A.; Isaacs, Neil D. (eds.). Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin. p. 142. ISBN 978-0618422531.
  5. ^ Pasachoff, Jay M.; Filippenko, Alex (2019). The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 658. ISBN 978-1-108-43138-5.
  6. ^ Publishing, TwoMorrows (2008). Jack Kirby Checklist Gold Edition. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-60549-005-2.
  7. ^ Ramos, Jeff (May 4, 2018). "God of War guide: The Flight of Fafnir walkthrough, items and collectibles". Polygon. Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  8. ^ "Character". Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  9. ^ "Beyblade Official". Beyblade Burst Evolution. Retrieved 13 December 2022.
  10. ^ Hinn Mikli Dreki, 2023-01-20, retrieved 2023-01-22

References[edit]

  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of World Mythology, Helicon Pub., Abingdon, 2005, pp. 90.
  • Lurker, Manfred. The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils .., Routledge, London, 2004, pp. 61.
  • MacCulloch, J. A. Celtic and Scandinavian Religions, Chicago Review, 2005, pp. 139–140.
  • Byock, Jesse L. (1990). Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23285-2.
  • Thorpe, Benjamin (1907). The Elder Edda of Saemund Sigfusson. Norrœna Society.
  • Fafnir. (2018). Britannica Online Academic Edition, Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Unerman, Sandra (April 2002). "Dragons in Twentieth Century Fiction". Folklore. 113 (1): 94–101. JSTOR 1261010.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R., Christopher, (2010). The Book of Lost Tales. London: HarperCollins
  • Amon Amarth - Fafner's gold (2019) Melodic death metal song from the album "Berserker"
  • "Fáfnir". Wiktionary. Retrieved 12 December 2022.