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Hagen (German form) or Högni (Old Norse Hǫgni, often anglicized as Hogni) is a Burgundian warrior in tales about the Burgundian kingdom at Worms. Hagen is often identified as a brother or half-brother of King Gunther (Old Norse Gunnarr). In the Nibelungenlied he is nicknamed "from Tronje".
Etymology of the epithet "Tronje"
Of the main manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied, the chief representatives of versions B and C use the spelling "Tronege": "from Tronege Hagene", "Hagen of Tronege", "geborn of Tronege", "helt of Tronege". The A version usually writes "Trony" (also "Troni" and "Tronie"). "Tronje" is the appropriate modern German form. In the B and C versions, the name is in the dative case, with the nominative being "Troneg"; "Tronje", although common, is therefore a mistake.[clarification needed The two sentences on Tronje seem to contradict; the same happens in the German article.]
All attempts to interpret Hagen's name or home are highly speculative. Although the Nibelungenlied has a historic center, it was written down only centuries later, in 1200, and therefore incorporated the author's Medieval knowledge and intentions. There are suggestions that the epithet refers to more or less similar-sounding place names. However, names that have only a phonetic similarity but no meaningful link with the legend are rejected by scholars, since it is very likely that such connections are random and add nothing to the interpretation of the character. It is believed that the poet of the Nibelungenlied accepted Tronje as a real place name in the Burgundian kingdom; but it is questionable that he himself knew its exact location, since the story's many geographical mistakes suggest that his knowledge of the area around Worms was not particularly good.
Nevertheless, a link to Hagen has been discussed regarding the following places:
- The suffix "of Tronje" could signify a derivation from the Greek "Troy", since it was fashionable in late antiquity and early medieval Europe to ascribe such ancestors to oneself. With this ascription, people could also connect themselves to the ancient Romans.
- "Tronje" could also be the Colonia Ulpia Traiana, a Roman city close to modern Xanten, and the area from which Siegfried came. This would explain Hagen's seemingly profound knowledge of incidents and deeds from Siegfried's youth.
- The Belgian city of Drongen in Ghent was known in Latin as "Truncinas" and had various Romanesque spellings over the following centuries: "Truncinas" (820–822), "Truncinis" (1040) and "Troncinium" (1198). Today, its French name is "Tronchiennes", which sounds almost like "Tronje". Dutch authors place the Kudrun saga here since it contains townscape and landscape names such as "Wulpe Tenenbaums" (Tenemarke, Tenelant). According to this interpretation, Hagen of the Nibelungenlied could be identical with the Hagen of the Kudrun.
- Similarly, the name of the small village of Castle Dhronecken in the Hunsrück Mountains sounds like "Tronje"; in the Middle Ages its name was "Troneck" and it lay in the historic Kingdom of the Burgundians. Not too far away, there are place names that hint at further figures from the Nibelungenlied, especially Hagen's relative Ortwin of Metz and his colleagues Hunold and Volker von Alzey. Based on the castles around Dhronecken, Ortwin can be assigned to Metz, Hagen to Dhronecken, Hunold to Hunoldispetra (now Hunolstein in Morbach), and Volker to Alzey. These are places that travelers coming from Xanten and over Metz and Worms to Passau, would pass along the way.
Some versions indicate that Hagen is the 'Oheim' of the three kings, i.e. their mother Ute's brother (or brother-in-law, following an now outdated German dual model of indicating and differing between matrilineal and patrilineal kinship). Some count him as Gunter's, Gernot's and Giselher's 'uncle' (originally a father's brother or brother-in-law, as opposed to 'Oheim'), so this may more likely hint to an old custom - nearly, but not yet completely outdated - where people close to a family take over the role of a fatherly / motherly friend and acquire the 'honorary title' of an uncle or aunt (see the German expression 'Nennonkel/-tante' - 'termed uncle / -aunt'). In German tradition, Hagen is especially grim, implacable, and violent, and in two accounts one-eyed.
According to the Thidreks saga, Hagen was Gunnar's (senior?) half-brother. Not fully human, though, as being fathered by an elf on the king's wife while the king was away. The Thidrekssaga also tells that it was Walter of Waskensten (Walter of Aquitaine) who put out Hagen's eye in a fight.
In these forementioned accounts, it is Hagen who kills the hero Siegfried during a hunt, wounding him on the only part of his body which was not invulnerable. This version of the character appears in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. In Norse tradition, Hagen's counterpart Högni is less extreme and the actual slayer of Sigurd (the Norse counterpart to Siegfried) is Gutthorm, a younger brother of Gunnar and Högni. But Gutthorm does so when egged on by his elder brothers.
In German accounts, Gunther and Hagen are the final casualties of the fall of the Nibelungs. Hagen refuses to reveal the hiding place of the Nibelung treasure to Kriemhild as long as his king Gunther lives. When Gunther is slain, the mortally wounded Hagen continues his refusal with sure knowledge that Gunther cannot now weaken and betray the secret.
In Norse accounts, however, it is Gunnar who refuses to tell the secret to Attila the Hun as long as Högni lives, and so brings about Högni's death, as his heart is cut out.
In Atlamál, Hniflung, a son of Hagen/Högni, avenges his father's death and the deaths of his kin, together with his aunt Guðrún. This work also states that Hogni had a wife named Kostbera and two other sons: Solar and Snævar. The Drap Niflunga mentions a fourth son named Gjuki (named after Hogni's father).
In the opera Götterdämmerung, part of The Ring Cycle, Hagen is portrayed as the half-brother of Gunther and Gutrune, illegitimately fathered by the dwarf Alberich. He is similarly depicted as evil and cunning, acting under the influence of his father and for his own interests.
The great German bass Kurt Moll pointed out that Hagen's music is unique in the bass repertoire: it requires a shouting, blaring vocal technique which risks damaging the singer's voice; only very large-voiced, powerful singers can sing it.
- Cyril Edwards, The Nibelungenlied. The Lay of the Nibelungs, translated with an introduction and notes. Oxford University Press 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-923854-5
- The Saga of Didrik of Bern. Translated (from the Swedish) by Ian Cumpstey. Skadi Press, 2017. ISBN 0-9576-1203-6
- "Kurt Moll Interview with Bruce Duffie . . . ."