Sigurd in the Art of the Viking Age by Hilda R. Ellis (1942)

The youthful adventures of Sigurd the Volsung, before his fateful meetings with Brynhild and the sons of Gjuki, have given plenty of opportunities for argument and the weaving of contradictory theories. To some it has seemed that here we find ourselves with the tangled remains of a myth; to others that we are dealing with the elaborated version of a widespread folk-tale. The complex series of hypothetical lays and sagas traced out by scholars to form the ancestry of the Old Norse version of the story has become a spider’s web of bewildering possibilities, a rather depressing prologue to what at first sight seems merely a rousing story of a young hero who kills a dragon. The question of literary antecedents and the problems of textual history have been fully and ably followed up, particularly by Heusler and Schneider; in this brief study I intend to approach the subject from a different direction.

To be completed once I find the full article.

Source: Antiquity Volume 16, Issue 63, pp. 216-36, September 1942


  1. H. Schück, ‘Sigurdsristingar’, Nord. Tids. f. Vetenskap, 1903, p. 217 f
  2. E. I. Seaver, ‘Figure Sculpture on Scandinavian Crosses in the Isle of Man’, Konsthistoriska Stud, till Johnny Roosval, 1929, p. 109 f.
  3. P. M. C. Kermode, Manx Crosses, 1907, p. 174 f ; Journ. Isle of Man Nat. Hist. and Antiquarian Society, 1910, IV, 60-8. The Editors of Antiquity wish to thank the Manx Museum for lending the blocks illustrating Figures 1,2, 3 and 10.
  4. Baldwin Brown, Arts in Early England, VI (2), p. 231 f.
  5. Schück, op. cit. 205 ; Kermode, op. cit. 172.
  6. H. C. March, ‘Pagan-Christian Overlap in the North’, Trans. Lancashire and Cheshire Antiq. Soc., 1891, IX, plates 1-3. The Editors are indebted to the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society for permitting them to reproduce the illustrations in their Journal for Figures 7, 8 and 9.
  7. W. G. Collingwood, Northumbrian Crosses, 1927, p. 159 f.
  8. Kermode, op. cit. 179.
  9. H. Shetelig, ‘Manx Crosses’, Viking Club Saga Book, 1915, IX (2), 253 f, esp 271 f.
  10. W. G. Collingwood, Scandinavian Britain, 1908, p. 232 f.
  11. Vigfussori and Powell (Corpus Poeticum Boreale II, 57) attribute it to Ottarr hinn Svarti, but I have not been able to discover any authority for this.
  12. benskeiðr is not satisfactory, and F. Jónsson, Skjaldigtning, B, 1, 292, reads instead bangs seiðs. He takes til munna grundar seiðs together, and reads ‘the sword stands in the mouth of the fish of the ground’ (i.e. dragon). But since munna must come from munni, opening, mouth of cave, etc. and not from munnr, the word used for the mouth of man or animal, this hardly seems satisfactory ; both Jónsson and Vigfusson seem to have gone astray over this. Consequently I have not adopted Jónsson’s reading, although blóð fellr ofan á báðar bangs jarðir is in itself a reasonable interpretation : blood falls down on both the arms of the warrior (grounds of rings). But in spite of difficulties in deciding on a detailed interpretation of the first four lines, the main picture is clear, and the reference to the ‘mouth of earth’ especially striking in view of the stabbing from the pit in all the pictures of the dragon-slaying on the Sigurd stones.
  13. op. cit. 218 f.
  14. Schuck, op. cit. 199.
  15. Kermode, op. cit. 178.
  16. ibid. 179.
  17. E. I. Seaver, ‘Some Examples of Viking Figure Representation’, (Medieval Studies in memory of A. Kingsley Porter (Harvard Univ. Press, 1939), II, 603, 606).
  18. Collingwood, ‘Viking-Age Cross at Iona’, Viking Club Saga Book, 1904, p. 304 f.
  19. Kermode, Viking Club Saga Book, 1925, p. 333 f. Seaver, op. cit. 597, fig. 10.
  20. Kermode, Manx Crosses, pl. xlviii, xlix.
  21. Schuck, op. cit. 206 f.
  22. As suggested by Baldwin Brown op. cit. VI (2), 238. But see Collingwood, Northumbrian Crosses, p. 162-3; and for examples of the man and bird in Christian symbolism, March, op. cit. 64 f, and pl. VIII.
  23. Baldwin Brown, op. cit. VI (1), 135 f, accepts the interpretation of the scene as being from the Sigurd saga. Objections to this are raised by A. S. Napier, ‘Contributions to O.E. Literature, Eng. Misc.presented to Dr Furnivall’ (Oxford, 1901), who gives the fullest and most helpful survey of the problems of the runes.
  24. Guðrunarkviða 11, 5.
  25. Schuck, op. cit. 196 f.
  26. J. A. Worsaae, Om Forestillingerne paa Guldbracteaterne, Aarb.f. nord. Oldkind, 1870, p. 382 f.
  27. Seaver, op. cit. 113 f. and Medieval Studies (see note 17), p. 590.
  28. cf. Du Chaillu, Viking Age, 11, 340, figs. 1307, 1309.
  29. ‘Ragnars Saga Lóðbrokar’, Fornaldar Sögur Nörðlanda, XV. The reference to the hero’s death among snakes is found in a verse, and is the more likely to be a genuine old tradition.

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