Sigrdrífumál – The Ballad of The Victory-Bringer

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aka The Ballad of The Victory-Bringer, The Lay of Sigrdrífa

Sigrdrífumál (also known as Brynhildarljóð ) is the conventional title given to a section of the Poetic Edda text in Codex Regius.

It follows Fáfnismál without interruption, and it relates the meeting of Sigurðr with the valkyrie Brynhildr, here identified as Sigrdrífa (“driver to victory”). Its content consists mostly of verses concerned with runic magic and general wisdom literature, presented as advice given by Sigrdrifa to Sigurd. The metre is fornyrðislag, except for the first stanza.

The end is in the lost part of the manuscript but it has been substituted from younger paper manuscripts. The Völsunga saga describes the scene and contains some of the poem.

Bellows’s notes on the poem

Introductory Note:

The so-called Sigrdrifumol, which immediately follows the Fafnismol in the Codex Regius without any indication of a break, and without separate title, is unquestionably the most chaotic of all the poems in the Eddic collection. The end of it has been entirely lost, for the fifth folio of eight sheets is missing from Regius, the gap coming after the first line of stanza 29 of this poem. That stanza has been completed, and eight more have been added, from much later paper manuscripts, but even so the conclusion of the poem is in obscurity.

Properly speaking, however, the strange conglomeration of stanzas which the compiler of the collection has left for us, and which, in much the same general form, seems to have lain before the authors of the Volsungasaga, in which eighteen of its stanzas are quoted, is not a poem at all. Even its customary title is an absurd error. The mistake made by the annotator in thinking that the epithet “sigrdrifa,” rightly applied to Brynhild as a “bringer of victory,” was a proper name has already been explained and commented on (note on Fafnismol, 44). Even if the collection of stanzas were in any real sense a poem, which it emphatically is not, it is certainly not the “Ballad of Sigrdrifa” which it is commonly called. “Ballad of Brynhild” would be a sufficiently suitable title, and I have here brought the established name “Sigrdrifumol” into accord with this by translating the epithet instead of treating it as a proper name.

Even apart from the title, however, the Sigrdrifumol has little claim to be regarded as a distinct poem, nor is there any indication that the compiler did so regard it. Handicapped as we are by the loss of the concluding section, and of the material which followed it on those missing pages, we can yet see that the process which began with the prose Fra Dautha Sinfjotla, and which, interrupted by the insertion of the Gripisspo, went on through the Reginsmol and the Fafnismol, continued through as much of the Sigrdrifumol as is left to us. In other words, the compiler told the story of Sigurth in mixed prose and verse, using whatever verse he could find without much questioning as to its origin, and filling in the gaps with his own prose. Fra Dautha Sinfjotla, Reginsmol, Fafnismol, and Sigrdrifumol are essentially a coherent unit, but one of the compiler’s making only; they represent neither one poem nor three distinct poems, and the divisions and titles which have been almost universally adopted by editors are both arbitrary and misleading.

The Sigrdrifumol section as we now have it is an extraordinary piece of patchwork. It is most unlikely that the compiler himself brought all these fragments together for the first time; little by little, through a process of accretion and also, unluckily, through one of elimination, the material grew into its present shape. Certainly the basis of it is a poem dealing with the finding of Brynhild by Sigurth, but of this original poem only five stanzas (2-4 and 20-21) can be identified with any degree of confidence. To these five stanzas should probably, however, be added some, if not all, of the passage (stanzas 6-12) in which Brynhild teaches Sigurth the magic runes. These stanzas of rune-lore attracted sundry similar passages from other sources, including stanza 5, in which a magic draught is administered (not necessarily by Brynhild or to Sigurth), the curious rune-chant in stanzas 15-17, and stanzas 13-14 and 18-19. Beginning with stanza 22, and running to the end of the fragment (stanza 37), is a set of numbered counsels closely resembling the Loddfafnismol (Hovamol, stanzas 111-138), which manifestly has nothing whatever to do with Brynhild. Even in this passage there are probably interpolations (stanzas 25, 27, 30, 54, and 36). Finally, and bespeaking the existence at some earlier time of another Sigurth-Brynhild poem, is stanza 1, sharply distinguished by its metrical form from stanzas 2-4 and 20-21. Many critics argue that stanzas 6-10 of Helreith Brynildar belonged originally to the same poem as stanza 1 of the Sigrdrifumol.

The Sigrdrifumol, then, must be regarded simply as a collection of fragments, most of them originally having no relation to the main subject. All of the story, the dialogue and the characterization are embodied in stanzas 1-4 and 20-21 and in the prose notes accompanying the first four stanzas; all of the rest might equally well (or better) be transferred to the Hovamol, where its character entitles it to a place. Yet stanzas 2-4 are as fine as anything in Old Norse poetry, and it is out of the scanty material of these three stanzas that Wagner constructed much of the third act of “Siegfried.”

The Sigrdrifumol represents almost exclusively the contributions of the North to the Sigurth tradition (cf. introductory note to the Gripisspo). Brynhild, here disguised by the annotator as “Sigrdrifa,” appears simply as a battle-maid and supernatural dispenser of wisdom; there is no trace of the daughter of Buthli and the rival of Guthrun. There is, however, so little of the “poem” which can definitely be assigned to the Sigurth cycle that it is impossible to trace back any of the underlying narrative substance.

The nature and condition of the material have made editorial conjectures and emendations very numerous, and as most of the guesses are neither conclusive nor particularly important, only a few of their are mentioned in the notes.