Fafnir

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In Norse Mythology, Fáfnir or Frænir was a son of the dwarf king Hreidmar and brother of Regin and Ótr. In the Volsunga saga, Fáfnir was a dwarf gifted with a powerful arm and fearless soul. He wore the Aegis helmet and guarded his father's house of glittering gold and flashing gems. He was the strongest and most aggressive of the three brothers.

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

Story

The Völsunga Saga

After Ótr was killed by Loki, Hreidmar received the cursed gold of Andvari's as repayment for the loss of his son. Fáfnir and Regin then killed their father to get the gold, but Fáfnir decided he wanted it all, turning into a dragon (symbol of greed) and disputed the gold to his brother. Regin, infuriated sent his foster-son, Sigurd, to kill the dragon. Sigurd succeeded by digging a pit under the trail Fáfnir used to walk to a stream and plunging his sword Gram into his heart as he walked past. Regin, however, corrupted by the curse on Andvari's gold, planned to kill Sigurd to take the treasure for himself, but Sigurd, having eaten part of Fáfnir's cooked heart, was warned by birds of Regin's attack and ended up killing him.

The Völsunga Saga is an Icelandic interpretation made by the end of the XIII century - century of origin and declination of the Volsung clan in which the existence of Sigurd, Brynhild and the destruction of the Burgundians - is documented. The German epic poem Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs) is based on these old histories, that were popular in all the Germanic lands, but re-tells the traditional material and includes ingredients of the medieval scope of the court.


Nibelungenlied

Nibelungenlied tells that Siegfried was the one who killed the dragon in the court of the Burgundians, thanks to this he could become owner of the treasure of the Nibelungs. After killing him, he bathed in the blood of this mythical animal and became an invulnerable man, except by a small weak point that was left, where a linden tree leaf fell while he was soaked with the blood of Fafnir: his back. Like Achilles' heel, his back will be the fatal spot that the treacherous Hagen will choose to betray him.

As Fafner, he is featured in Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, although he began life as a Jotun rather than a dwarf, before once again turning into a dragon to better guard the gold.

Some versions are more specific about Fafnir's treasure hoard, mentioning the swords Ridill and Hrotti as part of it.



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

In Norse Mythology, Fáfnir (Old Norse and Icelandic) or Frænir was a son of the dwarf king Hreidmar and brother of Regin and Ótr.

Narrative

In the Icelandic Volsunga Saga (late 13th century), Fáfnir was a dwarf gifted with a powerful arm and fearless soul. He guarded his father's house of glittering gold and flashing gems. He was the strongest and most aggressive of the three brothers.[1]

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 then seized the gods and held them captive while Loki was made to gather the ransom, which was to stuff the otter’s skin with gold and cover its outside with red gold. Loki fulfilled the task by gathering the cursed gold of Andvari's as well as the ring, Andvaranaut, both of which were told to Loki as items that would bring about the death of whoever possessed them. Fáfnir then killed Hreidmar to get all the gold for himself. He became very ill-natured and greedy, so he went out into the wilderness to keep his fortune, eventually turning into a serpent or dragon (symbol of greed) to guard his treasure.[2] Fáfnir also breathed poison into the land around him so no one would go near him and his treasure, wreaking terror in the hearts of the people.[3]

Regin plotted revenge so that he could get the treasure and sent his foster-son, Sigurd Fåvnesbane, to kill the dragon. Regin instructed Sigurd to dig a pit in which he could lie in wait under the trail Fáfnir used to get to a stream and there plunge his sword, Gram, into Fafnir'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 in the form of an old man with a long beard, advising the warrior to dig more trenches for the blood of Fáfnir to run into, presumably so that Sigurd does not drown in the blood. The earth quaked and the ground nearby shook as Fáfnir crawled to the water. Fáfnir also blew poison into his path as it made his way to the stream.[4] Sigurd, undaunted, stabbed Fáfnir in the left shoulder as he crawled over the ditch he was lying in and succeeded in mortally wounding the dragon. As the great serpent lies there dying, he speaks to Sigurd and asks him what his name is, what his father's and mother's names are, and who sent him to kill such a terrifying dragon. Fafnir figures out that his own brother, Regin, plotted the dragon's death, and tells Sigurd that he is happy that Regin will also cause Sigurd's death. Sigurd tells Fáfnir that he will go back to the dragon's lair and take all his treasure. Fáfnir warns Sigurd that all who possess the gold will be fated to die, but Sigurd replies that all men must one day die, and it is the dream of many men to be wealthy until that dying day, so he will take the gold without fear.[5] Regin then returned to Sigurd after Fáfnir was slain. Corrupted by greed, Regin planned to kill Sigurd after Sigurd had cooked Fáfnir’s heart for him to eat and take all the treasure for himself. However, Sigurd, having tasted Fáfnir's blood while cooking the heart, gained knowledge of the speech of birds[6] and learned of Regin's impending attack from the Oðinnic (of Odin) birds' discussion and killed Regin by cutting off his head with Gram.[7] Sigurd then ate some of Fáfnir’s heart and kept the remainder, which would later be given to Gudrun after their marriage.[8]

Some versions are more specific about Fáfnir's treasure hoard, mentioning the swords Ridill and Hrotti, the helm of terror and a golden coat of chainmail.[9]

In Art and Music

Fafnir appears — as "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), Fafner and his brother Fasolt win a massive hoard of treasure from Wotan, the king of the gods, in exchange for building the castle Valhalla. The treasure includes the magic helmet Tarnhelm and a magic Ring. As they divide the treasure, 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.

Popular culture references

  • In a comparison with the later literature, The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) by J. R. R. Tolkien, the character Gollum, as well as Smaug, could be seen to have been inspired by Fáfnir, who was also corrupted by greed and transformed into a vile creature. Furthermore, the motif of a cursed ring (namely Andvarinaut and One Ring) is also shared between the Volsunga Saga and The Lord of the Rings. The cursed rings are the objects of avarice in both texts. In fact Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) features an incredible number of similarities beyond those mere aspects above, for instance, the two swords Orcrist and Glamdring correspond to the story, as well, Bilbo's Mithril shirt also stands in for the chain mail shirt of gold. Correspondingly, the lay of Turin Turambar in The Silmarillion (1977) and also The Children of Hurin (2007) include the killing of the dragon Glaurung by similar means as Fafnir.
  • C.S. Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader character Eustace Scrubb is tempted by greed and finds himself transformed into a treasure-guarding dragon. Following the transformation, however, Eustace experiences an unexpected spiritual epiphany that makes him worthy to join his fellow lead characters in the quest at the heart of the novel.
  • In the Frasier episode "Docu. Drama" Niles elects to name his kite Fafnir, 'after Siegfried's fiery nemesis'.
  • The video game Final Fantasy XII features a monster called Fafnir, whom the hero must slay in a style similar to legend.
  • Fafnir appears several times in the Marvel Comics series Thor, first appearing in #134
  • The computer-game Magicka is based on Norse mythology, players fight the dragon 'Fafnir' later in-game.
  • The universe of BattleTech and MechWarrior have an Assault class battlemech named Fafnir, recognizable for its two shoulder mounted Heavy Gauss Rifles.[10]
  • In the online game "getamped 2" there is a accessory called Arm of Fafnir.
  • In the Brigandine video game, Fafnir is one of the final classes a dragon can achieve.
  • In the Daniel Pinkwater book "Borgel," the dog is named Fafner.
  • The 2007 adaptation of Beowulf features Fafnir as the dragon. In this adaptation Fafnir is depicted as being the son of Beowulf and the Water Demon (Grendel's mother), not unlike how Grendel was the son of Hrothgar and the same demon.

Notes

References

  • 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.