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The Story Of Siegfried - The Fore Word Post by :37285 Category :Long Stories Author :James Baldwin Date :February 2011 Read :2410

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The Story Of Siegfried - The Fore Word

When the world was in its childhood, men looked upon the
works of Nature with a strange kind of awe. They fancied
that every thing upon the earth, in the air, or in the
water, had a life like their own, and that every sight which
they saw, and every sound which they heard, was caused by
some intelligent being. All men were poets, so far as their
ideas and their modes of expression were concerned, although
it is not likely that any of them wrote poetry. This was
true in regard to the Saxon in his chilly northern home, as
well as to the Greek in the sunny southland. But, while the
balmy air and clear sky of the south tended to refine men's
thoughts and language, the rugged scenery and bleak storms
of the north made them uncouth, bold, and energetic. Yet
both the cultured Greek and the rude Saxon looked upon
Nature with much the same eyes, and there was a strange
resemblance in their manner of thinking and speaking. They
saw, that, in all the phenomena which took place around
them, there was a certain system or regularity, as if these
were controlled by some law or by some superior being; and
they sought, in their simple poetical way, to account for
these appearances. They had not yet learned to measure the
distances of the stars, nor to calculate the motions of the
earth. The changing of the seasons was a mystery which they
scarcely sought to penetrate. But they spoke of these
occurrences in a variety of ways, and invented many
charming, stories with reference to them, not so much with a
view towards accounting for the mystery, as towards giving
expression to their childlike but picturesque ideas.

Thus, in the south, when reference was made to the coming of
winter and to the dreariness and discomforts of that season
of the year, men did not know nor care to explain it all, as
our teachers now do at school; but they sometimes told how
Hades had stolen Persephone (the summer) from her mother
Demetre (the earth), and had carried her, in a chariot drawn
by four coal black steeds, to the gloomy land of shadows;
and how, in sorrow for her absence, the Earth clothed
herself in mourning, and no leaves grew upon the trees, nor
flowers in the gardens, and the very birds ceased singing,
because Persephone was no more. But they added, that in a
few months the fair maiden would return for a time to her
sorrowing mother, and that then the flowers would bloom, and
the trees would bear fruit, and the harvest-fields would
again be full of golden grain.

In the north a different story was told, but the meaning was
the same. Sometimes men told how Odin (the All-Father) had
become angry with Brunhild (the maid of spring), and had
wounded her with the thorn of sleep, and how all the castle
in which she slept was wrapped in deathlike slumber until
Sigurd or Siegfried (the sunbeam) rode through flaming fire,
and awakened her with a kiss. Sometimes men told how Loki
(heat) had betrayed Balder (the sunlight), and had induced
blind old Hoder (the winter months) to slay him, and how all
things, living and inanimate, joined in weeping for the
bright god, until Hela (death) should permit him to revisit
the earth for a time.

So, too, when the sun arose, and drove away the darkness and
the hidden terrors of the night, our ancestors thought of
the story of a noble young hero slaying a hideous dragon, or
taking possession of the golden treasures of Mist Land. And
when the springtime came, and the earth renewed its youth,
and the fields and woods were decked in beauty, and there
was music everywhere, they loved to tell of Idun (the
spring) and her youth-giving apples, and of her wise husband
Bragi (Nature's musician). When storm-clouds loomed up from
the horizon and darkened the sky, and thunder rolled
overhead, and lightning flashed on every hand, they talked
about the mighty Thor riding over the clouds in his goat-
drawn chariot, and battling with the giants of the air. When
the mountain-meadows were green with long grass, and the
corn was yellow for the sickles of the reapers, they spoke
of Sif, the golden-haired wife of Thor, the queen of the
pastures and the fields. When the seasons were mild, and the
harvests were plentiful, and peace and gladness prevailed,
they blessed Frey, the giver of good gifts to men.

To them the blue sky-dome which everywhere hung over them
like an arched roof was but the protecting mantle which the
All-Father had suspended above the earth. The rainbow was
the shimmering bridge which stretches from earth to heaven.
The sun and the moon were the children of a giant, whom two
wolves chased forever around the earth. The stars were
sparks from the fire-land of the south, set in the heavens
by the gods. Night was a giantess, dark and swarthy, who
rode in a car drawn by a steed the foam from whose bits
sometimes covered the earth with dew. And Day was the son of
Night; and the steed which he rode lighted all the sky and
the earth with the beams which glistened from his mane.

It was thus that men in the earlier ages of the world looked
upon and spoke of the workings of Nature; and it was in this
manner that many myths, or poetical fables, were formed. By
and by, as the world grew older, and mankind became less
poetical and more practical, the first or mythical meaning
of these stories was forgotten, and they were regarded no
longer as mere poetical fancies, but as historical facts.
Perhaps some real hero had indeed performed daring deeds,
and had made the world around him happier and better. It was
easy to liken him to Sigurd, or to some other mythical
slayer of giants; and soon the deeds of both were ascribed
to but one. And thus many myth-stories probably contain some
historical facts blended with the mass of poetical fancies
which mainly compose them; but, in such cases, it is
generally impossible to distinguish what is fact from what
is mere fancy.

All nations have had their myth-stories; but, to my mind,
the purest and grandest are those which we have received
from our northern ancestors. They are particularly
interesting to us; because they are what our fathers once
believed, and because they are ours by right of inheritance.
And, when we are able to make them still more our own by
removing the blemishes which rude and barbarous ages have
added to some of them, we shall discover in them many things
that are beautiful and true, and well calculated to make us
wiser and better.

It is not known when or by whom these myth-stories were
first put into writing, nor when they assumed the shape in
which we now have them. But it is said, that, about the year
1100, an Icelandic scholar called Saemund the Wise collected
a number of songs and poems into a book which is now known
as the "Elder Edda;" and that, about a century later, Snorre
Sturleson, another Icelander, wrote a prose-work of a
similar character, which is called the "Younger Edda." And
it is to these two books that we owe the preservation of
almost all that is now known of the myths and the strange
religion of our Saxon and Norman forefathers. But, besides
these, there are a number of semi-mythological stories of
great interest and beauty,--stories partly mythical, and
partly founded upon remote and forgotten historical facts.
One of the oldest and finest of these is the story of
Sigurd, the son of Sigmund. There are many versions of this
story, differing from each other according to the time in
which they were written and the character of the people
among whom they were received. We find the first mention of
Sigurd and his strange daring deeds in the song of Fafnir,
in the "Elder Edda." Then, in the "Younger Edda," the story
is repeated in the myth of the Niflungs and the Gjukungs. It
is told again in the "Volsunga Saga" of Iceland. It is
repeated and re-repeated in various forms and different
languages, and finally appears in the "Nibelungen Lied," a
grand old German poem, which may well be compared with the
Iliad of the Greeks. In this last version, Sigurd is called
Siegfried; and the story is colored and modified by the
introduction of many notions peculiar to the middle ages,
and unknown to our Pagan fathers of the north. In our own
time this myth has been woven into a variety of forms.
William Morris has embodied it in his noble poem of "Sigurd
the Volsung;" Richard Wagner, the famous German composer,
has constructed from it his inimitable drama, the
"Nibelungen Ring;" W. Jordan, another German writer, has
given it to the world in his "Sigfrid's Saga;" and Emanuel
Geibel has derived from it the materials for his "Tragedy of

And now I, too, come with the STORY OF SIEGFRIED, still
another version of the time-honored legend. The story as I
shall tell it you is not in all respects a literal rendering
of the ancient myth; but I have taken the liberty to change
and recast such portions of it as I have deemed advisable.
Sometimes I have drawn materials from one version of the
story, sometimes from another, and sometimes largely from my
own imagination alone. Nor shall I be accused of impropriety
in thus reshaping a narrative, which, although hallowed by
an antiquity of a thousand years and more, has already
appeared in so many different forms, and been clothed in so
many different garbs; for, however much I may have allowed
my fancy or my judgment to retouch and remodel the
immaterial portions of the legend, the essential parts of
this immortal myth remain the same. And, if I succeed in
leading you to a clearer understanding and a wiser
appreciation of the thoughts and feelings of our old
northern ancestors, I shall have accomplished the object for
which I have written this Story of Siegfried.

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