Literature Study GuidesMythologyPart 7 Chapter 1 Summary

Mythology | Study Guide

Edith Hamilton

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Mythology | Part 7, Chapter 1 : The Stories of Signy and Sigurd | Summary



Signy's brother is the hero Sigmund. Her husband kills their father, Volsung, and captures Sigmund, but Signy frees him. She bears Sigmund a son called Sinfiotli, and sends the boy to live with Sigmund while she remains with her husband. When Sinfiotli is grown, he and Sigmund attack Signy's home, as she has planned. They kill her husband and children, and she praises them for avenging Volsung. Then she enters the burning house to die with her family.

Brynhild is a Valkyrie, one of the minor goddesses who accompany heroes to their afterlife. Odin punishes her for her disobedience by having her sleep on a bed surrounded by a ring of fire until a man comes to waken her. Sigurd, Sigmund's son, rides his horse through the flames and wakes her. Brynhild is overjoyed.

Sigurd swears brotherhood to Gunnar, king of the Giukungs. Gunnar's mother, Griemhild, gives Sigurd a potion so that he will forget Brynhild and marry her daughter Gudrun. Sigurd returns to Brynhild in Gunnar's form to woo her for Gunnar. She marries Gunnar because she believes Sigurd has been unfaithful, but when she learns the truth from Gudrun, she takes revenge.

Brynhild persuades Gunnar to have Sigurd killed, threatening to leave him if he doesn't. Gunnar sends his brother to kill Sigurd in his sleep, and Gudrun wakes covered in Sigurd's blood. Brynhild kills herself, hoping she will be cremated with Sigurd, whom she still loves.

Gudrun sits by Sigurd's body in paralyzing grief, unable to even weep. Then someone lifts the shroud covering him, and she is able to cry once she sees his face.


As Edith Hamilton promises in her introduction to this section, the stories of the Norse heroes Signy and Sigurd are bleak tales. The heroism of these characters rests on their ability to resist the evils and treachery surrounding them. Family connections hold the highest importance in these stories, and loyalty in marriage is paramount. Even as Signy concocts an elaborate plot to avenge her father's murder, an imperative that can be seen in many of the Greek and Roman myths as well, her connection to her husband and children remains strong. She dies with them, a show of loyalty to the family she has created alongside her loyalty to the family she was born into.

Brynhild's place on the couch surrounded by fire is a motif that appears in the fairy tales written in Europe in later centuries, such as the stories Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. In all these tales, a beautiful woman is trapped in a state of sleep until she is rescued or released by a man who becomes her lover or husband.

Revenge and love go hand in hand in the Norse myth of Sigurd, just as they do in many of the classical myths. Brynhild is deceived into marrying Gunnar, just as Sigurd is deceived into marrying Gudrun. However, when the truth is exposed, it does not pave the way to a happy ending. Brynhild has Gunnar kill Sigurd because it is the only way she can take him away from Gudrun, and she kills herself because death is the only way she can be with Sigurd again. As is the case for Signy, death is the release from life's suffering and injustices and the reward for fighting against that suffering.

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