Category Archives: King
The Father Of Gods & Heroes
Some of Zeus’ “romantic conquests” are also how many of Greece’s heroes are born, giving them some divine might and heroic destiny for their exploits. It is very likely that many of these stories are just wish fulfillment to connect early Greeks to the gods and explain why many early heroes appear to have divine destinies and beyond human attributes.
As the Father and King of the Gods, even those deities not directly related to Zeus as his children would likely refer him to Father.
A good number of the myths and stories of the Greek gods and heroes tend to place Zeus having some prominence, even if it’s as a cameo appearance.
I will admit that many of the myths about the Olympians I grew up with only ever mention Hera as Zeus’ wife. Then throwing in all of the numerous “affairs” of Zeus as just his many flings by whom the different gods and heroes of Greek mythology are born.
Clean, sanitized versions of the myths. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article series, there are at least three main sources for Zeus’ origins and myths. A couple of sources mentioned give Metis as Zeus’ first wife and that Hera is the second wife. So maybe Hera’s jealousy is not wanting to get replaced? Or just the rewrites that come later that say Hera has to be jealous of Zeus’ affairs.
I did come across one source that gives several wives for Zeus, starting with Metis, then the titaness Themis, Eurynome, Demeter, Mnemosyne, Leto, and lastly Hera.
Zeus & Callisto
This poor nymph found herself transformed into a bear along with her son Arcas by Artemis after an affair with Zeus. In compensation, Zeus placed both Callisto and Arcas up into the heavens to become the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Zeus & Danae
Zeus & Europa
In Greek mythology, Zeus in many of his various affairs; had fallen love with Europa, the daughter of Agenor, a King of Tyre in ancient Phoenicia. The problem with Zeus getting close to show his affection is that Europa was always guarded by her father’s servants. Being a god and a shape-shifter, Zeus changed himself into the form of a handsome white bull with golden horns.
That accomplished, Zeus in his white bull form then mingles with the King’s royal herds grazing in a large field near the sea. While a walk along the beach, Europe noticed the handsome white bull and couldn’t resist going up to feed it. The bull was so very friendly and gentle, that Europe climbed up on its back when it lay down; taking hold of the golden horns.
Once she was on the bull’s back, it stood up and the white bull wandered closer and closer to the sea and then when they approached the beach, took off running for the water. Once in the sea, the bull starts swimming towards the island of Crete. And for Europa, it was too late to get off now.
When they arrived in Crete, Zeus changed back into his own form, revealing himself to Europa. As he’s already married to Hera, Zeus gives Europa instead in marriage to Asterius, the King of Crete.
In slightly different versions of this story, Zeus and Europa have three children together. One of whom is Minos who grows up and goes on to be a famous king of Crete. He had the palace in Knossos built where bull games were held and is more infamous for the sacrifice of fourteen youths (seven boys and seven girls) to his Minotaur in a labyrinth every year. In either event, Zeus is said to have commemorated the white bull he turned into by placing it up among the heavens as the constellation Taurus.
Zeus & Leda
This story is connected to the Cygnus constellation. In this story, Zeus disguised himself as a swan in order to seduce Leda. In this guise, Zeus behaved much like a swain, which means a lover or wooer.
Leda was the wife of the Spartan King Tyndareus. She’s known for giving birth to two sets of twins; the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), and Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. When Leda laid with Zeus, their union produced an egg. Later that night, when she laid with her lawful husband Tyndareus, their union resulted in another egg. The immortal twins Pollux and Helen are said to have been fathered by Zeus while the mortal twins Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus.
Zeus & Nemesis
A variation to the above myth is that instead of Zeus seducing Leda, he seduces Nemesis, the goddess of divine justice and retribution. She was also the goddess of the Pelopennesian cult. Other sources are clearer that Nemesis lived in Rhamnus (located to the North-East of Athens) where this cult may have been. When Zeus went to seduce Nemesis, she changed herself into a variety of different animals before taking the form of a goose to escape him. Zeus continued to pursue Nemesis, each time taking the form of a larger, swifter animal until he turned into a swan before he was able to catch and rape her.
A variation of the story with Nemesis that’s told by Hyginus is that Zeus had turned himself into a swan and pretends to be escaping from an eagle. Nemesis protected the bird, offering sanctuary. It’s after words, when Nemesis has gone to sleep with the swan on her lap that she discovers the truth of who the bird really is.
In either version of the story told, Nemesis ends up laying an egg that she leaves in a swamp. This egg was found either by Hermes or a shepherd who brings it to Leda who keeps the egg in a chest until it hatches. It is from this egg that Helen of Troy is hatched. As a result of his success, Zeus placed an image of the swan up into the heavens.
Zeus & Leto
Another of Zeus’ affairs is with Leto and the resultant children would be the twin deities Apollo and Artemis.
From the surviving stories we have, a jealous Hera forced Leto to roam the earth to safely give birth. Hera had commanded that the earth and sea refuse Leto any safe refuge. Eventually, Leto came to the floating island of Delos and was able to safely give birth to her twin children.
Zeus & Ganymede
This is an oddball myth in that Zeus falls in love with a particularly handsome youth, Ganymede while he is out watching his father’s sheep. Zeus either transforms into or sends an eagle to come carry the youth off to Mount Olympus. There, Zeus grants Ganymede immortality and makes him a cup-bearer to the gods, replacing Hebe after she spilled some of the nectar and causing Hera a lot of anger over the replacement.
Depending on how you interpret this myth, this is Zeus wanting to grant immortality to a worthy descendant of his or how the ancient Greeks were justifying homosexuality in their culture.
Zeus & Semele
In this myth, Semele, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia is “seduced” by Zeus. The mighty Zeus promised the young Semele to reveal himself in all of his godly glory, however she dies when Zeus reveals himself as thunder and lightning to her. Their union results in the birth of the young Dionysus.
Herakles – The Favored Son
Of all of the many children that Zeus is to have sired, Herakles (or Hercules for the Roman spelling) is the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Even though, Herakles’ name means: “Glory of Hera,” Hera was not too pleased with the birth of this demigod and tried to kill him. Herakles would go on to become one of the best well known heroes in Greek & Roman mythology.
One such adventure between father and son is when they team up against a tribe of earth-born Giants threatening Olympus. The Delphi Oracle had decreed that only a single god and mortal would be able to defeat these monsters. Zeus and Hercules proved their mettle and overcame the monsters, defeating them.
Truth, Justice And The Olympian Way!
As King of the gods and their ruler, Zeus is the one who also gets to determine and uphold the laws, mete out justice, mercy, and morals. He punishes oath breakers and liars by hurling bolts of lightning to strike them down! It is Zeus’ place to maintain these laws, both in the heavens and on the earth, to protect his worshipers, preside over the various festivals and handle the governing of prophecies.
Given how often the gods, as a whole, are said to be petty and Zeus’ reputation for his numerous affairs (*coughs* rapes), I’m not sure I really buy this?
Hesiod in his “Work and Days” does describe Zeus as being a carefree god who loves to laugh aloud. Zeus was known for being wise, fair, just, merciful, and prudent despite supposedly having an unpredictable nature as no one knew what decrees he would give. A lord of justice who brought peace instead of violence.
Now we do have in the story of Ixion, what happens when someone violates the Host-Guest laws and proves to be a bad guest. Zeus comes through with laying down the law there.
Protector of Kings – Zeus was known to be a protector, particularly of kings and rulers. Once Greece shifted away from Kings and more towards democracy, Zeus then becomes the chief judge and peace maker.
Morals – For all of his affairs, if Zeus is to be setting the example for morals, it is small wonder that Hera comes across as angry and jealous all the time. Someone needs to keep him in line.
The show “Hercules: The Legendary Journey” is the only series that comes to mind that tried any meaningful reconciliation between Zeus and Hera about his numerous affairs. It was a very cheap shot with having Hera get amnesia as it didn’t really resolve the issues. Just lazy writing on the part of the screen writers. Most other shows and movies tend to gloss over the moral and marital problems as that usually is not the focus of the story at hand that writers want to tackle and tell.
I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the line, people twisted this view of justice and started recreating Zeus in their image. After all, people are mortal, and they’ll end up following after deities that appeal to their natures and what they want.
A Partial List Of Zeus’ Many Judgments & Punishments
I’m bound to miss a few, the stories involving Zeus are many, even if we’re counting the ones where he has a small bit part or cameo.
- At Hades’ request, Asclepius was killed by thunderbolt after his medical knowledge enabled the dead to return to life.
- Forcing Atlas to hold up the world on his shoulders after his part in the Titanomachy.
- Turning the nymph Chelone into a tortoise after she refused to attend the marriage of Hera and Zeus.
- Turning both King Haemus and Queen Rhodope into mountains. Your mileage may vary depending on if these are the Balkan Mountains, Stara Planina or Rhodope mountains, all for the crime of being too vain.
- Punishing Hera by hanging her upside down from the sky after she attempted to drown Heracles in a storm. His own wife.
- Throwing Hephaestus off the top of Mount Olympus as the baby was too repulsive looking.
- Lycaon was turned into a wolf after daring to serve Zeus human flesh to eat.
- Turning Pandareus to stone after he stole the golden dog that had guarded him as an infant in the holy Dictaeon Cave of Crete.
- Pandora was given a box, that when opened cursed mankind with all the evils and diseases after Prometheus gave humans the gift of fire.
- Turning Periphas into an eagle, thus making him the king of birds after Apollo intervened and said not to kill him.
- Blinding the seer Phineus and sending the harpies to harass him after revealing divine secrets. In some cases, for blinding his own sons.
- Killing Salmoneus with a thunderbolt for attempting to impersonate him, riding around in a bronze chariot and loudly imitating thunder.
- Sisyphus was condemned to spend all of eternity in the Underworld to roll a stone up hill.
- Condemning Tantalus to eternal torture in the depths of Tartarus after he tried to trick the gods into eating the flesh of his son Pelops.
- Sinking the Telchines into the sea.
Callirrhoe – Not everything was divine retribution… Zeus does grant Callirrhoe’s prayer that her sons be able to grow up swiftly so they can get revenge on Phegeus and his two sons for the death of their father.
Ixion – One really sees Zeus’ role as a god of justice and distributer of divine justice in the story of Ixion. How Ixion committed murder after refusing to pay a bride price. Ixion went everywhere he could think of to be purified and absolved of this grievous sin. Eventually Zeus said he could purify Ixion and then invited the mortal up to Mount Olympus.
While there, Ixion tried putting some moves on Hera who complained to her husband, Zeus. In response, Zeus created a cloud named Nephele in Hera’s likeness. When Zeus caught Ixion trying to put some unwanted moves on Nephele, Zeus sentenced Ixion down to Tartarus to spin forever on a flaming wheel crying out how you should always show gratitude to your benefactor.
The Myrmidons – After the death of his son, King Aeacus, Zeus turned the Myrmidons into ants. Later, Achilles would lead them into battle during the Trojan War.
Porphyrion – Ixion wasn’t the only one to get punished by Zeus for daring to look at his wife. The giant Porphyrion was struck down by lightning bolt after lusting for Hera.
Prometheus – This is another of the more famous of those punished by Zeus. In sum, the titan Prometheus had gifted humankind with fire. Not just fire, but divine fire after all the other animals received their gifts. Prometheus’ punishment is to be chained to a rock for all eternity while every day a vulture comes and eats his liver.
Most of the stories don’t mention that there was also a woman, by the name of Thetis whose identify that Prometheus was keeping from Zeus. That age-old prophecy plaguing Zeus that a son of his would be born greater than him who would overthrow the mighty Zeus and take his throne. After torturing Prometheus for a while, the titan tells Zeus that if he pursues Thetis, she will bear him the aforementioned, prophesied son. Hearing the news, Zeus decides to pass off Thetis to Peleus and it is from that union, that the hero Achilles is born.
Birth Of A God
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Zeus and all his siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophesy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour his children whole as soon as they are born. This happens five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea, with the help of Gaia hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetite, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Here, it gets a little muddled as to what exactly happens next for Zeus’ infancy and being raised in secret before returning to reclaim his birthright.
It largely depends on which accounts of the story you read.
At Rhea’s behest, Gaia takes the infant Zeus to Crete where she hides in a cave located on Mount Dicte or Mount Ida.
There, Gaia raised the child with the divine goat, Amalthea providing milk for the infant Zeus. The Kouretes, soldiers or minor gods would dance, shout and clash their spears to hide the sounds of the baby’s cries from Cronus.
If Amalthea is instead a nymph, she raises a young Zeus in a cave called Dictaeon Andron on the Lasithi plateau.
Sounding a little more messed up, in Hyginus’ Fabulae, another nymph Adamanthea is who takes and raises Zeus. She dangled the infant on a rope between the heavens and sea as Cronus ruled over the earth, thus preventing him from discovering his son. Yay?
Cynosura is sometimes said to have raised Zeus and in thanks, he placed her up in the heavens to become a constellation.
Then there’s Melissa who nursed the infant on goat milk and honey.
The Promise They Were Sheeped
And while they’re not nymphs, a family of shepherds raises the baby with the promise that their flock of sheep would be protected from wolves.
Claiming His Birthright
An older Zeus returns to fulfill the prophecy killing his father Cronus. With either Gaia or Metis’ help, Zeus is able to administer a potion that causes Cronus to regurgitate all of his siblings along with the stone that was swallowed.
An alternate scenario has Zeus splitting open Cronus’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera and Hestia. Incidentally, Hades is the last of Cronus’ children that is either regurgitated or comes out after Zeus splits their father open.
There is a ten-year long divine war known as the Titanomachy, that by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hades and the other gods take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
During the war, Gaia gave a prophesy to Zeus that he would have victory over the Titans by freeing the Cyclops who were then prisoners in Tartaros. Zeus slew Campe, the jail-keeper of the Cyclops. As a reward and thanks for releasing them, the Cyclcops forged weapons for the three brothers. Thunderbolts for Zeus, a Trident for Poseidon and a Bident for Hades along with a magical helmet of invisibility.
During this war, Hades used his helmet of invisibility to sneak into the Titans’ camp and destroy their weapons. After the war, the Titans were imprisoned within Tartoros and the Hecatoncheires were placed in charge of guarding the new prisoners. One titan, Atlas would be punished by forever having to hold the earth up.
Dividing the Spoils of War – After defeating Cronus and all of his father’s followers, the three brothers, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus divided up ruler-ship of the cosmos between them. Hades would become ruler of the Underworld; Poseidon would become ruler of the seas and Zeus would become ruler of the air. The earth, the domain of Gaia, would be available to all three gods.
Iliad – The Iliad describes the three brothers as pulling lots to determine who would rule which realm.
Hades & Typhon – While not exactly a flattering story of Hades; the story is that of Zeus battling the giant monstrous serpent Typhon during or after the Titanomachy. Hesiod’s Theogony describes Hades as cowering down below in the Underworld while Zeus is busy hurling thunder bolts and battling Typhon to take his place as king of the Olympian gods.
Gigantomachy – Battle For The Heavens!
While the Titans would be defeated, Zeus would still have to contend with other beings to secure his throne. Namely, because Gaia wasn’t happy with how her children, the Titans were treated and imprisoned in Tartarus. There would come a series of three additional attacks.
If that doesn’t have parallels with the story of Marduk and Tiamat.
The first were the Gigantes, another of Gaia’s children who would be defeated and sent to Tartarus.
Typhon & Echidna
Second would come the mighty Typhon, husband to Echidna and Father of All Monsters. Typhon or Typhoeus is described as a serpentine monster that breathes fire. Zeus fought him using his thunder bolts and aegis.
Eventually Zeus would defeat Typhon and trap him under Mount Etna. Echidna would be allowed to live along with her monstrous children. In Grecian myths, this is how Mount Etna became a volcano. Other versions of the myth, the gods Hermes and Pan would come to Zeus’ aid.
The third would be the twin brothers. These two would attempt to gain entrance to the heavens by stacking Mount Ossa on top of Mount Olympus. Then by stacking Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa.
That doesn’t seem like it would work. Zeus manages to defeat the Aloadae and just as he had with the Titans, he banished them too down to Tartarus.
One Last Final Challenge
It is curious that only when I went researching Zeus that I came across this story for the first time.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded over coming all the previous challenges from Gaia, the various giants and titans to become ruler of the heavens, a young Zeus had gotten rather prideful, temperamental and arrogant in his rulership.
Enter Apollo, Hera and Poseidon (and depending on the source, all the other gods except Hestia join in) decide that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Nereid, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, call the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable, Hera who is punished as she led the rebellion. Zeus only relents and ends the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
Metis – First Marriage (Birth Of Athena)
Most mythological accounts jump straight to Zeus being married to Hera. Before that, there was Metis, the daughter of the Ocean and goddess of Wisdom, Prudence and Cunning.
Metis resisted Zeus’ advances at first but eventually she gives into him and from their union would eventually come Athena. Just not a normal birth would follow for Athena.
Sins Of The Father – Now, just as Cronus did to his father Uranis and Zeus did to Cronus in time… Gaia informed Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter and from her, there would be a son who would over throw him.
Thinking he’s clever and going to break the cycle of constant fratricide, Zeus goes and swallows Metis whole on the belief that this would prevent the unwanted birth or because he gives birth to a child, it will prevent prophecy.
Birth Of Athena – By swallowing Metis, Zeus will either give birth to Athena, causing a lot of anger and outrage from Hera as this is Zeus circumventing the entire birthing process.
Hera is so angry with Zeus over this, that she gives birth to Hephaestus by immaculate conception or parthenogenetically, take your pick. Either way, Hera gives birth without the need for sex.
Sometime later, Zeus is experiencing a skull splitting headache. When he goes to seek relief and splits open his head with Hephaestus’ help, out pops Athena fully clothed, armed and already an adult.
Good thing Hera gave birth to Hephaestus. Who knows what Zeus would have done to alleviate his splitting headache?
The other version that I’m familiar with, Metis is swallowed with Zeus never knowing that she was ever pregnant to begin with.
I Have A Gut Feeling – I’ve found this story a bit curious in swallowing Metis. The ancient Greeks believed that the stomach rather than the brain were the source of intellect and emotions. With this belief, mindset in mind, it makes sense why Zeus would swallow Metis, that way, her powers of wisdom existed in some form inside him.
It gives a new meaning to the phrase: “thinking with one’s stomach” or “listening to one’s gut” would come from.
Hera – Second Marriage
Going back to the normal course of events with Greek myths, Zeus is married to his sister Hera. For gods and immortals, this works out. There just weren’t very many other options. For those who are mortal and human, ewww…. Inbreeding. Don’t do it!
Naturally, being his wife, goddess of marriage, birth, women, and fidelity, I do not blame Hera for getting angry with Zeus. The myths will say she was jealous and vengeful towards Zeus’ lovers and numerous children. Hera’s myths likely reflect what life was like for woman of the day. If she couldn’t punish her husband outright, she took her anger out on his lovers and any resulting children.
Zeus had to trick Hera into marrying him too. Knowing that Hera holds an affinity for animals, the god came to her in the form of a cuckoo. When Hera picked up the bird to hold close to her, Zeus transformed back his godly form and shamed her into having to marry him.
I really just don’t see how that will be a lasting or happy marriage.
Hera & Echo – This is one of the more famous stories depicting Hera’s anger and jealously. The nymph Echo was instructed by Zeus to distract Hera while he was out having his many “affairs.” Since Hera couldn’t punish Zeus, she would punish others. In Echo’s case, she was cursed to forever repeat what was said to her.
There’s plenty of studies to show and suggest that the Greeks were originally a matriarchal people. As patriarchy took over and the myths are rewritten, the resistance of the older religion and people twists these myths and stories around to make Hera look jealous and petty as so many of the Greek gods appear to be when their myths, especially original ones get co-opted and rewritten.
Battle Of The Sexes – If you don’t already have an idea of Zeus’ amorous reputation in mythology, keep reading, you will…
Hera would be rather upset and angry with her husband from his numerous affairs. I can only imagine, that as the goddess of marriage, Hera would try to have it out with Zeus over having sex and who got the most pleasure out of it.
The mortal Tiresias was given the job of acting as judge for this contest. When he ruled in favor of Zeus that men have more pleasure in having sex, Tiresias was rewarded with getting to live three times longer than other mortals.
Your Reputation Precedes You Sir!
Politely put, Zeus has quite a reputation with all of the “love interests” and “affairs” and the vast number of children he is to have fathered over the millennia. Zeus is rather busy for a married man, I mean god.
There are numerous stories of Zeus’ many love affairs, romances and some of which that are just outright rape stories no matter how euphemistically later rewrites try to retell them.
There’s a certain prestige, especially seen in the ancient Egyptian culture where all the Pharaohs are earthly incarnations of Ra. This divine birthright is what justifies them to be the rulers over the common, ordinary people.
I can imagine a similar thing happening among the Greeks where they want to claim a divine heritage to justify their rule over various cities states. Stories that often just served to explain how a thing came to be, why something is and to explain divine right of rulership.
We also know there’s two major areas of Greek history, the Mycenean Greek era and the those whom we think of as the Ancient or Classical Greeks with a dark age period in between. If you look at the myths carefully from these periods, Poseidon had been the ruler of the Olympian gods during the Mycenean era of Greek history. This later changes to Zeus being the head of the pantheon.
There is also a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple this with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
As there’s a theological takeover of replacing Poseidon with Zeus as the head of the pantheon and a patriarchal takeover of the regions that reduces goddesses like Hera’s importance. Just taking a close look at some of these myths, you can see the hints of it and some of the discrepancies that come up as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these locals myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own.
The most obvious being the Titanomachy story where Zeus and his siblings all displace the older pantheon and the survivors get absorbed into the new divine order.
In Hurrian mythology, Kumarbi is the chief god. Kumarbi was also known among the Akkadians and the Hittites from whom any written records on clay tablets have survived and been translated.
Sphere of Influence: Creation
Parentage and Family
Alalu – Grandfather
Anu – His father and representing the sky.
Teshub – A storm god
Tigris and Tashmishu are also listed as sons of Kumarbi.
Everything we know about Kumarbi comes from surviving records of Hittite texts and mythologies. Collectively, these texts are known as the Kumarbi Cycle that include: The Kingship in Heaven (also known as the Song of Kumarbi or Hittite Theogony), the Song of Ullikummi, the Kingship of the God Kal, the Myth of the dragon Hedammu and the Song of Silver.
The Kingship In Heaven
The Song of Kumarbi or Kingship in Heaven is the title given to a Hittite version of the Hurrian Kumarbi myth, dating to the 14th or 13th century B.C.E. It is preserved on three tablets, but only a small fraction of the text is legible and able to be translated.
This tale or song begins with how Alalu, the King of Heaven ruled for seven years and then is overthrown by Anu, who in turn rules for seven years before being overthrown by Kumarbi. This time, Kumarbi when he attacks his father Anu, Kumarbi bites off his genitals and when he spits it out, there were three new gods.
Anu tells Kumarbi that he is now pregnant with Teshub, Tigris and Tašmišu. When he heard this, Kumarbi spit out the semen to the ground and it became impregnated with two children. Kumarbi is then cut open, presumably by C-Section to deliver Teshub. Together, both Anu and Teshub then dispose of Kumarbi.
Knowing that history repeats itself and how Kumarbi overthrew his father Anu, just has he had overthrown his father Alalu; Kumarbi seeks out the goddess of the Sea (no name given) to see what to do to prevent his own demise.
The Sea tells Kumarbi to copulate with a rather large boulder, which then becomes pregnant and gives birth to a stone giant by the name of Ullikummi.
Once Ullikummi is born, he is taken to the Underworld and placed upon the shoulders of Ubelluris, the giant that holds up the earth. There, Ullikummi rises up like a pillar out of the sea. He is huge, some 9,000 leagues tall and 9,000 leagues in circumference.
Just huge. Worse, Ullikummi keeps on growing in size.
This worries the other gods who look to the trickster god Ea for advice on what to do. Ea says that Teshub should take the copper knife that had been used to split the heaven and earth at the beginning of time. Using the copper knife, Teshub sunders Ullukummi from Ubelluris, thus defeating him.
With Kumarbi defeated, Teshub then takes his places as the new King of Heaven.
So, what happens next!?!
That we don’t know as the last tablet that the story is written on is broken off. We can maybe guess by looking at similar myths like the Babylonians and the Greeks for how things might have progressed.
In this version of the Kingship in Heaven story, three gods, Alalu, Anu and Kumarbi rule the heavens in a nine-year reign before conceding the throne to the next deity. When it’s Kumarbi’s reign, his son, Teshub, the Weather God conspires to overthrow his father.
Another variation is that when the gods are trying to figure out what to do about Ullikummi, Ea goes to consult Enlil who goes to take a look at what’s going on. On seeing Ullukummi growing every large on top of Ubelluris, Enlil goes to the God’s Workshop where he gets a huge stonemason’s saw and comes back to cut off the giant’s feet.
Hesiod’s Theogony – The Greek Connections
Scholars have noted a similarity between the Hurro-Hittite Song of Kumarbi and Hesiod’s Theogony, a Babylonian Creation Epic. Especially between the characters of Uranus, Cronus and Zeus from the Greek mythos with those of the Hurrian creation myth with Alalu, Anu and Kumarbi.
Particularly with the progression of successors. Both the deities of Anu and Uranus are noted as having names that mean “Sky.” Likewise, Kumbari was a Grain-Deity and Cronus likely was one as well. It brings the line of succession to Teshub (or Teššub) and Zeus who are both Storm-Deities.
Another similarity is seen in how both Anu and Ouranos both have their genitals cut or bitten off. Either way hurts immensely… This is seen as removing themselves from heaven and the source from where other divinities originate.
Anu also warns Kumarbi that there will be consequences for what he has done. Again, a similar motif is seen in the Greek story where Ouranos tells the Titans that they too will pay a toll for castrating him.
Both Kumarbi and Cronos have the experience of having multiple deities within their stomachs for a period. Yes, both the Hittite and the Greek versions have alternative reasons for how and why that comes to be. I don’t know which is worse, swallowing your own children or biting off someone else’s genitals. Both are rather gruesome and I’d go with Kronos, even if it’s due to my being more familiar with his story.
Once more, both Kumarbi and Cronos both eat a stone in place of a child. In Kumarbi’s case, the stone is venerated as a cult object. The stone that Cronos regurgitated is known as the Omphalos and where it sat in the Delphi Oracle was to mark the center of the earth.
Their progeny, Teššub and Zeus, both storm deities, go to war with their father.
It begins to vary here, as the Hittite text has where the Earth giving birth to the Underworld Apsu two children who go on to threaten Teššub. What we don’t know, is how this story ends as the tablet its written on has broken. Whereas with the Greek story, we know that the Earth gives birth with Tartarus to Typhon and that Zeus does eventually defeat them.
It isn’t just the Hurrian-Hittite epic for the Kingship of Heaven, but other ancient epics such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish, the Hindi Vedic and even Norse mythology with cosmological beginnings for everything.
Enlil – Sumerian
Kumarbi has been equated with the Mesopotamian Enlil, god of wind, earth, air and storms.
El – Ugaritian
Similarly, Kumarbi is also identified with El, the major or chief deity of the Ugarites. Incidentally, the name El can also be a title meaning “Lord,” “god” or “deity.”
Jupiter – Roman
The major deity of the Roman pantheon who is a Sky god. He is quickly seen as the Roman counterpart to the Grecian Zeus. He is easily compared to Kumbari as the Romans pulled a number of their myths directly from the Greeks.
Zeus – Greek
The All-Father of the Greek Olympian pantheon. As noted with Hesiod’s Theogony, there have been a number of similarities noted between Zeus and Kumarbi, not just in aspects, but their origin stories for rulership.
Alternate Spelling: Κάδμος Kadmos
Etymology: “From the East” or “He Who Excels”
In Greek mythology, Cadmus is the name of the legendary founder and first king of Thebes. He is distinguished by being one of Greece’s first heroes who slew monsters long before the birth of the mighty Heracles.
Parentage and Family
Father – King Agenor of Tyre
Mother – Queen Telephassa of Tyre
Alternatively, Phoenix and Perimede are given as Cadmus’ parents.
Phoenix – No, not the legendary fire bird that resurrects itself in flames, but his brother who returns to Tyre to rule where the region is renamed to Phoenicia.
Cilix – Brother, the city of Cilicia is named after him.
Europa – Sister, abducted by Zeus
Agave – Daughter, with her sisters Autonoe and Ino, she unknowingly killed her son Pentheus. She marries first the Spartoi Echion and then later King Lycotherses of Illyria whom she also murders in order to hand over the kingdom to her father.
Autonoe – Daughter, her son, Actaeon was killed by his hounds.
Illyrius – Youngest son and child born, from whom the Illyrians are descended.
Ino – Daughter, was driven mad by Hera leapt to her death to the sea with her only surviving son. Instead of dying, Ino becomes a sea goddess.
Polydorus – Eldest son, inherits the throne in Thebes, carrying on the family dynasty.
Semele – Daughter, she is killed later by Hera after a liaison with Zeus. In some stories, she is the mother of Dionysus. The controversy will say that Semele was raped from an unknown assailant and the blame is placed on Zeus in an effort to try keeping some dignity
Thasus – The son of Cilix. In some accounts, he is also Cadmus’ brother. The island of Thassos is named after him.
Pentheus – the son of Agave and the Spartoi Echion, he becomes king of Thebes after Polydorus.
Cadmus’ Lineage – Divine Heritage
I feel it’s worth mentioning that through Telephassa’s line, Cadmus and all of his siblings are the grandchildren of Nilus, the god of the Nile River and Nephele, a cloud nymph. Through their father Agenor, again, Cadmus and his siblings are the grandchildren of the sea god Poseidon and Libya, the goddess or personification of ancient Libya in North Africa.
During Mycenaean Greek, Poseidon is the head of the Greek pantheon, it is later during what most think of as ancient Greece when we have more concrete records and writing, that Zeus is the head of the pantheon. I feel that Cadmus’ myth does show where some of these changes to try giving Zeus more prominence start getting put in.
Fifth generation divinity! That’s gotta count for something though!
As early culture heroes, Cadmus and a few others some of the founding members are who get the ball rolling for Greek culture.
First King Of Thebes
Part of Cadmus’ claim to fame is that he’s the first king and founder of Thebes. A Grecian dynasty that stayed in power for quite some time. By Greek myths, this dynasty ruled Thebes for many generations, even during the time of the Trojan War.
His history goes back far enough to when oral history was getting passed on from one generation to the next before getting written down.
Antique Powerhouse – As far as Greek antiquity goes; Thebes did rival the ancient cities of Athens and Sparta. Come the time of Alexander the Great, when he set his sights on Thebes in 335 B.C.E., the city fell and never reclaimed its ancient glory.
Historical Conflicts – The Grecian historian, Herodotus (who lived between 484 B.C.E. and 425 B.C.E.) wrote about Cadmus, chronically him down. Herodotus writes down that he believes Cadmus to have lived some 1600 years before him, placing the timeline for Cadmus in 2000 B.C.E. With so much myth and legend interwoven into Cadmus’ story, how much is history and how much is a tall tale turned to legend that we aren’t sure if there really was a Cadmus.
Once again, Herodotus is to have seen and described the Cadmean writing inscribed on some tripods within the temple of Apollo at Thebes. Tripods that are to date back to when Laius, Cadmus’ great-grandson lived. The inscriptions effectively read as: “Ἀμφιτρύων μ᾽ ἀνέθηκ᾽ ἐνάρων ἀπὸ Τηλεβοάων in English “Amphitryon dedicated me don’t forget the spoils of the battle of Teleboae.”
Further confusion for how much myth and legend there is versus actual history comes from a later Roman writer, Ovid in his Metamorphosis. There are certainly a lot of additions and his versions of the myths are what many are familiar with when thinking of Greco-Roman mythology.
Hittite Connection – More like a controversy. There is a letter from the King of Ahhivawa to the Hittite King where a Cadmus is mentioned as the father of the Ahhivawa people. It is known that this is the term for the Achaeans in the Mycenaean Greek era and mentioned in Homer’s works. It’s not accepted by scholars that this is evidence of the actual Cadmus of mythology.
Cadmeia – This is the acropolis in Thebes named so in honor of Cadmus.
Fun Fact – Cadmeia is supposed to be the original name of the city before becoming Thebes. The name change came about a couple generations later during the reign of Amphion and Zethus who wanted to change the city’s name to honor his wife Thebe.
Al-Qadmus – The name of a Syrian city that is named after Cadmus.
Thebes – There is a city called Thebes in Egypt, no they are not the same city, they just happen to share the same name.
What’s In A Name?
There’s not a clear consensus on what Cadmus’ name means. Some scholars have put forward the idea that it might have a Semitic root of QDM meaning “East.” In Arabic, QDM is a verb meaning: “to come.” Then, in Hebrew, qedem means: “east,” “front” and “ancient.” Then there is the ver qadam meaning: “to be in front.” The Greek word kekasmai means: “to shine.” All this conjecture means that Cadmus translates as either “He who excels” or “From the east.”
I’d say we’re really close, there is a clue with Cadmus being from Tyre and his brother returning to rule there and the region becoming Phoenicia. Scholars studying the region and languages note that there are cognates between the Phoenician and Hebraic language.
The Alphabet – It’s Greek To Me!
Speaking of writing, Cadmus is who gets the credit by the ancient Greek historians for introducing the Phoenician alphabet where it would get adapted to become the Greek alphabet.
Herodotus goes as far as to say that Cadmus founded Thebes long before the events of the Trojan War, placing it during the Aegean Bronze Age. It’s a chronology that’s dubious as it conflicts with when both the Phoenician and Greek alphabets are to have originated.
The earliest known Greek inscriptions that involve Phoenician letters don’t appear until the late 9th and 8th century B.C.E. The belief is that the Phoenician alphabet didn’t develop until 1050 B.C.E., after the Bronze Age.
The Homeric depictions of the Mycenaean Greek (think really ancient Greek) doesn’t mention much about writing. The only reference to any Homeric writing is the phrase “grammata lygra” meaning: “baneful drawings.” This is a connection to the Bellerophontic letter, in which Proteus sent a sealed message with the hero Bellerophon to King Iobates who one reading the missive had instructions to kill the hero.
At any rate, there are several examples of Greek writing known as Linear B found in Thebes that seems to give credence to Cadmus as the inventor and bringer of writing to the Greeks. In Modern-Day Lebanon, Cadmus is still revered and accepted as the originator.
Once again, it’s just Cadmus’ legend that goes so far back that there are doubts and questions about the existing records for just how accurate any of it is.
Going To Find His Sister
All legends have their beginning.
Cadmus’ story begins when he and his brothers are sent by their parents, the King Agenor and Queen Telephassa to go find his sister Europa and bring her back to Tyre after she had been abducted by the god Zeus. Further, Cadmus and his brothers are told not to return without their sister.
Unable to find their sister, Cadmus’ brothers Phoenix and Cilix gave up in their quests. The region of Phoenicia is named after Phoenix and the city of Cilicia is named after Cilix. Here, it can go either way, either Cadmus was unsuccessful in finding his sister or Cadmus very wisely chose not to go up against Zeus.
He very likely decided not to press his luck and instead went to Samothrace, an island known to be sacred to the “Great Gods” or Kabeiroi.
On his journey to Samothrace, Cadmus was not alone. For his mother, Telephassa and his nephew Thasus were also present. Thasus is noted for naming the nearby island of Thasos after himself. It is at Samothrace, that Cadmus meets and marries Harmonia, the daughter of Electra and Zeus. Though, some accounts will say that Cadmus abducted Harmonia away the same way that Zeus did with Europa.
I can’t see that ending well though…
It will get confusing, as some accounts have Cadmus and Harmonia marrying on Samothrace or meeting later after the founding of Thebes and marrying then.
Bridal Gifts With A Curse
I mentioned things not ending well right? I did.
Some of Harmonia’ bridal gifts were a peplos (a type of dress) gifted by Athena and a necklace made by Hephaestus. This necklace will become known as the Necklace of Harmonia and it would bring misfortune to anyone who had it. Sure, the necklace will make any woman who wears it eternally young and beautiful. Eventually, the curse takes hold and Harmonia’s home city of Thebes faces civil unrest and misfortunes.
At first glance, that seems unusual, I’ll cover this further down.
The Founding Of Thebes
This is perhaps the story that Cadmus is best known for in his saga. As Cadmus and his mother continued their journey and search for Europa, the two settled in a place called Thrace. It is here, that Telephassa died of grief for her missing daughter. After performing the funeral rites for his mother, Cadmus sought out the Oracle of Delphi for help.
It is here, that Cadmus is told to stop his quest and search for Europa (thanks to the gods), and instead, Cadmus is to now follow a cow.
Not just any cow, this one has a half-moon on her flank and Cadmus is to follow her until she finally comes to a rest, exhausted. The spot where the cow rests is where Cadmus is to build a town in a land known as Boeotia along the banks of the river Cephisus.
With the exhausted cow, Cadmus decided to sacrifice it to Athena as thanks for the cow guiding him. While making his preparations, Cadmus sent off his companions, Deileon and Seriphus to get some water from the Ismenian spring. While the two were there, the guardian of the spring, a water-dragon belonging to Ares rose up and slew both Deileon and Seriphus.
Chaoskampf & Spartoi
On discovering what had happened, Cadmus then slew the dragon. It has been noted that this is a notable trait of culture heroes to slay a dragon and the whole order triumphing over chaos.
The dragon-slaying story usually ends here. However, a couple of different things will happen here. First, Athena appears to Cadmus and gives him half of the dragon’s teeth, instructing our stalwart hero to plant them. (The other half of the teeth will appear later in the story of Jason and the Argonauts). As Cadmus plants each tooth on the Aonian plain; from each tooth springs up a fully armed warrior. Fearing for his life, Cadmus threw a stone in amongst the warriors and they began to fight each other. Each thinking the stone had been thrown by another warrior. These warriors fought until there were only five of them left standing. Sometimes, depending on who’s telling the story, Athena instructed Cadmus to leave only five Spartoi living. These five remaining warriors’ names were: Chthonius, Echion, Hyperenor, Pelorus and Udeus who would become the founders of Thebes’ noble families. At Cadmus’ instructions, these five helped him to found and build the city of Thebes.
The first building that would-be built-in Thebes was a shrine dedicated to the Moon goddess Selene. The acropolis of Thebes would be called Cadmeia.
In his writings, when Cadmus planted the dragon’s teeth, only five warriors sprang up from the ground. There was no fighting it out among them. In addition, Hellanicus has Zeus step in to save Cadmus from the Ares’ wrath as the war god wanted to kill the mortal. And the Spartoi, Echion marries Cadmus’ daughter Agave and their son, Pentheus succeeds Cadmus to become king.
In this version of the myths with the Roman names for the gods in it, a voice (presumably Mars) speaks out to Cadmus, after he slays the giant serpent, that he too shall become one.
Ares’ Dragon & Eight Years Servitude
Slaying the dragon also held another problem to it. This dragon or drakon was a servant to the god of war, Ares; add, in some versions, the drakon is a son of Ares. Either way, Ares’ isn’t too pleased.
As restitution for this deed, Cadmus meets Ares’ demands by serving the war god for an “everlasting year” or eight years. At the end of this period, Cadmus marries Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares.
Sidenote: Yeah, I know, the marriage has been mentioned up above. It is a conflict of the narrative and it really depends on who’s telling the story.
The narrative that places Harmonia’s marriage to Cadmus here, as the daughter of Ares is meant to symbolize the coming of harmony and an end to war.
Harmonia would bear Cadmus several children, Agave who married Echion, one of the Spartoi, they would have a son named Pentheus. Cadmus and Harmonia’s other children are three daughters, Autonoe, Ino and Semele who would be the mother of Dionysus. There two sons are Polydorus and Illyrius from whom the Illyrians descend.
Something Rotten In Thebes
Married and the City of Thebes founded, no matter how divinely ordained this was, peace and harmony wouldn’t last.
Due to the cursed necklace that Harmonia received, she and Cadmus’ family would soon see misfortune befall them and a series of civil unrest. Eventually, Cadmus would abdicate his throne to his grandson, Pentheus.
Cadmus would go with Harmonia to Illyria to fight a war brewing over there as they took the side of the Enchelii. From there, Cadmus would go on and found the city of Lychnidus and Bouthoe.
Despite leaving Thebes and establishing other cities, misfortune continued to plague and follow Cadmus. It got so bad that Cadmus cried out that all this had to because of his slaying Ares’ dragon, if the gods were so obsessed with its death, why not turn him into one.
At that pronouncement, Cadmus begins to grow scales and to change into a serpent. Horrified by this transition of her husband, Harmonia begged the gods to change her too so she could share in Cadmus’ fate.
Variations to this ending are that both Cadmus and Harmonia are changed into snakes when they died. Both snakes watched over their tombs while their souls were sent by Zeus to the Elysian Fields.
Famous Grecian playwright Euripides’ in his The Bacchae, has Cadmus given a prophecy from Dionysus that both he and his wife will be turned into snakes before getting to enjoy an eternity of bliss in the Elysian Fields.
The First Earthly Marriage
If you were paying attention to the above narrative and Cadmus’ story, I noted that there are two different timelines to when he marries Harmonia and each one has a side not for who her parentage is.
I think it’s worth noting and remembering Cadmus’ Divine Lineage connecting him to Poseidon and thus a demigod. The story of Cadmus and the ruling, royal family of Thebes is likely a very old story, dating back to Mycenaean Greece and it is during Mycenaean Greece that Poseidon is the head of the Pantheon, not Zeus.
Zeus will become head of the Greek Pantheon during the era thought of as Ancient Greece when we have written records being kept that chronicle historical accounts.
It’s an important distinction and one seen in the conflicting timeline of when Cadmus is to have married Harmonia and who her parentage is to be.
Where Cadmus marries Harmonia on the island of Samothrace with Zeus and Electra given as her parents seems more like the later changes to the story to have Zeus hold a more prominent role within it.
Following a timeline for after Cadmus’ eight years of servitude to Ares and then marrying Harmonia with both Ares and Aphrodite as her parents seems far more likely the correct lineage. It would explain too so much better why Hephaestus would gift Harmonia a cursed necklace.
Knowing the backstory between Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares, the cursed necklace that is given to Harmonia makes more sense. Hephaestus was angry at Aphrodite for her affair with Ares and yes, he makes the necklace a means to punish Aphrodite’s infidelity by placing a curse on the child that resulted from hers and Ares’ affair.
Thus, all the misfortunes that Cadmus and Harmonia suffer are from the necklace, not slaying the dragon. Afterall, Cadmus had already paid penance to Ares and then is rewarded his daughter for marriage. It’s even in Harmonia’s name, harmony, there was to be an end to the strife and conflicts.
I do find it curious that there are versions of Cadmus’ story where the Necklace of Harmonia is not mentioned at all or having been made by Hephaestus. The misfortunes that befall Cadmus are attributed to the dragon that was slain. It makes no sense to have Ares forgive Cadmus after several years of servitude and giving his daughter to marry.
Of course, it’s easy to assume the Greek gods are perpetuating their pettiness. We have lots of stories of mortals being punished by the gods. If Hephaestus is keeping mums about the curse he placed on the necklace, of course, no one knows why bad things keep happening to Cadmus and Harmonia.
By Diodorus’ account of this story, Cadmus’ marriage to Harmonia is significant in that it was the first one celebrated on Earth and one wherein the gods are to have come, bringing gifts. There was supposed to be an end to conflicts and war, alas it could not last.
East Meets West – Another idea for Cadmus and Harmonia’s wedding is that it may be symbolic of the Eastern, Phoenician learning combining with the Western, Grecian love of beauty.
Fertility God – The Samothracian Connection!
The island of Samothrace is one of the places that Cadmus, his mother, and nephew are said to have stopped at in their search for a missing Europa.
There is a small Pantheon of the Great Gods whose members have been equated or identified with several of the Greek deities. One such god, is Kadmilus, a fertility god identified with the god Hermes. There are also a pair of Underworld deities, Axiokersos (Hades) and Axiokersa (Persephone) whose marriage gets equated to Cadmus and Harmonia courtesy of Diodorus Siculus’ trying to connect the island’s local myths to the overall Greek myths.
I can see it too, the similar-sounding names of Kadmilus and Cadmus.
Zeus Versus Typhon
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca where he recounts the story of Zeus battling the monstrous serpentine monster known as Typhon, Zeus asks the hero Cadmus to help him by recovering his lightning bolts with playing his pipes, to play a tune. Zeus promises Cadmus that if he helps, that he will receive the hand of Harmonia in marriage.
The Dionysiaca is written in the 5th century C.E. and reflects plenty of time to have rewritten the myths. This is the only myth to involve Cadmus with Pan, playing the pipes to distract Typhon so this fearsome monster can be defeated.
Earlier versions of this story have where it’s Hermes and Aeigipan (Pan) stealing back Zeus’ tendons, no mention of the thunderbolts.
Once again, if we are confusing Cadmus with Kadmilus, the Samothracian deity identified with Hermes. I can see the confusion.
However, yes Nonnus is equating Hermes with Kadmilus and thus Cadmus in the episode where Hermes comes in disguise as a mortal to announce that Zeus has decreed a marriage of Harmonia with Cadmus.
That’s just confusing if you can’t keep it straight.
The story of Cadmus slaying the dragon is sometimes cited as being one of many myths associated with this constellation.
Etymology: “Bull Calf of the Sun,” “Calf of the Sun” or “Solar Calf”
Also known as: Bel (“Lord,” Akkadian), Bel-Marduk, Murdoch
Other Spellings: 𒀭𒀫𒌓 (Cuniform), dAMAR.UTU, Amar utu k (Sumerian), Μαρδοχαῖος, Mardochaios (Greek), מְרֹדַךְ, Mərōdaḵ (Masoretic Hebrew), Merōḏaḵ (Tiberian), Marōdak (Septuagint), Merodach (Biblical Hebrew), Martuk
In Mesopotamian mythology, Marduk is a fertility and storm deity of Babylon. He is known for defeating the dragon goddess Tiamat and becoming the Leader of the Babylonian pantheon.
Marduk came to prominence as the patron deity of the city of Babylon during the rule of Hammruabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty of the Amorites in the 18th century B.C.E. when Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley. Marduk’s full acceptance as the head of the Babylonian pantheon would be completed by the last half of the second millennium B.C.E.
Animal: Dogs, Horse, Mušḫuššu (Snake-Dragon)
Element: Air, Water
Sphere of Influence: Fertility, Judgement, Storms, Vegetation
Symbols: Hoe, Spade
In what surviving art and texts we have, Marduk is shown as being human dressed in royal robes decorated with stars. Marduk is often accompanied by his snake-dragon that he got from the god Tishpak.
When shown riding in his war chariot, Marduk carries his other emblems of a scepter, arrows, bow, spear, net and lightning bolt.
What’s In A Name?
To start, there is some controversy over the translation of Marduk’s name. There is the Sumerian dAMAR.UD that translates as: “calf of the sun/sun-god.” Then comes the suggestion that this spelling should call for the translation of: “calf of the storm,” “the son of the storm, and “maker of storms.” The latter translation is often rejected due to a lack of evidence with Marduk’s role as a storm god. Accepting this interpretation of the name nixes any connection to Marduk as a solar deity.
The Akkadian spelling for Marduk’s name is AMAR.UTU that translates to mean MERI.DUG. The name is translated to mean “Solar Calf.” In the Hebrew Torah, his name is spelled as Merodach and the Greek spelling of his name is given as Mardochaios.
Marduk’s name is thought to derive from the phrase: amar-Utu meaning: “Bull Calf of the Sun God Utu.” This naming convention could easily be an indicator of early genealogy. Or, it’s an indicator of cultural ties to the city of Sippar, whose main deity was Utu, a Sun God. The city of Sippar dates to the third millennium B.C.E.
The Encyclopedia of Religion comments that the name Marduk was likely pronounced as Marutuk.
Esagila – “Temple whose top is raised” or “Proud/Honored Temple.” While Marduk would come to claim prominence throughout most of Mesopotamia, his primary temple is Esagila, located in Babylon. This is the famous ziggurat that’s described by Herodotus.
Etemenanki – “Temple that is the foundation of Heavens and Earth” A ziggurat with Marduk’s shrine located at the top. This may be the temple that inspired the “Tower of Babel.”
Cult of Marduk – As the patron god of Babylon, this city was the main location for Marduk’s worship. The rise and popularity of this religion venerating Marduk is tied closely with the rise of Babylon as a strong political power and capital of the Mesopotamian empire. To the degree that many other deities were subsumed and seen as aspects and epitaphs of Marduk. Outside of Babylon, Marduk was worshipped in Borsippa, Nippur, and Sippar.
In the Assyrian period of Babylonian history, Aššur becomes the head of the pantheon and Marduk takes on a symbolic role of Babylon’s resistance to Assyrian rule. The cult of Aššur would compete with the cult of Marduk. In the Assyrian version of the Enūma Eliš, it is Aššur who becomes the head of the pantheon, not Marduk.
The Marduk Prophecy also shows the conflicts of this change of power as Marduk’s statue is continually “taken captive” until finally the resulting destruction of Babylon and Esagila with the different shifts of power in the region.
This is a very important aspect of the ancient world beliefs and Mesopotamia is no different. Within the temple of Esagila there was a golden statue of Marduk. This statue wasn’t just dedicated to Marduk, the ancient Mesopotamians believed that statue to actually be the god himself. Seen in the Marduk Prophecy, if the statue of the god wasn’t present, then he wasn’t in his temple or there to protect his city-state and all sorts of calamities and problems would happen.
Originating during the rule of the Kassites, a new king wishing to see his rule as legitimate, needed to “take the hands of Marduk,” symbolizing the king’s submission and accepting the will and guidance of the god.
In 485 B.C.E., the Persian king Xerxes attacked the city of Babylon and there is no mention of Marduk’s statue. The same goes when Alexander the Great conquers Babylon in 331 B.C.E., there’s no mention of the statue. This lack of evidence and records leads many scholars to believe and agree that Marduk’s statue disappearance from history means that it has, in all likelihood been destroyed.
Without a statue, the Babylonian religion and worship of Marduk declined.
This was the ancient New Year’s festival that the Sumerians and Mesopotamian cultures celebrated. This festival occurred sometime during March and April, marking the planting of barley. This festival was presided over by Nabu and Marduk to such a degree, that a text known as the Akitu Chronicle documents a time when the festival couldn’t be observed as Marduk (his physical statue, thus him) wasn’t present in the city of Babylon. Without the statue to carry through the city out to a small house outside the city walls, the people thought that disaster would soon befall them if the patron god wasn’t there to stop the forces of chaos.
Every year at the Akitu House located outside the city, the Enuma Elish would be recited for the New Year’s festival. There was also involved a ritual slapping of the king. Gotta’ stay humble, I guess.
Parentage and Family
Anu – Grandfather and the original head of the Mesopotamian pantheon before other deities arrive on the scene.
Ea – The previous head and leader of the gods before stepping down. Known as Enki in Sumerian. Ea was the creator god, associated with the fresh, life-giving waters.
Damkina – A Fertility and Mother goddess originally known as Ninhursag.
Sarpanitu – Also spelled Zarpanitu. She is a Mother and Fertility Goddess
Nanaya – She is sometimes given as Marduk’s wife in the myths.
Nabu – Son and god of literature, scribes and wisdom. Nabu was originally Marduk’s first minister before being identified as his son.
Birth Of A Legend
For as old and ancient as the Mesopotamian mythologies are, it makes sense that we might not know that much about them. To a point.
Marduk goes from obscurity with almost nobody knowing anything about him in the third millennium B.C.E. to the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in Babylon in the first millennium B.C.E.
By the time the Enuma Elish is written, Marduk’s original nature has already been altered and obscured. As now, he’s a deity linked to the attributes of judgment, magic, vegetation, and water. He is now identified as the son of Ea and Damkina.
As the politics of Babylon and the whole of the Euphrates Valley ramped up, Marduk’s attributes and aspects begin to alter as he would be placed as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, especially for his patron city-state of Babylon.
Once Babylon becomes the capital of Mesopotamia, Marduk who was currently just a patron deity of the city now ascends to become the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon and a supreme deity, ruling or presiding over everything else. Explaining this power shift of head honcho, head god and the transfer of power from Ea to Marduk, the Enûma Elish gets written, showing a peaceful abdication of power as Ea steps down and concedes rulership to his son.
There are a couple little snags later on, such as the revival of the god Enlil’s worship to Marduk, reflecting a real-world, historical rise of the cult of Enlil during Kassite control in Babylon between 1570 B.C.E. to 1157 B.C.E. The worship of Marduk and thus, his triumph over Enlil returns at the end of this era of Kassite control.
The other snag to Marduk’s popularity and his being the supreme deity comes during 1000 B.C.E. when the deity Aššur up north in Assyria gains popularity and worship. Down in the southern parts of the region, Marduk is still the head deity. The history of these events is reflected in the Marduk Prophecy.
This ancient epic creation poem was written in the 18th century B.C.E. when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.
The Enuma Elish begins at the start of time when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods, known as the Anunnaki.
While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu, on the other hand, didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night and unable to get any work done during the day. Apsu’s response to this problem was to kill his children.
A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki of what Apsu planned. Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth and the marshy region of Eridu.
This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raises up an army of chaos and sets Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army and her new consort.
This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.
Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.
After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.
This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.
With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans. The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.
That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.
Side Note: Depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki.
Further, knowing that this is a revision of the original myths, I’m curious about what the originals may have been.
Eridu – The First City
Yes, there really is a historical site for an ancient city of this name. Eridu is the oldest city built by the Mesopotamians around 5400 B.C.E. Depending on who you ask, it may be the oldest city in the world. In the Babylonian texts, namely Enuma Elish, it is a holy city where all the other gods lived a life of leisure.
This city was originally the city-state for the god Enki who is later known as Ea by the Akkadians. For modern times, it was first excavated by John George Taylor in 1855. Later, archeological discoveries found that the city was ultimately abandoned around 600 B.C.E. due to a change in climate as the water became more salinized from all the constant irrigation.
As seen later, in the Marduk Prophecy, with the Enuma Elish, the story here likely reflects on the transition from Eridu to Babylon as it became the political and religious center of the Euphrates valley and a cultural shift as the newer city becomes more prominent over the older city of Eridu.
Revisionist History – Scholars have noted that the city of Eridu is founded in the 5th millennium B.C.E. and that Marduk ascends to head of the Mesopotamian pantheon in the 2nd millennium B.C.E. That is a lot of time to have passed. It clearly marks that someone decided to rewrite the myths to favor Marduk when his popularity and the importance of Babylon as a political center become prominent.
Marduk is a god of fertility and vegetation and thus, agriculture. The triangular spade or hoe that Marduk is shown with in some art represents his role and power over fertility and vegetation.
The roles and aspects of Marduk being a Spring, Storm and Solar god also blend in with this function. However, making these connections relies on accepting certain etymological interpretations for Marduk’s name.
As a patron god, Marduk, not just King of the gods, also presided over the city of Babylon. The importance of a patron deity is shown in the Marduk Prophecy where Babylon has fallen to chaos and disarray when Marduk’s statue and thus the god himself leaves and order is later restored when King Nebuchadnezzar returns Marduk’s statue to the city.
Not the Original Patron – This was a fun little fact to come across. Before Marduk became the patron god of Babylon, that honor belonged to Inanna, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She would still be a prominent and important goddess throughout the Mesopotamian culture.
Marduk’s role as Patron, also places him prominently as a protector deity. Aside from the Akitu Chronicles and the Marduk Prophecy, there are two other texts: “The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi” and “The Wrath of Erra” that highlight just how vital having one’s patron deity present was, not just for the city, but for the individual as well.
The Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi – Also called the “Let me praise the Lord of Wisdom” or “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer,” it is often classified as “Wisdom Literature.” This text is a long treatise some four tablets long with 120 lines each. that details the amount of suffering that Tabu-utu-bel, a city official of Nippur goes through because Marduk isn’t close enough to help as he is too far away for any meaningful help. Biblical scholars have compared this text with the Book of Job for the themes of suffering when one’s God seems absent.
The Wrath of Erra – This is another text, in which the war god, Erra (Irra or Nergal) grows bored and decides the only way to cure his boredom is to attack Babylon. The other gods try to persuade Erra that this is a bad idea and don’t do it. Undaunted, Erra heads off to Babylon anyways. Once there, Erra convinces Marduk that his clothes are shabby and perhaps he should go about getting some new threads. Marduk says he’s much too busy to take of this matter and Erra convinces Marduk that he’ll watch over the city. Off Marduk goes and Erra takes advantage of the opportunity to proceed with destroying the city and killing civilians. Depending on the source translated from, either the other gods stop Erra’s path of destruction or he’s halted when Marduk finally returns with his fancy new duds. Regardless, the story ends with giving praise to Erra, the god of war for sparing a part of the city so people could rebuild.
The idea of having a protector and patron god of one’s city was very strong among the Babylonians. This was their whole city and personal identity that in 485 B.C.E. the Persian king Xerxes had Marduk’s statue destroyed when he sacked the city. Eventually, with the sands of time, Babylon is deserted and left to ruin and people have forgotten about worshiping Marduk.
King Of The Gods
As head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, Marduk takes on a lot of aspects. In some cases, this is taking over the role of other gods who had previously been the head of the pantheon. Such aspects that Marduk comes to preside over are justice, compassion, mercy, healing, regeneration, magic.
A “snake-dragon, mušḫuššu is Marduk’s sacred animal that he got from the god Tishpak. The mušḫuššu is depicted on the city walls of Babylon.
If you ask me this is a lot of titles and epitaphs to be known by. We get this list from two different sources, “The Seven Tablets of Creation” that Leonard W. King studied in 1902 to reconstruct from fragments a list of names. Then there is the “King’s List” that Franz Bohl studied in 1936. Finally, we get to 1958, when Richard Litke compared and noticed similarities with Marduk’s name between the two lists of An (Anum, a deity list) and Enuma Elish.
These names demonstrate the level of prominence that Marduk held within the Babylonian pantheon. These fifty names of Marduk are found and documented in the Enûma Elish and the Anum.
Why 50? – The number 50 was originally associated with the god Enlil, the former head of the pantheon. So this is just part of showing the transfer of power from Enlil to Marduk.
Asalluhi – As Marduk came to prominence, he took over the role and identity of Asalluhi, the son of Ea and god of incantations and magic. With both Asalluhi and Marduk becoming equated as the same entity, Asalluhi’s name survives as one of Marduk’s many names and epitaphs. Some commentary has noted that equating or syncretizing Marduk and Asalluhi together is a means to create a stronger tie to the god Ea and the city of Eridu as Ea was not part of the original pantheon.
Bel – Meaning “Lord,” this is the name that Marduk would eventually be known by, making him a god of order and destiny.
He is normally referred to as Bel “Lord”, also bel rabim “great lord”, bêl bêlim “lord of lords”, ab-kal ilâni bêl terêti “leader of the gods”, aklu bêl terieti “the wise, lord of oracles”, muballit mîte “reviver of the dead”, etc.
The Marduk Prophecy
This is an interesting text, not so much as it’s telling prophecies, but more about being a history around the movement of Marduk’s cult as they follow Marduk’s statue from Babylon. This text was found at the House of the Exorcist in Assur and dates from 713 to 612 B.C.E. It appears to be similar to another set of texts, the Shulgi prophecy.
It begins with Marduk’s statue getting stolen by Mursilis I of Hatti in 1531 B.C.E. The god Marduk is described as visiting the land of Assyria. Then, when a Tukulti-Ninurta I overthrows Kashtiliash IV in 1225 B.C.E., Marduk’s statue is taken Assur and then Elam as Kudur-nahhunte sacks the city in 1160 B.C.E.
Each time, Marduk is described as willingly heading off to visit these places. Which makes sense when you remember that this far back, a statue of a deity… hence an idol was the actual deity in question, not just a representation.
The way Marduk’s travels are told, they are allegories of the history involved. The first couple of journeys that Marduk takes are fairly favorable. When it comes to the city-state of Elam, that’s a whole other matter as the other gods following after Marduk, likely shows the changing climate of the region as they abandon Babylon due to famine and pestilence.
There’s also a familiar theme as Marduk prophecies that he will return again to Babylon with a new king will rise to power bringing about redemption and salvation to the city, taking it back from the Elamites and restoring the Ekursagila temple. Where the Marduk Prophecy is concerned, King Nabu-kudurri-uṣur (Nebuchadnezzar), who reigned from 1125 to 1103 B.C.E. is accepted as being the king who returns Marduk’s statue to Babylon and is victorious over the Elamites.
The main importance of the Marduk Prophecy text is to highlight the necessity of the patron deity staying in Babylon. Each time that the Marduk statue (Marduk himself) is abducted, chaos falls on the city of Babylon while the places where the statue resides, prosper.
Like some epic game of football where the opposing team comes and steals the home team’s mascot to weaken their morale.
No! Say it isn’t so!
Remember the previously mentioned King Nebuchadnezzar? It’s been noted that the dates of when the Marduk Prophecy (1 millennium B.C.E.) and even the Enuma Elish both date to around the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and reign between 1125-1103 B.C.E. It makes him look good for restoring order (his defeat of the Elamites and bringing Marduk’s statue back) that he’s the prophesied king come to do Marduk’s will.
Jupiter – Roman
With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Romans equated him with Jupiter, the head of their pantheon.
Zeus – Greek
With Marduk’s position and role as the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, the Greeks equated him with Zeus, the head of their pantheon.
Bel – Babylonian
Yes, Bel is previously mentioned earlier as one of Marduk’s fifty names.
He is mentioned as being a separate deity here as in the 1 millennium B.C.E., by the time we get to this era of history, as a title, Bel is the name that other deities Enlil and Dumuzid, not just Marduk have been known by.
Taken separately, Bel holds all the titles and aspects that Enlil did. To the point that Bel eventually becomes a god of order and destiny. Even Greek historians mentioned Bel in their writings. As a separate deity, Bel was the god of order and destiny. Both Marduk and Bel’s cults were similar, so it’s not hard to see how Bel becomes absorbed and an epitaph for Marduk.
Bel and the Dragon – This is a Jewish story and apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel in which the Babylonians offer a substantial amount of food and wine every day to an idol of Bel. This vast quantity of food seemingly, miraculously disappears each night. This is enough to convince the Persian king Cyrus the Great that the idol is alive, and he tells Daniel this.
Daniel being a wise man and rather smart knows this isn’t the case. Afterall Daniel says it’s clay on the inside and bronze outside. It likely has never eaten anything. To prove this, Daniel discreetly covers the floor of the temple with ash.
Both Daniel and Cyrus leave for the night. When they return in the morning, Daniel is able to point out the footprints left behind, thus proving that it is the seventy priests of Bel who are eating the food, not the idol.
Some scholars point out that the name Bel is derived from the Semitic word “Baal” that has the same meaning of “Lord.” There are several places within the Bible where Bel is mentioned, this more than likely referencing Marduk. The Hebrew version of Marduk’s name, Merodach is found in many places in the Bible as a surname for non-Israeli kings.
Continuing this trend for Biblical Connections, Marduk and a couple other Mesopotamian and Canaanite deities are made mention of in the Torah or Old Testament.
Thanks to Cyrus the Great of Persia, when he captured Babylon, he reversed the policies of the previous ruler by calling for the rebuilding of temples and reinstating religions that had been destroyed or banned before.
Where the Bible (Torah) is concerned, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple to Yahweh. Cyrus records inspiration for this as coming from Marduk. The bible will say that it is Yahweh who inspired Cyrus.
The “Cyrus Cylinder” found in 1879 at Babylon records the following: “Marduk, the great Lord, established as his fate for me a magnanimous heart of one who loves Babylon, and I daily attended to his worship… I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [in Babylon], to their places; and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings… at the command of Marduk.”
In the Book of Ezra 5:13 this event is recorded: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God.”
The Book of Isaiah is where Yahweh is given credit for inspiring Cyrus.
“I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:
I will make all his ways straight.
He will rebuild my city
and set my exiles free” (Isaiah 45:13)
The connections don’t end there, Biblical scholars see a similar theme with Marduk’s slaying Tiamat with the Canaanite story of Baal slaying Tannin and notably Yahweh’s defeating the giant sea monster Leviathan in Psalm 74: 13-14 or a future time in Isaiah 27:1.
The previously mentioned Etemenanki temple is thought to be the inspiration for the Tower of Babel. Babylon’s destruction is prophesied in the book of Jeremiah (50:2).
Who do you accept? It’s a matter of two different religions, cultures and perspectives. Of course, it’s easy, after the fact, to say there was divine intervention and that it is all prophesied.
According to Zecharia Sitchin, the claim is made that the great battle between Tiamat and Marduk is symbolic for the creation of our solar system’s asteroid belt. Sitchin writes that this asteroid belt was once a planet that the Sumerians called Tiamat. Due to an impact, the planet was destroyed, creating the “Great Band” or asteroid belt. The planetary impact responsible is that of the planet Nibiru, associated with the god Marduk.
Babylonian Astronomy, Astrology & Zodiac
I will call bunk on Sitchin’s ideas.
When you look at the word Nibiru in the Akkadian language, it refers to a crossing or transition points like with rivers. In Babylonian astronomy, Nibiru came to refer to the Equinox, notably, the Autumn Equinox. In their star lore, the term nibiru can refer to any crossing. Tracking the movement of the stars and planets in the heavens as they appear from Earth. The star or planet associated with Marduk is the one we know modernly as Jupiter.
For the Babylonians, the Autumn Equinox occurred in the month of Tisritum, roughly coinciding with between September and October. If we’re following the Greek Zodiac, then the constellation of Libra is prominent. A further fun fact, depending on the time of the year and the location of the planet Mercury, it could sometimes be called Nibiru.
Some of it is confusing. Mainly it’s understanding how to read and interpret what the Babylonians meant when tracking the night sky.
It should come as no surprise, that as old as the Mesopotamian cultures and religions are, that they would have mapped out the night sky to mark the turning of the seasons, creating a calendar. Many of these early constellations and zodiacs were adopted by the later Greeks who incorporated the constellations into their own mythology.
In Babylonian beliefs, it is Marduk who creates the astrological calendar and mapped out the different signs of the Zodiac. Marduk would be identified with the planet Jupiter, who of course is later equated with the Greek Zeus and renamed for the Roman deity Jupiter as all three are heads of their respective pantheons.
Cetus – Greek Mythology & Constellation
While many are familiar with the constellation’s connection to the Grecian story of Andromeda and Perseus in its role as the giant sea monster sent by Poseidon to destroy the coast of Aethiopia.
The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. Marking Tiamat’s story one of many that the Greeks likely inherited from the Mesopotamians and retold for their legends.
Pronunciation: Djet m-aw rohz
Other names: Dzyed Maróz (Ukrainian), Did Moróz (Russian), Dédushka Moróz (Serbian), Deda Mraz (Bulgarian), Dyado Mraz (Slovenian), Dedek Mraz (Russian), Morozko (Russian), Grandfather Frost, King Frost, Father Frost, Ice King
Etymology: Grandfather Frost
Ah Santa Claus, Sinterklaas and Father Christmas…. That magical time of the year with Christmas and Yuletide celebrations. When we jump over to the Russian and Slavic celebrations for Winter, there is Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost who will be bringing gifts.
Just who is Ded Moroz? Let’s see…
To start, Ded Moroz is described as an elderly looking man with a long, flowing white beard who wears a long red, blue or white fur coat and round fur hat and boots. He carries with him a long magical staff and rides along with an evergreen tree in a sled or troika pulled by three white horses.
Much like his American and other European counterparts, Ded Moroz is known for bringing presents to good children. Unlike Santa Claus who brings his gifts on December 25th or Sinterklaas who arrives on December 6th, Ded Moroz brings his gifts on New Year’s Eve.
Other little factoids about Ded Moroz include that his birthday is on November 18th, this coincides with when the first frost arrives on the ground in Veliky Ustyug, Russia. Many sources will also place Ded Moroz’s age at around 2,000 years old.
Ded Moroz appears to have a strong connection to Eastern Slavic Paganism before spreading out into Russian beliefs and culture. Here, Ded Moroz is the Wizard of Winter and a snow demon who personifies Russian winters.
In folklore, Ded Moroz is originally Morozko, a powerful blacksmith and hero known for freezing water to become frost. As a force of nature, Morozko isn’t necessarily evil, he is known to help those who show him proper respect and giving gifts, plus he can be devastating to those who are rude, disrespectful and otherwise mean-spirited.
Slightly different origins place Morozko as a god of frost and ice who’s married to the harsh, unforgiving Winter. As a deity, he could freeze people and the countryside in a moment’s notice. With the Russian Orthodox Church, there was an attempt to label Morozko as a demon. Later fairy tales would soften Morozko’s image to be an elderly old man who could be more benevolent and not quite as harsh.
You Called Him A Demon!
Before we freak out, the Slavic use of referring to entities as demons is very similar to the Greeks usage of the term daimon when referring to a spirit or a minor local deity, or force of nature. As more of the Slavic countries and Russia became Christianized, the term demon would take on more negative associations.
I should throw in at this point, a note that scholars and historians do have some disputes about the exact origins of Ded Moroz. He does appear to be derived from a Slavic deity of Winter and to be the personification of cold and frost.
I’ll touch on it more, further down; there was a period of religious prohibition during the Soviet era and the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t seem to be settled on the nature and role that Ded Moroz has. He goes from scary demon to a figure that can now allow for some of the religious traditions to come back, even if they’re claimed to be pagan in origin.
However, myths and legends do evolve, grow and change. The very image of Ded Moroz that many people have, especially in Russia does come out of the Soviet era. Why ruin a good thing that people love?
Morozko (Grandfather Frost)
Or Old Man Winter
This is the main story and source for Ded Moroz and is also the origin for his granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). It is a Russian fairy tale first collected by Alexander Afanasyey for his Russian Fairy Tales collection and then is included in “The Yellow Fairy Book” compiled by Andrew Lang in 1894 as “The Story of King Frost.”
The story begins with a stepmother who dislikes her good-natured stepdaughter who is always good and kind and always having to hear about it. Of course, the stepmother loves her own daughter and dotes on her whim and desires.
As is the nature of these type of stories, the stepmother tells the father to send the stepdaughter away, so she didn’t have to see or hear her again. The man begs his wife to reconsider and she is unrelenting about getting rid of the stepdaughter. So, the man, the father takes his daughter out on their sled, out to the woods before giving the girl a kiss and abandoning her there.
Realizing her lot and fate, the sobbing girl sits down next to a tree. She isn’t sitting there long before she hears a crackling noise and looks up to see that King Frost is standing there.
In a stern voice, King Frost snaps out doesn’t the girl know who he is? He is King Frost, king of the red-noses.
The girl says “All hail” to King Frost and then she asks if he is here to take her.
King Frost asks if she is warm enough. The girl answers, saying she is warm enough despite the fact that she is shivering fiercely.
The King repeated his question, stepping closer and the girl insisted that she was still warm.
At this, King Frost takes pity on the poor girl and wraps her in furs to keep warm. He goes further with covering her in blankets and giving her gifts of gems and lastly, a sleigh pulled by six white horses.
In the morning, the stepmother tells the man that he should go out and retrieve his daughter’s body for burial. To the stepmother’s surprise and shock, the man returns with a chest filled with gems and his still-living daughter, more beautiful than before with the splendid furs and her silver and gold dress.
Wanting the same for her own daughter, the stepmother tells the man to take her daughter out to the same spot where the stepdaughter had been left. The man did as he was bid, taking the stepmother’s daughter out and leaving her there.
As soon as the man left, the daughter sulked as she sat down by a tree. Just as before, it wasn’t long until King Frost appeared.
Just as before, King Frost asked the daughter if she was warm. Unlike the stepdaughter who had been respectful with her words, the daughter was rude, calling him a blind fool, of course she was cold, her hands and feet are nearly frozen.
Angered by this girl’s words, King Frost snapped his fingers and froze the girl to death.
Of course, the stepmother expected her own daughter to return just as the stepdaughter had, loaded with wealth and finery. That clearly wasn’t what happened when the man went out to retrieve her and brought back only the daughter’s cold, lifeless body.
It just shows, it pays to always be polite and respectful as you never know who you’re talking to or dealing with.
Moroz – Red Nose
This is a poem connected to Ded Moroz written by Nikolai Nekrasov. The story found within this poem highlights a dark aspect to Ded Moroz’s character as it depicts him killing a peasant woman and orphaning her children.
Other darker aspects to Ded Moroz as a wizard of winter would have him kidnap children and he would only be willing to return them when parents offered him up gifts.
Within the Christian Orthodox Church, the character of Ded Moroz has changed over the years. Most notably during the 19th century with different plays featuring him. The two most notable plays are Aleksandr Ostrovsky’s Snegurochka and a similarly named play by Rimsky-Korsakov.
The Russian Revolution
1917 saw the Bolshevik Revolution. More forward a few years into the 1920’s with the formation of the Soviet Union and Government, we see that many Christmas traditions were discouraged as they were considered to be too religious in nature and materialistic. Especially Saint Nicholas, who had been Russia’s patron saint, his feast day of December 6th were done away with.
It doesn’t help that Ded Moroz was declared to be “an ally of the priest and kulak” as Russia tried to remove many religious elements. Other sources give the history that Ded Moroz was seen as too childish and not acceptable.
This isn’t just Christmas that got banned by the Soviet Government, this is a prohibition on any religious holidays, observances and celebrations.
Soviet Santa – An Alternative
Luckily a complete banning of the holiday spirits wouldn’t last long. I’m sure there are many children psychologists and just even psychologists in general who can extrapolate much better than I can about the importance of play, the use of imagination and human spirit. If you crush it completely, we’re going to have problems.
Seeing a need and importance for some type of holiday seasonal celebration, Ded Moroz would take on his more familiar image thanks in part to a letter written by Pavel Postyshey on December 28th of 1935. Pavel stated that the origins for the Christmas traditions pre-dated actual Christianity and that it would be beneficial to bring back these traditions for the sake of the children.
Now, instead of arriving on Christmas Day, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka would arrive on New Year’s or Novy God, bringing presents to leave under an evergreen tree. This change provided an alternative to the American Santa Claus and one seen as a secular celebration by the Soviet Union.
Letters To Ded Moroz
Much like how Santa Claus will receive letters from children, Ded Moroz will receive his share of letters from numerous children requesting gifts. Millions of letters over the years from all across Russia and around the world have been addressed to Ded Moroz.
Where Santa makes his home in the North Pole, Ded Moroz does hang his hat and call home?
To answer that, in 1998, it was declared that the town of Veliky Ustyug, in Vologda Oblast is Ded Moroz’s home. Since then, Veliky Ustyug has become a popular tourist destination for many Russians who travel to Veliky and visit. Ded Moroz’s lives in a log cabin out in the taiga forest near where three rivers meet.
Ded Moroz spends his summers reading letters from children all over the country in preparation for the New Year’s Tree on January 1st.
Ded Moroz’s Granddaughter
Snihurónka or the Snow Maiden is Ded Moroz’s granddaughter who often accompanies him. She is shown wearing a long silver-blue dress or robes and a fur-lined cap to keep warm.
Ded Moroz is often shown being accompanied by his granddaughter, Snihurónka. She’s noteworthy as numerous other, familiar Winter figures don’t have a female companion.
Holiday Twins & Counterparts
So, what are the difference between Santa Claus and Ded Moroz?
We know there are differences, after all, Santa Claus arrives Christmas Eve and Ded Moroz arrives on New Year’s; both bringing presents. Santa Claus classically dresses all in red, especially in America and Ded Moroz is known for dressing in not just red, he will also dress in blue or even white, much like how a Russian noble would be expected to dress. They certainly look like cultural syno-entities and cultural twins (given the history, that’s how Ded Moroz got his start.) Santa Claus is known for being short and rotund and Ded Moroz is tall and thin. Russian children will affectionately call Ded Moroz, “Ded Moroz the Red Nose.”
Other notable differences between the two is that Santa Claus will enter a home coming down the chimney and leaving his gifts in a stocking. Whereas, Ded Moroz will enter in through the front door and leave his gifts under the New Year’s Tree.
During the 1990’s, the character of Santa Claus began to make his way into the Russian Federation as more and more influences of Western culture made their way through the previous Soviet Union.
There have been efforts to show cultural goodwill by having Santa Claus (or his various counterparts) and Ded Moroz (sometimes his Belarus counterpart Dzied Maroz) has one-on-one meetings or friendly competitions.
December of 1997 saw the creation of ‘Christmas Without Borders” where Ded Moroz and Santa Claus met a bridge crossing the Narva River between Estonia and Russia. The whole point was to spread goodwill and increase cooperation between the two countries and neighboring border towns. I wasn’t able to determine if this started a new tradition and continued or if it just petered off after a few years.
The early 21st century saw a resurgence for the character of Ded Moroz and his granddaughter, Snegurochka where they arrive on New Year’s bringing gifts, often showing up at children’s parties. Much like Saint Nicholas who battles Krampus in some of the Germanic countries, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka will face off with Baba Yaga who wants to steal the presents.
Of course, there are a few will say that Ded Moroz is really Santa Claus’ grandfather. That works too given how long the two have been around and who’s mythologies are older.
Tracking Ded Moroz On His Nightly Runs
Where Santa has NORAD tracking his nightly flight, Ded Moroz has GLONASS tracking his run on New Year’s. This began in November of 2009 when the Russian Federation offered to compete with NORAD.
Alright! May the best Present-Giver win!
What’s In A Name – Regional Variations
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the countries that formed after sought to move away a Soviet heritage by reclaiming their own regional heritages and roots. This means that Ded Moroz and Snegurochka will frequently have a different, variant name or change altogether as each country seeks their ancient traditions or move forward to something different.
Armenia – Dzmer Pap, meaning “Grandfather Winter,” his granddaughter is known as Dzyunanushik, meaning “Snow Sweetie” or Snow Anush. They have been part of Armenia traditions for some 160 years since the Russo-Persian War. Both wear red, blue or white winter coats. They make an appearance for both Christmas and New Year’s with bringing gifts. Children are expected to sing songs or recite poems before getting their gifts.
Azerbaijan – Saxta Baba, meaning “Grandfather Frost,” his granddaughter is known as Qar Qizi meaning “Snow Girl.” Saxta Baba brings gifts during New Year’s. Qar Qizi isn’t usually seen.
Bashkir and Tatar – Qis Babay, which means “Winter Old Man.”
Belarus – Dzied Maroz, he replaced Sviatv Mikalai who was more local, but had been disapproved of due to being Christian. Dzied Maroz’ makes his home in the Bialowieza Forest.
Bulgaria – Dyado Koleda or Grandfather Koleda is often equated with Santa Claus and appears alongside Dyado Mraz or Grandfather Frost. Dyado Mraz was popular during the Communist rule but has since fallen by the wayside since 1989 as Dyado Koleda began to gain more popularity.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – Ayaz Ata is the name for Ded Moroz.
Nenets – Yamal Iri, which means “Grandfather of Yamal.”
Poland – Poland didn’t have a version of Ded Moroz and during the communist era, there were efforts to try and introduce Dziadek Mróz as historically speaking, Communists didn’t want religion and view Saint Nicholas as being too religious in nature. It’s fairly obviously that Dziadek Mróz was meant to create a culture link and tie to Russia.
Romania – In 1948, a Communist party gained power and Christmas celebrations were done away with. Mos Cracium (Father Christmas) was replaced with Mos Gerila (Old Man Frosty), the Romanian name for Ded Moroz who would now bring gifts on December 31st for the New Years. Anyone paying attention, knows that New Year’s celebrations begin on December 30th, the Day of the Republic, when King Mihai I abdicated the throne in 1947.
Sakha Republic – Chys Khan, meaning “Master of Cold” and Khaarchana (Snow Maiden).
Slovenia – In this country, Ded Moroz’s name translates to Dedek Mraz. He is a slender man who wears a grey leather coat trimmed with fur inside and out and who wears round dormouse fur cap. This image of Dedek Mraz is based on pictures by Maksim Gaspari in 1952. Dedek Mraz’s home is located on Mount Triglay, the highest peak in both Slovenia and Yugoslavia. In the 1990’s when Communism ended, Miklavž (Saint Nicholas) who arrives on December 6th and Božicek (Christmas Man) who arrives on December 24th, Christmas Eve began making an appearance in Slovenia. Some Slovenian families in the 1940’s would have the Christkind (Jezušcek or “Little Jesus”) who brought gifts on Christmas Eve. It varies by family in regard to their political and religious views, current culture will show all three of Grandfather Frost, Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus as friends. The attributes of each will also get mixed with the others.
Tajikistan – Boboi Barfi, meaning “Grandfather Snow” and Snegurochka is known as Barfak, meaning “Snowball.” There was an effort briefly on December 11th of 2013 to do away with the state televised celebrations of Boboi Barfi, Barfak and the New Year’s. That lasted all of about a day and the next day, the televised broadcasting plans were back on.
Ukraine – With the current conflicts with Russia, as early as 2014, there have been efforts to replace Ded Moroz with Sviatyi Mykolai (Saint Nicholas) and well, Sviatyi Mykolai is more popular in Western Ukraine.
Yakut – Chys Khaan, meaning “Master of Cold.”
Yugoslavia – The socialist Yugoslavia that comprises Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia, has a character by the name of Grandfather Frost. In Bosnian, this name is Djed Mraz or Djeda Mraz, in Croatian, this name is Djed Mraz, in Macedonian, the name is Dedo Mraz, the Serbian name is Deda Mraz and the Slovenian name is Dedek Mraz.
For a bit of a history lesson here, in Croatia, Djed Mraz was viewed as a communist figure and the character of Djed Božicnjak or Grandfather Christmas is introduced. It’s taken a while for Djed Božicnjak to replace Djed Mraz and then, not completely. After 1999, both Djed Mraz and Djed Božicnjak have become synonymous. Some families still have Djed Mraz arrive on New Year’s bringing gifts. Thanks to some historical Austrian influence in parts of Croatia, children will get gifts on December 6th brought by Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas) who is accompanied by Krampus. More religious families will have the baby Jesus (Isusek, Mali Isus or Kriskindl) who brings gifts on Christmas. Getting into some areas of Dalmatia, it is Sveta Lucija (Saint Lucy) who brings gifts.
At its simplest, Nanaue is the son of the Shark King, Kamohoalii and a mortal woman, Kalei. He is something of a bogeyman in Hawaiian mythology.
Father – Kamohoalii, King of the Sharks
Mother – Kalei, a mortal woman
Aunt – Pele, a volcano goddess, which makes sense as some retellings list Kamohoalii and her being siblings.
Siblings – Unauna, a brother, a mountain demigod.
Picture if you will, many years ago, the Big Island of Hawaii. A tale old as time. It is here, our story begins in the Waipio Valley where a beautiful young maiden by the name of Kalei lived. Every night, Kalei loved to go walking along the beach, down to where the mouth of the valley would open up to the sea to collect a particular type of shellfish that she loved to eat.
Going out late and alone one night, Kalei’s beauty caught the eye of Kamohoalii, the King of the Sharks. Being a shape-shifter, Kamohoalii was able to change to a human, one whose role was chief as he came to land to seek out Kalei.
In this guise, Kamohoalii was able to move among the humans as he searched. Eventually he found Kalei whom he was able to court and marry. In time, Kalei would become pregnant.
Now, Kamohoalii was careful not to ever reveal his true identity to Kalei. However, given that he would leave in the morning and come home late in the evening, eventually Kamohoalii does reveal his true nature to Kalei.
Not keeping secrets is healthy in a relationship and that would make it easier for the fact that Kamohaolii has to return to the sea. That means Kalei is going be alone and with a half human, half shark son on the way, it will help that she knows what to do.
Kamohoalii was careful to give instructions to Kalei to give birth alone and that she always keeps an eye on their child. The final instructions were that she never allow their son to eat meat from any. Kalei vowed that she would follow Kamohoalii’s words. It is a reluctant Kamohoalii who returns to the sea, leaving his lover behind, never to see her again.
The time came, during the night that Kalei gave birth to her’s and Kamohoalii’s son. She was gladdened and then became afraid when she saw on the baby’s back a deformity like a large open hole or slit as if it were some fish mouth.
Kalei covered her son, whom she named Nanaue, with a blanket and later a shirt to hide his deformity from other people. At first, all goes well and Kalei is able to raise her son and follow Kamohoalii’s instructions.
This works until Nanaue is three or four years old and is taken to go eat in the Mua house with the other men. There, Nanaue’s grandfather fed him some meat. Instantly, the child developed an insatiable appetite for meat. The mouth on Nanaue’s back grew sharp rows of teeth.
As Nanaue’s shark nature developed, Kalei discovered that her son would turn into a young shark whenever he bathed in a stream. Kalei counciled her son to be careful not to reveal his nature to anyone else.
This worked for the most part, Nanaue busied himself working in his mother’s taro patch when he wasn’t fishing or bathing. This earned him something of a reputation as a loner and a recluse. This had more to do with that as Nanaue grew, so did his voracious appetite as a shark. People did pass by his mother’s place and they’d see Nanaue whereon he’d engage in some small talk. Mainly the question of what they were doing. If people said bathing or fishing, Nanaue would bid the people to take care.
Now, if it were just one person going off alone, this is whom Nanaue would pick to eat and soon enough, the individual would go missing. Pretty there’s a habit of missing people and what all do they have in common?
The people of Waipio Valley began to get suspicious of Nanaue. Why was he the only one never harmed by this monstrous shark that would appear. There wasn’t any proof yet.
Eventually, King Umi sent out a proclamation for all the Hawaiian men of Waipio to come and put in some work on tilling his plantation. On the first day of work, Nanaue was the only man who hadn’t shown up.
Word reached King Umi about a man who hadn’t shown up for work and men were sent to bring Nanaue before the king. When questioned why he didn’t show up, Nanaue replied that he didn’t know he was to show up.
Seems legit as King Umi accepts this answer and tells Nanaue to show up tomorrow. Bright and early the next day, Nanaue shows up for work with all the other men. Unlike them, Nanaue is still wearing a shirt to cover the shark mouth on his back. This puzzles the other men who wonder why Nanaue doesn’t go shirtless like they do in the heat as they all work.
After a few days of this, some of the other younger workers decided to accost Nanaue as they surrounded him and ripped his shirt off. This revealed the gruesome shark mouth on Nanaue’s back. In anger, Nanaue turned his back to bite several of the young workers.
Some of the workers ran and reported to King Umi what had happened. It didn’t take King Umi much to put two and two together as to who and what was the source of so many of his people vanishing when going swimming. King Umi ordered Nanaue’s capture and that a large fire be built in which Nanaue would be burned alive.
See what fate held in store for him, Nananue called upon his shark father, Kamohoalii to aid him. As an answer to his pleas, Nananue found himself with superhuman strength that allowed him to break the ropes holding him. Using his new immense strength, Nananue broke free of Umi’s warriors that tried to seize him. Nanaue ran with all his might to rock edge and leapt into the ocean with numerous people to witness his change into a shark.
The people were greatly upset with Nanaue’s escape, such that they wanted to kill his mother and relatives for having raised such a monster. Kalei and her brothers were caught and brought before King Umi. Not giving into the people’s immediate demands for execution, Umi questioned Kalei about her son and she confessed to everything about Kamohoalii’s courtship and the warning he had given her concerning raising their son.
Hearing Kalei’s tale, Umi wisely surmised that any actions taken against Kalei and her kin would likely arouse the Shark King’s wrath. If not that, surely the wrath of Nanaue.
Instead, Umi decreed that Kalei and her brothers be released. A request was given to the priests and shark kahunas to make offerings and invocations to Kamohoalii to ask what to do about his son Nanaue. The spirit of Kamohoalii appeared and told how it was the boy’s grandfather who had fed him meat. If it had not been for this action, he would order his son killed. As it was, Kamohoalii informed the priests and kahunas that his son was to be exiled from Hawaii and if he appeared again, his shark soldiers would kill Nananue. Before leaving, Kamohoalii obtained a promise that Kalei and her family would be held blameless for Nanaue’s actions.
As to Nanaue, he swam to the Hana side of the island of Maui. Here, resumed his human form again and married a chiefess. Nanaue tried for a while to suppress his voracious appetite for human flesh. This only worked for so long and Nanaue’s hunger grew so great and desperate that he grabbed a young girl and ran with her out to the ocean where he changed back into a shark and ate her. One or two legends state that Nanaue does have descendants of his on Maui.
The worst part to all of this, is that everyone saw it. Saw Nanaue grab the girl, take off with said girl to the ocean where he changes into a giant, monstrous shark and devours her. Enter the mob with pitchforks… well, spears and the people of Maui chase after Nanaue in their canoes, doing their best to try and kill him.
The story continues and Nanaue manages to escape, making his way towards Molokai. Once more Nanaue tried to keep his real nature a secret and resumed a normal life. However, stories of a dangerous man-shark are now making the rounds. The people of Molokai are on alert as their people are now being eaten by a monstrous shark and with a stranger in their mist, it doesn’t take long for them to suspect Nanaue. A local kahuna told people that the next time that Nanaue appeared after such an attack, to have some strong men grab hold of him to pull off his shirt to reveal the shark mouth underneath.
Given Nanaue’s voracious appetite, it’s not long before he succumbs to his carving for humans. The men are ready, and they seize hold of Nanaue after the latest monstrous shark attack. Ripping off his shirt sure enough reveals the shark mouth on his back.
Having been found out, Nanaue uses his superhuman strength to overpower the men and break free. Or so he tries. The men’s determination not allow the monster get away is what enables them to finally subdue Nanaue enough as they beat him mercilessly with clubs.
Unconscious, the men now bound and tied up Nanaue while they prepared to build a big fire. As the men gathered brush and firewood, Nananue came to. Realizing he was bound, Nanaue struggled to make his way towards the ocean. Once he touched the water, Nanaue turned back into a shark. The men had returned and seeing that Nanaue had turned into a shark threw nets over him to drag him further up on the shore, coupled with some more beatings with their clubs to knock him out again.
If Nanaue is so strong and he’s escaped before, why not now? That’s because the people of Molokai had called on upon a young demigod, Unauna to help them. Demigod versus demigod and Unauna, despite being young, had the advantage over Nanaue who’s a fish out of water.
Up the slopes of Kainalu Nanaue is hauled. It is said that the shallow ravine seen on Kainalu Hill marks the passage that Nanaue was dragged along. This place is known nowadays as Puumano or Shark Hill.
To make sure that Nanaue would finally be defeated once and for all, Unauna instructed the people to cut the shark’s body to pieces as they burned it. Bamboo from the sacred grove of Kainalu was used in the process of cutting and burning the large shark.
In a slightly strange twist, the god Mohoalii who preceded over the sacred grove of Kainalu was angry over the desecration of his grove. Interestingly, Mohoalii is another name for the shark king Kamohoalii. Further, he’s also the father of Unauna, not just Nanaue. Angry, Mohoalii caused that the bamboo of this grove would no longer be able to keep edge or stay sharp.
At any rate, Nanaue is finally dead and the people of the Hawaiian islands no longer had to fear his insatiable appetite for human flesh.
At its simplest meaning, this is the Hawaiian word, that when used as a noun, means either a god, demigod, any supernatural entity or an idol. As a verb, it describes anything supernatural or divine. It tends to be a catch all word and has a few variations for rankings.
Meaning “ravenous shark,” this is a nickname that derives from Nanaue’s story when describing anyone who’s a glutton, especially for meat.
Tourism! Kaneana Cave
When visiting Hawaii, many of the sacred places are off limits and only native Hawaiians are allowed to visit them.
There is one exception, Kaneana Cave, here it is believed that the spirit of Nanaue is still present and will devour the unwary and unsuspecting. Even better, tourists are allowed to visit!
I can only surmise that local Hawaiians had hoped that Nanaue was still around and would take care of unwanted tourists in their loud, bright Hawaiian shirts and snapping pictures of everything.
It’s good for business! Who doesn’t love a bit of a ghost story and potential danger?
King Shark – DC Villain
As King Shark, Nanaue does appear as a villain for Superboy in 1994. In his original version, it does follow his Hawaiian origins with other characters dismissing it as just superstition and believing instead that Nanaue is just a mutation. However, further storylines in Aquaman confirm the mythical Hawaiian origin as valid and true for DC.
From there, King Shark makes other appearances in the DC Universe of comics, video games and animated movies. His most notable appearance at present is as a reoccurring villain on CW’s The Flash where they alter and mix up his origins a bit, but still largely the same character. Marine biologist turn giant, mindless monstrous Shark Guy during a particle accelerator explosion who then goes on a rampage and is extremely difficult to beat. I suppose that works.
Etymology: “Jealously” or “Passion”
Also known as: Adaon, Aedín, Aideen, Echraidhe (“Horse Rider”), Éadaoin (modern Irish), Edain, Etaoin, Éadaoin
Epithets: Bé Find (“Fair Woman”), Shining-One
Etain is a figure from Irish mythology, her story involves a lot of unwanted transformations from a jealous Fuamnach and different suitors trying to win her. Etain is noted for her extreme beauty among the fae or sidhe. She is best known as the heroine found in the “Tochmarc Étaíne” or “The Wooing of Etain.”
Animal: Butterfly, Dragonfly, Fly, Horse, Swan, Worm
Sphere of Influence: Beauty, Healing, Irish Sovereignty, Music, Rebirth, Transformation, Transmigration of Souls
Parentage and Family
The lineage for Etain can get confusing. When seeing that Etain and the name’s many variant spellings could be the names of other characters, then it could be a matter of which Etain are we talking about?
Ailill – In the Tochmarc Étaine, Ailil, king of Ulaid is Etain’s father.
Etar – In the Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (“The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel), Etar is Etain’s father.
Eochaid Feidlech – In the Tochmarc Étaine, Eochaid is the High King, he is Etain’s mortal husband whom she marries after being reincarnated. In the Dindsenchas poem, Rath Eas, Eochaid’s last name is given as Airem.
Midir – In the Wooing of Etain, this is Etain’s husband when she was in Tir na Nog.
Ailill Angubae – By some accounts of Etain’s story, she was really in love with Ailill, Eochaid’s brother. Not to be confused with the Ailill, King of Ulaid, who is her father.
Dian Ceacht – Etain’s daughter when she is married to Oghma.
Étaín Óg – Etain the Younger, she is Etain’s daughter when married to Eochaid Feidlech. Etain Og will go on to marry Cormac, the King of Ulster and have a daughter by the name of Mess Buachalla. Mess Buachalla will go on to marry High King Eterscel and be the mother of Conaire Mor.
Oghma – The Irish god of Writing, in some version, he is Etain’s husband.
Tochmarc Étaíne – The Wooing Of Etain
This is one of the oldest stories found in Irish mythology. There is another story that mentions Etain, the “Togail Bruidne Dá Derga” or “The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel.”
For now, we’re going to cover: “The Wooing of Etain.” It begins not with Etain, but with Midir and his first wife, Fuamnach. They were happily married and raised among their own children, Oengus or Aengus Óg (a Love god, some sources try to say he’s a sun god too) as a foster son.
For a little further context and background, Oengus is the son of Dagda, Midir’s brother. So really, Midir and Fuamnach are raising their nephew.
Like all children, Oengus grew up and moved out on his own. Midir decided one day that he would go visit his nephew. While visiting, an incident happened, involving some holly and Midir was blinded in one eye.
Even though Oengus heal’s Midir’s eye, Midir still seeks compensation for the injury that occured while visiting as a guest. As Oengus is the God of Love, he gets his Uncle the most beautiful woman in all of Ireland and Fairy, Etain. On seeing her, Midir is instantly in love and he takes her home with him.
It should come as no surprise, that once the two are home, that Midir’s wife, Fuamnach is angry, jealous even. How dare her husband bring home another woman, even if said woman is either a mistress or second bride and this is allowable, it’s the jealously and anger of a far more beautiful woman getting her husband’s attention.
Rather than take out her ire on Midir for this insult, Fuamnach takes it out on Etain. Fuamnach is a powerful sorceress in her own right. An enraged, Fuamnach conspired to cast a series of dark spells on Etain. The first one turns Etain into a pool of water. Another spell turns Etain into a worm or snake. Then finally into either a butterfly or dragonfly.
Changed to this new form, Etain’s wings hold the power that water that dropped from her wings would cure disease and the humming of her wings was soothing to those who heard it. Even in this strange new form,
Depending on the story told, Midir either does or doesn’t recognizes Etain. Regardless of which way the story goes, Midir spends all of his time with his butterfly companion and eschews the company of other women.
This only further enrages Fuamnach who sees that the two lovers are still together. This time, she conjured up a great gale of wind that drove Etain out of Midir’s house and to be lost at sea.
Etain is lost for seven years being buffeted about by the sea winds before at long last finding her way back to shore where she lands on Óengus’ clothing. Óengus does recognize that the butterfly is Etain. As he and Midir are currently feuding with each other, Instead of returning Etain, Óengus makes a small portable butterfly house that he carries around with him.
Eventually Fuamnach learns that Etain is with Óengus and she sends another wind that once more blows Etain out to sea to be lost for another seven years.
That is a long time to be lost at sea, not just once, but twice. Exhausted by her ordeal, Etain finds herself coming to rest on the roof of a house where people were gathered, enjoying a feast.
Drawn by the warmth from within, Etain flew closer to the sounds of merriment. However, in her state of exhaustion, she flew into goblet of wine and was promptly drunk up by Etar, the wife of a wealthy Ulster chieftain.
This is how Etar becomes pregnant with a reborn or reincarnated Etain. The catch being, that as with all reincarnations, a person doesn’t remember who they had been in a previous life. So, a newly reborn Etain grows up as the daughter of a wealthy chieftain.
The Tochmarc Étaine notes that some one thousand and twelve years have passed since Etain’s first birth back in Tir Na Nog, Fairy Land. Just as she had been before, Etain was once again the most lovely and beautiful woman in all of Ireland. The gifts of love, generosity and kindness were all held to be hers.
One day, Etain is out with her handmaidens at a well when they spot a man on horseback coming their way. This man is Eochaid, the king of Ireland. As soon as Eochaid lays eyes on Etain, he is immediately taken with her and asks Etain to be his Queen.
Naturally Etain is flattered and this is an opportunity. Love or not. Power or not. Etain agrees to marry Eochaid and a wedding follows soon after.
Complicating matters, Eochaid’s brother, Ailill Angubae has also in love with Etain and he pins away for her. As he is dying, Ailill confesses his love to Etain. To save him, Etain agrees to sleep with Ailill.
Enter Midir back into the story, who casts a spell on Ailill so that he falls asleep and misses his tryst with Etain. When Etain does go to meet up with Ailill, she does find a man who looks like Ailill, but it’s not, it’s Midir in disguise. Thrice Etain tries to meet up with Ailill and keeps meeting up with the imposter, Midir who finally reveals himself to her on the last time.
Midir tells Etain of her previous life in Fairy as his wife, trying to get Etain to return with him. For Etain, this is a problem, she’s been reborn as a mortal and is married to Eochaid. She won’t leave her current husband unless Eochaid allows her to.
The good thing that comes out of this encounter is that Ailill is no longer pinning away and dying for lack of love over Etain.
A goal and mission in mind, Midir sets out to meet Eochaid. Coming as himself, Midir offers to play a boardgame called fidchell. As other versions of this story say that it’s chess that the two play.
For the first game, Midir makes an offer of fifty horses as the stakes. Eochaid accepts and wins with Midir graciously offered prize. Midir now challenges Eochaid to another game, with higher stakes and wins again.
At some point in the game playing, Eochaid’s foster-father warns him that Midir is a being of great power and to be careful. As Midir is letting Eochaid win, the two keep on playing and with each win, Eochaid has Midir perform another task, ranging from clearing forests, reclaiming land from bogs, building causeways over said bogs.
These series of tasks are said to fit with the idea of the Tuatha De Danann that Midir belongs to as earth deities. Eventually, Midir grows tired of letting Eochaid win and challenges him to a last game of fidchell with the stakes to be named by the winner. This time, Midir wins and he claims an embrace and kiss from Etain.
This is more than what Eochaid is willing to allow. Eochaid agrees to Midir’s claim, that in a month’s time he can come claim Etain. As these stories go, Eochaid didn’t have any intention of letting Etain return to her former husband. Etain was his. On the day that Eochaid was to honor the agreement, he had all of his warriors waiting at his castle. These warriors formed circles around the castle with the intent to keep Midir from reclaiming his wife.
As if he were air or invisible, Midir passed through all the encircling warriors without slaying a one or shedding blood. Soon, Midir comes to the room where Eochaid and Etain await within. Midir proclaims that he is there for that which is his.
Seeing that he can’t renege on the deal after all and must agree, Eochaid says that Midir may have a kiss from Etain’s lips. Eochaid reluctantly allows Etain to go to Midir and the two kiss, transforming into a pair of swans and they fly out, away from the castle and back towards their fairy home of Tir na Nog.
Not wanting to lose Etain, Eochaid and his men set off for the fairy mound of Bri Leith where Midir is said to dwell. The men begin digging and Midir appears before Eochaid, telling him that his wife will be returned to him the next day.
On the morrow, Eochaid returns and there are fifty women, all appearing as Etain. An old hag tells Eochaid to pick out his wife. Eochaid does so and Midir later reveals that Etain had been pregnant when he took her. That the woman he took was in fact their daughter. Eochaid is horrified by the fact that he’s slept with his daughter who is no pregnant. This baby, who is also a girl is laid out in the woods to be exposed. Before death can claim the infant, a herdsman finds the baby and raises her to become the mother of the High King Conaire Mor.
Variations – There are a few different versions to Etain’s story. Some that focus solely on just Etain and what happened to her exclusively. Other versions will explain the whole set up of what led up Midir marrying Etain and thus, better explain why Fuamnach is jealous and maybe not so much jealous, but angry.
Version 1 – This story focuses on Etain being the second wife to Midir with Fuamnach being jealous. Here, Fuamnach enlists the aid of her friends to turn Etain into a pool of water. This causes Midir to becomes worried and he goes searching for his missing wife. To stay one step ahead of him, Fuamnach then turns Etain into a worm and then a fly.
As a fly, Etain flies down Fuamnach’s throat, causing her to become pregnant. Etain is reborn, this time, she’s mortal and doesn’t remember her previous life. Once she grows up, Etain marries the king Eochaid. Only it’s not Eochaid that Etain loves, it’s his brother Ailill, as if that wouldn’t cause more than a few problems.
To make it more complicated, Etain eventually meets Midir again and suddenly remembers who she had been. Just like before Midir wins Etain in a game of chess with Eodaid.
I rather find this version extremely problematic as it’s suggesting Etain wouldn’t know her own father? Assuming Midir still remained married to Fuamnach. Further, if Midir and Fuamnach are fairies and Etain is reborn as their daughter, shouldn’t she be a fairy too? Not mortal? Not to mention the extreme ewww with Midir now wanting someone who’s his daughter.
Just no. No.
It’s this version of the story with Fuamnach becoming Etain’s mother and seeing that Etain’s name means jealously; it makes me think that there may be an allegory or symbolism for the stages of jealousy or passion that Fuamnach is working through with her husband Midir.
Other Versions: There’s numerous versions to Etain’s story, some have her remembering her life in fairy when she meets Midir. Others have her not remembering her life at all and agreeing to leave with Midir if her mortal husband agrees as she thinks this is something that won’t happen.
A lot of these other versions for Etain’s story often simplify their retellings in that they often leave out how Midir and Etain meet, just that they do, the who episode of Alill pinning away for Etain is left off and the final episode where Eochaid tries to get Etain back and unknowingly, is given his daughter.
A couple episodes from the Tochmarc Etaine are repeated in this poem. Eochaid Airenn’s winning Etain back from Midir is in the Rath Esa poem. Midir’s abduction of Etain is referenced in the Rath Cruachan.
Togail Bruidne Dá Derga – The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel
In the main story for the Wooing of Etain, the Tochmarc Etaine, she is described as being very beautiful. However, no description is given anywhere of her. That changes in the Togail Bruidne Dá Derga where Etain encounters King Echu in Bri Leith.
In this text, she is described in a lot of lengthy detail from the comb she’s using to her clothing in lot of green, silver and golds. Her hair is described as being a red gold, skin white as snow, rosy cheeks, unnaturally blue eyes and curved body like the waves of sea foam. The narrator goes to great lengths to try describing what Etain looks like as the fairest of them all, there is a final quote that goes: “Lovely anyone until Étain. Beautiful anyone until Étain.” That such beauty could only mean that Etain was clearly of the sidhe.
Grecian Comparison – Hellen of Troy
The first story of Etain, the Wooing of Etain says that she’s very beautiful, comparable even to Helen of Troy. Where whole cities of Greece go to war with each other her. Etain has a jealous first wife takes out their wrath on her, a former spouse waiting for over a thousand years to reclaim her, and when she’s reborn, her mortal husband trying to keep her from the fairy husband to take her back.
The entire story for Etain reflects an older time when these older stories were likely passed on orally before getting written. So Etain’s story has had plenty of time to be altered and change and the role of the Goddess or Queen who gets to choose is altered and she is no longer in control of her destiny and is just a prize to be won.
An important note brought up about this story, while it doesn’t feature Etain in the first part of it, is to bear in mind that this story is an allegory for Ireland’s history. Etain’s role in the narrative becomes clearer when seeing her as the Goddess of the Land who gets to choose her consort to ensure the prosperity of the land.
A similar motif for this Celtic belief that the Goddess gets to choose her consort is seen in Arthurian Legend for the story of Guinevere, Lancelot and King Arthur with the whole love triangle happening there. Granted that story is a much later addition to Arthurian Legend, it’s an inserted story to narrative to explain the Goddess or Woman’s right to choose whom she loves and marries.
All the figures featured in the story likely represent different clans and geographical localities. Seeing Etain as a Sovereign Goddess of the Land, who she chooses to couple with are whom she deemed as the best ruling clans for the welfare of Ireland.
Lack Of Agency – At a knee-jerk first glance response, I don’t like the story of the Wooing of Etain. Why is Etain punished by Fuamnach for marrying Midir? For that matter, why does Midir get to be the one rewarded for cheating on his wife and marrying a younger woman, loose her and then get her back after waiting patiently for Etain to be reborn?
That here, we have Etain a woman who is just passed around as a prize to be won with barely any say in the matter of what happens to her. If the focus is given soley to Midir as the hero, of course, the entire story makes sense for his journey of loss and recovering his love and wife. Then poor Eochaid who gets to pick his wife and loses her to Midir, who takes back the woman who is rightfully his.
Without the Historical Allegory angle, the entire story feels maddening. No wonder there are later rewritings of the story that want give an image of two lovers who loose and find each other again. To give more agency to Etain’s actions and the series of unfortunate circumstances that befall her.
Etain is forced to a series of unwanted transformations by a jealous lover, ranging from worm to butterfly, to swan and even a pool of water. Including the worm and then changing to a fly, sounds like the larval state of an insect, either as a nymph, meaning the larval form of a dragonfly or caterpillar to a butterfly.
Looking at these stories symbolically, Etain’s transformations from a worm to a fly, only to be swallowed later by a woman and reborn as a child can all be seen as the different stages of life.
Soul or Spirit – In a lot of Celtic folklore, flies or butterflies are often seen as being the souls of the deceased, even if it’s just a metaphor. It makes sense if Etain’s changing to a worm, than a fly or butterfly is merely a symbolic way of describing the spirit’s transformation and more easily explaining the transition from one life to another. Or maybe Fuamnach actually killed Etain, tossing her body into a pool of water?
Celtic Numerology – More of a minor note, the number seven is used for the number of years that Etain is lost at sea a mystical number. In this case, it is a number meaning a spiritual awakening.
That’s undeniable with all the transformations that Etain undergoes once she falls afoul of Fuamnach’s magic, going from a pool of water, to a worm, to a fly or butterfly, swallowed and reborn as a mortal woman.
What’s In A Name
Given the nature of Etain’s story and the meaning of her name: “Jealousy” or “Passion.” I think it sheds an important light to the significance of Etain’s story and the proper framework to look at it in.
Bé Find – Meaning “Fair Woman,” this is a name that Midir gives to Etain in Tochmarc Etaine. It comes from a poem found within the larger saga called: “A Bé Find In Ragha Lium” is likely from a much older, unrelated source and was just stuck in the saga at a later time.
Eadaoin – As Eadaoin, she is noted as being a sidhe and one of the Tuatha De Dannan who is associated with poetry and inspiration. With this spelling, Etain is noted as having a different husband, either Midir or Oghma depending on the source used. This could just merely mean Etain or Eadaoin was a common enough name that there is more than one person in the Irish Mythological Cycles who has this name. As they’re all sidhe, that makes it even more difficult to keep them all straight.
Echraide – Meaning “Horse Rider,” this is a name that has been attached to Etain and is meant to link her with horse deities such as the Welsh Rhiannon and the Gaulish Epona.
Shining-One – An epitaph of “Shining-One” or claiming that’s what Etain’s name means, tend to come from more modern sources that want to connect her to be a Sun Goddess or a fairy. As far as a strong, scholarly bent goes, it doesn’t really work.
Some sources, often the more modern Pagan paths will place Etain as a goddess. Depending on the lineage you follow, if Oghma for example, she is a goddess of poetry and inspiration. Yet another source will list her as a Love or War goddess?
Some of the sources that link Etain to different deific roles seem tentative.
Horse Goddess – One of Etain’s epitaphs is Echraide, meaning “Horse Rider,” which would mean she’s a Horse Goddess, much like the Welsh Rhiannon and the Gaulish Epona.
Sun Goddess – T. F. O’Rahilly is who identified Etain as a Sun Goddess. Several New Age and modern Pagan groups have adopted her as such. When Oengus is identified as a Sun God, this connection makes sense if Etain is seen as his daughter.
Goddess of the Land – This I would readily accept given the nature of Etain’s story as an allegory for Ireland’s history and a Goddess marrying whom she wants that will bring prosperity to the land.
Love Goddess – This really works best for more modern interpretations of Etain’s story; especially when keeping in mind her story as an allegory and for those seeking to reclaim her role as a deity with her own agency who chooses her lovers. Plus, the connection seems to come more strongly with Midir’s fostering of Aengus Óg who is a Love God.
Sovereign Goddess – This is an important aspect of Etain, especially if you want her story to make sense as a deity who choose her consort for the prosperity and welfare of the land.
Triple Goddess – In New Age and Wiccan practices, Etain is often seen as a Triple Goddess
Other Aspects – Furthering this, due to the forced transformations, some will claim Etain as a Goddess of Transformation and Rebirth, a Moon Goddess.
Well yes, most versions of Etain’s story acknowledge her as a fairy, specially one of the Sidhe and certainly of the Tuatha de Danann. An imagery not at all unlike the Tolkien Elves in his Middle Earth series.
The account that has some men coming across an extremely beautiful woman beside a spring see them agreeing that such beauty was only possible of the sidhe.
That seems to be the sentiment of some authors, scholars and modern Pagans.
Wiccan, New Age & Modern Paganism
I think it’s important to note, that myths and stories do change with time. Much of the story that so many know with Etain has been colored through the lens of Christianity and with some regards, a patriarchy, resulting in a story about a woman who appears to have little agency and control over her own fate and destiny.
In the pursuit of adjusting Etain back to her perceived mythological roots and giving her significance and relevance, to better be the actor in her own story, some modern Pagan traditions will claim that Etain’s name means “Shining One” and place her as a Triple Goddess who represents the Sun, Water and Horses.
Understanding Etain’s story will certainly make it easier to interpret her as needed. I think sticking to what’s known and concrete from her legends is the most useful.
Etymology: Sigr- (Old Norse), Sig- “Victory” (Sieg- Germanic, Zege- Dutch) and -mundr (Old Norse) “Protector”
Pronunciation: Zeek-muwnt (German), Seeg-mund (Swedish), Sig-mənd (English)
Also known as: Siegmund
Alternate Spellings: Sigmundr (Old Norse), Sigimund, Sigismund (Ancient Germanic), Sigmundr (Ancient Scandinavian), Zikmund (Czech), Siegmund, Sigismund (German), Zsigmond, Zsiga (Hungarian), Sigismondo (Italian), Zygmunt (Polish), Žigmund (Slovak), Žiga (Slovene), Segismundo (Spanish), Sigge (Swedish)
The hero Sigmund is best known from his exploits in the Völsunga saga. Sigmund’s fame comes from being the one who could pull the sword, Gram from a tree and being the father of another hero, Sigurd.
Parentage and Family
Father – Völsung, for whom the Völsunga saga is named.
Mother – Ljod, also spelled Hljod, Sigmund’s mother in the Völsunga.
Borghild – His first wife.
Sieglind – His wife in the Nibelungenlied.
Sisibe – His wife in the Thiðrekssaga.
Brother – It’s mentioned that Sigmund has nine brothers, though none of them are ever given any names.
Sister – Signý, his twin
Helgi – Son by way of Borghild.
Sigurd – Son by way of Hljod. A famous dragon-slayer of many Norse, Scandinavian and German sagas.
Sinfjötli – Son by way of incest with his sister Signý.
Hamund and Helgi – Sons by way of Borghild.
The oldest source for Sigmund’s legend are found in Sweden on seven runestones. The most notable of these are the Ramsund carving dating from about 1,000 C.E. based on events from the fifth and sixth centuries C.E.
This is a 13th century Icelandic saga from the Völsung clan that follows several generations of Völsung’s lineage. While this saga is best known for the story of Sigurd and Brunhildr and the destruction of the Burgundians, this is the main source for the story regarding Sigmund.
Backing up a little bit, the saga begins with Völsung, known of his great strength and size, who is the king of Hunland. Völsung marries Hljod with whom he fathers ten sons and a daughter, Signý, the twin to Sigmund.
So great is Signý’s beauty, that King Siggeir of Gautland (Västergötland) sends a missive to King Völsung requesting his daughter Signý’s hand in marriage. Now, Siggeir had a reputation for being fierce in battle and Völsung and his sons knew that they couldn’t hope to fend off Siggeir and his men once they saw them. Add to this, Signý doesn’t want to marry Siggeir.
Against her better judgment, Signý marries Siggeir. A wedding feast, one that would last for several days commenced shortly after. At a time when both Völsung and Sigmund are in attendance, the god Odin came, disguised as a beggar and thrust the sword Gram into the a large oak tree known as Barnstock. Völsung’s hall was built around this large oak. The beggar (Odin) announces that the man who is able to pull the sword free may have it as a gift. Of all the men present, only Sigmund succeeded in pulling the sword free.
Signý’s new husband, Siggeir became very envious and greedy for Sigmund’s sword. When Sigmund refused an offer to buy the sword, Siggeir than invites Völsung, Sigmund and his nine other brothers to come visit him and Signý a few months later in Gautland.
When Völsung and the rest of his clan arrived, they are attacked by Siggeir’s men. In the fight that followed, Völsung is killed and his sons captured. Signý pleaded with Siggeir to spare her brothers, to have them placed in stocks instead of killing them outright. Siggeir agreed to Signý’s pleas only because it went along with his ideas of torturing the brothers before killing them.
It turns out that Siggeir has a mother who can shape-shift into a wolf. He lets dear old mother kill one of the Völsung brothers each night. Signý, much as she tries, is unable to save her brothers. One by one they are killed by this she-wolf until finally only Sigmund remains.
With only last chance to save any of her brothers, Signý gets a servant to smear some honey on Sigmund’s face. When Siggeir’s shape-shifted mother arrives that night, the she-wolf licks the honey off Sigmund’s face, causing her tongue to stick to the roof of her mouth. The opportunity allowed Sigmund to bite off the she-wolf’s tongue. The resulting blood loss killed the wolf. Shortly after, he freed himself and Sigmund took off to hide in the forest.
Hidden safely in the woods, Sigmund has everything he needs and what he doesn’t have, Signý would bring to him. Seeking revenge for the death of their father herself, Signý would send her sons out to the forest to be tested by their uncle. As each one failed the test, Sigmund would kill them until he finally had enough of it and refused to kill any more children. A distraught Signý came to Sigmund disguised as a völva (a type of Scandinavian Witch or Shaman). Disguised, Signý gave birth to Sinfjötli, whom, a child of incest is able to pass Sigmund’s test.
Living the life of outlaws, both Sigmund and Sinfjötli lived in the forest. During their time, the two came across some men sleeping in some wolf skins. The two kill the men and on donning the wolf skins for themselves, discover that the skins are cursed. With their new-found abilities or curse, Sigmund and Sinfjötli are able to avenge Völsung when they kill Siggeir by way of setting his place on fire. The only person to escape the blaze was Signý, whom if Sigmund hadn’t known the truth about his nephew/son Sinfjötli, she now came clean to tell him she had tricked Sigmund into sleeping with her. After revealing the truth, Signý walked back into the raging fire to die with Siggeir.
Returning To Hunland
The story doesn’t end there as both Sigmund and Sinfjötli continue their exploits of banditry when they return to Hunland. Sigmund’s plan is to reclaim his lands from the king who took over after Völsung’s death. After reclaiming his rightful throne, Sigmund marries Borghild and they have two sons, Hamund and Helgi.
It’s known that Helgi, at the age of fifteen would go on to fight many battles and win his own kingdom. He earned the name Helgi Hundingsbani when he killed Hunding and his sons after two battles. Helgi wasn’t done yet and would continue on to defeat Hodbrodd and Grannar in order to win the hand of Sigrun, the daughter of King Hogni in marriage. This is a story for another post.
Borghild became jealous of her stepson Sinfjötli’s abilities and when he killed her brother, she plotted Sinfjötli’s demise. Both Sinfjötli and her brother had been competing for the hand of the same woman. Killing Sinfjötli wouldn’t be easy for Borghild as he was immune to all poison. That didn’t stop Borghild from trying. She offered Sinfjötli two cups of poisoned wine that he drank without problem. However, with the third cup, that did Sinfjötli in. For her efforts, Borghild was banished from Hunland.
The narrative continues that Sigmund carried Sinfjötli’s body into the forest where he meets a ferryman at a fjord. The ferryman had only enough room on his boat for one passenger at a time and offered to take Sinfjötli’s body across first and come back for Sigmund. When the boat reached the middle of the fjord, it vanished along with the ferryman and Sinfjötli’s body. This ferryman would be none other than Odin in disguise, come to personally take his descendant to Valhalla despite not meeting the prerequisite to die in battle.
Marrying Hjördís & Sigmund’s Doom
Sigmund goes on to marry again, this time to Hjördís, daughter of King Eylimi. Hjördís had another suitor who sought her hand in marriage, King Lyngi along with other suitors. The would be suitors competed for Hjördís’s hand in marriage and Sigmund won, despite being much older than other kings. Lyngi refused to give up and concede to Sigmund.
After enjoying a brief period of peace, Sigmund’s kingdom is attacked by King Lyngi as he was jealous and wanted revenge on Hjördís for marrying Sigmund.
It is during this battle, Sigmund fought alongside his father-in-law, King Eylimi who is killed. It is this day, that the Norns have decreed will be when Sigmund dies. The god Odin returns in this battle, disguised as a beggar and when he comes face to face with Sigmund, the sword Gram is shattered by his spear Gungnir.
The sword shattered, Sigmund easily falls at the hands of others in battle. As he lays dying, Sigmund tells Hjördís that she is pregnant, and their son will one day receive the broken remains of his sword. That their son will be named Sigurd who would go on to avenge his father’s death and slay the dragon Fafnir.
As to Lyngi, he was thwarted in trying to win Hjördís for she had fled and was found by King Alf who married and took her and her unborn son in.
Other Germanic Sagas
In many of the sagas about the hero Sigurd (Siegfried), Sigmund or Siegmund is often cited as being Sigurd’s father. None of these other sagas have the same level of detail regarding Sigmund that is found within the Völsunga.
Nibelungenlied – In this saga, his wife was Sieglind
Thiðrekssaga – In this saga, Sigmund is the son of Sifjan, the king of Tarlungland. He has a son with Sisibe, the daughter of King Nidung of Spain.
This is an Old English poem. In the story Beowulf, the story of Sigemund is told to the title character and involves the slaying of a dragon, not unlike that of Sigurd slaying a dragon. The child conceived by Signý and Sigemund the Wælsing is known as Fitela, not Sinfjötli.
The Sword In The Tree – Arthurian Legend!?!
The Branstock tree was a massive oak tree that Völsung built his hall around.
For those familiar with Arthurian legend, Sigmund’s pulling the sword Gram from the Branstock tree sounds very familiar to the story of Arthur pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone.
In addition, it’s been noted that the characters of Sinfjötli and Mordred are both nephew and son to the respective figures of Sigmund and Arthur.
Gram – A Gift From Odin
In the Völsunga saga, the name of Sigmund’s sword is Gram. Other Norse sagas will give the name of Balmung for Sigmund’s sword. Gram’s name means: “wrath.”
Being an enchanted sword gifted by the god Odin, Gram holds the magical ability of giving its wielder the power to win all their battles.
As for who forged Gram, the myths and legends say that Volund, or Wayland the Smith is who crafted this blade. In the Nibelungenlied, Gram is known by the name of Balmung and Mimung in Germanic myths. In Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” the sword is known as Nothung.
It was said that Volund (or Wayland the Smith) made the sword, and the magic sword was later called Gram (Balmung or Mimung in German myth).
Tolkien Middle Earth Connection – I mentioned in my post for Sigurd that the shattering of Gram served as the inspiration for Aragorn’s shattered sword that he reforges.
Odin’s Role In The Völsunga
It should be noted that Odin is the great grandfather of Völsung who founds the clan of the same name. Effectively making Völsung at least a demigod of sorts and later descendants being more extraordinary in their deeds and destiny.
So, it makes sense at the first, that Odin would appear, favoring the Völsung’s when he impales the sword Gram into the Branstock tree, saying that whoever can pull this sword can have it and it’s Sigmund who succeeds.
However later, Sigmund appears to fall out of favor with Odin when the god shatters Gram and leaves Sigmund to fall at the hands of his enemies.
God of Prophesy
Surely a god of prophesy would know what events would transpire. Which could mean that’s exactly what Odin wanted to have happen. Or he’s trying to change the fates of his kinsmen even though the Norns have told Odin that no, you can’t change fate, no you won’t get your descendant at all. That as punishment, Sigmund won’t die in battle at all.
Even a god can try?
If a person’s fate is truly set and there’s no avoiding destiny or changing one’s stars, even a god of prophesy would know you can’t change the future. Unless predicting the future is nothing more than being able to see what the most likely outcomes and probabilities are. That if you don’t change the variables, X event is the most likely event and course of action to happen.
Of course, the other thing to remember, is that Odin is also a god of battle and as such, like many other war gods, he thrives on the conflicts and strife that happen. Even if only for the sake of it.
With the whole impending doom of the gods and Ragnarok among the Norse, Odin is going to try and bolster his forces by recruiting from the various fields of battle, the fallen and slain warriors. Isn’t that what the Valkyries are for? Well sure, so unless there’s a constant steady source of conflicts and battles, the Valkyries aren’t likely to be doing much recruiting. One can see Odin going about instigating some of these conflicts, so he can try to recruit promising warriors for his Einherjar, ya’ know, the slain warriors of Valhalla. And let’s not forget that Freya is going to get half of those warriors for her hall of Folkvangr.
Sigmund! I don’t choose you!
Sigmund also has a date with destiny, for the Norns have decreed that he would die on that day. There is however a hitch to this, so long as Sigmund has the sword Gram, there’s no way he’s going to loose or die. So there’s Odin off to the field of battle to make sure that Sigmund can meet destiny by making sure he doesn’t have the sword.
Now it could be that he has angered Odin when Sigmund tries to interfere with protecting his father-in-law, King Eylimi during the battle against King Lyngi. Odin attacks Sigmund, shattering the sword Gram and leaves him to die.
It might be too how dare a descendant of his defy the mighty Odin and shatter the sword, hoping somehow that Sigmund will die in battle to join his forces in Valhalla. Odin’s efforts to sow contention earlier at a wedding only resulted in nine other of his grandsons getting killed by a wolf while tied up. That’s not exactly the heat of battle there and the loss of nine potential warriors to join him.
So, Odin cuts his losses with Sigmund and gifts a final prophesy to his grandson about the birth of Sigurd and that Gram will be reforged and passed on to another hero.
Lastly, the Völsunga saga was written in the 13th century C.E. several centuries from when the events are to have initially occurred. That’s more than enough time for the skalds to have embellished the stories. To add Odin to the events in an effort to make sense of narrative as well as give a more mythic quality to the tales to explain why events turn out the way they did.
Etymology: Sigr- (Old Norse), Sig- “Victory” (Sieg- Germanic, Zege- Dutch) and vörðr- (-ward Proto-Germanic)“guardian” or “protection” (Old Norse), -fried – “peace”
Also known as: Siegfried, Sigfred, Sifrit, Sîvrît (High German), Sivard (Danish), Sigevrit, Zegevrijt (Middle Dutch), Seyfrid, Seufrid (early modern German)
Alternate Spellings: Sigurðr (Old Norse)
Sigurd is a legendary hero from old Germanic, Norse and Scandinavian mythologies, where he is best known for slaying the dragon Fafnir, rescuing the Valkyrie maiden Brynhildr and the disastrous events that come after with his death.
As I discovered when first doing my article for Brynhildr, there are a number of different stories and various spellings or names for the main character, all of whom and which seem to be the same story and characters. With the differences, we’re likely just seeing different regional and cultural versions. Plus, the addition of Wagner’s famous Opera cycle goes and confuses that matter a bit as he takes from a the Völsunga and Nibelungenlied, mixing them together.
All I can say, is I’ve done my best to keep all of this straight. Also, it’s not like the ancients had access to e-mail and the internet to keep their sources straight, one tribe tells the story one way, another tribe tells it slightly different. The stories also alter and change when you start looking at when one is written and recorded compared to another.
Parentage and Family
Father – Sigmund, regardless of variant spellings, nearly all sources list him as Sigurd’s father.
It is in the Völsunga that Odin is mentioned as being Sigurd’s real father, making the hero a demigod of sorts and would explain why in some versions of the story, Odin goes out of his way to offer advice and aid him. It’s more accurate that Sigurd is a descendant of Odin’s though.
Mother – Hiordis, Sigmund’s second wife in the Völsunga. In the Þiðrekssaga, it is Sisibe who is Sigurd’s mother. The Nibelungenlied lists Sigelinde as Siegfried’s mother.
Brunhildr – The Valkyrie maiden whom Sigurd falls in love with and would have married had outside sources not interfered.
Gudrun – She is who Sigurd marries in the Völsunga. In the Nibelung, her name is Kriemhild.
Aslaug – Sigurd’s daughter by way of Brynhildr in the Völsunga. Aslaug goes on to marry Ragnar Lodbrok.
Sigmund & Svanhild – Twin sons by way of Gudrun in the Völsunga. Sigmund is named after Sigurd’s father.
What’s In A Name?
At first glance, due to the similarity of their stories, both Sigurd and Siegmund appear to be the same character. Perhaps they are, at the same time, I think it helps to remember regional variations from very similar cultures. Thanks in part to Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” Opera cycle, there gets to be further confusion to the matter.
It should be noted that what the names of Sigurd and Siegfried mean are different, however they do share the first part of the names do have the same etymology. The second part of the names have very different meanings.
In all cases, the different names all share the commonality of the first part or prefix name of “Sig-“ which means “victory.” The second part of the names have different meanings. “-fried” meaning peace in the name Siegfried and “-vörðr” meaning protection.
Sigurðr – Or Sigurd, is not the same character as the Germanic Siegfried no matter how much the sources seem to want to confuse them. This name translates to Victory-Protection or Protector of Victory.
Siegfried – With this spelling, he is the hero of both the Germanic Nibelungenlied and Richard Wagner’s operas of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. The Old Norse name for Siegfried would have been Sigfroðr. This name translates to Victory-Peace or Peaceful Victory. The name Siegfried doesn’t appear until towards the end of the seventh century. So it’s possible that Sigurd is the original form of the name.
Sivard Snarensven – This is the name of the hero from several medieval Scandinavian ballads. He’s noted here as his name is known for being a variant spelling to Sigurðr.
The oldest source for Sigurd’s legend are found in Sweden on seven runestones. The most notable of these are the Ramsund carving dating from about 1,000 C.E. and the Gok Runestone dating to the 11th century C.E.
Ramsund Carvings – These runes show Sigurd sitting naked before a fire as he prepares to cook the heart taken from the dragon Fafnir. As the heart isn’t fully cooked yet, Sigurd burns himself when he touches it, promptly sticking the burnt finger in his mouth. One he tastes the dragon’s blood, Sigurd is able to understand the birds’ song.
The birds inform Sigurd not to trust his foster-father Regin as he won’t keep his promise. To which, Sigurd chops off Regin’s head. Smithing tools laying around Regin’s head that were used to reforge the sword Gram.
Other carvings show Regin’s horse loaded down with the dragon’s gold, Sigurd slaying Fafnir and Otr, Regin’s brother from the start of the saga.
Hylestad Stave Church – Other carvings and runes can be found on doorways and stones at this church, showing more of Sigurd’s legend.
This is the main source for Sigurd’s story. It is a 13th century Icelandic saga from the Völsung clan that tells the story of Sigurðr and Brynhildr and the subsequent destruction of the Burgundians.
Within this saga, Sigurd is the son of Sigmund and Hiordis, his second wife. So, this is where the story begins, with Sigmund attacking a disguised Odin. Attacking a deity is never a good idea and Odin kills Sigmund while also shattering his sword. As he lays dying, Sigmund hangs on long enough to tell Hiordis about her pregnancy and to bequeath the shattered fragments of his sword to his unborn son.
With Sigmund dead and pregnant, Hiordis then marries King Alf. When Sigurd is old enough, Alf sends the boy to Regin to be fostered. When Sigurd gets older, nearing being an adult, Regin begins to try putting into Sigurd’s head that his station and position isn’t very much.
In a seemingly benign series of questions, Regin asks Sigurd if has any control or say over how Sigmund’s gold, Sigurd’s inheritance by right. Sigurd responds that Alf and his family take care of all of the gold and that he has everything he needs or desires. Regin continues his questioning by asking Sigurd why he accepts such a low position in Alf’s court. Again, Sigurd says he’s treated as an equal and that he has everything he needs or desires.
Not letting up, Regin again asks Sigurd why he settles for being a stable boy to the Kings or have any horse of his own for that matter. That last bit does get to Sigurd who decides he’s going to have his own horse. On the way to the castle to get one, Sigurd is met by an old man (Odin in disguise) who gives some advice to the young man on which horse to choose. This advice does lead Sigurd to getting the horse Grani, a decedent of Odin’s own horse, Sleipnir.
Regin’s Story – Otr’s Gold
When Sigurd returns with a horse of his own, Regin then tells the young man the story of Otter’s Gold. How Regin’s father is Hreidmar, a powerful magician and about his two brothers Otr and Fafnir. How he is a master smith and that Otr himself also held many magical talents. That Otr would go out swimming near a waterfall in one of his favorite forms, that of an otter. That another, a dwarf by the name of Andvari would take the form of a pike and swim too.
Then one day, the Aesir gods came across Otr in his otter form. Not realizing him to be a person and instead, believing the otter to be the real animal, Loki killed Otr and took his pelt. The Aesir then took the pelt to Hreidmar to show off what they caught. Knowing the pelt to belong to their brother, both Fafnir and Regin detain the Aesir; demanding a weregild or restitution be paid for Otr’s death.
Realizing what had happened, the Aesir agreed to pay compensation and fill Otr’s body with gold and cover him with an assortment of treasure. Before Otr’s body is returned to his family, Loki took a net from the sea goddess Ran and used it to catch Andvari in his pike form. In exchange for his freedom, Loki commanded Andvari to give him all of his gold. Grudgingly, Andvari gave up his gold to Loki; except for one ring, that one, Loki had to take by force. Loki took this ring more by force. Unknown to Loki, Andvari cursed this ring with a death curse on it that for whoever wielded the one ring.
Gold in hand now, the Aesir proceed with stuffing Otr’s pelt with it and covering it with treasure, the one ring placed over a whisker and present it to Hreidmar. Greed over coming him, Fafnir killed Hreidmar and took all of the gold, refusing to give Regin his rightful share or inheritance. For this, Regin is looking for someone who can help him seek revenge.
Reforging His Father’s Sword
Caught up by the injustice of it all, Sigurd readily agrees to the plan of killing Fafnir, thereby avenging Hreidmar. As Regin is a master smith, Sigurd requests that a sword be made for him. The first sword made is tested against an anvil, breaking. So, another sword is crafted by Regin, only be broken too.
Third times the charm, Sigurd went to his mother to request the broken pieces of his father’s sword. Sigurd then has Regin take the shattered remains of his father’s sword and reforge those into a sword. This new sword would be known as Gram and it was able to split the anvil in twain. The blade is so sharp, Sigurd can even cut wool with his sword in the river.
First, I Must Avenge My Father
Seeing that Sigurd finally has a sword, Regin tries to get Sigurd to promise to slay the dragon Fafnir to which Sigurd agrees, but not until he has gone to avenge the death of his father.
First, Sigurd set off for his uncle Griper on his mother’s side. It seems dear old uncle Griper can foretell the future and Sigurd wanted to know the Norns had in store for him. Griper refused at first to admit anything to young Sigurd. After much persistence, Griper told Sigurd what would befall him.
Armed with this knowledge, Sigurd went now to King Alf, requesting a fleet of ships and enough men that he could wage war against the Hunding tribe and there by take revenge upon King Lynge for the death of his father Sigmund.
While sailing towards Lynge’s kingdom, a storm broke. A sailor that Sigurd had taken on, by the name of Fjorner sang a runic song that calmed the storm, allowing Sigurd’s fleet to arrive safely. Now Sigurd could lay waste to King Lynge’s kingdom and kill Lynge, thus avenging his father.
Sigurd returned home, having claimed the lands and treasures held by Lynge and earning a lot of prestige and renown as a warrior.
Now I Will Do The Thing!
With Sigurd back, Regin asked him again about slaying the dragon Fafnir. Sigurd was ready now and set off for the task.
Ready, Regin advised Sigurd on a plan to kill Fafnir. He was to dig a pit and wait for Fafnir to come, walking over it. Once the dragon, Fafnir fell in, Sigurd was to stab him.
Sounds like a solid enough plan if you ask me.
Odin added to Regin’s plan, appearing as an old man before Sigurd and told him to dig some trenches to drain Fafnir’s spilled blood. The idea being that Sigurd would bathe in the dragon’s blood after killing Fafnir. It seems the dragon’s blood would bestow invulnerability. When Sigurd does bathe, a leaf is stuck to his back, making a part of him still vulnerable. This point of note is important later on.
Heeding the instructions of both, Sigurd does just that with digging the pit and trenches. He succeeds in killing Fafnir.
Now, Regin had told Sigurd to cut out Fafnir’s heart. Before doing so, Sigurd also ended up drinking some of Fafnir’s blood. This too had the effect of granting Sigurd to understand the language of birds. From them, Sigurd learned that Regin had been corrupted by Andvari’s ring with greed and planned to kill Sigurd as soon as he handed over the heart and gold.
Sigurd instead roasts Fafnir’s heart and eats part of it, gaining yet another benefit, that of wisdom or that of prophecy. If he truly had that, he would know what happens in the next part that comes.
Meeting The Beautiful Brunhildr
After his adventures with slaying the dragon Fafnir, Sigurd meets the Valkyrie and shieldmaiden, Brynhildr. Sigurd pledges himself to her and promises to return. Before leaving, Brynhildr gave Sigurd a prophecy that he would die and marry another, not her.
Eventually, Sigurd travels to Heimar’s court. Heimar it should be noted, is married to Bekkhild, the sister to Brynhildr. From there, Sigurd makes his way to Gjuki’s court. Gjuki’s wife is Grimhild who conspires to have Sigurd marry her daughter, Gudrun. Grimhild wants the magical ring and gold that Sigurd for her own family. Grimhild creates a magical potion, an “Ale of Forgetfulness” that she manages to get the hero to drink. Doing so, Sigurd forgets all about Brynhildr and the promise he’s made to her to be wed. Sigurd now marries Gudrun.
A while later, Gjuki dies and the oldest son, Gunnar becomes king. Gunnar while seeking for a suitable wife, learns about Brynhildr and decides he will court her. The only difficulty is that where Brynhildr is at, she’s surrounded by flames.
Of course, Brynhildr has promised that she will only marry the man brave enough to ride through the flames to her. As Gunnar is not brave enough to ride through the flames and even with trying to use Sigurd’s horse, Grani, still can’t ride through.
Gunnar’s brother, Hogni eventually speaks up and proposes the idea that Sigurd could use magic to shapeshift (by use of his magic helmet) and take Gunnar’s shape. Now now, Sigurd, disguised as Gunnar, ride through on his own horse, Grani to claim the fair Brynhildr.
When Brynhildr sees another man besides her Sigurd enter the flames, she despairs and demands to know who this stranger is.
The disguised Sigurd responds that he is Gunnar, the son of Gjuki of the Nibelungs. Angry at the response, Brynhildr as this isn’t Sigurd, fights him. During the fight, Sigurd manages to pull the ring Andvaranaut of her finger, rendering the Valkyrie powerless. Sigurd would later give the ring Andvaranaut to Gudrun.
Before leaving, both Brynhildr and Sigurd stay in the castle for three nights. Despite this, Sigurd in a symbolic gesture, lays his sword between them to signify that he won’t take Brynhildr’s virginity.
Maybe they meant chastity if you remember Sigurd’s earlier visit. He may not remember, but I know I do.
Eventually, Sigurd and Gunnar switch back places so that Gunnar can marry Brynhildr. Poor Brynhildr believes that Sigurd has forgotten her and keeps the promise she made of marrying the man whom she believes rode through the flames for her.
A Woman Scorned….
We’re not to any sort of happy ending yet, much of this is found under my article for Brynhildr. Later, Brynhildr and Gudrun are out bathing in a nearby river when they get into a heated argument over whose husband is better and braver.
Brynhildr boasts that her husband, Gunnar was brave enough to ride through flames for her. Knowing the truth, Gudrun smugly reveals that it was actually Sigurd who rode through the ring of fire. At this revelation, Brynhildr becomes enraged, making her marriage to Gunnar a sham as she is still in love with Sigurd.
Just remember, Hel hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Due to the trickery and deceits involved, Brynhildr just assumes that Sigurd went back on his word to marry her. It is still unknown to Brynhildr that Sigurd had been given a potion to forget all about her.
In the articles that focus on Sigurd, the notes state Brynhildr is so angry with Grimhild, not Sigurd himself directly. At this time, Brynhildr withdraws and refuses to speak to anyone, to the point that Sigurd is sent by Gunnar to try and talk to her. An angry Brynhildr uses the opportunity to claim that Sigurd has taken advantage of her and was inappropriate with her.
This of course gets Gunnar angry and wanting to kill Sigurd for sleeping with his wife.
It is that ring I tell you. That and Grimhild’s mettling in people’s love lives.
Gunnar and his brother, Hogni were reluctant to kill Sigurd as they had sworn oaths of brotherhood with him. Instead, the two got their younger brother Gutthorm to kill Sigurd after giving him a potion of enragement.
Under the influence of the potion, Gutthorm killed Sigurd in his sleep. As his final act before dying, Sigurd manages to pull his sword and kill Gutthorm in return.
A still enraged Brynhildr mocks Gudrun’s grief for the death of Sigurd and confesses to Gunnar that she had lied about Sigurd sleeping with her. She then tells Gunnar and Hogni, that her brother Atli will come avenge her death. Poor Brynhildr had always loved Sigurd, even when he betrayed her.
As Gunnar’s wife, Brynhildr then orders that Sigurd‘s three-year old son, Sigmund be killed. In a final act of desperation, Brynhildr kills herself by throwing herself onto Sigurd’s funeral pyre.
If that’s not a Shakespearean Tragedy, the two were then reunited together in Hel’s realm, the realm of the dead.
Also called the Thidrekssaga, this is another Nordic saga that relates the story of Sigurd, specifically chapters 152-168. It’s mostly similar to the Völsunga with parts very similar to events in the Nibelungenlied.
Mainly that it has Regin who is the dragon, not Fafnir and that the dwarf Mimir is Regin’s brother and who is the foster father to Sigurd.
Starting the story with Sigmund, whom on returning from some extended traveling, hears of some rumor that his wife, Sisibe has been engaged in an affair with a thrall (that’s a fancy term for a slave during Viking era Scandinavia).
Sadly, believing the rumor and lie told to him by his noblemen, Sigmund orders the same nobles to take Sisibe out to the forest and kill her. The nobles had intended to get back at Sisibe for refusing their advances while her husband was away. One of the nobles changed his mind about this turn of events and was just going to let her live while the other noble intended to take on his full petty revenge.
Yes, how dare a woman say no to a man. Really? No means no.
Anyways, the two nobles duke it out in a fight. While that’s happening, (did I forget to mention that Sisibe is pregnant?) she goes into labor and gives birth to a healthy boy. Whose baby, it should be noted is Sigmund’s.
Sisibe places the infant into a crystal vessel, I’m not sure where she got that from. It’s part of the narrative, just go with it… Sisibi kicks this vessel into a river where it floats down the stream. After which, Sisibi dies, whether by blood loss from birthing or the one nobleman out to kill her wins the fight and comes over to finish the job.
As in all stories of lost babies lost and abandoned in the wilderness, the baby is found by a doe, ya’ know, a female deer who nurses and raises the infant as her own. The infant is later found by a smith by the name of Mimir who names the boy, Sigurd (though in some places in the Þiðrekssaga, he is called Sigfred), raising them as his own.
When Sigurd is older and like any adolescent, becomes willful, Mimir asks his brother Regin, who happens to be a dragon to kill the kid. Not quite so, Sigurd turns the table on the two, first killing the dragon and then his traitorous foster-father.
Sigurd’s story from here, picks up again in chapters 225-230 where he marries Gudrun, Gunnar’s sister. Like the Völsunga, Sigurd had promised Brynhild first that he would marry her. Gunnar also marries Brynhild but is unable to consummate the marriage. Why? Because Brynhild is still in love with Sigurd. So, thinking to appease her, it is arranged to have Sigurd sleep with Brynhild and then after, she is compliant and gives into Gunnar. Mainly because Brynhild’s strength came from her being a virgin. So without it, she’s helpless before Gunnar.
That sounds so messed up.
The saga ends commenting how there would be no man now living or after who could equal Sigurd’s strength, courage or character. That Sigurd’s name would live on forever in the German tongue.
The Nibelungenlied is a Germanic epic poem dating to the 1200’s. The events within the poem can be traced to oral traditions from the 5th and 6th century. Siegfried is a prince hailing from a kingdom of Niederland with the seat of power being in the city of Xanten. While some would want to say this is the Netherlands, it’s not the same locality.
In this poem, Brynhildr is known as Brunhild or Prunhilt. With this version of the story, she is a queen or princess of Iceland. Gudrun is known as Kriemhild, Gunnar is known as Gunther and Hogni and known as Hagen.
Siegfried (or Sifrit) is a prince from Xanten who succeeds at killing a dragon and claiming a massive fortune and land from a couple of brothers.
Now Siegfried was very willful and head strong, so much so, that his father, King Siegmund sent the lad to the wonder smith, Mimer for fostering. It was hoped by Siegmund that Mimer would manage to teach discipline and humbleness to the lad.
While under Mimer’s tutelage, Siegfried comes to blows with Wieland, another of the smiths in Mimer’s service. However angry Mimer was with the incident, Siegfried demanded that the master smith forge him a sword worthy of a prince of his strength. Which is what Mimer then proceeded to forge for the young man.
The first sword that Mimer forged didn’t hold up to Siegfried’s might strength as it broke when the prince struck it with a great hammer. Siegfried proceeded to punch Mimer and his assistant before demanding another sword be made for him.
Mimer swore to forge another. Though he was also very angry and went out to the forest where his brother Regin resided, who due to other evil acts, was changed into a dragon. Mimer enlisted his draconic brother to get revenge. Regin agreed and Mimer went back tot his smithy, where he sent Siegfried off to a local charcoal-burner to get fuel hot enough to forge a sword.
Taking up a club, Siegfried sets off on his task. He passed through a forest swamp crawling with numerous venomous snakes, large toads and giant lind-worms. When the lad reached the charcoal-burner’s place, the man informed him that if Siegfried returned the way he came, that the dragon Regin would be awaiting him.
Scoffing at the news, Siegfried picked up a burning brand that he had been sent for and went back into the forest, setting fire to all the trees and underbrush so he could destroy all the loathsome reptiles.
Little fire bug there aren’t we?
Sure enough, the dragon Regin comes and spits out his venom at Siegfried. Undaunted, even as the earth is shaking with the dragon’s approach, Siegfried takes his club and knocks the fearsome dragon upside the head, killing it.
The dragon now dead, Siegfried cuts it up and discovers when the blood pours out, that where it has touched his skin, he’s become hard as horn. In a flash of insight, Siegfried goes and bathes himself in the dragon’s blood, so he can become invulnerable. The only part of him that is still vulnerable is a spot on his back where a leaf had stuck to him.
That done, Siegfried dressed himself again and set about to eat the pieces of dragon meat, looking to take in the dragon’s strength to himself. As the meat cooked, Siegfried took a piece and ate it. Instantly, Siegfried could hear voices and realized it was the birdsong that he was hearing and that he could understand it.
Listening to the birdsong, Siegfried learned from the birds that Mimer had sent him out to his doom with the intention of being killed by the dragon. Angry at what he heard, Siegfried cut off the dragon’s head and took it back with him to the smithy to fling at Mimer’s feet. The assistants took off and fled while Mimer tried to appeal to Siegfried and offered up the horse Grane, a descendant of Odin’s steed Sleipner.
Remembering what the birds said, Siegfried accepted the gift horse and then killed Mimer anyways. The young prince then returned to his father, King Siegmund. When Siegmund hear of what happened, he admonished his son over slaying Mimer, but he was proud of his son for having slain a dragon. Armor was then presented to Siegfried and he was now seen as a warrior and acknowledged as the heir to the Netherlands.
A warrior now, Siegfried set out to further prove himself by traveling to a distant land of Isenland. Despite a storm that threatened to delay Siegfried’s voyage, the young warrior pressed on towards his destination.
There, at Queen Brunhild’s castle, Siegfried found the gates to be locked. Undaunted, Siegfried broke them down and attacked Queen Brunhild’s knights. Finally, Queen Brunhild entered and stopped the melee. She gave the young prince welcome to her castle.
Seeing that Brunhild was very fair to behold, her being a battle maiden of great strength and prowess, was not whom Siegfried wanted to marry. Even though many knights had come to try and prove their skill in combat to court Brunhild, all had been slain.
Even though Siegfried says that Brunhild is not whom he would seek for a wife and that he preferred someone gentler; he does stop to lift up a boulder to fling it as far as he can. Just to show he wasn’t intimidated by Brunhild’s strength or weak.
Siegfried went his way until he came to the land of the Nibelungs. Here, Siegfried found that the king had recently died and that his two sons were fighting over their inheritance. The brothers offered Sigurd payment the sword Balmung, forged by dwarves if he would help divide their father’s wealth and lands.
The brothers then accused Siegfried of withholding part of the treasure for himself. An argument ensued, and the brothers called upon some twelve giants to seize Siegfried and imprison him within a mountain’s treasure cave.
Undaunted yet again, Siegfried fought the giants. Spells were cast, and a thick mist formed around the combatants. Wielding the sword Balmung, Siegfried held his own against the giants while a thunderstorm coursed, and the earth shook.
Eventually all of the giants were slain. The dwarf Alberich now fought Siegfried. This was not an easy match for Siegfried as Alberich wore a cloak of invisibility to aid him. At long last, Siegfried had Alberich at his mercy. Sparing the dwarf’s life, Siegfried claimed the cloak of invisibility for his own.
Siegfried killed the two brothers and placed Alberich in charge of watching the treasure horde. The Nibelung clan proclaimed Siegfried to be their rightful ruler. Though Siegfried didn’t stay long, he still had other places to go and took with him twelve men back to the Netherlands.
Siegfried’s fame began to spread before him as bards and skalds began to spread word of his deeds and accomplishments.
One day, these same bards and skalds would bring word to Siegfried about a beautiful and fair maiden by the name of Kriemhild. Deciding that this is whom he wanted to marry, Siegfried set out for the country of Burgundy to seek her hand in marriage.
Siegfried’s parents, the King and Queen tried to warn him not to go to Burgundy. The Burgundians held a reputation for being very war-like. As if warnings never stopped Siegfried before, he insisted on going, saying if he couldn’t get Kriemhild’s hand by request, he would win her by force of arms.
Siegfried went with a retinue of eleven other knights. Queen Sigelinde made sure the retinue left with rich and lavish apparel to make sure they were taken for being nobles.
How exactly Siegfried did it, I don’t know. Siegfried marries Kriemhild and aids her brother, Gunther who is the king of the Burgundians, to court and marry Brunhild, a queen or princess of Iceland.
As a queen (or princess) and a powerful woman in her own right, Brunhild declared that the man she would marry must be someone able to best her in three contests meant to show strength and courage.
Gunther wanted to marry Brunhild and with the help of his liege man, Siegfried (who has a cloak of invisibility), he is able to overpower Brunhild in her three contests. In the first game, Brunhild manages to lift and throw a spear at Gunther that three men together could barely lift. Siegfried with his cloak of invisibility on, blocks and keeps the spear from hitting Gunther. In the second game, Brunhild throws a boulder that requires the strength of twelve men to heave some twelves fathoms. In the last game, Brunhild leaps over the same boulder.
In an act of cheating and with Siegfried’s aid using the invisibility cloak, Gunther is able to defeat Brunhild and claim her for his wife.
That sounds like dirty pool to me.
Rightfully so, on their wedding night, Brunhild refuses to give up her virginity to Gunther. Instead, she ties up Gunther and leaves him dangling from the ceiling of their chamber. Coming to Gunther’s aid, Siegfried wearing his invisibility cloak, attacks Brunhild, breaking her bones and then taking both her girdle and ring.
It seems both girdle and ring are the source of Brunhild’s supernatural strength and without them, she was forced to be docile and submit to be Gunther’s wife.
At the Worms Cathedral, Brunhild and Kriemhild, Siegfried’s wife gets in a rather heated argument about their husbands. Brunhild takes the stance that Siegfried is nothing more than a lowly vassal beholden to Gunther. Kriemhild reveals the dirty pool and trickery used by Gunther and Siegfried, by showing off the girdle and ring that were stolen from Brunhild.
Unlike the Völsunga, Brunhild’s fate is never mentioned and it’s assumed she out lives Kriemhild and her brothers.
As for Siegfried and Gunther, they make peace with each other despite their wives quarreling. Unfortunately, Gunther’s courtier, Hagen von Tronje had other ideas and plotted to kill the two. Hagen managed to convince Kriemhild to place a cross on Siegfried’s back, covering the vulnerable spot on him. While Hagen and Siegfried are out hunting, Hagen spears him in the back when Siegfried stops to take a drink from a stream.
Supposedly this had been part of a prophecy that whomever Kriemhild ended up marrying would suffer a violent death. Out of spite, Hagen then threw all of Siegfried’s wealth into the Rhine so that his widow, Kriemhild would be unable to raise an army and avenge her husband.
Das Lied Vom Hürnen Seyfrid
“The song of horn-skinned Siegfried” is a late medieval & modern heroic ballad that first appears around 1500 C.E.
This version of the story tells of Siegfried’s youthful adventures. For the most part, it follows the events found in the Nibelungenlied.
By this account, Siegfried had to leave his father Siegmund’s court for his unseemly behavior to live with a smith in the nearby forest. Siegfried is so uncontrollable that the smith deems it fit to try and have the youth killed by a dragon.
Turning the tables, Siegfried is the one who kills the dragon and not just one, but several dragons by trapping them with log traps and setting them on fire! Wow.
Seeing that the dragon skin is hard as horn though it melts in the fire. Siegfried discovers after sticking his fingers in it that his own skin becomes hard as horn too. At which point, Siegfried covers himself in the melted skin of dragon except for one spot on his back.
Not stopping there, Siegfried discovers the tracks of another dragon and discovers it has the princess Kriemhild of Worms held captive. With a little help from the dwarf Eugel, Siegfried defeats a giant by the name of Kuperan who holds the key to the mountain where Kriemhild is held prisoner.
In true heroic fashion, Siegfried slays the dragon and in the process finds the Nibelungen treasure within the mountain cavern. Eugel than prophesies that Siegfried will only have eight years to live. As he won’t be able to make use of the treasure, Siegfried dumps it into the Rhine as he returns to Worms. There, Siegfried rules with Kriemhild’s brother who eventually plot to have him killed.
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Richard Wagner’s famous four opera cycle. Wagner took of the mythology for Siegfried from the Nordic sagas rather than the Nibelungenlied. Siegfried mainly appears in the last three operas of this cycle, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung where he plays a major role. The legends of Sigurd from the Völsunga form the basis for which the opera Siegfried is based on and thus influences both Die Walküre and Gotterdammerung.
For those who don’t know or may have guessed already, this is the opera cycle that inspires a popular saying of “It isn’t over until fat lady sings.” Especially with Brünnhilde’s famous immolation in the finale of Gotterdammerung. Adding to this, thanks to the costume designer, the idea of Viking helmets having two horns was firmly ingrained in people’s minds after a visit to the museum for ideas and saw the ceremonial two horned helmet on display.
In this opera cycle, Brünnhilde is one of many Valkyries born from the union between Wotan and Erda, the personification of the earth. In the Die Walkurie, Wotan tasks Brünnhilde with protecting the hero Siegmund, his son by a mortal woman. When the goddess Fricka contests this, she forces Wotan to have Siegmund die for his infidelity and incest. Brünnhilde disobeys Wotan’s order and carries away Siegmund’s wife and sister Sieglinde along with the broken pieces of Siegmund’s sword Nothung.
After hiding them away, Brünnhilde then faces the wrath of her father, Wotan who makes her a mortal woman and then places her in an enchanted sleep who can be claimed by any man who comes across her. Brünnhilde argues against this punishment, saying she had obeyed Wotan’s true will and doesn’t deserve this harsh of a punishment. Wotan is persuaded to lessen the punishment to protect her enchanted sleep with a magical circle of fire and that she can only be awakened by a hero who knows no fear.
Brünnhilde doesn’t appear again in the operas until the third act of Siegfried. Here, the title character is the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde. He was born after Siegmund’s death and raised by the dwarf Mime, the brother of Alberich.
It should be noted that Alberich is the one who stole the gold and made the ring from which the entire Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle is based on. If you’re thinking “my precious” and the “one ring” as in Tolkien’s Middle Earth series, you’d be more or less correct as this is where J.R.R. Tolkien got inspired and took his ideas from with Norse mythology.
Back to the main story, Siegfried kills the dragon Fafnir that was once a giant. Siegfried takes the ring and finds himself guided to the rock hiding Brünnhilde by a bird. It seems Fafnir’s blood allowed Siegfried to understand the language of birds. Wotan tries to stop Siegfried who instead breaks the god’s spear. Wotan defeated, Siegfried than awakens the sleeping Brünnhilde.
The two appear again in the last opera, Gotterdammerung. Siegfried gives Brünnhilde the ring, the very ring that Alberich made. The two separate and Wagner goes back to following the Norse story though with notable changes.
Siegfried does go to Gunther’s hall where he is given the magical potion that causes him to forget all about Brünnhilde. That way, Gunther can now marry her. This is all possible thanks to Hagen, Alberich’s son and Gunther’s half-brother. Hagen’s plans are successful as Siegfried leads Gunther to where Brünnhilde is at.
During that time, Brünnhilde had been visited by a sister Valkyrie, Waltraute who warns her of Wotan’s plan for self-immolation and urges her to give up the ring. Brünnhilde refuses to give up the ring.
However, Brünnhilde is overpowered by Siegfried, who, disguised as Gunther using the Tarnhelm (a helm of invisibility instead of a cloak of invisibility) and takes the ring by force.
The enchanted Siegfried goes on to marry Gutrune, Gunther’s sister. When Brünnhilde sees that Siegfried has the ring taken from her, she denounces and calls him out on his treachery. Brünnhilde then joins with Gunther and Hagen in a plot to murder Siegfried. She informs Hagen that Siegfried can only be attacked from behind.
So, when Gunther and Hagen take Siegfried out on a hunting trip, Hagen takes the opportunity to go ahead and stab Siegfried in the back with his spear.
After the two brothers return, Hagen ends up killing Gunther in a fight over the ring. Brünnhilde ceases the moment to take charge and has a pyre built on which she will sacrifice herself, thereby cleansing the ring of its curse and sending it back to the Rhinemaidens.
Brünnhilde’s pyre becomes the signal by which Valhalla and all the Norse gods perish as Ragnarok is brought about with everyone dying in a fire.
There a couple of other sources for the story of Sigurd. Seeming minor sources, they do contribute to the overall story of Sigurd and can confuse people if they try to make the numerous sources for Sigurd and Siegfried all match up and be consistent. The story of Sigurd slaying the dragon is combined with another story of two brothers fighting over their inheritance as an example.
Atlakviða – The lay of Atli, this poem is found in the Poetic Edda and has a story similar to the Völsunga. Here, Atli (as in Attila the Hun) sending a message to Gunnar of the Burgundians and his brothers, inviting them to a feast. Suspicious of the message, their sister Gudrun sends a warning not to come. The brothers go anyways and are killed. Later in an act of revenge, Gudrun tricks Atli into eating the flesh of their two sons. After which Gudrun kills Atli and burns down his hall.
One thing this story is noted for is that it lacks any of Sigurd’s involvement with the destruction of the Burgundians that other sources try to connect. It’s the Nibelungenlied that tends to make this connection. As stories grow and change, it does show where Sigurd’s widow Gudrun seeks out revenge for her brothers.
Poetic Edda – One poem tells the story of Sigurd awakening the Valkyrie from an enchanted sleep.
This is the name of the magical ring that Brynhildr already possesses or is given to her by Siegfried. In Wagnar’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, it was forged by the dwarf Alberich and has a curse placed on it.
In the Völsunga, the ring is part of the cursed treasure that Siegfried takes after slaying the dragon Fafnir. Either way, it explains all of Brynhildr and Siegfried’s bad luck and subsequent deaths.
The ring had been cursed by its creator, Andvari when Loki tried to force him to give it up. Andvari cursed it that all his treasure and the ring would be the death of those who owns it. Aside from being cursed, Andyaranaut could also make gold.
1st – Sigurd bathes in it, gaining invulnerability. Except for one spot on his back where a leaf is to have stuck to him. This is important as some versions of Sigurd’s story, once Brynhildr is seeking revenge against him, tells Gunnar that Sigurd’s vulnerable spot is on his back.
Where have we heard this before? Ah yes, Achilles being dipped into the river Styx so he would become invulnerable because his mother feared for her child’s wellbeing. Of course, Achilles has a vulnerable spot of his heel, where his mother held onto him so he wouldn’t fall in.
And if Odin is really Sigurd’s father, not Sigmund… same thing. So Achilles’ Heel for the vulnerable spot… Sigurd’s Back for the vulnerable spot. Achille’s Heel has the better ring to it.
2nd – Sigurd drinks some of the blood, gaining the ability to speak the language of birds.
3rd – Sigurd eats part of Fafnir’s heart, gaining wisdom and prophesy. I’m not so sure how effect that one was as it didn’t stop his demise with Brynhildr’s revenge plan and getting killed.
A Sword For A Hero!
In the Volsunga, the sword that Sigurd wields is called Gram.
In the Nibelungd, the sword that Siegfried wields is called Balmung.
Both are correct, it’s just a matter of which saga and source you’re using or prefer.
Possible Reality Behind The Legends
The legends surrounding Sigurd/Siegfried are considered by scholars and mythographers as coming from a mythic age before any confirmed written history can be verified. There’s a dispute and disagreement about if the figure of Sigurd/Siegfried even existed. If they did, the legends certainly grew around them to make them larger than life.
As far as an actual historical figure goes, it’s been suggested that any one or more of the figures or kings in the Merovingian dynasty among the Franks could have inspired the legend of Sigurd. One notable king is Sigebert I who had been married to Brunhilda of Austrasia. The names are close when you consider the possibility of Brunhildr as a likely historical person. There’s just too much uncertainty for some scholars. Though if it has any truth, the connection comes with Sigebert’s murder at the hands of Brunhilda and Fredegund and not that of Gudrun/Kriemhild and Brunhildr/Brynhild.
Another idea put forth seen in the elements of Sigurd slaying the dragon, is that this could be a mythological retelling of Arminius’ defeat of Publius Quinctilius Varas during the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 C.E. This idea often seen as not very likely or tenuous.
Paderborn – An Icelandic Abbot, Nicholaus of Thvera recorded in his travels through Westphalia how he was shown where Sigurd is to have slain the dragon, Gnita-Heath near two villages in Paderborn.
City of Worms – When Emperor Frederick III visited the city in 1488 C.E., he learned of the legend how the “giant Siegfried” was buried in the cemetery at St. Meinhard and St. Cecilia. One account ordered the graveyard dug up and found nothing. A German chronicle says that a skull and some large bones were found.
Dragons & Dinosaurs
Both the legends of Sigurd and Siegfried feature prominently the titular hero slaying a dragon. Anyone doing a cursory glance at history and paleontology, it’s not hard to imagine our ancestors taking one look at fossilized skeletons of giant creatures and believing them to still be around. A lack of understanding about fossils and just how long ago something lived would have been beyond them.
In 1941 Germany, the German paleontologist H. Kirchner speculated on the idea that two sets of prominent, yet massive dinosaur tracks in Siegfriedsburg, in the Rhine Valley could very well have contributed to the legend of dragons and Siegfried slaying one.
Other dinosaur tracks have been found in northern Europe. Some like the ones found in a quarry at Rehburg-Loccum, close to Hannover, Germany or another set in Muenchehagen, Germany.
Another place, Drachenfels (“Dragon Rock”), Konigswinter on the Rhine has a large statue of a dragon near the ruins of a castle. Below this castle, there is a cave that is attributed to having been Fafnir’s lair.
A 2005 production of Wagner’s “Ring of the Neibelung” showed Siegfried battling Fafnir as fossilized dinosaur monster.
Sigurd & Beowulf – Comparison
For those who have read Beowulf’s story, towards the end of Beowulf, the titular hero battles a dragon, thus spelling his doom and the end of all of his adventures. It’s been pointed too that Beowulf and even Thor’s encounters with dragons were more about defending their homelands to keep them safe.
For Sigurd (or Siegfried), slaying the dragon merely marks the beginning of all of the hero’s adventures for more is to come. Where Beowulf and Thor are defending their homelands, Sigurd is all about going out to make a name for himself and gaining wealth. By slaying the dragon, then bathing in and drinking its blood along with eating it’s heart, Sigurd gains super human powers.
When Christianity became more prominent throughout Europe, many of the dragon symbols came to be associated with the devil or Satan. As a side note to this, dragons too in Western myths tend to represent greed.
Images of Sigurd slaying the dragon Fafnir were often depicted in Scandinavian churches.
Tolkien And The Lord of the Rings!
As I previously mentioned above, J.R.R. Tolkien took his inspiration for his Middle Earth series from Norse mythology and the inspiration for the One Ring from that of Andyaranaut. The inspirations for Aragorn’s sword are clearly seen too in the broken and reforged swords of Gram and Balmung.
A fun note to add is that Tolkien did not like Wagner’s take on the German myths. I can see it too, Taking and combining the Völsunga and Nibelungenlied together can make it a bit harder to figure out which myth and legend is which.
Now, J.R.R. Tolkien did write a version of the Völsunga saga in “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun” circa 1930. It was published later by his son, Christopher Tolkien in 2009. The book comprises of two narrative poems: “The new lay of the Volsungs” and “The new lay of Gudrun” done in the meter of ancient Scandinavian poetry while using Modern English.