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Gudrun is a major figure in the early Germanic literature centered on the hero Sigurd, son of Sigmund. She appears as Kriemhild in the Nibelungenlied and as Gutrune in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.


Norse Mythology

In Norse mythology, Gudrun (Guðrún Gjúkadóttir) was the sister of Gunnar. Gudrun fell in love with Sigurd, who did not care for her, because he was in love with the valkyrie Brynhild, to whom he gave the ring Andvarinaut. Gudrun's brother Gunnar, however, wished to marry Brynhild, but this was impossible because Brynhild, knowing that only Sigurd could do so, had sworn to marry only the man who could defeat her in a fair fight.

In another version, Brynhild is imprisoned inside a ring of fire as a punishment by Odin. Sigurd had already gone through the fire once and promised his marriage to Brynhild, but he is cursed by Andvarinaut and bewitched. He switches bodies with Gunnar, and in this guise rides through the fire and wins Brynhild, who, deceived, marries the real Gunnar.

Gudrun's mother Grimhild, who is called Ute in the Nibelungenlied, gave her a potion to make Sigurd forget his love for Brynhild. Gunnar allowed Sigurd to marry Gudrun under the condition, that Sigurd would win Brynhild for him. Sigurd succeeded in doing so; taking the shape of Gunnar, he took Andvarinaut from Brynhild and gave it to Gudrun as his morning gift. Both queens, Gudrun and Brynhild, were married on the same day.

Later, when Brynhild learned that she had been tricked into marrying an inferior man, she exacted vengeance by telling Gunnar that Sigurd had taken liberties with her, and Gunnar had Sigurd killed. Gudrun was so overcome with grief that she could not weep, and the court feared for her life. Finally her sister showed Gudrun Sigurd's corpse, and her tears flowed at last. She lamented her lost husband and predicted the death of his killer, her own brother Gunnar.

Gudrun later married the king Atli (loosely based on Attila the Hun).[1] In the northern version Atli is responsible for the death of her whole family, who inherited the name Völsunge/Niebelungen from the Nibelung gold. The queen took revenge for her family by killing her two sons by Atli, Erp and Eitil, and serving them to their father at a feast. Then, when Atli was solidly drunk, she broke the news to him:

She set fire to the Atli's hall, killing him along with all of his men, then tried to drown herself by jumping into the sea with an armful of stones. The waves found her revenge fitting, however, and instead of drowning her carried her to Sweden, where she married another king, Jónakr, with whom she had three sons Hamdir, Sörli and Erp.

Svanhild, her daughter by Sigurd, was wooed by Ermanaric, but was accused wrongly of adultery and was killed by her husband. She also had a son by Sigurd named Sigmund (named after Sigurd's father).

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