Njal's Saga

Heroes in Germanic Literature College

In the ancient Germanic world, heroes are strong men who exude defining personality characteristics that pose them as a threat to others. These traits are what make them formidable, but they are also what drive these heroes to their death. For example, in The Nibelungenlied, Siegfried appears as the confident, omnipotent hero; he is rendered almost invincible by a dragon’s blood and kills men left and right using this power. In the Icelandic epic Njáls saga, Gunnar seems to be a parallel character to Siegfried: he also is virtually undefeatable with his magic halberd and kills men everywhere he goes. Even though they are both physically powerful, Siegfried and Gunnar represent opposite poles of heroism. Certainly, they are both considered heroes in the traditional sense, but their relationships with their loved ones and enemies demonstrate that these men have vastly different values: Siegfried values power and strength, whereas Gunnar values loyalty and honor. For both, however, the values that make them heroes also bring them to their deaths.

Like all great heroes, Gunnar and Siegfried are portrayed as the greatest fighters in the land. Despite his parents’ concerns, Siegfried journeys to Burgundy in the very beginning of the...

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