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The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, by Otto Rank, [1914], at


The old Norse Thidreksaga, as recorded about the year 1250 by an Icelander, according to oral traditions and ancient songs, relates the history of the birth and youth of Siegfried. 4 King Sigmund of Tarlungaland, on his return

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from an expedition, banishes his wife Sisibe, the daughter of King Nidung of Hispania, who is accused by Count Hartvin, whose advances she has spurned, of having had illicit relations with a menial. The king's counselors advise him to mutilate the innocent queen, instead of killing her, and Hartvin is ordered to cut out her tongue in the forest, so as to bring it to the king as a pledge. His companion, Count Hermann, opposes the execution of the cruel command, and proposes to present the tongue of a dog to the king. While the two men are engaged in a violent quarrel, Sisibe gives birth to a remarkably beautiful boy; she then took a glass vessel, and after having wrapped the boy in linens, she placed him in the glass vessel, which she carefully closed again and placed beside her. Count Hartvin was conquered in the fight, and in falling kicked the glass vessel, so that it fell into the river. When the queen saw this she swooned, and died soon afterwards. Hermann went home, told the king everything, and was banished from the country. The glass vessel meantime drifted downstream to the sea, and it was not long before the tide turned. Then the vessel floated onto a rocky cliff, and the water ran off so that the place where the vessel was was perfectly dry. The boy inside had grown somewhat, and when the vessel struck the rock, it broke, and the child began to cry. The boy's wailing was heard by a doe, which seized him with her lips, and carried him to her litter, where she nursed him together with her young. After the child had lived twelve months in the den of the doe, he had grown to the height and strength of other boys four years of age. One day he ran into the forest, where dwelt the wise and skillful smith Mimir, who had lived for nine years in childless wedlock. He saw the boy, who was followed by the faithful doe, took him to his home, and resolved to bring him up as his own son. He gave him the name of Siegfried. In Mimir's home, Siegfried soon attained an enormous stature and strength, but his wilfulness

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caused Mimir to get rid of him. He sent the youth into the forest, where it had been arranged that the dragon Begin, Mimir's brother, was to kill him. But Siegfried conquers the dragon, and kills Mimir. He then proceeds to Brunhild, who names his parents to him.

Similar to the early history of Siegfried is an Austrasian saga that tells of the birth and youth of Wolfdietrich. 1 His mother is likewise accused of unfaithfulness, and of intercourse with the devil, by a vassal whom she has repulsed, and who speaks evil of her to the returning king, Hugdietrich of Constantinople. 2

The king surrenders the child to the faithful Berchtung, who is to kill it, but exposes it instead in the forest, near the water, in the hope that it will fall in of its own accord and thus find its death. But the frolicking child remains unhurt, and even the wild animals--lions, bears, and wolves, which come at night to the water--do not harm it. The astonished Berchtung resolves to save the boy, and he surrenders him to a gamekeeper who, together with his wife, raises him and names him Wolfdietrich. 3

Three later hero epics may also be quoted in this connection: First, there is the thirteenth-century French saga of Horn, the son of Aluf, who, after having been exposed on the sea, finally reaches the court of King Hunlaf; after numerous adventures, he wins the king's daughter, Rimhilt, for his wife. Secondly, a detail suggestive of Siegfried appears in the saga of the skillful smith Wieland, who, after avenging his foully murdered father, floats down the river Weser, artfully enclosed in the trunk of a tree, and loaded

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with the tools and treasures of his teachers. Finally, the King Arthur legend contains the commingling of divine and human paternity, the exposure, and the early life with a lowly man.


56:1 Very similar traits are found in the Celtic saga of Habis, as transmitted by Justin. Born as the illegitimate son of a king's daughter, Habis is persecuted in all sorts of ways by his royal grandfather, Gargoris, but is always saved by divine providence, until he is finally recognized by his grandfather and assumes royal sway. As in the Zoroaster legend, there occurs an entire series of the most varied methods of persecution. He is at first exposed, but nursed by wild animals; then he was to be trampled upon by a herd in a narrow path; then he was cast before hungry beasts, but they again nursed him; and finally he is thrown into the sea, but is gently lapped ashore and nursed by a doe, near which he grows up.

56:2 Compare Spiegel, op. cit., Vol. I., pp. 688 ff.; also Brodbeck, op. cit.

56:3 As in the history of Jesus; compare Luke 2:41-49.

56:4 Compare August Rassmann: Die deutsche Heldensage and ihre Heimat (Hanover, 1857-8), Vol. II, pp. 7; for the sources, see Jiriczek: Die deutsche Heldensage, and Piper's introduction to the volume Die Nibelungen, in Kürschner's German National Literature.

58:1 Compare: Deutsches Heldenbuch, Vol. I, Part III (Berlin, 1871), edited by Amelung and Jaenicke, which also contains a second version of the Wolfdietrich saga.

58:2 The motive of calumniation of the wife by a rejected suitor, in combination with the exposure and nursing by an animal (doe), forms the nucleus of the story of Genovefa and her son Schmerzenreich, as told, for example, by the Grimm brothers: Deutsche Sagen (Berlin, 1818), Vol. II, pp. 280 ff. Here again the faithless calumniator proposes to drown the countess and her child. For literary and historical orientation, compare L. Zacher: Die Historie von der Pfalzgräfin Genovefa (Koenigsberg, 1860); and B. Seuffert: Die Legende von der Pfalzgräfin Genovefa (Wurzburg, 1877). Similar legends of wives suspected of infidelity and punished by exposure are discussed in Chapter xi of my Inzestmotiv.

58:3 The same accentuation of the animal motif is found in the saga of Schalû, the Hindu wolf-child. Compare Jülg, op. cit.

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