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Sigurd slays Fafnir the dragon The Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs) is a German epic poem, based on old Norse legends, dating from around 1200. The Nibelungs were dwarfs who inhabited an underground land called Nibelheim. They had a treasure of gold. Sigurd, a German prince (also known as Siegfried), seized this treasure after defeating a dragon, Fafnir, who had been guarding it. The dragon warned that all who possessed the treasure would be cursed to die, but Sigurd ignored this warning. Although the Nibelung legends originate in pre-Christian Scandinavia, they reflect a Christian view of chivalry and courtly life. The legend provided the characters for a series of four operasDer Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs), written by German composer Richard Wagner (1813–83) between 1853 and 1873.

Sigurd and Kriemhild, in a painting by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1843)

Gunther and Brunhilde

One day, Sigurd heard of a princess, called Kriemhild, a woman of great beauty, and set out to woo her. Kriemhild noticed the prince while gazing from her window and fell in love with him. Sigurd asked her brother Gunther for her hand in marriage, who agreed—but on one condition: Sigurd must help him win the hand of Brunhilde, Queen of Iceland, who had vowed to marry only a man who could match her strength and skill.
On arriving in Iceland, Gunther became fearful of the task he had set himself. But Siegfried stepped in and, donning a magic cloak which made him invisible, hurled a spear farther than Brunhilde could—although the feat was made to look as if was achieved by Gunther. Defeated, Brunhilde agreed to marry Gunther. Sigurd was thus granted the hand of Kriemhild.

After killing the dragon, Sigurd bathed in its blood, to make himself invulnerable. Unfortunately, a leaf from a nearby linden tree stuck to his back, covering a small patch of skin that therefore did not come into contact with the dragon's blood. This left Sigurd vulnerable in that one spot—with fateful consequences.

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