AskDefine | Define brunhild

Dictionary Definition

Brunhild n : a Valkyrie or a queen in the Nibelungenlied who loved the hero Siegfried; when he deceived her she had him killed and then committed suicide [syn: Brunnhilde, Brynhild]

Extensive Definition

In Norse mythology, Brynhildr was a shieldmaiden and a valkyrie. She is a main character in the Völsunga saga and some Eddic poems treating the same events. Under the name Brünnhilde she appears in the Nibelungenlied and therefore also in Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Brynhildr is probably inspired by the Visigothic princess Brunhilda of Austrasia, married with the Merovingian king Sigebert I in 567. The history of Brynhildr includes fratricide, a long battle between brothers, and dealings with the Huns.

In Norse myth

According to the Völsungasaga, Brynhildr is the daughter of Budli. She was ordered to decide a fight between two kings: Hjalmgunnar and Agnar. The valkyrie knew that Odin himself preferred the older king, Hjalmgunnar, yet Brynhildr decided the battle for Agnar. For this Odin condemned the valkyrie to live the life of a mortal woman, and imprisoned her in a remote castle behind a wall of shields on top of mount Hindarfjall in the Alps, and cursed her to sleep on a couch (while being surrounded by fire) until any man would rescue and marry her. The hero Sigurðr Sigmundson (Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied), heir to the clan of Völsung and slayer of the dragon Fafnir, entered the castle and awoke Brynhildr by removing her helmet and cutting off her chainmail armour. He immediately fell in love with the shieldmaiden and proposed to her with the magic ring Andvarinaut. Promising to return and make Brynhildr his bride, Sigurðr then left the castle and headed for the court of Gjuki, the King of Burgundy.
Gjuki's wife, the sorceress Grimhild, wanting Sigurðr married to her daughter Gudrun (Kriemhild in Nibelungenlied), prepared a magic potion that made Sigurðr forget about Brynhildr. Sigurðr soon married Gudrun. Hearing of Sigurðr's encounter with the valkyrie, Grimhild decided to make Brynhildr the wife of her son Gunnar (Gunther in the Nibelungenlied). Gunnar then sought to court Brynhild but was stopped by a ring of fire around the castle. He tried to ride through the flames with his own horse and then with Sigurðr's horse, Grani, but still failed. Sigurðr then exchanged shapes with him and entered the ring of fire. Sigurðr (disguised as Gunnar) and Brynhildr married, and they stayed there three nights, but Sigurðr laid his sword between them (meaning that he did not take her virginity before giving her to the real Gunnar). Sigurðr also took the ring Andvarinaut from her finger and later gave it to Gudrun. Gunnar and Sigurðr soon returned to their true forms, with Brynhildr thinking she married Gunnar. However, Gudrun and Brynhild later quarreled over whose husband was greater, Brynhildr boasting that even Sigurðr was not brave enough to ride through the flames. Gudrun revealed that it was actually Sigurðr who rode through the ring of fire, and Brynhildr became enraged. Sigurðr, remembering the truth, tried to console her, but to no avail. Brynhildr plotted revenge by urging Gunnar to kill Sigurðr, telling him that he slept with her in Hidarfjall, which he swore not to do. Gunnar and his brother Hogni (Hagen in the Nibelungenlied) were afraid to kill him themselves, as they had sworn oaths of brotherhood to Sigurðr. They incited their younger brother, Gutthorm to kill Sigurðr, by giving him a magic potion that enraged him, and he murdered Sigurðr in his sleep. Dying, Sigurðr threw his sword at Gutthorm, killing him. (some Eddic poems say Gutthorm killed him in the forest south of the Rhine, also while resting). Brynhildr herself killed Sigurðr's three-year-old son, and then she willed herself to die. When Sigurðr's funeral pyre was aflame, she threw herself upon it – thus they passed on together to the realm of Hel. In the Nibelungenlied, Brünnhilde is instead the queen of Isenland (Iceland). Gunther here overpowers her in three warlike games with the help of Siegfried – equipped with an invisibility cloak. Firstly, Brünnhilde throws a spear that three men only barely can lift towards Gunther, but the invisible Siegfried diverts it. Secondly, she throws twelve fathoms a boulder that requires the strength of twelve men to lift. Lastly, she leaps over the same boulder. Gunther, however, defeats her with Siegfried's help also in these games, and takes her as his wife.
The Nibelungenlied also differs from Scandinavian sources in its silence on Brünnhilde's fate; she fails to kill herself at Siegfied's funeral, and presumably survives Kriemhild and her brothers.

In Wagner's "Ring" cycle

Though the cycle of four operas is titled Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner in fact took Brünnhilde's role from the Norse sagas rather than from the Nibelungenlied. Brünnhilde appears in the latter three operas (Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung), playing a central role in the overall story of Wotan's downfall.
In Wagner's tale, Brünnhilde is one of Valkyries; but the latter are formed out of a union between Wotan and Erda, a personification of the earth. In Die Walküre Wotan initially commissions her to protect Siegmund, his son by a mortal mother. When Fricka protests and forces Wotan to have Siegmund die, Brünnhilde disobeys her father's change of orders and takes away Siegmund's wife (and sister) Sieglinde and the shards of Siegmund's sword Nothung. She manages to hide them but must then face the wrath of her father, who is eventually persuaded to seal her in a ring of fire to await awakening by a hero who does not know fear.
Brünnhilde does not appear again until near the end of the third act of Siegfried. The title character is the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, born after Siegmund's death and raised by the dwarf Mime, the brother of Alberich who stole the gold and fashioned the ring around which the operas are centered. Having himself taken the ring from the giant-turned-dragon Fafner, Siegfried is guided to Brünnhilde's rock, where he awakens her.
Siegfried and Brünnhilde appear again at the beginning of Götterdämmerung, at which point he gives her the ring and they are separated. Here again Wagner chooses to follow the Norse story, though with substantial modifications. Siegfried does go to Gunther's Hall, where he is given a potion to cause him to forget Brünnhilde so that Gunther may marry her. All this occurs at the instigation of Hagen, Alberich's son and Gunther's half-brother. The plan is successful, and Siegfried leads Gunther to Brünnhilde's rock. In the meantime she has been visited by her sister valkyrie Waltraute, who warns her of Wotan's plans for self-immolation and urges her to give up the ring. Brünnhilde refuses, only to be overpowered by Siegfried who, disguised as Gunther, takes the ring from her by force.
As Siegfried goes to marry Gutrune, Gunther's sister, Brünnhilde sees that he has the ring and denounces him for his treachery. Still rejected, she joins Gunther and Hagen in a plot to murder Siegfried, telling Hagen that Siegfried can only be attacked from the back. So Gunther and Hagen take Siegfried on a hunting trip, in the course of which Hagen stabs Siegfried in the back with a spear. Upon their return, Brünnhilde takes charge, and has a pyre built in which she is to perish, cleansing the ring of its curse and returning it to the Rhinemaidens. Her pyre becomes the signal by which Valhalla also perishes in flame.

In popular culture

  • In the 2005 TV epic Ring of the Nibelungs, Norwegian-American actress Kristanna Loken played Brunhild, the Queen of Iceland and the mightiest woman in the world, who was based on the legendary Valkyrie.
  • In season 6 of the popular TV series Xena: Warrior Princess, the character Brunhilda was played by Brittney Powell in three feature episodes: The Rheingold, The Ring and The Return of the Valkyrie.
  • In the classic Warner Bros. cartoon What's Opera, Doc?, Bugs Bunny impersonates Brunnhilde to trick Elmer Fudd.
  • The name of the comic strip witch Broom-Hilda is a play on the Valkyrie's name.
  • In anime Fafner of the Azure, Brunhilde was name of system with Tsubaki Minashiro serving as its core, located in Valkyrie cave, capable of completely controlling an island. Her older brother Soushi Minashiro operated Siegfried system, used to link Fafner mecha pilots brains directly forming single team to protect the island.
  • Henrik Jǣger describes Hjördis, the protagonist of The Vikings at Helgeland, "a Brynhild shut up in a parlor."
  • In manga "The Violinist of Hameln" there's a character who's a valkyrie, called Brunhilde.
  • Brunnhilde appears in the Marvel Universe as the superheroine Valkyrie. She spends a significant portion of her crime-fighting career as a member of the Defenders.
  • Brünhild was the imperial flagship of Reinhard von Lohengramm in Legend of the Galactic Heroes
  • In the video game Tales of Symphonia, the Brunnhilde is a suit of armor worn by Kratos Aurion at one point in the game.
  • In the Mother Love Bone Song "Bone China", Brynhildr is mentioned in the lyrics "She's like a Brunhilda-A child of the water"
  • In the 1994 animated film The Swan Princess, one of the princesses in the song "Princesses on Parade" is named Brunhilde.
  • Fantasy author Diana L. Paxson retells the story of Sigfreid and Brunahild in her trilogy Wodan's Children: The Wolf and the Raven (1993), The Dragons of the Rhine (1995), and The Lord of Horses (1996).

Other names

  • Brünhild
  • Brunhild
  • Brunhilda
  • Brunhilde
  • Brunhilt
  • Brunnehilde
  • Brünnhilde
  • Brynhild
  • Brynhilt
  • Bruennhilde
  • Brunahild


brunhild in Danish: Brynhild (nordisk mytologi)
brunhild in German: Brünhild
brunhild in Spanish: Brunilda (valquiria)
brunhild in French: Brynhild
brunhild in Italian: Brunilde
brunhild in Japanese: ブリュンヒルデ
brunhild in Polish: Brunhilda (walkiria)
brunhild in Portuguese: Brünnhild
brunhild in Russian: Брюнхильда
brunhild in Serbo-Croatian: Brunhilda
brunhild in Swedish: Brynhild
brunhild in Chinese: 布倫希爾德
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