In Icelandic and German mythology, Brunhilde was a strong and beautiful princess who was cruelly deceived by her lover. Her story is told in the Edda poems of Iceland and the Nibelungenlied, a German epic of the 1200s. Her name also appears as Brünhild, Brunhilda, or Brynhild.

In the Icelandic version of the legend, Brunhilde was a Valkyrie—a warrior maiden of the supreme god Odin. Because she was disobedient, Odin punished Brunhilde by causing her to fall into everlasting sleep surrounded by a wall of fire. The hero Sigurd crossed through the flames and woke the maiden with a kiss. They became engaged, but Sigurd left to continue his travels. Later, after receiving a magic potion to make him forget his love for Brunhilde, Sigurd married Gudrun (Kriemhild).

Gudruns brother Gunnar wanted Brunhilde for himself and persuaded Sigurd to help him. Disguising himself as Gunnar, Sigurd pursued Brunhilde. Later Brunhilde realized she had been tricked and arranged to have Sigurd murdered. When she learned of his death, however, she was overcome with grief and committed suicide by throwing herself on his funeral pyre. In that way, she could join him in death.

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

pyre pile of wood on which a dead body is burned in a funeral ceremony

In the Nibelungenlied, the story was slightly different. Brunhilde declared that the man she would marry must be able to out-perform her in feats of strength and courage. Siegfried (Sigurd), disguised as Gunther (Gunnar), passed the test and won Brunhilde for Gunther. When she discovered the deception, she arranged for Siegfried to be killed. The German composer Richard Wagner based his opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung on these legends.

See also Sigurd ; Valkyries .

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