Wagner's Ring and the Original Myth

Wagner based his story for the Ring on a myth called "Otter's Ransom" or "The Myth of Andvari's Ring"(Crossley-Holland, chapter 26). In this Teutonic myth, Andvari was a dwarf who forged a magic ring called Andvaranaut. However, in adapting this story to his opera cycle, Wagner does not give his ring a name. This anonymity makes the Wagner's magic ring into "The Ring," for it is the most desired object in the world within the four operas.

What are the similarities between these stories?

"Like the ring that was stolen from...(the dwarf) Andvari, Wagner's ring was taken by force from its owner. When the ring was taken from Andvari, the dwarf reacted by placing a curse of death upon it. When the ring was taken from Alberich, the dwarf reacts by placing a curse of death upon it.

According to the Teutonic myth, Odin and Loki "attempted to ransom themselves by covering the skin of the slain Otr (Otter) with gold taken from a dwarf, so too do Wagner's gods seek to secure their release from a pledge by covering the goddess Freia completely with the gold that they had taken from the dwarf Alberich.

"In the mythical writings the ring Andvaranaut is used to hide one of Otr's whiskers in order that the father may no longer see his son. In the Ring, Wagner's ring becomes the item that seals the chink through which the giants could still see Freia.

"In the mythical literature Fafner slays his father in order to get the ring and the hoard. Wagner causes his Fafner to slay his brother. As in the myths, so too in Wagner's drama does Fafner flee with the ring and the hoard and later change himself into a dragon in order to lay guard over the treasure.

"Like the Regin of myth, Wagner's Mime serves Siegfried, all the while coveting the treasure and the ring. Wagner's Siegfried, like the hero of mythical literature, seeks out the dragon, slays him, secures the ring for himself, and then later presents it to Brunnhilde as a gift. There can be no doubt regarding the source that gave rise to the ring the The Ring of the Nibelung" (Cord, I, 108-112).

Did Wagner alter Andvari's ring in any way?

"There is...one major attribute of the ring of Wagner's drama that the composer did not adapt from the numerous features of rings that he had found in the mythical as well as in the legendary literature. This attribute is revealed early in The Ring of the Nibelung, in the opening scene, when the dwarf Alberich learns from the Rhinemaidens that the one who forswears love can make a ring from their gold, a ring that will grant its owner mastery of the universe.... When Wagner invested his ring with (such) magic...he was giving himself a dramatic means with which he could set his figures one against the other, a means by which he could involve them, in a most natural way, in schemes and devious plots to gain possession of that ring, even to thoughts of murder.... Yet, this feature that Wagner brought to his ring was not entirely his own, he had found a similar matter in a work of his native land, the German epic legend Nibelungenlied....

"Wagner's ring is the sole stimulus, the cause as it were, of all that occurs physically, emotionally, and intellectually in the tale of the gods. Wagner's ring gives rise to greed, and to a lust for domination and power. Wagner's ring stimulates the intense hatreds, the subtle remorse, the wrath, the woe, indeed the tragedy, in which the drama is steeped. However, as this ring of gold sits at the core of Wagner's drama, as all else revolves around it, it is a silent witness as well as a passive participant in all that takes place.... This single item carries a total import that is so considerable that Wagner gave it recognition in the most appropriate manner possible: he cited it as part of the master title of his mighty four-part work" (Cord, I, 108-112).

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Wagner and The Ring

Teutonic Mythology
and Wagner's Ring

Symbols in
Wagner's Ring

Symbols in
Teutonic Mythology

Bibliography of Books and Links

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This site created by Jessica K. McShan on December 17, 1997.