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Siegfried: Page 585
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Similarly, Isolde possessed knowledge of the secret of Tristan’s true identity and fate which, though he himself becomes conscious of it in the third act, she hides in silence from others for Tristan’s sake. And Parsifal, who does not remember who he is, learns his true identity from Kundry, who knows for him what he does not know. And most impressively, the basis of this peculiarity in the relationship of the artist-hero with his muse of inspiration and lover, the heroine, in Wagner’s music-dramas, is the relationship of Elsa with Lohengrin. Lohengrin makes it a condition of his marriage with Elsa, and of his promise to redeem her from the charge of murdering her brother Gottfried, that she never inquire after his origin or identity. But the entire plot centers on Elsa’s insistence on asking the forbidden question, and she asks in spite of Lohengrin’s threat that all their happiness will be ended, because she wishes to help him keep this secret in order to protect him from the harm, the “Noth,” which she believes he will suffer if his true identity and origin are exposed. Readers will want to read my chapter on Lohengrin to grasp the significance of this last of Wagner’s romantic operas as the basis for this one key aspect of the plots of his subsequent music-dramas.

Fafner now offers Siegfried a brief biography of who it is who he’s killed, noting by the way that Siegfried has now killed the last of the Giants. Both Fasolt and Fafner are now gone. The implication of this is that Wotan seems now to be freed from the debt and guilt inherent in his original contract with the Giants. In fact, by killing the last of the Giants Siegfried has also effectively ended the original social contract founded on the basis of religious faith. Now both the cynical, scientific world-view (soon to be represented by Hagen), and secular art (Siegfried and Bruennhilde), fall heir to what had once been a unitary religious world-view, science taking on religion’s former role as an explanation of the world, and staking a claim to truth and the power to be gained by knowing it, including an intent to explain away all the mysteries of being, and art taking over man’s religiously inspired longing for transcendent value, i.e., religion as feeling (love).

When Fafner with his last breath warns Siegfried that the very one who prompted Siegfried to murder Fafner is now contemplating Siegfried’s death, this is as ambiguous as Fafner’s earlier question about who prompted Siegfried to kill Fafner. Again, it is self-evident that Mime has planned Siegfried’s death, but at a further remove we must remember that Wotan’s plan to have his Waelsung heroes effectively pay Alberich’s price of “Noth,” i.e., to unwittingly martyr themselves in order to redeem the gods from Alberich’s curse on the Ring, condemns all the Waelsungs to either literal, or figurative, death through Alberich’s curse, including Siegfried. In fact, Bruennhilde, in the finale of Twilight of the Gods, will deplore Wotan for having condemned Siegfried to suffer the same fate at the hands of Alberich’s curse as Wotan himself did, a fate Siegfried has unwittingly inherited by killing Fafner and taking possession of his Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard.

But ultimately it is Alberich, through his son and proxy Hagen, the agent of Alberich’s curse on the Ring, who kills Siegfried in the end. And of course it was Alberich’s forging of the Ring of human consciousness which made man’s invention of the gods of Valhalla possible in the first place, as instanced motivally in the derivation of the first segment of the Valhalla Motif #20a from the Ring Motif #19. Remembering that Wotan is himself “Light-Alberich,” and that in effect the two are one, this throws light on why Wagner originally planned to make it clear that, surprisingly, it was Alberich who forged the sword Nothung, which killed Fafner:

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