The political trigger for the Ring was the 1849 Dresden uprising, when the young freedom fighter Richard Wagner financed the hand grenades and debated ethics with his co-revolutionary Bakunin. According to Bernard Shaw, the Russian stood model for Siegfried, the Ring’s hero who would overthrow the old order and install a new realm of personal and political freedom.
God was dying; nationalism killing Goethe’s enlightened neo-Hellenism. For Wagner, loss of faith in the divine and the divinely remote ancient Greeks demanded another route to meaning. He found it in pre-Christian Germanic texts, using them to shape the new cosmology of the post-Christian world. The result is his epic poem, The Ring of the Nibelung, which he chopped into four operas (16 hours of music), telling the story of civilisation from primeval soup to the Industrial Revolution through the symbolic hero Siegfried, who battles a dwarf, a dragon, a god and a woman to achieve freedom and non-religious but nevertheless uplifting redemption.