Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Affairs of the Gods!Norse Edition: Odin Likes the Ladies Too

Keeping with the generally Norse Tuesdays, Classics Fridays theme, I thought it might be appropriate to offer a very special AFFAIRS OF THE GODS: NORSE EDITION today instead!

who can resist this guy?
Now we all know that Odin liked the ladies as much as any Olympian, and we'd definitely be doing the All-Father a disservice if we didn't mention him as one of the more amorous All-Fathers. Odin's by-blows are all over Asgard. In fact, the only son of Odin in the Prose Edda who is explicitly named as the son of Frigg (Odin's wife) is Balder! Thor, Vidar, and Vali are all sons of giantesses, for whom Odin seems to have a soft spot. Hod is called the brother of Balder, but the name of his mother is never mentioned. Hermod is generally thought to be a son of Odin, though the sources are somewhat conflicting about even that much, never mind who mothered him, and Bragi is sometimes a son of Odin and other times a human made into a god later. Basically it seems like anyone who isn't a Vanir-- and even sometimes when they are Vanir-- is somehow related to Odin at some point in time or another. I guess Odin's seed is just that potent that anyone with an ounce of Awesome must have spawned from his loins!

But Odin doesn't limit himself to giantesses and Aesir goddesses for affairs and all of his supposed children don't make it into the exclusive list of the 12 14 Aesir, either. The Volsung family tree descends directly from Odin according to the Saga of the same name, though it skips neatly over the details, and of course there are other kings, here and there with the same claim.

Odin with Gunnlöd by Johannes Gehrts
Odin sold his body for Poetry
But the differences between Odin, King of the Aesir, and Zeus, King of the Olympians, are these: when Odin carries on an affair, Frigg doesn't get in line to torment them. EVEN after her own son is murdered. (Of course, Frigg didn't really have to get in line to torment Hod after Balder's death, because Odin was way ahead of her on that one, supposedly siring Vali for the sole purpose of murdering Hod in revenge.) Odin does not seem to bother with thinking up new and ever-more-devious disguises to hide his affairs, either. Nor do we find an extensive account of exactly how Odin seduced/raped the giantesses/goddess/lady in question. Sometimes there's some passing mention of the affair itself-- like Gunnlod, with whom Odin traded some All-Father lovin' in exchange for the mead of poetry-- without getting into what exactly that entailed, but mostly we get a generic "it was said that he was a son of Odin" or even less interesting, Snorri just throws it into one of the kennings for that particular person as some back-of-the-book afterthought. Putting names to the mothers of his sons is incredibly difficult across the board, outside of the big three (Thor, Balder, and Vali). All we hear about are the sons, and how they went about their lives, conquered, failed to conquer, or died. It's like nobody cares about how these kids were conceived, or even who by, only that they lived.

I'm not sure what this says about women in the world of Norse Myths, or if it is something on which we can base any commentary at all. In any event, for those of you who were hoping for some lurid details of Odin's seduction: Sorry to disappoint but I just can't provide it! If you want, we can blame Snorri. That dude's a jerk.


  1. I suppose there's a reason Odin was called All-Father.

  2. I agree with Anonymous. Although it makes Frigga like the most TEMPERATE mother-queen-goddess in all mythology. Woman didn't have a mean bone in her body.

  3. Yeah, Frigga is definitely mild-mannered. I'm not sure if I like that she's so resigned about it, or if I don't though. On the one hand, good for her for not getting worked up over something she can't change, but on the other hand... well... my modern sensibilities suggest she should be allowed some expectation of fidelity. Women in Norse society were freer than a lot of others, but they weren't as free, sexually, as Odin seems to have been in the slightest.

    But then again, maybe Frigg was running around behind Odin's back too and it just got censored. Freyja certainly didn't hesitate to take lovers when it suited her.

  4. Great post--makes me realize just how little I know about Norse mythology. Fascinating.

  5. Great Post, i thought you might like my Mead Of Poetry machinima film,
    a new poetic account of the ancient Norse tale and written in the old Norse form of Fornyrdislag.
    Best Wishes
    Celestial Elf ~


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