Odin and Frigg were the main power couple of the Norse pantheon of deities. Odin, in particular, was the owner of Valhalla and held a leadership role in Asgard—the homeland of the Norse gods. Like most divine figures, Odin and Frigg kept an interested eye on the affairs of humans. According to mythology, one of the mortals who caught their attention was a certain King Hraudung, who ruled over a Gothic kingdom. In particular, the godly couple were impressed by Hraudung’s sons, Geirrod and Agnar. As the story goes, the arch-couple of the gods became quite competitive in their assessments of the king’s children. Like judges assessing a prize-winning animal, the two gods began to argue over which of the boys was the superior prince. Odin threw his support behind the younger son, Geirrod. Frigg, however, favored the older boy, Agnar. Faced with this disagreement, the godly couple could not agree to disagree. Instead, they decided to go to great lengths in order to definitively prove which of the two boys was superior.
As the story goes, the gods—in their efforts to assess the boys—caused the two princes to be lost at sea. As was divinely planned, the lost children washed up on a strange shore, at which time Odin and Frigg swooped in to save the day by offering the boys shelter. The divine couple used the time to tutor their princes of choice, with Odin offering his guidance to Geirrod while Frigg did the same with Agnar. After a few months of this divine education, Odin and Frigg let the boys go. A ship was readied and the god and goddess prepared the boys to leave. Odin, however, was said to have held back Geirrod for a few seconds longer before allowing him to board the ship—the prince was given one last piece of advice on what to do when he returned to his homeland. After saying their farewells, the princes in their boat set sail and the divinely-inspired currents brought them back to their father’s kingdom among the Goths. Odin and Frigg, with their teaching done, watched with interest to see which of their two proteges would turn out to be superior.
Geirrod was the first of the two princes to jump out of the ship and plant his feet on the shore of his father’s domain. In a horrible and unbrotherly move, Geirrod then was said to have pushed the boat (with his brother still in it) back out to sea, from which it would never return to the land of the Goths. After doing this move (which was likely suggested by Odin), Geirrod returned to King Hraudung’s court, where he eventually succeeded his father as king.
Agnar, although lost at sea once again, did not have an uneventful life. As the story goes, his voyage at sea ended with him eventually reaching the land of giants, where he met a giantess and settled down with her to raise a family.
Odin, musing on the vastly different lives of Gierrod and Agnar, gloated that his student had become a king, while Frigg’s charge was now only a family man of little note. Frigg, at that time, could do little to argue against Odin’s assessment, at least if the judgment was based upon social station. The goddess, however, was loath to admit that Odin’s student had turned out to be more successful. Instead of admitting defeat, Frigg was said to have plotted a disgraceful demise for King Geirrod. To do this, the goddess accused Geirrod of traits that were widely hated in ancient Germanic and Nordic societies—stinginess and inhospitality. As the story goes, Odin scoffed at these allegations, but decided to pay a visit to King Geirrod’s court to see if the charges had any truth. The god put on a blue cloak and disguised himself with the alias, Grimnir, during his investigation. He then began wandering toward Geirrod’s kingdom among the Goths.
Odin’s journey and experience at the court of his protégé was recorded in a medieval poem (with a prose prologue and epilogue) called Grímnismál, or Grimnir’s Sayings. According to the poem, Odin was outpaced by an agent of Frigg, who appeared in the kingdom of Geirrod and spread rumors that a powerful wizard would soon enter the realm and that new arrivals in the kingdom should be treated with caution. The agent also divulged tidbits of information about how to detect Odin, saying these were ways to detect the nefarious wizard. Due to Frigg’s intrigue, Odin’s arrival at King Geirrod’s court was met with hostility. As the story goes, King Geirrod was not only inhospitable to his guest, but he had the suspected wizard arrested and tortured.
Odin, who was in no way squeamish about pain, put up with the torture for days while he reassessed Geirrod and his household. During this time, Geirrod’s son (ironically named Agnar), took pity on the arrested stranger and brought the god something to drink. The boy’s show of hospitality greatly impressed Odin, and the god asked the child to stay awhile and hear his wisdom. This knowledge, as the story goes, was delivered in fifty-four stanzas of poetry (aka Grimnir’s Sayings), delving into such topics as the creation of the world, the various mythical lands inhabited by supernatural creatures, and descriptions of the halls of the gods. The final stanzas of Odin’s wisdom were said to have been delivered on the eighth night of his imprisonment, at a time when both young Agnar and his father, King Geirrod, were present. As he finished his verses, Odin finally revealed his identity and declared that he was revoking all of his divine favor from King Geirrod and would instead give his support solely to the king’s son, Agnar.
As soon as the king realized that he had imprisoned and tortured a god, Geirrod quickly drew his sword and rushed to cut away the bindings that were holding Odin. Yet, devoid of the support of the gods, poor Geirrod suddenly found himself to be incredibly clumsy. As he hurried to free the captive, Geirrod slipped and was said to have impaled himself on his own sword. As the discourteous Geirrod died, Odin easily used his godly abilities to free himself from his binds. After giving his supernatural support to Geirrod’s hospitable heir, Agnar, Odin disappeared and resumed his wanderings.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Sculpture of Odin or Wotan, by Rudolf Maison (1854–1904), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Grimnir’s Sayings, an old poem which was preserved in the 13th-century Poetic Edda which was produced anonymously in Iceland. Translation by Carolyne Larrington (Oxford University Press, 2014).