This painted illustration, by the Danish artist Lorenz Frølich (1820-1908), depicts the powerful figure, Odin—the leading deity of the pantheon of Norse gods and goddesses. Often portrayed as a wise and brooding god with an insatiable desire for secrets, Odin’s mythical adventures were usually driven by his gloomy knowledge that he and most of his divine kinsmen were doomed to die at the end-times of Ragnarök, and so he restlessly searched for knowledge or power to avert the doom of his godly family. Odin’s divine jurisdiction and his areas of patronage are hinted at by the god’s many nicknames. A prolific Icelandic poet, author, mythographer, historian and chieftain, Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), listed Odin’s most informative titles, writing, “Odin is called All-Father, because he is the father of all the gods. He is also called Father of the Slain, because all who fall in battle are his adopted sons. With them he mans Valhalla and Vingolf, and they are known as the Einherjar. He is also called Hanga-God [God of the Hanged], Hapta-God [God of Prisoners] and Farma-God [God of Cargoes]…” (Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, chapter 20). These titles hint at Odin’s role as the patriarch of the gods, as well as his involvement in aspects of war, imprisonment, death and traveling. Along with the god, himself, the artist also added to the artwork Odin’s magical spear, Gungnir, and made sure to include the god’s animal companions—a pair of ravens and two attending wolves. As told by Snorri Sturluson, “[Odin] gives the food on his table to his two wolves, Geri and Freki” (Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, chapter 38). While these wolves ate heartily at Valhalla, Odin’s ravens played a more active role in the god’s search for secrets and information. Snorri Sturluson wrote, “Two ravens sit on Odin’s shoulders, and into his ears they tell all the news they see or hear. Their names are Hugin [Thought] and Munin [Mind, Memory]. At sunrise he sends them off to fly throughout the whole world, and they return in time for the first meal. Thus he gathers knowledge about many things that are happening, and so people call him the raven god” (Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, chapter 38). Such is the scene that Lorenz Frølich created in his artwork. It shows Odin, likely resting in Valhalla, with his wolves, Geri and Freki, lounging by his feet, and the ravens, Hugin and Munin, perching on the armrests of the throne.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.