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Geri and Freki

Heraldic animals of the Olafson Clan (Nilfeheim)

In Norse mythology, Geri and Freki (Old Norse, both meaning "the ravenous" or "greedy one") are two wolves which are said to accompany the god Odin. They are attested in the Poetic Edda, a collection of epic poetry compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the poetry of skalds. The pair has been compared to similar figures found in Greek, Roman and Vedic mythology, and may also be connected to beliefs surrounding the Germanic "wolf-warrior bands", the Úlfhéðnar.

Etymology

The names Geri and Freki have been interpreted as meaning either "the greedy one" or "the ravenous one".[1] The name Geri can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic adjective *geraz, attested in Burgundian girs, Old Norse gerr and Old High German ger or giri, all of which mean "greedy".[2] The name Freki can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic adjective *frekaz, attested in Gothic faihu-friks "covetous, avaricious", Old Norse frekr "greedy", Old English frec "desirous, greedy, gluttonous, audacious" and Old High German freh "greedy".[3] John Lindow interprets both Old Norse names as nominalized adjectives.[4] Bruce Lincoln further traces Geri back to a Proto-Indo-European stem *gher-, which is the same as that found in Garmr, a name referring to the hound closely associated with the events of Ragnarök.[5]

Attestations

In the Poetic Edda poem Grímnismál, the god Odin (disguised as Grímnir) provides the young Agnarr with information about Odin's companions. Agnarr is told that Odin feeds Geri and Freki while the god himself consumes only wine:

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
Geri and Freki the war-wont sates,
the triumphant sire of hosts;
but on wine only the famed in arms,
Odin, ever lives.[6]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
Freki and Geri does Heerfather feed,
The far-famed fighter of old:
But on wine alone does the weapon-decked god,
Othin, forever live.[7]

The pair is also alluded to via the kenning "Viðrir's (Odin's) hounds" in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, verse 13, where it is related that they roam the field "greedy for the corpses of those who have fallen in battle".[8]

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
The warriors went to the trysting place of swords,
which they had appointed at Logafiöll.
Broken was Frodi's peace between the foes:
Vidrir’s hounds went about the isle slaughter-greedy.[9]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
The warriors forth to the battle went,
The field they chose at Logafjoll;
Frothi's peace midst foes they broke,
Through the isle went hungrily Vithrir's hounds.[10]

In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning (chapter 38), the enthroned figure of High explains that Odin gives all of the food on his table to his wolves Geri and Freki and that Odin requires no food, for wine is to him both meat and drink. High then quotes the above mentioned stanza from the poem Grímnismál in support.[11] In chapter 75 of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál a list of names for wargs and wolves is provided that includes both Geri and Freki.[12]

In skaldic poetry Geri and Freki are used as common nouns for "wolf" in chapter 58 of Skáldskaparmál (quoted in works by the skalds Þjóðólfr of Hvinir and Egill Skallagrímsson) and Geri is again used as a common noun for "wolf" in chapter 64 of the Prose Edda book Háttatal.[13] Geri is referenced in kennings for "blood" in chapter 58 of Skáldskaparmál ("Geri's ales" in a work by the skald Þórðr Sjáreksson) and in for "carrion" in chapter 60 ("Geri's morsel" in a work by the skald Einarr Skúlason).[14] Freki is also used in a kenning for "carrion" ("Freki's meal") in a work by Þórðr Sjáreksson in chapter 58 of Skáldskaparmál.[15]