The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 10

Chapter 10: Fro (Freyr)

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The god that stands next in power and glory, is in the Norse mythology Freyr (Landn. 4, 7); with the Swedes he seems even to have occupied the third place. His name of itself proclaims how widely his worship prevailed among the other Teutonic races, a name sacred enough to be given to the Supreme Being even in christian times. There must have been a broad pregnant sense underlying the word, which made it equally fit for the individuality of one god, and for the comprehensive notion of dominion, whether sacred or secular: to some nations it signified the particular god, to others the soverain deity in general, pretty much as we found, connected with the proper names Zio, Zeus, the more general term deus, qeÒj. While the names of other heathen gods became an abomination to the christians, and a Gothic Vôdans or Thunrs would have grated harshly on the ear; this one expression, like the primitive guþ itself, could remain yet a long time without offence, and signify by turns the heavenly lord and an earthly one.

It is true, the names do not correspond quite exactly. The ON. Freyr gen. Freys, which Saxo gives quite correctly in its Danish form as Frö gen. Frös (whence Frösö, Fro's island), the Swed. likewise Frö, ought to be in Gothic Fráus or Fravis, (1) instead of which, every page of Ulphilas shows fráuja gen. fráujins, translating kurioj; on the other hand, the ON. dialect lacks both the weak form (Freyi, Freyja), and the meaning of lord. The remaining languages all hold with the Gothic. In OHG. the full form frouwo was already lost, the writers preferring truhtîn; it is only in the form of address 'frô mîn!' (O. i. 5, 35. ii. 14, 27. v. 7, 35. Ludw. lied) that the word for a divine or earthly lord was preserved, just as that antique sihora and sire (p. 27) lasted longest in addresses. In the Heliand too, when the word is used in addressing, it is always in the shortened form frô mîn! 123, 13. 140, 23. frô mîn the gôdo! 131, 6. 134, 15. 138, 1. 7. waldand frô mîn! 153, 8. drohtîn frô mîn! 15, 3; but in other cases we do find the complete frôho gen. frôhon 3, 24; frâho 119, 14, gen. frâhon 122, 9, frâon 3, 24. 5, 23; frôio 93, 1. 107, 21. Still the OS. poet uses the word seldomer than the synonyms drohtîn and hêrro, and he always puts a possessive with it, never an adjective (like mâri drohtîn, rîki drohtîn, craftag drohtîn, liob hêrro): all symptoms that the word was freezing up. The AS. freá gen. freán (for freâan, freâwan) has a wider sweep, it not only admits adjectives (freá ælmihtig, Cædm. 1, 9. 10, 1), but also forms compounds: âgendfreá, Cædm. 135, 4. aldorfreá 218, 29. folcfreá 111, 7; and even combines with dryhten: freádryhten, Cædm. 54, 29, gen. freahdrihtnes, Beow. 1585, dat. freodryhtne 5150.---But now by the side of our OHG. frô there is found a rigid (indecl.) frôno, which, placed before or after substantives, imparts the notion of lordly, high and holy; out of this was gradually developed a more flexible adj. of like meaning frôn, and again an adj. frônisc (pulcher, mundus, inclytus, arcanus), OS. frônisk, frânisk. In MHG. and even modern German we have a good many compounds with vrôn, as also the adj. in the above sense, while frohnen, fröhnen is to do service to one's lord, to dedicate. The Frisian dialect contributes a frân, dominicus, and frâna, minister publicus. The added -n in all these derivatives can be explained by the Gothic fráujinon dominari, though there was probably no Gothic fráujinisks, as frônisc seems not to have been formed till after the contraction frô and frôno had set in.

But even the Gothic fráuja does not present to us the simple stem, I look for it in a lost adj. fravis (like navis nekrÒj, Rom. 7,2), the same as the OHG. frô gen. frouwes, OS. fra gen. frahes, MHG. vrô, and our froh [fröhlich, frolic, &c.], and signifying mitis, laetus, blandus; whence the same dialects derive frouwî, gaudium, frouwan, laetum reddere, frouwida, laetitia, &c. (see Suppl.).

I do not mean to assert that a god Fráuja, Frouwo, Fraho was as distinctly worshipped by the Goths, Alamanns, Franks and Saxons in the first centuries of our era, as Freyr was long after in Scandinavia, it is even possible that the form fráuja already harboured a generalization of the more vividly concrete Fravis = Freyr, and therefore seemed less offensive to the christians. But in both words, the reference to a higher being is unmistakable, and in the Mid. ages there still seems to hang about the compounds with vrôn something weird, unearthly, a sense of old sacredness; this may account for the rare occurrence and the early disapearance of the OHG. frô, and even for the grammatical immobility of frôno; it is as though an echo of heathenism could still be detected in them.

A worship of Frô may be inferred even from the use of certain proper names and poetic epithets, especially by the Anglo-Saxons. The Goths even of later times use Fráuja as a man's name, to which we can hardly attribute the sense of lord simply: an envoy from king Hadafus to Charles the Great is called Froia (Pertz 1, 184. 2, 223), perhaps Froila (Fráujila); an OHG. Frewilo occurs in a document in Neugart no. 162. The AS. genealogies contain Wûscfreá; the name is often found elsewhere (Beda 138, 19. 153, 5), and seems suitable to Wôden the god or lord of wishing (p. 144). Equally to the point is the poetic freáwine (freáwine folca) in Beow. 4708. 4853. 4871, where it is a mere epithet of divine or god-loved heroes and kings. But the Wessex pedigree can produce its Freáwine, whom Saxo Gram. calls Frowinus (better Fröwinus); OHG. documents likewise have the proper name Frôwin (Trad. juvav. p. 302, Cod. lauresh. 712, but Friowini 722), and in several noble families, e.g., the distinguished one of the Von Huttens, it has kept up till modern times. What is remarkable, the Edda uses of a hero Freys vinr (Sæm. 219b), like the AS. freáwine, only uncompounded: Sigurðr is Frey's friend and protégé, or perhaps his votary and servant, in the way shown on p. 93. Here again freá, frô, freyr, cannot have merely the general meaning of lord, any lord. The Swedish heroes in the Bravalla fight, who boast their descent from Frö, are in Saxo, p. 144, called Frö dei necessarii, which is exactly our Freys vinar. In the same way the AS. and ON. poetries, and consequently the myths, have in common the expression freá Ingwina (gen. pl.), Beow. 2638, Ingvinar (gen. sing.) freyr, Ingunnar freyr, Sæm. 65b, Ingifreyr (Thorlac. obs. bor. spec. 6, p. 43), by which is to be understood a hero or god, not 'junior dominus,' as Thorlacius, p. 68, supposes. Yngvifreyr is called Oðin's son, Sn. 211ª. I shall come back to this mysterious combination of two mythical names, when I come to speak of the hero Ingo. The ON. skalds append this freyr to other names and to common nouns, e.g., in Kormakssaga, pp. 104. 122, 'fiörnis freyr, myrðifreyr' means no more than hero or man in the heightened general sense which we noticed in the words irmin, tîr and týr. In the same way the fem. freyja means frau, woman, lady, Kormakss. p. 317.  


1. Frey = Fravi, as hey = havi (hay), mey = (maid), ey = avi (isle), &c.  (back)

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