Ancient history


Last updated:2022-07-25

Also called "the wolf of Fenrir", Fenrisnlfr. The etymology of Fenrir's name is uncertain; it could be related to fen, "swamp".


Scandinavian mythology offers us various figures of wolves, (possibly dogs) which could all be traced back to an archetype named Fenrir. The notion of wolf (vargr or ulfr) refers to the idea-, of "evil", of something inadmissible in a human society, etc. Fenrir is the son of Loki and the giantess Angrboda, and therefore brother to the Great Serpent of Midgardr (Midgardsormr) and the goddess Hel, almost the only monstrous creatures known to this universe. It is said that it is Fenrir who will swallow up Odinn during Ragnarôk:as such, he must be identical to the Garmr of Vôluspâ, in the Poetic Edda. Even if all these representations are the result of relatively modern elaborations, and even if Snorri Sturluson must be credited with having tried to constitute a coherent whole from different traditions, the figure of Fenrir is surely fundamental.

Witness the great myth in which he plays an essential role and which tells us how the god Tyr (whose name means "god") assured the order of the world and its survival:Fenrir representing the powers of chaos, the Aesir, to master it, make two chains, each more wonderful than the other, but without success, they then resort to magic and forge a "chain", Gleipnir - "[...] made of six parts:noises of no cats, no woman's beard, no mountain roots, no bear nerves, no fish's breath and no birds' spittle” (Gylfaginning 34) – which in fact looks like a silk lace. They challenge Fenrir to let himself be bound by this "chain" by invoking the concern that a good Scandinavian he must have for his reputation. Fenrir accepts, but demands that one of the Aesir put his dexter in his mouth, as a pledge of non-feint. Tyr complies, and Fenrir lets himself be tied up. Then, Snorri tells us, "the Aesir burst out laughing, all except Tyr:he had just lost his hand." But the future of the world is assured. Tyr's mutilation makes him the Hero par excellence:pretense included, he represents the Right or the Law that transcends our moral categories, however dangerous this assimilation may be. Finally, according to the skald Eyvindr in his Hcikonarmkl (sir. 20), the gods place a sword in the mouth of Fenrir; and, Snorri tells us, he vomits a torrent of drool that forms the River Van.

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