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Vafthruthnismal

The Vafthruthnismal ("The Lay of Vafthruthnir") is a conversation in verse form in the Elder Edda conducted initially between the Ęsir Odin and Frigg, and subsequently between Odin and the giant Vafthruthnir. The poem goes into much detail about the Norse cosmogony and was evidently used extensively as a source document by Snorri Sturluson in the construction of the Younger Edda.

The extant copy of the manuscript is not complete, with particular problems relating to stanzas 40-41.

The lay commences with Odin asking advice and directions of Frigg as to whether it would be wise to seek out the hall of Vafthruthnir. Frigg counsels against this course of action, saying that Vafthruthnir is an extremely powerful giant. Nevertheless Odin continues with his quest.

On arriving at Vafthruthnir's hall, Odin seeks to test Vafthruthnir's wisdom. Vathruthnir's response is threatening in the extreme, saying that the only wisdom he will obtain is death, unless Odin be wiser. Odin (as ever a master of dissimulation) attempts to pass himself off as Gagnrad (trans. "victory"), and beseeches the traditional hospitality which should be afforded to wayfarers. (For an insight into this the reader is directed to the first passages of Havamal). Vafthruthnir, wrong-footed, invites him in and to seat himself. A game of riddling then ensues between the pair.

During the course of stanza 19, Vafthruthnir was unwise enough to wager his head in the case of defeat: victory for Odin will result in his death. In stanza 55, at the conclusion of the contest, Vafthruthnir is obliged to capitulate to Odin's overwhelming cunning when Odin asked him what he whispered in Baldur's ear prior to Baldur's body being placed on the funerary ship, a question to which only Odin knows the answer. It is of course at this point that Vafthruthnir recognises his guest for who he is:

None may know that which long ago
You whispered into Baldur's ear;
With my doomed tongue the fall of the gods
And my ancient tales have been told;
With Odin's knowledge I have contended,
And much the wiser you are.



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