Odin's Debate With
Just as Thor was accustomed to make adventurous sorties in order
discomfit the Giants with material weapons, so Odin from time to
undertook to match wits with them; to this end he would send out
challenges inviting them to try their wisdom against his own.
Giants was an old wiseacre named Vafthrudnir, famous for his
of the ancient history of the universe and of the gods themselves;
Odin wished to debate for mastery. Frigg begged him to forgo his
on the plea that no one could compete with Vafthrudnir; but since
determined, Frigg could do nothing else than wish
him luck and express the hope that his wisdom would not be found
in the hour of trial. Odin accordingly sought out Vafthrudnir;
himself under the name of Gagnrad,1 he let it be known that he had
to discover whether Vafthrudnir was really so wise as rumor had
out to be. “You shall not escape from my hall,” said Vafthrudnir,
wisdom does not surpass my own; meanwhile, take a seat and we
see which of us two knows the more.” Gagnrad, declining the
seat, declared that a poor man coming to a rich man’s house should
speak sound sense or remain silent; if he let his words run wild,
certain misfortune. “Tell me, then, Gagnrad, since you choose to
cause from the floor,” said Vafthrudnir — and he forthwith began
questions about the horses of Night and Day, about the river Iving
forms the boundary between gods and Giants, and about the plains
Vigrid, where the battle between the gods and the Giants is
take place. Gagnrad made ready response to all these questions and
took a seat to propound his own queries. The one who suffered
to lose his head. Gagnrad in his turn questioned Vafthrudnir about
making of the earth from Ymir’s body, about the sun and moon,
and night, about Ymir’s or Aurgelmir’s origin in the Elivagar,
Ræsvælg, about Njord, about the life of the Heroes in Valhalla,
of gods and men were to survive the ruin of the universe, and
passing of Odin. Vafthrudnir
had an answer for every question. Finally Gagnrad asked what it
Odin whispered in Balder’s ear as Balder was being laid on the
This question Vafthrudnir was at a loss to answer, and thus he
that his opponent was none other than Odin himself. Then he
that with the mouth of one doomed to death had he bandied words
guest; Odin after all remained the wisest of the wise.
Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods
and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New
York. 1926, pp. 100-102.
Henry Adam Bellows:
The Poetic Edda. The
American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 1923, pp. 138 ff.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund
Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson.
Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.
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