Odin's Debate With Vafthrudnir

Just as Thor was accustomed to make adventurous sorties in order to
discomfit the Giants with material weapons, so Odin from time to time
undertook to match wits with them; to this end he would send out
challenges inviting them to try their wisdom against his own. Among the
Giants was an old wiseacre named Vafthrudnir, famous for his knowledge
of the ancient history of the universe and of the gods themselves; with him


Odin wished to debate for mastery. Frigg begged him to forgo his purpose
on the plea that no one could compete with Vafthrudnir; but since Odin was
determined, Frigg could do nothing else than wish
him luck and express the hope that his wisdom would not be found wanting
in the hour of trial. Odin accordingly sought out Vafthrudnir; presenting
himself under the name of Gagnrad,1 he let it be known that he had come
to discover whether Vafthrudnir was really so wise as rumor had made him
out to be. “You shall not escape from my hall,” said Vafthrudnir, “if your
wisdom does not surpass my own; meanwhile, take a seat and we shall
see which of us two knows the more.” Gagnrad, declining the proffered
seat, declared that a poor man coming to a rich man’s house should either
speak sound sense or remain silent; if he let his words run wild, he courted
certain misfortune. “Tell me, then, Gagnrad, since you choose to plead your
cause from the floor,” said Vafthrudnir — and he forthwith began to put
questions about the horses of Night and Day, about the river Iving that
forms the boundary between gods and Giants, and about the plains of
Vigrid, where the battle between the gods and the Giants is destined to
take place. Gagnrad made ready response to all these questions and then
took a seat to propound his own queries. The one who suffered defeat was
to lose his head. Gagnrad in his turn questioned Vafthrudnir about the
making of the earth from Ymir’s body, about the sun and moon, about day
and night, about Ymir’s or Aurgelmir’s origin in the Elivagar, about
Ræsvælg, about Njord, about the life of the Heroes in Valhalla, about which
of gods and men were to survive the ruin of the universe, and about the
passing of Odin. Vafthrudnir
had an answer for every question. Finally Gagnrad asked what it was that
Odin whispered in Balder’s ear as Balder was being laid on the funeral pile.
This question Vafthrudnir was at a loss to answer, and thus he understood
that his opponent was none other than Odin himself. Then he confessed
that with the mouth of one doomed to death had he bandied words with his
guest; Odin after all remained the wisest of the wise.


Sources:

Peter 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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