The Ballad of Vafþrúðnismál

In Norse mythology, Vafþrúðnismál (Vafþrúðnir’s sayings) is the third poem in the Poetic Edda. It is a conversation in verse form conducted initially between the Æsir Odin and Frigg, and subsequently between Odin and the giant Vafþrúðnir. The poem goes into detail about the Norse cosmogony and was evidently used extensively as a source document by Snorri Sturluson in the construction of the Prose Edda who quotes it. The poem is preserved in Codex Regius and partially in AM 748 I 4to. There are preservation 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 Vafþrúðnir. Frigg counsels against this course of action, saying that Vafþrúðnir is an extremely powerful giant, the most powerful one she knows. Nevertheless Odin continues with his quest.

On arriving at Vafþrúðnir’s hall, Odin seeks to obtain Vafþrúðnir’s wisdom through the classic mechanism of a wisdom contest. Vafþrúðnir’s response is to accept the wanderer in his hall and only allow him to leave alive if Odin proves to be wiser. Odin, a master of dissimulation, attempts to pass himself off as Gagnráðr (trans. “victory”), and beseeches the traditional hospitality which should be afforded to wayfarers. Vafþrúðnir, wrong-footed, invites him in and to seat himself. A game of riddling then ensues between the pair.

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