,( also spelt Vafthruthnismal
), ("The Lay of Vafthruthnir"), is a conversation in verse form
in the Elder Edda
conducted initially between Odin
, and then between Odin and the giant Vafthruthnir
commences with Odin asking Frigg for directions to the hall of Vafthruthnir. Frigg advises against this course of action, saying that Vafthruthnir is an extremely powerful and dangerous giant
. Odin however is determined to continue 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 acquire is death, unless Odin is the wiser. Odin (the original hooded deceiver) passes himself off as Gagnrad
(which translates as "victory"), and demands the traditional hospitality that should be offered to wayfarers. Vafthruthnir, wrong-footed, has little or no option but to invite him in and seat himself. A game of riddling then ensues between the pair.
Vafthruthnir was unwise enough to wager
his head as a stake in the contest: a victory for Odin will result in his death. At the conclusion of the contest, Vafthruthnir is obliged to capitulate to Odin's cunning
when Odin asked him what he whispered in Baldur
's ear prior to Baldur's body being placed on his (Baldur's) burial ship
, a question to which only Odin knows the answer for it was Odin himself who was whispering in his dead son's ear. It is of course at this point that Vafthruthnir recognises his guest for who he is:
None may know what once was said,
When at his death you whispered soft in Baldur's ear;
My now-doomed tongue has foretold the fall of gods,
With Odin's knowledge I have now contended,
And much the wiser of the pair of us you are...
(Translation: mine and liberal)
Beneath the superficially heroic narrative surface of the poem is a deep representation of the underlying tensions relating to time and human destiny within Norse mythology which are manifested as foreknowledge