Vafþrúðnir (Old Norse "mighty weaver") is a wise jötunn in Norse mythology. His name comes from Vaf, which means weave or entangle, and thrudnir, which means strong or mighty. Some interpret it to mean “mighty in riddles”. It may be anglicized Vafthruthnir. In the Poetic Edda poem Vafþrúðnismál, Vafþrúðnir acts as (the disguised) Odin's host and opponent in a deadly battle of wits that results in Vafþrúðnir's defeat.
Contest of wits with Odin
The contest of wits is found in the Poetic Edda poem Vafþrúðnismál and is in an answer and response format. Each participant asks the other a series of questions about beings and events in the past, present, and future of the nine worlds. Odin defers to Vafþrúðnir and has him ask the first question. Vafþrúðnir probes his guest’s knowledge of the stallions that pull Day and Night across the sky. Odin correctly answers that Skinfaxi pulls Day across the world and Hrimfaxi draws the Night. Odin also offers extra details about the stallions' appearance and characteristics. Vafþrúðnir continues by testing Odin’s knowledge of Iving and Ragnarök before allowing his guest the chance to question him. He pays Odin a compliment, stating that his knowledge is indeed great.
After a moment to gather his thoughts, Odin proceeds to inquire about the origin of the earth and heavens. Vafþrúðnir responds correctly that the heavens and earth were formed from the flesh of Ymir. He demonstrates expertise on the topic by specifically listing from which parts of Ymir’s body which parts of heaven and earth were created. Odin then asks about the origin of the moon and sun. The giant correctly answers that the moon and the sun are the son and daughter of the giant Mundilfari. They were assigned their place in the sky so that men could tell the passing of time. Odin proceeds to ask about many topics including Delling, Nor, the fathers of Winter and Summer, Bergelmir, Aurgelmir, Hraesvelg, Njörðr, the Einherjar, Niflheim, Ragnarök, Fenrir, Álfröðull, and what will happen after the world has ended.
After Odin has completed his onslaught of questions, he comments that Vafþrúðnir is indeed wise and possesses not only the wisdom of the giants (the past), but also the knowledge of the gods (the future). He then breaks with the established pattern of questioning and states that Vafþrúðnir, in all his wisdom, should be able to tell his guest what Odin whispered into the ear of his son, Baldr, before he was burned on the funeral pyre. Only at this point does Vafþrúðnir recognize his guest for who he really is. He responds that no one except his guest, Odin, would have such knowledge unless Baldr himself reveals the secret. Vafþrúðnir willingly submits to his fate and proclaims that Odin will always be wiser than the wisest.
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