Vafthruthnirsmal – The Lay of Vafthruthnir

Vafthruthnirsmal is the third poem in the Poetic Edda as seen in the Codex Regius. It follows the Hávamál (Words …

Vafthruthnirsmal is the third poem in the Poetic Edda as seen in the Codex Regius. It follows the Hávamál (Words of the High One) and precedes the Grimnismal which is similar to it in style. Snorri Sturluson quotes several parts of the poem in his Prose Edda, drawing on it for facts.

A battle of wits

The poem is mostly a dialogue between Odin and the Jötun Vafthruthnir (Old Norse Vafþrúðnir), presumably the wisest of all the giants. 

The Jötun challenges Odin to a battle of wits, not knowing who Odin, who is traveling by the name Gangrath really is. What ensues is a long number of challenges or riddles, and answers which provide a wealth of insight into the Norse myths

Odin, always seeking out wisdom and known to travel far and wide to find it, sought out Vafthruthnir for that exact purpose. While greeting the mystery guest well, Odin is quickly challenged by the wise old Jötun, even threatening his life if he should not prove more knowledgeable.

Odin & balder
W.G. Collingwood (1854 – 1932), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Without wanting to spoil the entertaining poem, Odin does strike the final blow when challenging the wise old Jötun to tell him what Odin (himself) whispered in Balders’ ear on his funeral pyre. At this Vafthruthnir concedes defeat, finally understanding that Gagnrath is really Odin.

Grimnismal and Vafthruthnirsmal seen together

The poem following Vafthruthnirsmal in the Poetic Edda is the Grimnismal. It is very similar in style and also provides an encyclopedia-like listing of facts from Norse Mythology. The two poems together, along with the Völuspá gives the reader a great wealth of insight. As they are covering the creation, stories and eventual destruction of the nine realms and the gods themselves.

Two other poems from the Poetic Edda that shares the style somewhat is the Alvísmál and Lokasenna. In the Alvísmál Thor engages in a long series of challenging questions to the dwarv Alvis who then names synonyms for different things across the worlds. While little of mythological value, it is a source for a number of variations in the name of phenomenas.

In the Lokasenna on the other hand, we are given an insight into a whole host of different mythological references. However, many of the references are made to stories or events we otherwise know little of. Highlighting how many of the old stories we have in fact lost through the ages.

The origins of the Poetic Edda, or that of the separate poems it is made up of is a mystery. However, these two lays and the Hávamál are believed to have been written sometime in the middle nine-hundreds.

Style and structure of this adaptation

The Poetic Edda, where the Vafthruthnirsmal poem is from, is not one book, but rather a collection of poems. This collection has survived through the centuries in several books, with slight variations. Along with the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, it has later been translated many times and there are different variants available in English.

While they are all based on the same source material, they have variations. One of the things that have proven difficult is following the original meter or the structure of the verses in the poems. There are several meters known as Eddaic or Skaldic meters and while they work in the Old Norse it was originally written, but it doesn’t always translate as well.

The following version of the Vafthruthnirsmal is an adaptation of an older English translation. It is slightly modernized so as to not lose meaning unnecessarily. Where the meaning wasn’t quite clear or seemed overly stilted, a modern Norwegian translation has been consulted.

Vafþrúðnismál

Odin & frigg
Lorenz Frølich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Odin spoke:

1, “Counsel me, Frigga, for I long to travel,

To find Vafthruthnir;

In matters of ancient times

Would I like to contend with the wise giant.”

Frigg spoke:

2. “All-father here at home would I keep,

Where the gods dwell together;

Among all the giants I know no equal 

To Vafthruthnirs’ mighte.”

Odin spoke:

3. “I have traveled much | I have seen much.

Much have I got from the gods;

I would like to know, the company

One can find in Vafthruthnirs’ hall.”

Frigg spoke:

4. “Travel safe, come back safe again,

And safe be the way you travel!

Father of men, let your mind be sharp

When speaking with the giant.”

5. The knowledge of the wise giant

Did he travel to challenge;

He saw the hall | of the father of Im,

And Ygg went in. 

Odin (as Gagnrath) arrives at the hall of Vafthruthnir

Odin spoke:

6. “Vafthruthnir, hello! | to your hall have I come,

I came hoping to meet you;

The first I would ask is | whether you are wise,

Or you are a very wise, old giant.”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

7. “Who is the man | that speaks to me,

Here in my lofty hall?

Away from our dwelling | you will never travel,

Unless you are wiser than I.”

Odin spoke:

8. “Gagnrath they call me, | and I come thirsty

From a hard journey to your hall;

I seek hospitality, | for I have traveled far,

And a gentle greeting, giant.”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

9. “Why are you standing there | on the floor while you speak?

You shall have a seat in my hall;

Then we will soon know | who is more knowledgeable,

The guest or the old sage.”

Odin spoke:

10. “If a poor man reaches | the home of the rich,

Let him speak wisely or be still;

For he who speaks | with the hard of hearing

Chatter will never work well.”

Vafthruthnir has five questions for Gagnrath/Odin

Vafthruthnir spoke:

11. “Tell me now, Gagnrath, | there on the floor

If you want your wisdom be known:

What name has the horse | that each morning anew

Dagr for mankind draws?”

Odin spoke:

12. “Skinfaxi is he, | the horse that for men

The glittering Dagr draws;

The best of horses | he is seen to be,

And brightly his mane burns.”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

13. “Tell me now, Gagnrath, | there on the floor

If you want your wisdom be know:

What name has the horse | that from the East

Brings Nott for the noble gods?”

Odin spoke:

14. “Hrimfaxi is his name | the horse that

Brings Nott for the noble gods;

Each morning foam | falls from his bit,

And from there comes the dew in the valleys.”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

15. “Tell me now, Gagnrath, | there on the floor

If you want your wisdom be know:

What name has the river | that divides the realms

Of the gods and the giants?”

Odin spoke:

16. “Ifing is the river | that divides the realms

Of the gods and the giants;

For all of time | it flows open,

No ice on the river there is.”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

17. “Tell me now, Gagnrath, | there on the floor

If you want your wisdom be know:

What name has the field | where in battle will meet

Surt and the gracious gods?”

Odin spoke:

18. “Vigrid is the field | where in battle will meet

Surt and the gracious gods;

A hundred miles | each way does it measure.

And so are its boundaries set.”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

19. “You are wise, guest! | Come sit at my bench,

In our seats let us speak together;

Here in the hall | our heads, dear guest,

Shall we wager our wisdom upon.”

Odin has twelve questions for Vafthruthnir

Odin & Vafthruthnir
Photo Credit: culture.northern

Odin spoke:

20. “First answer me well, if you are indeed wise ,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

In ancient times | where did the earth come from,

Or the sky, you wise giant?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

21. “Out of Ymir’s flesh | was the earth created,

And the mountains were made of his bones;

The sky from the frost-cold | giant’s skull,

And the ocean out of his blood.”

Odin spoke:

22. “Next answer me well, if you are indeed wise,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

Where did Mani come from, | that travels

over the realm of men, and the flaming Sol?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

23. “Mundilfari is he | who fathered Mani,

And the flaming Sol;

Across the sky | each day they run,

To tell the time for men.”

Odin spoke:

24. “Third answer me well, | if you are to be called wise,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

Where did Dagr come from, | that travels over men,

Or Nott with the narrowing moon?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

25. “The father of Dagr | is called Delling ,

And Not was born  by Nor;

Full moon and new | were created by the gods,

To tell the time for men.”

Odin spoke:

26. “Fourth answer me well, | if you are to be called wise,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

From where did Vetr, | or the warm Sumarr,

First come to the gracious gods?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

27. “Vindsval was he | who was Vetr’s father,

And Svosuth is father to Sumarr ;

Both of them shall forever be,

Until the gods meet their end.”

Odin spoke:

28. “Fifth answer me well, | if you are to be called wise,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

What giant was the first | born in ancient times,

And is the eldest of Ymir’s kin?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

29. “Uncountable Winters  | since earth was made

Was the birth of Bergelmir;

Son of Thruthgelmir’s | was the strong giant,

And Ymir’s grandson of old.”

Odin spoke:

30. “Sixth answer me well, | if you are to be called wise,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

Where did Ymir come from | and the race of giants,

So long ago, you wise giant?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

31. “Down from Élivágar | did venom drop,

Out of it formed till a giant it was;

And thence arose | our giants’ race,

And thus fierce are we seen.”

Odin spoke:

32. “Seventh answer me well, | if you are to be called wise,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

How did he father children, | the grim giant,

Who never knew a giantess?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

33. “They say under the arms | of the ice-giant 

Grew a man and woman together;

And with his feet | did the wise one create

A son that bore six heads.”

Odin spoke:

34. “Eighth answer me well, | if you are to be called wise,

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

How far back | do you remember?

For deep is your wisdom, giant!”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

35. “Uncountable Winters | before the earth was made

Was the birth of Bergelmir;

This first I remember well, | when the wise giant 

In a boat of old was born.”

Odin spoke:

36. “Ninth answer me well, | if you are to be called wise

And you know it, Vafthruthnir:

Where does the wind come from | that travels over the waves

Yet never itself is seen?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

37. “Disguised as an eagle | at the end of heaven

Sits the Jötun Hræsvelgr, they say;

And from his wings | does the wind come 

To move over the world of men.”

Odin spoke:

38. “Tenth answer me now, | if you are all knowing

The fate that is set for the gods:

Where did Njord come from | to the race of the Aesir,

(Rich in temples | and shrines he rules,–)

Yet he was not born of the Aesir?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

39. “In the home of the Vanir | did the wise ones create him,

And gave him as pledge to the Aesir;

At the end of the world | he will travel once more

Home to the wise Vanir.”

Odin spoke:

40. “Eleventh answer me now, l if you are all knowing

The fate that is set for the gods:

What men are they who in Odin’s home

Each day goes into battle?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

41. “The Einherjar all | in Odin’s hall

Each day goes into battle;

They kill each other, | yet travel from battle

All fully healed soon to sit together.”

Odin spoke:

42. “Twelfth answer me now | about all you know

About the fate that is set for the gods;

About the runes of the gods | and the giants’ race

You do indeed tell the truth,

(And deep is your wisdom, giant!)”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

43. “About the runes of the gods | and the giants’ race

I can indeed tell the truth,

(For I have been to every world;)

To all nine worlds have I been, | to Niflhel beneath,

The home where dead men dwell.”

Questions about the fate of the gods

Odin & Vafthruthnir
Photo Credit: lagertha__raven__odinn

Odin spoke:

44. “I have traveled much | I have seen much,

Much have I got of the gods:

Who will survive of mankind | when at last there comes

The mighty winter to men?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

45. “In Hoddmimir’s wood | shall they hide

Lif and Lifthrasir then;

The morning dews | will provide food for them,

Such food shall men then find.”

Odin spoke:

46. “I have traveled much | I have seen much,

Much have I got of the gods:

From where does the sun | come back to the sky,

After Fenrir has snatched this one?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

47. “A bright daughter | Alfrothul will bear

Before Fenrir will snatch her;

In her mother’s paths | will the maiden follow

When the gods to death have gone.”

Odin spoke:

48. “I have traveled much | I have seen much,

Much have I got of the gods:

Who are those maidens, | so wise of mind.

That travel together, over the sea?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

49. “Over Mogthrasirs’ hill | will the maidens go,

Three are they, the descendants of Mogthrasir;

They will protect | the dwellers on earth,

Even though they come from the giants’ race.”

Odin spoke:

50. “I have traveled much | I have seen much,

Much have I got of the gods:

Who then willl rule | the realm of the gods,

After the fires of Surt have resided?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

51. “In the gods’ home Vidar | and Vali shall live,

When the fires of Surt have resided;

Modi and Magni | will have Mjollnir

After Thor falls in battle.”

Odin spoke:

52. “I have traveled much | I have seen much,

Much have I got of the gods:

What will bring the doom | of death to Odin,

When the gods meet their end?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

53. “The wolf will kill | the father of men,

And this willl Vidar avenge;

The terrible jaws | shall he tear apart,

And so will he slay the wolf.”

Odin spoke:

54. “I have traveled much | I have seen much,

Much have I got from the gods:

What did Odin speak | into the ears of his son,

Before he burned in the funeral pyre?”

Vafthruthnir spoke:

55. “No man can tell | what in ancient times

You spoke in the ear of your son;

With fated mouth | the ancient tales

Of the fall of the gods have I told;

With Odin in knowledge | have I competed,

And you are ever wiser.”

Featured Image Credit: Lorenz Frølich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Marius

Norse mythology enthusiast, Norwegian and living next to a series of old Viking age burial mounds.Quite surprisingly I am also able to navigate and understand quite a lot of the old Norse texts and have used those as well. in editing posts. As a Norwegian, although quite foreign, the old texts are still understandable, even more so with a bit of practice.