A depiction of Frigg asking Odin not to go to Vafþrúðnir (1895) by Lorenz Frølich
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.
During the course of stanza 19, Vafþrúðnir was unwise enough to wager his head in the case of defeat: victory for Odin will result in his death. In stanza 55, at the conclusion of the contest, Vafþrúðnir is obliged to capitulate to Odin's cunning when Odin asks him what Odin whispered in Baldr's ear prior to Baldr's body being placed on the funerary ship, a question to which only Odin knows the answer; it is a rule of the wisdom contest that questions could only be asked to which the questioner knew the answer and so it is at this point that Vafþrúðnir recognizes his guest for who he is:
- You alone know that, what long ago
- You said in the ears of your son.
- I doomed myself when I dared to tell
- What fate will befall the gods,
- And staked my wit against the wit of Odin,
- Ever the wisest of all.
- Vafþrúðnismál 55, translated by Auden and Taylor