, Volume 92, Issue 2, pp 263–277 | Cite as

A contest of cosmic fathers

God and giant in Vafþrúðnismál


The Eddic poem Vafþrúðnismál depicts a contest of wisdom between Óðinn and a wise giant. It re-enacts the conflict between gods and giants which seems to lie at the heart of the heathen world view, as reflected in 13th century sources.

The present author suggests that paternity is a major theme in the poem. Óðinn’s quest for knowledge of the origins and the end of the world form the poem’s core. The relationship of gods and giants is complex. The giants are the ancestors of the gods (including Óðinn himself) and of the world. Their Otherness is entwined with proximity. The giant’s foremost attribute is his extreme old age and wisdom, whereas his size may be secondary to his paternal role.

When Óðinn has plied the giant for information about the past, he turns to the future, the impending last battle of gods and giants and how he himself will meet his end. He then wins the wager by asking a dishonest last question about what he whispered in his own son’s ear. The death of the giant goes hand in hand with Óðinn being established as the new father, and his growing awareness of his own mortality.


Vafþrúðnismál Óðinn Giants Riddles Cosmology Death 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.ReykjavíkIceland

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