Alvíss: the difference between knowledge and wisdom


Our story begins with Alvíss, a dwarf with a stout heart, who travels to Asgard to collect what is rightfully his. This dwarf had traveled to the corners of the nine realms, picking up on all kinds of interesting facts and languages. This made him appear wise to his fellow dwarfs. But our dwarf would soon learn that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, a lesson for which he would pay with his life.

A pact between dwarfs and gods

Alvíss, with the steadfast heart of the deep earth, approached the resplendent gates of Asgard. His chest heaved with a mixture of bold determination and quiet dread that grips those who walk in lands not their own. The air around him shimmered with the divine power of the realm of gods, a stark contrast his subterranean home.

He had come to collect on a debt that was due. A great debt, for it was the hand of Thrud he was after. A marriage pact had been made long ago between the Aesir and the dwarfs. Thrud, daughter of Thor and Sif, on the one hand. Alvíss on the other. But the gods making a promise was one thing, them delivering on it was another.

A chill ran down his spine. He made sure his cloak was fastened tight. “As long as I return to Svartalfheim before sunrise,” he whispered to himself. He dreaded the thought of sunlight. Like trolls and giants, dwarfs are creatures of the underground, and sunlight would petrify them into stone. Alvíss shivered at the thought. He was determined not to let that fate befall him.

The claim of betrothal

And so it was that when he came to the gates of Asgard, he found Thor waiting for him. Alvíss knew that the god of thunder was famous for his violent reputation. He had heard many stories during his travels. Alvíss hoped he would be able to appeal to Thor’s sense of honor.

“I have come to claim the hand of your daughter,” Alvíss declared, his voice a steady rumble, undeterred by the celestial splendor that engulfed him.

Thor, the mighty protector of Asgard, stepped forward to meet him. His presence was as formidable as a looming storm, the kind that promised fierce thunder and blinding lightning. His eyes narrowed into slits, a hard line forming on his lips as he scrutinized the dwarf before him.

“And why do you believe she is yours to claim?” Thor’s voice boomed, scorn lacing each word, echoing like thunder.

Unflinching, Alvíss met the god’s piercing gaze. “It was agreed upon,” he countered with conviction, “and I am here to claim my rightful place beside her.”

Observing the dwarf’s unwavering stance, Thor’s expression softened slightly, a grudging respect dawning in his eyes. “Very well, Alvíss. But wisdom must be proven, not merely claimed. Answer my questions and at dawn we shall see if you are truly worthy.”

A test of wits

As the stars began their slow dance across the heavens, marking the passage of time in the celestial realm, Thor addressed Alvíss with a voice that resonated with the authority of the gods.

“Alvíss, you seek to claim what was promised, but words alone are not enough. You must demonstrate the depth of your wisdom,” Thor declared. “I will ask you of concepts known to all beings of the nine worlds. You must name each one as it is known to men, gods, giants, elves, dwarves, and the Vanir. If you can answer all that I ask correctly, then you shall have my daughter’s hand.”

Alvíss nodded, his resolve hardening like the ancient stone of the mountains from which he hailed. “I am ready, Thor. Ask your questions, and I shall answer.”

A vast pool of knowledge

“The earth, the solid ground beneath our feet,” Thor began, his gaze fixed intently on Alvíss. “What do the races call it?”

“The earth is ‘Jord’ to men, ‘Fold’ to the gods, ‘Vollr’ to the Vanir, ‘Grund’ to the giants, ‘Fjorgyn’ to the elves, and ‘Dvergheimr’ to my kin, the dwarves,” Alvíss replied, his voice steady.

Thor nodded, the faintest hint of approval in his eyes. “The sky, the great expanse above us, what is it named?”

“It is ‘Himinn’ to men, ‘Hvolf’ to the gods, ‘Vindheimr’ to the Vanir, ‘Upphiminn’ to the giants, ‘Viðblainn’ to the elves, and ‘Dvergmal’ to the dwarves,” answered Alvíss, his mind a well of endless knowledge.

The contest continued, with Thor’s questions spanning the breadth of creation. He asked of the night and the day, the moon and the sun, the wind and the calm, the sea and the fire, each question a thread in the tapestry of the cosmos.

“What do the races call the night, that time of rest and dreams?” Thor’s voice echoed.

“The night is ‘Nótt’ to men, ‘Natt’ to the gods, ‘Nokkvadir’ to the Vanir, ‘Myrkvi’ to the giants, ‘Svefnthorn’ to the elves, and ‘Njol’ to the dwarves,” Alvíss responded, his confidence unwavering.

“And the day, the time of wakefulness and toil, what is it called?” Thor pressed on, his expression unreadable.

“The day is ‘Dagr’ to men, ‘Dellingr’ to the gods, ‘Dyggvi’ to the Vanir, ‘Draupnir’ to the giants, ‘Dainn’ to the elves, and ‘Dvalinn’ to the dwarves,” Alvíss answered, his voice echoing in the vastness of Asgard.

Thor’s strategy starts to dawn

This back and forth questioning kept going for a long time. Each response from Alvíss was a display of his vast knowledge, yet as the night gradually gave way, a sobering realization began to dawn upon him. The sky, once a deep, impenetrable black, now showed the faintest traces of morning—a subtle, treacherous light that began to spread across the horizon.

Thor gave him a menacing smile. “And what, Alvíss, brings our discourse to its end?”, the god’s voice voice resonated deeply, as inevitable as the sunrise itself.

With a heavy heart, Alvíss turned to face the encroaching dawn, its golden fingers reaching out as if to claim him. “It is the dawn,” he said, his voice tinged with resignation, “the end of night, and my undoing.”

As the first rays of sunlight brushed against Alvíss, he began to turn to stone. Alvíss looked down to see his flesh merge with the ancient rocks of Asgard. He reflected on the knowledge he had displayed and the trap that he had fallen for. In a fleeting moment he had stood not merely a suitor, but a worthy contender in the eyes of the gods.

Thor observed the transformation with a complex mix of emotions—victory tinged with sorrow. “You have proven your wisdom, Alvíss, but even the wise cannot outrun the dawn.”

The story of Alvíss shows that even Thor can show some cunning when it comes to his daughter’s hand. Moreover, knowing things does not make you smart

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