In Norse mythology, Vidar (Old Norse Víðarr) is an Aesir god associated with vengeance and silence, mentioned in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the thirteenth century from older sources, and the Edda of Snorri, written in the thirteenth century. He is the son of Odin and the giantess Gríðr.
Vidar is one of the strongest gods, after Thor. Although he is discreet in the myths, he plays a crucial role on the day of the prophetic battle of Ragnarök when he avenges the death of his father Odin by piercing the heart of the wolf Fenrir with his sword or by tearing off its jaw with his magic shoe. He survives this end of the world and, with a small number of other gods who survived the catastrophe, he participates in the renewal of the universe.
Vidar has been the subject of a number of studies concerning his symbolism and his role.
Specialists have linked his silence to the ritual abstinence known in various societies, especially abstinence linked to acts of vengeance, which is also echoed in another Nordic god, Vali, to whom he is linked.
Some scholars attribute to him a cosmic or spatial role, which has led to comparisons with other Indo-European mythologies.
Various etymologies for the surname "Vidar" have been proposed.
In Old Icelandic, his name is Víðarr, which some scholars translate as "He who rules in the distance", an interpretation initially proposed by Jan de Vries. Indeed, Vidar could be related to the Old Norse víða meaning "wide", from the adjective víðr, "wide". The very origin of víðr is disputed; however, it is close to Sanskrit vitarám, "farther," and to Avestic vītarəm, "sideways."
Víðarr also seems close to viðr, which means in Old Norse "wood, tree" which would make it "lord of the forests". This would correspond well to this god who lies in the woods (Grímnismál 17).
However, the pronunciation of the vowel i is different, so it is difficult to think that the name of a god and his place of residence are connected by an ablaut.
His name could also mean "offspring". Indeed, Germanic languages have developed a syncretism of child/wood, i.e., in the history of terms for "boy" one finds terms meaning "stump", "bundle", etc. Thus, the connection initially proposed by Friedrich Kauffmann in 1894 between Víðarr and Víðir "willow" is perhaps justified.
According to the Eddas, Vidar is an Aesir god, son of Odin and the giantess Gríðr. He has a powerful shoe, a horse and fights with a sword. Vidar remains silent or mute and lives in a forest. Since he avenges the death of his father Odin in Ragnarök by killing the wolf Fenrir, he is generally associated with revenge.
It would seem that Vidar is a late Scandinavian god, since there are no known attestations of him before the tenth century, nor any equivalent in other nearby Germanic cultures.
In the epilogue to the Skáldskaparmál of the Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson identifies Vidar with the Trojan hero Aeneas, but this is a purely fanciful interpretation.
In the Gylfaginning part of Snorri's Edda, Vidar is described in chapter 29 as follows:
"There is another called Vidar, the silent Ase. He has a thick shoe. He is almost as strong as Thor. From him the gods receive great assistance in all trials."
- Gylfaginning, chapter 299
This last precision is noteworthy, since Vidar never intervenes in the known myths to save the gods from a peril. Thor is the one who usually intervenes to resolve conflicts by force, whereas Vidar is only active in the myth of Ragnarök.
In the prose introduction to the Eddic poem Lokasenna, Vidar is introduced as the son of Odin. The poem recounts a scene where the main Aesir gods, including Vidar, are present at another banquet of the giant Ægir.
The trickster god Loki has been expelled for his misdeeds. Stubbornly, he returns and demands that he be served a drink anyway. In order to calm him down, Odin designates Vidar to give him his place.
The latter, silent, executes and serves Loki who then successively attacks the main gods in a verbal joust and by means of insults. True to his discreet and withdrawn character, there is no further mention of Vidar.
The author of the poem knew well the role of Vidar. In this poem where almost all the main gods intervene, Vidar remains silent although present.
In Norse Mythology, it is prophesied that a great battle will take place in which the giants, led by the god Loki, will attack the Aesir on the plain of Vígríd.
This event is called Ragnarök. All chains will break, and the wolf Fenrir, like his father Loki, will be freed. The fire giant Surt will fight alongside the other forces of chaos and set the world on fire, sinking into the ocean.
During this battle, the majority of the gods, and all the men except a couple, Líf and Lífþrasir, will perish. Vidar will take part in the battle, and he is repeatedly mentioned in the texts as the one who will avenge the death of his father Odin, swallowed by the monstrous wolf Fenrir.
Vidar will kill Fenrir by tearing off his jaw or by piercing his heart with his sword. He and a few other gods survive the battle and take part in the renewal of the universe.
The Gosforth cross, discovered in Cumbria (Northern England) and dated to the first half of the tenth century, presents a mixture of Christian and pagan iconography.
In particular, there is a scene depicting a man with a spear facing a monstrous head with a forked tongue, with one of the man's feet pressing on the monster's lower jaw and one of his hands pushing its upper jaw.
This refers to the Ragnarök scene of Vidar tearing open the mouth of the wolf Fenrir, as described in the Gylfaginning and Vafþrúðnismál, which implies that this version of the fight is known at least as early as the tenth century.
The Thorwald cross, found at Andreas on the Isle of Man and dated to the tenth century, could represent Vidar fighting Fenrir. However, it could also be Odin, with one foot in the wolf's mouth, being swallowed. He is holding a spear and a raven is on his shoulder.
On these two crosses, these representations are mixed with other clearly Christian ones, and could therefore be those of Christ. Indeed, during the Viking Age it was not uncommon to mix Christian and pagan traditions. This syncretism implies that pagan legends were used to establish Christian concepts. This is called interpretatio christiana.
The silence of Vidar seems to be derived from the ritual silences known in various societies. The Indians revered the silence of the Brahman, while for the Romans, the silence of Angerona was the sign of the Sun's effort, which she helped to overcome the darkness by the concentration of mystical forces.
Another form of ritual abstinence can be found in Norse mythology, with Vali. The latter was created precisely to avenge Baldr's death, and he can neither wash nor comb his hair until he has accomplished his task.
This abstinence recalls a rite attributed to the Germanic people by Tacitus in chapter 31 of Germania (first century), where they let their hair and beard grow from puberty until they have killed an enemy, and only then are they worthy of their family.
Vali, as an avenger subject to ritual abstinence, is thus very closely related to Vidar, who is also his half-brother, which is found in mythological texts where they are often associated, or at least mentioned together as a pair.