OK, let’s count all the different deceptions that occur in this story.
The stone-mason pretends that he isn't a giant.
The gods’ agreement with him is undertaken in bad faith, since they don’t really believe he can possibly build a wall around Asgard in one summer. They’re just trying to get a free wall out of this guy.
Then, rather than accept their end of the bargain when it turns out that the stone-mason’s will finish the wall by the deadline, the gods send in Loki to prevent the stone-mason from completing the wall.
Loki disguises himself as a beautiful mare – yet another deceit.
Finally, when they realize he’s a giant, the gods break the oath they’ve sworn not to harm the "stone-mason."
We're counting five pretty serious deceptions in this story. Each deception stems from the one before it. If the giant hadn’t disguised himself as a stone-mason, the gods never would have agreed to the deal, etc. But does that excuse the gods for breaking their oaths and killing the stone mason? The narrator of the story in the Prose Edda doesn’t seem to think so. He reminds us of these oaths three times. He even ends the story with a poem about how "broken were oaths then / bonds and swearing, / Pledges all sacred / which passed between them" (Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, Chapter 42, pp. 56). In Viking culture, promises were very important, and even a god, it seems, is supposed to keep his promises.
Questions About Lies and Deceit
Name the deceptions that occur in this story. How many are there? How is each deception caused by the one before it?
Why do you think the stone-mason hides his true identity? Do you think his reasons excuse his deception?
Which deception does the narrator of the story in the Prose Edda seem to take the most seriously? Why do you think this deception is the one that bothers him the most?