Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 96

“In shivers flew the pillar

At the Jötun’s glance;

The beam was first

Broken in two. [190]

Eight kettles fell,

But only one of them,

A hard-hammered cauldron,

Whole from the column.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).



M. E. Winge

The giant’s wife, however, prevailed upon her husband to welcome Tyr and Thor, and he slew three oxen for their refection; but great was his dismay to see the thunder-god eat two of these for his supper. Muttering that he would have to go fishing early the next morning to secure a breakfast for so voracious a guest, the giant retired to rest, and when at dawn the next day he went down to the shore, he was joined by Thor, who said that he had come to help him. The giant bade him secure his own bait, whereupon Thor coolly slew his host’s largest ox, Himinbrioter (heaven-breaker), and cutting off its head, he embarked with it and proceeded to row far out to sea. In vain Hymir protested that his usual fishing-ground had been reached, and that they might encounter the terrible Midgard snake were they to venture any farther; Thor persistently rowed on, until he fancied they were directly above this monster.

“On the dark bottom of the great salt lake,

Imprisoned lay the giant snake,

With naught his sullen sleep to break.”

Thor’s Fishing, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Baiting his powerful hook with the ox head, Thor angled for Iörmungandr, while the giant meantime drew up two whales, which seemed to him to be enough for an early morning meal. He was about to propose to return, therefore, when Thor suddenly felt a jerk, and began pulling as hard as he could, for he knew by the resistance of his prey, and the terrible storm created by its frenzied writhings, that he had hooked the [191]Midgard snake. In his determined efforts to force the snake to rise to the surface, Thor braced his feet so strongly against the bottom of the boat that he went through it and stood on the bed of the sea.

After an indescribable struggle, the monster’s terrible venom-breathing head appeared, and Thor, seizing his hammer, was about to annihilate it when the giant, frightened by the proximity of Iörmungandr, and fearing lest the boat should sink and he should become the monster’s prey, cut the fishing-line, and thus allowed the snake to drop back like a stone to the bottom of the sea.

“The knife prevails: far down beneath the main

The serpent, spent with toil and pain,

To the bottom sank again.”

Thor’s Fishing, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Angry with Hymir for his inopportune interference, Thor dealt him a blow with his hammer which knocked him overboard; but Hymir, undismayed, waded ashore, and met the god as he returned to the beach. Hymir then took both whales, his spoil of the sea, upon his back, to carry them to the house; and Thor, wishing also to show his strength, shouldered boat, oars, and fishing tackle, and followed him.

Breakfast being disposed of, Hymir challenged Thor to prove his strength by breaking his beaker; but although the thunder-god threw it with irresistible force against stone pillars and walls, it remained whole and was not even bent. In obedience to a whisper from Tyr’s mother, however, Thor suddenly hurled the vessel against the giant’s forehead, the only substance tougher than itself, when it fell shattered to the ground. Hymir, having thus tested the might of Thor, told him he could have the kettle which the two gods had come to seek, but Tyr tried to lift it in vain, and Thor could [192]raise it from the floor only after he had drawn his belt of strength to the very last hole.

“Tyr twice assayed

To move the vessel,

Yet at each time

Stood the kettle fast.

Then Môdi’s father

By the brim grasped it,

And trod through

The dwelling’s floor.”

Lay of Hymir (Thorpe’s tr.)

The wrench with which he finally pulled it up did great damage to the giant’s house and his feet broke through the floor. As Tyr and Thor were departing, the latter with the huge pot clapped on his head in place of a hat, Hymir summoned his brother frost giants, and proposed that they should pursue and slay their inveterate foe. Turning round, Thor suddenly became aware of their pursuit, and, hurling Miölnir repeatedly at the giants, he slew them all ere they could overtake him. Tyr and Thor then resumed their journey back to Ægir, carrying the kettle in which he was to brew ale for the harvest feast.

The physical explanation of this myth is, of course, a thunder storm (Thor), in conflict with the raging sea (the Midgard snake), and the breaking up of the polar ice (Hymir’s goblet and floor) in the heat of summer.

The gods now arrayed themselves in festive attire and proceeded joyfully to Ægir’s feast, and ever after they were wont to celebrate the harvest home in his coral caves.

“Then Vans and Æsir, mighty gods,

Of earth and air, and Asgard, lords,—

Advancing with each goddess fair,

A brilliant retinue most rare,— [193]

Attending mighty Odin, swept

Up wave-worn aisle in radiant march.”

Valhalla (J. C. Jones).