The God of Thunder Goes Fishing


Life in Asgard is not without its pleasures. When it comes to feasting and drinking, the Gods are second to none.

The Gods often visit the jotunn Ægir for their banquets. Ægir is the arch-rival of the Vanir God Njord (read more here), and he is famous for his ale, which he brews with the help of his nine daughters and his wife Rán (more about hem in a future post).

According to the poem Hymiskviða, the Gods were gathered at one such banquet in Ægir’s sea domains, when they discovered that he had in his possession a huge number of kettles. Upon this finding, Thor hinted to their host Ægir that his kettles were inferior to the Æsir. The offended Ægir took this opportunity and asked Thor to go out and find a kettle large enough to brew ale for all the Æsir at one time.

Amongst the Gods, only Tyr knew of such a colossal kettle, said to be a mile deep. Eastward of the Elivagar river in Jotunheim dwelled his father, the Jotunn Hymir, who owned such artifact. Tyr urged caution, claiming that it was impossible for any one to get hold of the colossal kettle without trickery.

Thor was, as always, hungry for adventure and immediately departed alongside Tyr to fetch the item.

Traveling in Thor’s chariot, pulled by his trusty goats, Thor and Tyr made quick pace towards Jotunheim. But as the goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr pull Thor’s chariot, sparks and lighting erupt from its wheels, creating the sound of thunder and blue lightning over the skies, which was seen and heard from far away. This was far from a discreet approach, and the two Gods decided in favor or a more humble way of traveling for the last part of the voyage, and to arrive on foot to Hymir’s farm. Luckily, before reaching Jotunheim there was a farm in Midgard belonging to a man named Egil, where Thor’s goats and chariot were safely stabled.

Arriving in Hymir’s farm, Thor and Tyr were received by Hymir’s wife and Tyr’s mother, a Giantess with nine hundred heads, who told them that Hymir was out hunting.

Tyr’s mother received them kindly, giving them beer and hiding the Gods behind eight immense kettles that were hanging in the room, since, as she said, Hymir was not well disposed toward visitors.

After a long time, Hymir came home. As he stepped in at the door, the icicles that hung from his frosty beard sent forth a tinkling sound. His wife greeted him with smooth words and told him that his son Tyr had come to see him, together with Thor, and were hiding behind a pillar. By merely looking in their direction, Hymir’s piercing gaze burst asunder the pillar in two:

11. "Hail to thee, Hymir! | good thoughts mayst thou have;
Here has thy son | to thine hall now come;
(For him have we waited, | his way was long;)
And with him fares | the foeman of Hroth,
The friend of mankind, | and Veur they call him.
v12. "See where under | the gable they sit!
Behind the beam | do they hide themselves."
The beam at the glance | of the giant broke,
And the mighty pillar | in pieces fell.

Thor and Tyr fearlessly stepped out from their hiding place, making Hymir ill at ease when he saw Thor, the deadly enemy of the giants, under his own roof. Regardless of the giant’s feelings, Thor was accompanying his own son Tyr and the two Gods soon received a welcoming evening meal, for which three oxen were slaughtered, and of these Thor alone ate two.

Many racks of ribs being slowly roasted

The next day Hymir proposed that they should go out hunting, to see if they could find something really worth eating. Thor had other plans and wanted to fish, offering to row a boat out to sea if Hymir would provide bait for fishing. Hymir told him to find his own “bait of ox”, to which Thor went to Hymir’s herd and tore of the head of an enormous black bull to serve as bait.

Hymir spake:
18. "Go to the herd, | if thou hast it in mind,
Thou slayer of giants, | thy bait to seek;
For there thou soon | mayst find, methinks,
Bait from the oxen | easy to get."

Thor rowed with Hymir far out to sea, so far that the Giant became clearly worried and unhappy. But Hymir was a great fisherman and would not allow this to take his mind away from the task at hand. Casting his bait to the sea managed to pull in two whales at once. Thor, who had taken his seat aft, was not impressed and meticulously prepared his hook with the ox head bait throwing it at the sea. Soon enough something took the bait:

Jörmungandr itself.

We are going to need a bigger boat...

Thor slowing began to pull the World Serpent up towards the boat. When the head of the mighty Jörmungandr emerged from the surface of the water it was the most terrifying sight anyone had ever seen. Thor hauled his catch up to the gunwale and gave it a blow on the head with his trusty Mjolnir hammer. The beast, however, escaped. In some versions, Jörmungandr sank to the bottom of the ocean due to the blow, which broke the line, while in other it was the intervention of Hymir, cutting Thor’s line that made the serpent return to the depths.

Thor might have not been happy with his fishing experience, as his prey evaded him, but Hymir was speechless after witnessing these events:

24. The venomous serpent | swiftly up
To the boat did Thor, | the bold one, pull;
With his hammer the loathly | hill of the hair
Of the brother of Fenrir | he smote from above.
 
25. The monsters roared, | and the rocks resounded,
And all the earth | so old was shaken;
. . . . . . . . . .
Then sank the fish | in the sea forthwith.
 
26. . . . . . . . . . .
Joyless as back | they rowed was the giant;
Speechless did Hymir | sit at the oars,

 

When they returned to land, Hymir decided to test Thor’s strength once again, and asked him to carry in the catch ashore. Undaunted, Thor carried not only the wales, but also the oars and the bailing from the boat inside the giant’s home.

Still Hymir was not satisfied and decided to test Thor even further, by asking him to break a glass cup. Thor hurled the cup against a stone pillar, but the pillar broke instead of the cup. Then Tyr’s mother advised Thor to throw it against Hymir’s own hard forehead, which she said was harder than rock. Thor did so, and this time the cup burst, while the Giant’s forehead remained unscathed.

Hymir felt his loss keenly, yet he said they might have the kettle if they were able to carry it out of the house. First Tyr tried to lift it, but it would not budge an inch. Then Thor attempted the feat: he took a strong a grip on the kettle and lifted it, making his feet went through the floor. Finally he succeeded in slinging the kettle over his head, but it was so large that the handles clattered at his heels. Hurrying away, he traveled a great distance before looking back. On doing so, he saw Hymir and a whole army of many-headed Giants setting out in pursuit from their rocky caves in the east.

Undaunted, Thor threw the kettle off his shoulders and began to swing his hammer, killing every one of the band.

Soon the Thor and Tyr wore again traveling in Thor’s chariot towards Asgard. However, they did not went far before one of the goats stumbled to earth half dead due to Loki’s mischief sometime before (read more here).

Thor finally brought the kettle into the presence of the assembled gods; and in it Ægir was thereafter compelled to brew the ale for a yearly banquet which he had to provide for the Æsir.

"Enough shall it be | if out ye can bring
Forth from our house | the kettle here."
Tyr then twice | to move it tried,
But before him the kettle | twice stood fast.
35. The father of Mothi | the rim seized firm,
And before it stood | on the floor below;
Up on his head | Sif's husband raised it,
And about his heels | the handles clattered.

 

 

 

Sources:

Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 65-69.

Henry Adam Bellows: The Poetic Edda. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 1923, pp. 138ff.

Gylvaginning, pp. 68ff; Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906, pp. 312ff.


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