Thor's Visit to Hymir

The story of Thorís visit to the Giant Hymir is told in verse in a poem
of the Poetic Edda (Hymiskviūa) and in prose in Snorriís Edda. In the Eddic
poem the myth begins by recounting how the gods, gathered at a banquet
given by ∆gir, discovered through magic arts that he had in his possession
a huge number of kettles. Thor hinted to ∆gir that he was inferior to the
∆sir, and in revenge ∆gir asked Thor to go out and find a kettle large
enough to brew ale for all the ∆sir at one time. No one had heard of a
kettle of this size, until finally Tyr let it be known that his father
(his motherís father?), the Giant Hymir, who lived to the eastward of the
Elivagar, had one that was a mile deep; but it was impossible for any one to
get hold of it without trickery. Thor and Tyr accordingly drove away from
Asgard and in due course arrived at the house of man named Egil; there
they stabled the goats and continued on foot to Hymirís farm, only to
discover that he had gone out hunting. On walking into the hall they found
Hymirís wife (?), a hideous Giantess with nine hundred heads. Hymirís
daughter (?), Tyrís mother, nevertheless received them kindly and hid them
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 daughter greeted him with
smooth words and told him that Thor and Tyr had come to see him: ďThere
they are, hiding behind a pillar under the staircase.Ē At the piercing looks
that shot from the eyes of the Giant, the pillar burst asunder and the
crossbeam broke in two; all the kettles fell down and were shattered into
bits except one only, which had come more finely tempered from the forge.
Thor and Tyr now had to step out from their hiding; Hymir himself was ill at
ease when he saw the deadly enemy of the Giants under his own roof.
Three oxen were slaughtered for the evening meal, and of these Thor
alone ate two. The next day Hymir proposed that they should go out
hunting, to see if they could not bag something really worth eating; Thor, on
the other hand, offered to row a boat out to sea if Hymir would provide bait for
fishing. Hymir pointed to his own herd of cattle, and Thor was not slow in
tearing the head off an enormous black bull. Thor and Hymir now rowed so
far out to sea that the Giant became alarmed, and then they began to fish.
Hymir pulled in two whales at once; while Thor, who had taken his seat aft,
baited his hook with the bullís head and started angling for the Midgard
Serpent. And sure enough, the Serpent took the bait and the hook with it.
Thor hauled his catch up to the gunwale and gave it a blow on the head
with his hammer so that the mountains echoed to the sound and the whole
earth quaked; but the line parted and the Serpent sank back into the sea.
As they rowed homeward Hymir sat in a fit of temper and spoke never a
word. When they touched land, he asked Thor either to make the boat fast
or to carry in the catch, thinking in either case to put his strength to the test.
Thor laid hold of the boat by the prow and drew it ashore without bailing out
the bilge water; then he picked up the oars and the bailing dipper and
carried them up to the house, and the whales to boot, as if they were
nothing at all. Still Hymir was not content; Thor was strong enough both at
rowing and at carrying burdens, but the question remained whether he had
the power to break the Giantís beaker into bits. Thor hurled it against a
stone pillar, but the pillar broke and the beaker was left whole. Then Tyrís
mother advised Thor to throw it against Hymirís own hard forehead; Thor
did so, and this time the beaker burst, while the Giantís 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. Thor was compelled to bend to the task himself; he took so
strong a grip that 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 at length, he saw Hymir and a whole army of
many-headed Giants setting out in pursuit from their rocky fastnesses in
the east. He threw the kettle off his shoulders, swung his hammer, and
killed every one of the band. He had not gone far on his journey, however,
before one of the goats stumbled to earth half dead; it was halt on one foot,
and for that mishap malicious Loki was to blame.1 Thor finally brought the
kettle into the presence of the assembled gods; and in it ∆gir was
thereafter compelled to brew the ale for the yearly banquet which he had to
provide for the ∆sir.

According to Snorriís Edda, Thor set out all alone, in the likeness of a
ďyoung lad,Ē without his wagon or his goats, and so arrived one evening at
Hymirís dwelling. He remained there during the night, and in the morning
got permission to go out fishing with Hymir, although the Giant did not look
for much help from a fellow so young and small. Thor asked Hymir
for bait, and on being told to provide for himself he tore the head off Hymirís
biggest bull, Heaven-Bellower (Himinhrjůtr). Thor plied the oars; but when
Hymir thought they were going rather too fast, he asked Thor to lay by,
since they had reached his accustomed fishing banks; Thor for his part,
wanted to row farther out. When they had gone on some distance, Hymir
declared it would be unsafe to venture beyond a certain point for fear of the
Midgard Serpent. Thor nevertheless rowed on and on, until Hymir became
very ill at ease. At last Thor pulled in his oars, prepared a stout line and a
hook to match, and baited it with the bullís head. Then he dropped the line,
and the Midgard Serpent took the bait so that the hook pierced the roof of
his mouth. The Serpent gave the line such a violent jerk that Thorís
knuckles were dashed against the gunwale; furiously angry, he rallied his
∆sir strength and pulled so hard that his feet went through the boat and
struck the bottom of the sea. He succeeded in drawing the Serpent up to
the gunwale; and a terrible sight it was to see Thor fix his piercing eyes on
the Serpent and to see the Serpent glare in turn at Thor, spewing venom
meanwhile. Hymir grew pale with terror as he caught sight of the Serpent
and saw the waves washing into the boat and out again; fumbling for his
bait knife, he cut the line off against the gunwale, and the Serpent sank
back into the sea. Thor threw his hammer after it, but did not succeed in
killing it. Yet he struck Hymir such a blow with his fist that the Giant tumbled
overboard head first. Thor himself waded ashore.


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. Norrśna Society, London-New York. 1906, pp. 312ff.

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