Myth Monday: The Lay of Hymir

It happened one day that the gods were out fishing and became thirsty but had no drink. So they tried to see how to get some through some form of divination. They shook rods and inspected blood to do this. In doing so, they discovered that Aegir’s hall had kettles. They went to Aegir and Thor gazed into his eyes and told him he should give feast to the gods. Aegir was not pleased with this treatment and so told them he would do it only if Thor could bring him a kettle big enough that he could brew enough ale for all the gods. But they could not find one until Tyr spoke. He told them his father, Hymir, had a vast cauldron a mile deep but they would have to be cunning and careful. So Thor and Tyr rode out to where Hymir lived. They happened upon Tyr’s grandmother who he “greatly loathed” (Bellows) who had 900 heads. Then another “Fair with gold came forth”, the “bright-browed one”, Tyr’s mother. She hailed Tyr and told both him and Thor to hide under the kettle because Hymir is “wrathful” and harsh to guests. Then, after they had been hidden, Hymir came home from hunting with his beard frozen so much that the icicles on it rattled and made noise as he walked. Tyr’s mother spoke to Hymir, “See our son has come to your hall after all this time”, and goes on to tell him that their adversary, Thor, is with him and they are hiding under the gable behind the beam. With a single glance from Hymir, the beam broke. Eight kettles fell and shattered, but only the one hard-hammered one they were after remained intact. And when Hymir saw Thor was still there, his heart was sorrowed. But he ordered three steers be boiled and Thor and Tyr be fed. Thor ate two whole oxen by himself before retiring. So Hymir told them that if the three of them were going to all eat the next night, they would have to go fishing for more food. Thor said he would row out to fish with Hymir if he would supply him with bait. So Hymir told Thor he could go find his herd of oxen saying “I expect that thou wilt bait from an ox easily obtain” (Thorpe). So Thor took off through the woods and found an all-black ox. Then he grabbed it by its horns and took off its head. At this, Hymir said it was far worse than what he had seen of him just sitting and eating as much as he had earlier. But still Thor took this ox head as his bait and they rowed out. Thor encouraged Hymir to row much further out but Hymir would not go to deeper waters. Then with his hook, Hymir caught two whales while Thor cunningly made him a hook and line and fixed it to the boat. And Thor “the serpent’s slayer” threw the ox’s head out to bait the midgard serpent. Jormungandr took the bait and rose up out of the water with venom dripping. Thor struck him in the head with his hammer. “Icebergs resounded, the caverns howled, the old earth shrank together” (Thorpe)  and, at last, the serpent sank back into the sea. Hymir was upset by this and sat quietly rowing back home not saying a word. Once they docked the boat, Hymir told Thor he must do half the work. Either take the whales to the house, or tie up the boat. Thor picked up the boat without draining any of the water. He lifted the whole thing and carried it through the woods to the Jotun’s home. Hymir was still angered by the whole ordeal and challenged Thor in strength. He told Thor that no matter how fast he could row, no one was strong enough to break his cup. Once the glass cup was given to Thor, he tried to break it against a stone. The stone broke, but the cup remained. Then he threw the cup through the wall and broke the pillars, but the cup was brought back to him still unbroken. But then the beautiful woman, Tyr’s mother, told Thor a secret she knew. She said “Strike at the head of Hymir, the Jotun with food oppressed, that is harder than any cup” (Thorpe). Thor then rose on his knee and threw the cup at the giant’s head. This shattered the glass and Hymir knew he had lost. So he told Thor and Tyr they could have the kettle if they could carry it out from the house. Tyr tried twice but could not make the vessel move. Then Thor grasped it by the brim and carried it off with the kettle over his head and the rings jingling at his heels. They had traveled a long way before Thor turned to look back and saw that Hymir was coming after them from the East with a troop of many-headed giants. Then, he tossed the kettle off his back and “mjollnir, the lover of murder, he weilded” and killed the whole horde. Not long after this, they came across one of Thor’s goats lying half dead. It had a broken leg, and Loki was the cause of this. Here the poem says that all of heard the story of how from this happening Thor took the children of the wilderness-dweller. And from here, Thor took the kettle on to Aegir and from then on, Aegir served ale to gods once a year. 

* Thoughts: This particular poem is interesting because it combines some pieces of tales seen elsewhere, like the Prose Edda, and some that were not. Because of this, some scholars speculate that it was written by compiling multiple poems and myths into one.  It also has some elements that are likely references to myths not connected to this story in other writings such as Loki and the goat’s leg. On one hand, one could speculate that maybe Loki for some reason didn’t want Thor to succeed. And that could be possible since this was a case of Thor telling a Jotun what he had to do and the Jotun having to wager with him. Not to mention, we know that drinking in Aegir’s hall is where the feast takes place in Lokasenna. On the other hand, this the only mention of Loki anywhere in the poem, and usually when he’s involved, he is more present. It also says that Loki caused the goat’s leg to be broken and all know how this lead Thor to getting the two children to accompany him. However, that is what we were told happened in the journey to Utgard which Loki was present for instead of Tyr, and was also the children that had broken the leg as opposed to Loki. So the question here is was this an insert that got mistold? Or was Loki trying to stop Thor from forcing Aegir to have to give the gods feasts? Another thought that stands out to me is the giants with many heads. The troop of giants were many-headed and Tyr’s grandmother had 900 heads. We also know that back in the beginning of creation Ymir had a son with six heads. What is the significance of certain giants having multiple heads? It makes me wonder. What are your thoughts? What can we take away from this tale? Feel free to comment and share. That’s all for now. See you soon. 

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