The Great Myths #53: Thor Goes Fishing for the Serpent that Surrounds the World (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here

Long ago the slaughter-gods were eating their hunting-prey
in the mood for a drink, before they were full;
they shook the sticks and looked at the lots:
they learned that at Ægir’s was a fine crop of cauldrons.

The cliff-dweller [Ægir] sat there, child-cheerful,
much like Miskorblindi’s boy;
the son of Dread [Thor], defiant, stared him in the eye:
“Often you’ll have to prepare drinking-feasts for the Æsir.”

The word-surly warrior gave trouble to the giant:
he thought how next he might be revenged on the gods;
he asked Sif’s husband [Thor] to bring him a cauldron
“With which I can brew ale for you all.”

The far-famed gods and the great powers
couldn’t get one anywhere,
till, because of close ties, one was able to offer
much welcome advice to Hlórridi [Thor] alone.

“East of Élivágar dwells
hugely-wise Hymir at heaven’s edge;
my fierce father owns a pot,
a capacious cauldron a league deep.”

“Do you know if we can get that brew-kettle?”
“If, friend, we two do it with cunning.”

They travelled far away that day
from Ásgard, until they reached Egil’s.
He took care of the goats [that pull Thor’s chariot] with their splendid horns,
while they turned towards Hymir’s hall.

The lad met his granny, who seemed hateful to him:
she had nine hundred heads;
another all-golden girl stepped ahead,
bright-browed, to bring her son beer.

“Offspring of giants, I’d like to hide
you brave pair under the pots;
my lovely husband, many a time,
has been mean and bad-tempered to guests.”

The man malice-shapen came back late:
hard-hearted Hymir, home from the hunt.
When he walked in the hall, the icicles tinkled:
the old guy’s cheek-forest was frozen.

“Welcome, Hymir, in fine fettle:
now your son has come home to your halls,
one we’ve both missed on his long travels.
Hród’s adversary [Thor] has come along with him,
a fighter’s friend, Véur is his name.

“See, where they sit beneath the hall-gable,
protecting themselves with the pillar in front?”
The pillar split at the giant’s gaze,
and the pillar-beam broke in two.

Eight pots split, but one of them,
fire-hardened, fell down whole from the post.
They walked ahead, but the ancient giant
followed his enemy with his eyes.

His heart sank, when he saw,
the griever of giantesses [Thor] walk across the floor.
Then three bulls were taken up,
the giant had them quickly boiled.

Each one was made shorter by a head
before being borne to be cooked.
Sif’s husband ate, before going to bed,
two of Hymir’s oxen all on his own.

To Hrungnir’s hoary friend [Hymir] it seemed
that Hlórridi had had his fill.
“Tomorrow evening we’ll have to go hunt
for food to feed us three.”

Véur said he wanted to row out to sea,
if the brave giant would give him bait.
“Turn to the herds, if you trust your guts,
breaker of rock-Danes [Thor], to find some bait.

“I expect it will prove easy for you
to find some sea-bait from the oxen.”
The lad swiftly slipped off to the woods,
where a jet-black ox stood ahead.

There the ogre-exterminator broke from the bull,
the lofty high pasture of both horns.
“Your act seems much worse to me,
ship-steerer, than if you’d just sat still.”

The lord of goats [Thor] told the offspring of apes [Hymir]
to put the roller-steed [ship] further out to sea;
but the giant said that on his own reckoning
he felt little urge to row further.

Famed Hymir then soon caught, full of wrath,
alone two whales on a hook;
but, back in the stern, Odin’s kin [Thor],
Véur, cunningly laid out his line.

He baited his hook, protector of men,
the serpent’s sole slayer, with the ox’s head;
there gaped at the hook the one the gods hate [the world serpent],
from below, the girdle of all lands.

Deed-brave Thor mightily dragged
the venom-stained serpent up to the gunwale;
he struck from above with his hammer
the horrible hair-summit of the wolf’s close-knit brother.

The rock-monsters groaned, the stone-fields thundered,
the ancient earth all moved together;
then that fish sank back into the sea.

The giant was unhappy, when they rowed back:
Hymir didn’t say a word at his oar;
he steered a quite different course:

“Would you share out the work with me,
by either bringing the whales home to the house,
or tethering up our floating-goat [ship]?”

Hlórridi went and gripped the prow,
he lifted up the sea-steed [boat], bilge and all,
along with the oars and bilge-bailer;
he carried to the house the giant’s surf-swine [whales],
and the basin, across the wood-ridge.

Yet still the giant, when it came to the strength of arm,
obstinately quarreled with Thor:
he said no one was as strong, although he could row
robustly, unless he could smash his cup.

But Hlórridi, when it came to his hand,
caused soon a stone column to shatter with the glass;
from his seat he struck it at a pillar;
but they bore it back to Hymir in one piece.

Until the lovely sweetheart told him
some useful advice that she knew:
“Hit it on Hymir’s head when he’s heavy with food:
it’s harder than any cup.”

The hardy lord of goats rose from his seat,
summoned all his Æsir-strength;
the old man’s helmet-stump [head] above,
but the round wise-vessel was ruptured.

“Many a treasure has passed from me,
when I see the cup smashed out of sight.”
The old man spoke some more: “I’ll never say again:
‘Beer, now you’re brewed!’

“It’s up to you, if you can take
the ale-kettle out of our home.”
One god tried twice to stir it:
the cauldron stayed both times quite still.

Módi’s father [Thor] grabbed it by the rim,
and his feet sank down into the floor of the hall;
Sif’s husband heaved the cauldron up on his head,
and its rings jingled around his heels.

They’d journeyed long, when Odin’s son [Thor]
took a single look behind him;
he saw from the rocks, from the East with Hymir,
a mighty, many-headed troop approach.

He heaved the cauldron down from his shoulders,
brandished murder-loving Mjöllnir,
and killed all the vast lava-whales [giants].

They’d not journeyed long, before there fell
Hlórridi’s goat, half-dead, ahead;
the trace’s team-mate was lame in the leg:
vice-wise Loki had caused it.

But you have heard – someone more aware
of the lore of gods can tell better –
how he took recompense from the lava-dweller:
he gave up both children he had.

The strength-mighty one came to the gods’ assembly,
bringing the cauldron that Hymir had owned;
and the sacred ones shall drink well
ale-feasts at Ægir’s at flax-cutting time.

Hymsikvida (Thór dró Midgardsorm), tr. Andy Orchard in The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore