Thor fighting the Midgard Serpent by Rasmus Berggreen

The Lord of Goats and the Circumscriber in the Wave-Horse

Another picture-and-a-poem post this week, but this time ripped directly from the Poetic Edda, in this case, Hymiskviða. Quoted below is an excerpt from Carolyne Larrington’s translation, published in 1996 and among the most readable for contemporary English-speaking audiences to date. Notice how Larrington translates kennings, the way Old Norse poets used complex synonym phrases to evoke imagery of the gods and monsters in their stories.

The featured image is “Thor fighting the Midgard Serpent” by concept artist Rasmus Berggreen.

In Hymiskviða, during a particularly raucous drinking session, Thor is tasked with getting a particularly large cauldron for brewing mead, specifically that of the giant Hymir. They end up going on a side-trip when Thor eats all of Hymir’s food, and Thor decides he’s going to go fishing for more than just fish: he goes after Jormungand the Midgard Serpent.

‘Tomorrow evening we’ll go hunting
for food that we three can live upon.’ [said Hymir]

17. Thor said he wanted to row out in the bay,
if the strong giant would give him bait.
‘Go to the herds, if you’ve a mind to it,
breaker of giants, to look for bait!

18. I expect that it’ll be easy
for you to get bait from the oxen.’
The lad went gliding swiftly to the woods,
there stood an ox, jet-black before him.

19. That slayer of ogres broke from the bull
the horns’ high meadow, tore off its head.
. . . . . . . . . . .
(Hymir said)
‘Your deed seems much worse,
steersman of ships, than if you had sat still quietly.’

20. The lord of goats told the monkey’s offspring
to row the wave-horse out further;
but the giant said, for his part,
he wasn’t eager to row further out.

21. The brave and famous Hymir caught
two whales on his hook at once,
and back in the stern the kinsman of Odin,
Thor, cunningly laid out his line.

22. The protector of humans, the slayer of the serpent,
baited his hook with the ox’s head.
He whom the gods hate, the Circumscriber
beneath all lands, gaped at the bait.

23. Then very bravely Thor, the courageous one,
pulled the gleaming serpent up on board.
With his hammer he struck the head
violently, from above, of the wolf’s hideous brother.

24. The sea-wolf shrieked and the underwater rocks re-echoed,
all the ancient earth was collapsing
. . . . . . . . . .
then that fish sank into the sea.

25. The giant was unhappy as they rowed back,
at his oar Hymir didn’t say a word;
changed tack completely:

26. ‘You’ll be doing half the work with me
if you carry a whale home to the farm
or pen up our floating-goat.’

27. Thor went forward and gripped the prow,
lifted up the sea-stallion with all the bilge-waters,
with the oars and with the bailer;
alone he brought the giant’s sea-pig home to the farm,
over the high, wooded ridge.

A few details get wrapped up from there, with Thor getting the cauldron from Hymir, and going back to the hall of Aegir to continue the good times.


One comment on “The Lord of Goats and the Circumscriber in the Wave-Horse

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