THE SERPENT AND THE KETTLE
 THOR turned away from Giant-land, and on the road
homeward he passed through the Sea-King's dominions.
There he found that Ægir the Old was giving a banquet
to all the Æsir in his wide coral-caves. At a little
distance Thor stood still to listen and to look. It
was a fair sight: cave within cave stretched out before
him decked with choicest shells, whilst far inward lay
the banqueting-hall, lighted with shining gold; white
and red coral-pillars stood at uneven distances; the
bright-browed Æsir reclined at the board on soft water
couches; Ægir's daughters—the fair-haired
waves—murmured sweet music as they waited on their
 guests; and little baby-ripples ran about laughing in
all the corners. Thor walked through the caves and
entered the hall. As he did so Odin looked up from his
place at Ægir's right hand, and said,—
"Good evening, son Thor; how has it fared with you in
Thor's face grew a little cloudy at this question, and
he only answered,—
"Not as it ought to have done, father." Then he placed
himself amongst Ægir's guests.
"In my dominions," said King Ægir, looking all round,
"an extraordinary thing has happened."
"And what may that be, brother?" asked Niörd.
"From the shores of Jötunheim," answered Ægir, "the sea
has run back a quarter of a mile, drawing itself away
as if a giant were drinking it in."
"Is that all you have got to say, father?" said a tall
Wave, as she swept her hair over the Sea-King's
shoulder, and peeped up from behind him; "is that all
you know of the wonders which are going on in your deep
Then Ægir bent forward on his seat; the Æsir
 all ceased speaking, and drew in their breath; the
waves raised their arched necks, and were still,
listening. From a great way off came the sound of a
"Who is that speaking?" asked Odin.
"That is Jörmungand speaking," said Thor.
"And what does he say, Thor?"
"He says that I could not conquer him."
"Pass round the foaming mead," cried Ægir, who saw that
it was time to turn the conversation.
But alas! Ægir's mead-kettle was so small, that before
it had gone half down the table it stood empty before
"There is a giant called Hymir," remarked Tyr, "who
lives far over the stormy waves to eastward at the end
The Æsir all looked up.
"He has a kettle," Tyr went on to say, "which is a mile
deep, and which would certainly hold mead enough for
all this company."
"If Hymir would lend it to us," said Ægir, "we could
finish our supper; but who would go to the end of
heaven to borrow a kettle?"
 Then Thor rose from the table, and began to tighten
round him his belt of power; he put on his iron gloves,
and took Miölnir in his hand.
"What! off again to Giant-land, Ving-Thor?" cried Ægir.
"Didn't you say you wanted Mile-deep?" said Thor. "I
am going to borrow it of Hymir for you. Will you come
with me, Tyr?"
Tyr sprang up joyfully, and the two brothers started on
their journey. When they arrived at Hymir's dwelling,
which was a roughly-hewn cavern on the shore of a
frozen sea, the first person they met was a wonderful
giantess with nine hundred heads, in which glittered
fiery eyes, and which grew out from all parts of her
body, so that it was impossible to tell whether she was
walking upon her head or her heels. As Thor and Tyr
were looking at her trying to discover this, a woman
came out of the giant's home quite as lovely as the
giantess was hideous. She greeted them on the
threshold. Her golden hair fell thick upon her
shoulders; her mild eyes shone upon them; and with
words of welcome she held out
 her hands and led them into the cavern. There she
offered them meat and drink, and bade them rest until
her husband, Hymir, should come home. As the darkness
came on, however, and the time of his expected return
drew near, she became silent and anxious; and at last
she said, "I am very much afraid that my husband will
be angry if he sees strangers in here when he comes in.
Take my advice, now, Asa Thor and Asa Tyr, and hide
behind one of these pillars in the rock. My lord, I
assure you, is surly sometimes, and not nearly so
hospitable as I could wish."
"We are not accustomed to hide ourselves," remarked
"But you shall come forth when I call you," answered
So the Æsir did as she desired. By-and-bye they heard
heavy footsteps far off, over the frozen sea, coming
nearer and nearer every moment. The distant icebergs
resounded, and at last Hymir burst open the door of his
cavern, and stalked angrily in. He had been
unsuccessful that day in the chase, his hands were
frost-bitten, and a "hard-frozen wood stood upon his
 As soon as the fair-browed woman saw what mood he was
in she went gently towards him, placed her hand in his,
and told him of the arrival of the guests; then, with a
sweet smile and voice, she entreated him to receive the
strangers kindly, and entertain them hospitably.
Hymir made no answer; but, at one glance of his eye
towards the place where the Æsir were hidden, the
pillar burst asunder, and the cross-beam which it
supported fell with a crash to the ground. Eight
ponderous kettles had been hanging on the beam, and all
but one were shivered to atoms.
Thor and Tyr then stepped forth into the middle of the
hall, and Hymir received them civilly, after which he
turned his attention to supper; and, having cooked
three whole oxen, he invited the Æsir to eat with him.
Thor fell to work with great relish, and when he had
eaten the whole of one ox, prepared to cut a slice out
"You eat a great deal," said Hymir, sulkily, but Thor
was still very hungry, and went on with his supper
until he had eaten two entire oxen.
 Then said Hymir, "Another night, Ving-Thor, you must
provide your own supper; for I can't undertake to keep
so expensive a guest."
Accordingly, early the next morning, Hymir prepared to
go out fishing, and offered Thor a place in his boat.
On their way to the shore they passed a herd of oxen
"Have you provided a bait for me?" said Thor to the
"You must get one for yourself," answered Hymir,
So Thor was obliged to cut off the head of one of the
oxen for a bait.
"You'll never be able to carry that head," said
Hymir; for, in truth, the ox to which it had belonged
was an enormous animal, called "Heaven Breaking."
But Thor made nothing of the head, slung it over his
shoulder, and carried it down to the boat. As they got
under weigh, Thor and Hymir each took an oar; but Thor
pulled so fast, and with such mighty strokes, that the
giant was obliged to stop for breath, and beg that they
might go no further.
 "We have already reached the spot," he said, "where I
always catch the finest whales."
"But I want to go further out to sea," said Thor.
"That will be dangerous, Ving-Thor," said Hymir; "for
if we row any further we shall come to the waters under
which Jörmungand lies."
Thor laughed, and rowed on. At last he stopped, baited
his hook with the ox's head, and cast the line out into
the sea, whilst Hymir leant over the other side of the
boat, and caught two whales.
Now, when the great Jörmungand smelt Thor's bait he
opened wide his monstrous jaws, and eagerly sucked in
both head, and hook, and line; but no sooner did he
feel the pain than he struggled so fiercely, and
plunged so wildly, that Thor's hands were in an instant
dashed against the sides of the boat. Still Thor did
not lose his hold, but went on pulling with such
wondrous force that his feet burst through the boat,
and rested on the slippery rocks beneath. At last the
venomous monster's mountain-high head was hauled above
the waves, and then, indeed, it was a dreadful
 sight to see Thor, in all the power of his god-like
strength, casting his fiery looks on the serpent, and
the serpent glaring upon him, and spitting forth
poisoned venom. Even Hymir's sun-burnt cheek changed
colour as he beheld beneath his feet the sinking boat,
and at his side the deadliest monster of the deep. At
last, in the wildness of his fear, he rushed before
Thor, and cut his line in sunder. Immediately the
serpent's head began to sink; but Thor hurled Miölnir
with fearful force after it into the waters.
Then did the rocks burst; it thundered through the
caverns; old mother earth all shrank; even the fishes
sought the bottom of the ocean; but the serpent sank
back, with a long, dull sound, beneath the waves, a
deep wound in his head, and smothered vengeance in his
Ill at ease and silent, Hymir then turned to go home,
and Thor followed him, carrying boat and oars, and
everything else, on his shoulders. Now, every fresh
sight of Thor increased the giant's envy and rage; for
he could not bear to think that he had shown so little
courage before his
 brave guest, and, besides, losing his boat and getting
so desperately wet in his feet by wading home through
the sea, did not by any means improve his temper. When
they got home, therefore, and were supping together, he
began jeering and taunting Thor.
"No doubt, Asa Thor," he said, "you think yourself a
good rower and a fine fisher, though you did not catch
anything to-day; but can you break that drinking-cup
before you, do you think?"
Thor seized the cup, and dashed it against an upright
stone. But, lo! the stone was shattered in pieces, and
the cup unbroken. Again, with greater strength, he
hurled the cup against the pillars in the rock: it was
still without a crack.
Now, it happened that the beautiful woman was sitting
spinning at her wheel just behind where Thor was
standing. From time to time she chanted snatches of
old runes and sagas in soft tones; and now, when Thor
stood astonished that the cup was not broken, the
woman's voice fell on his ear, singing low the
"Hard the pillar, hard the stone,
Harder yet the giant's bone.
Stones shall break and pillars fall;
Hymir's forehead breaks them all."
Then Thor once more took the cup, and hurled it against
the giant's forehead. The cup was this time shivered
to pieces; but Hymir himself was unhurt, and cried out,
"Well done at last, Ving-Thor; but can you carry that
mile-deep kettle out of my hall, think you?"
Tyr tried to lift it, and could not even raise the
Then Thor grasped it by the rim, and, as he did so, his
feet pressed through the floor. With a mighty effort
he lifted it; he placed it on his head, while the rings
rang at his feet; and so in triumph he bore off the
kettle, and set out again for Ægir's Hall.
After journeying a little way he chanced to look round,
and then he saw that a host of many-headed giants, with
Hymir for their leader, were thronging after him. From
every cavern, and iceberg, and jagged peak some hideous
monster grinned and leered as a great wild beast
waiting for his prey.
 "Treachery!" cried Thor, as he raised Miölnir above his
head, and hurled it three times among the giants.
In an instant they stood stiff, and cold, and dead, in
rugged groups along the shore; one with his arm raised;
another with his head stretched out; some upright, some
crouching; each in the position he had last assumed.
And there still they stand, petrified by ages into
giant rocks; and, still pointing their stony fingers at
each other, they tell the mighty tale of Thor's
achievements, and the wondrous story of their fate.
"Pass round the foaming mead," cried King Ægir, as Thor
placed "Mile-deep" on the table; and this time it
happened that there was enough for every one.