By Jackson Crawford, University of Colorado, Boulder
In Norse mythology, Tyr is a god with an anti-god parent—his father, Hymir. The tale of Tyr’s visit back home to his parents in Jotunheimar, the home of the anti-gods, in the company of Thor, is told in the Poetic Edda in a poem called the ‘Poem of Hymir’, or Hymiskvitha. The story details just how complex the relationships between these beings can be.
In Search of a Cauldron
The story begins with the gods wanting to have a great feast, but they lacked a cauldron large enough to brew beer for all of the gods. The one-handed god Tyr declared that his father, Hymir, had a cauldron large enough to do the job.
To get the cauldron, Tyr enlisted his friend Thor to go together with him to the realm of the anti-gods, to Jotunheimar. They travel together in Thor’s chariot, pulled by his two goats. They left the goats in the care of someone else before they went to Tyr’s father’s house.
Once inside Hymir’s house, they meet Tyr’s grandmother. She is an ugly anti-goddess with a mythically significant number of heads—nine times twelve. Thor and Tyr also meet Tyr’s beautiful mother, who is never named, but identified only as a concubine of Hymir.
Now, Hymir himself is not home when the two gods arrive, and Tyr’s mother fears that he’ll be mad when he finds out he has guests to feed. Especially when one of them is Thor, such a notorious enemy of their people. So Tyr’s mother hides them beneath Hymir’s enormous cauldron.
Guests Not Welcome at Hymir’s House
Indeed, Hymir does come home in a bad mood, with the beard on his face frozen from his long day of winter fishing. His concubine greets him at the door, letting him know the happy news that his son has come home for a visit.
Then Tyr’s mother hesitantly introduces their second guest, first without mentioning his name, alluding to ‘our famous enemy’, ‘the friend of humans’, and finally naming him: Thor, son of Odin. As expected, Hymir is angry to be hosting the two gods, especially Thor, who has killed so many of the anti-gods among Hymir’s kin.
Hymir lashes out in the two gods’ direction, shattering eight of his cauldrons, but leaving the one that they have sheltered under unharmed. Then, after expressing his rage, he accepts the cultural imperative to offer hospitality, and he orders three bulls slaughtered and cooked to feed the appetites of his own household and his mighty guests.
One of Thor’s most consistent characteristics is his enormous appetite, and on this occasion, Thor eats two of the three bulls that were slaughtered on his own. His host is dismayed, and says he’ll have to go fishing if all of them want to eat tomorrow. Thor says that he is willing to help with that fishing.
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Thor Overshoots Fishing
Now, Thor’s host suggests, oddly, that he would find it easy to get some bait for fishing not from worms in the soil, but from among his oxen. And so Thor goes out to the herd and breaks off the whole head of one ox to use as his huge bait. Thor and his host Hymir row out into the outer ocean, where the mighty Hymir catches two whales in the deep water.
Meanwhile, Thor baits his hook with the ox head and drops it in the sea where he gets a bite from no ordinary fish, but from the monstrous Jormungand. This is the huge serpent that encircles the earth in the outer ocean. And this is the same serpent that prophecy tells will kill Thor at the final battle of Ragnarok.
The serpent struggles so hard against Thor that one of Thor’s feet breaks out through the bottom of the boat as he strains to reel the monster in. But finally, Thor makes the serpent’s head surface, and as these two destined enemies stare at one another and Thor heaves back with his hammer to strike the monster its death-blow, the cowardly anti-god Hymir cuts Thor’s fishing line. The monster sinks back into the sea.
Something as Strong as Hymir’s Head
They row back to shore after Thor fails to bring the huge serpent up on deck. Back at the house, Hymir says Thor must demonstrate his strength in a real test, which is to break his drinking cup.
Although the cup appears to be made of glass, Thor breaks stones and a wall trying to shatter it, until Tyr’s mother tells Thor that there is nothing harder than Hymir’s head, and so Thor can break the cup on that. Thor then breaks the cup on Hymir’s head, and the disappointed Hymir says that they can carry his cauldron out and bring it home to the gods if they are strong enough to lift it.
Tyr tries to lift it and fails (his one-handedness probably isn’t any help here), but manages to lift it over his head and carry it out.
Thus, the two gods brought back a cauldron large enough to make beer for all the gods.
Common Questions about the Tale of Thor and Tyr’s Trip to Jotunheimar
When the Norse gods find out that they don’t have a large enough cauldron to brew beer for all of them, Tyr declares that his father Hymir, who lives in Jotunheimer, has a large enough cauldron. So he travels with Thor to get the cauldron.
Hymir, in an angry state, destroyed eight of the nine cauldrons in his home. After blowing off some steam, he eventually offers hospitality to Thor and Tyr and feeds them.
Hymir gives Thor a drinking cup and challenges him to break it. Thor tries everything but the cup won’t break. Eventually, with the aid of Tyr’s mother, he breaks the cup on Hymir’s head.