This illustration, created by the English artist W.G. Collingwood (1854 – 1932), was produced in 1908 as a visual aid for an English translation of the medieval poem, Hymiskvida (or Hymir’s Poem), which was preserved in a 13th-century collection of Icelandic poems, known as the Poetic Edda. The Hymiskvida records an old myth involving the Norse god Thor and a giant named Hymir—the namesake of the poem. In the tale, Thor and Hymir go on a competitive fishing expedition. Hymir was a master angler, and his strength as a giant allowed him to reel in sea creatures as large as whales without much effort. Thor, not to be outdone, put on his own line a special ox-head lure that was sure to attract something that would put Hymir’s catches to shame. The Norse god intended to snag Jörmungandr, otherwise known as the Midgard Serpent, a giant sea serpent that encircled the world. The anonymous poet of the Hymiskvida described the scene:
“Thor, cunningly laid out his line.
The protector of humans, the serpent’s sole slayer,
baited his hook with the ox’s head.
The one whom the gods hate, the All-Lands-Girdler
from below gaped wide over the hook.
Then very bravely Thor, doer of great deeds,
pulled the poison-gleaming serpent up on board.
With his hammer he violently struck, from above
the hideous one, the wolf’s intimate-brother’s head.
The sea-wolf shrieked and the rock-bottom re-echoed,
all the ancient earth was collapsing”
(Poetic Edda, Hymiskvida, stanzas 21-24)
W.G. Collingwood’s illustration re-creates this event of Thor reeling the massive Midgard Serpent’s head toward the surface. The creature’s pointed teeth can be seen at the lower right section of the image, gripping the line that had been cast by Thor. This maritime clash between the mighty sea serpent and the powerful god quickly became a near-apocalyptic event. Yet, the showdown between the mythical foes was averted when Thor’s fishing line was cut by Hymir, or it otherwise broke because of the Midgard Serpent’s natural strength. Thor and the serpent would continue their fight at Ragnarök, where their epic duel would end in mutual destruction. For a more in-depth account of the myth of Thor, Hymir, and the Midgard Serpent, click HERE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Hymir’s Poem, an old poem which was preserved in the 13th-century Poetic Edda which was produced anonymously in Iceland. Translation by Carolyne Larrington (Oxford University Press, 2014).
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.