A short introduction to the poem and the website

Hymiskvia (The Lay of Hymir) is preserved in two manuscripts: The Codex Regius [R] of the Poetic Edda (GKS 2365 4to), dated 1250-1300; and AM 748 I 4to [A], dated 1300-1325. All 39 stanzas are found in both manuscripts. The two manuscripts are closely related, of similar quality, and obviously derive from a common prototype. The text of R is traditionally preferred, but there is no doubt that A frequently offers a better text. Many errors are common to both manuscripts, and must therefore derive from the prototype. A looseness of structure in two places has led some scholars to postulate lacunae in the prototype (see notes to stanzas 20, 24), but there is no physical evidence that the poem, as we have it, is less than complete.

Note: Formerly it was fashionable to explain away any "awkwardnesses" in the poems, e.g. abrupt scene-changes, stanzas seemingly short of the prescribed number of lines, and the like, by means of imaginary "lacunae". Modern scholars have mostly rejected such methods. For example, it is now generally realized that the length of fornyrislag stanzas could vary considerably from the regular eight-line norm, so that a six-line stanza does not necessarily imply a "lacuna", and a ten-line stanza does not necessarily imply an "interpolation".

Hymiskvia is generally believed to have been composed in Iceland as late as the 11th or 12th century, despite its genuine "naively heathen spirit" (Hollander, p. 83). However, Jnas Kristjnsson has recently observed that "there seems to be no reason why [Hymiskvia] should not be assigned to a pre-Christian date, say the late tenth century" (Eddas & Sagas, p. 39).

Hymiskvia is neither mentioned nor directly quoted in Snorri's Prose Edda, although much of the material is retold there (obviously from other sources). Remarkably, Snorri seems not to have been familiar with the "cauldron quest" myth, which is the main story of the poem. In Gylfaginning 48 he relates a substantially different version of the story of Thor's fishing expedition with Hymir, without any mention of the cauldron, which in the poem is Thor's reason for visiting Hymir in the first place. Thor's visit to Egill, and the subsequent lameness of one of his goats (stanzas 7, 37, 38), is in Snorri's Edda associated with another myth, that of Thor's visit to tgara-Loki (Gylfaginning 44).

The form of Hymiskvia is strictly epic. Narrative:Dialogue ratio is 75:25. The meter is a rather regular fornyrislag, with short lines. The poetic diction differs from other Eddaic poems by reason of the unusually many kennings employed, a characteristic typically associated with Skaldic, not Eddaic poetry. rymskvia, a structurally not dissimilar and only slightly shorter poem, contains three kennings, all of them rr-kennings of the kinship-type. A quick count of Hymiskvia turns up no less than thirty kennings, more than a third of which are rr-kennings and giant-kennings. The two kennings for the World Serpent are to be expected, but what is most surprising here is the number of "rare" kennings for ordinary things like head and beard. There are only four head-kennings to be found in the complete Eddaic corpus, and three of them are found in Hymiskvia (19, 23, 31). The beard-kenning in Hymiskvia 10 is the only such known kenning in the complete poetic corpus, Skaldic as well as Eddaic. Furthermore, in this poem, we find kennings for ship, captain, kettle, cup, whale, and, possibly, for goat and winter as well.

The unusual abundance of kennings (and a handful of other similar poetic circumlocutions) has led some scholars to make assumptions about the age of the poem, but such a criterion is hardly valid. The question isn't when? but rather why? One possibility is that the poet was influenced by a now lost drttkvtt poem of the same type as rsdrpa and Haustlng, both of which tell tales of rr's quests, and teem with kennings. Another possibility is that the poet was simply in a playful mood, as shown by the frequent over-the-top exaggerations, in which case many of the kennings may have been meant to add a comic aspect to the whole. Passages like ba hlunngota / hafra drttinn / ttrunn apa / utar fra "the lord of goats asked the uncle of apes to row the dock-horse further out" may have sounded quite hilarious to an audience of the 11th century. And surely the head-kenning hfjall skarar "summit of the hair" is nothing short of parody, when it is used of the head of the Midgard Serpent.

RR is inn's son, Sif's husband, Mi's father, friend of men, lord of he-goats, enemy of the wolf and the worm, killer of giants, griefmaker of giantesses: barn Yggs (2), sonr ins (35), cp. sifjar ni (21), verr Sifjar (3, 15, 34), fair Ma (34), vinr verlia (11), cp. s er ldum bergr (22), drttinn hafra (20, 31), andskoti Hrrs (11), einbani orms (22), rbani urs (19), brjtr berg-Dana (17), grtir ggjar (14). TR is descendant of giants: ttnir jtna (9). GIANTS are cliff-dwellers, lava-dwellers, lava-whales, kinsmen of apes, friends of other giants: berg-Danir (17), bergbi (2) - gir, hraunbi (38) - Egill, hraunhvalir (36), spjalli Hrungnis (16) - Hymir, ttrunnr apa (20) - Hymir. HYMIR refers to himself as master of boats, an ordinary man-kenning: valdr kjla (19). JRMUNGANDR is girdle of all lands, the wolf's brother, hated by the gods: umgjr allra landa (22), hnitbrir ulfs (23), cp. s er go fj (22). WHALES are surf-pigs: brimsvn (27). THE HEAD is high abode of horns, summit of hair, helmet-stump: htn horna (19), hfjall skarar (23), hjlmstofn (31). THE BEARD is a cheek-forest: kinnskgr (10). HYMIR'S BOAT is a dock-horse, a floating-goat, an ocean-steed: hlunngoti (20), flotbrsi (26), lgfkr (27). HIS CAULDRON is a liquid-boiler and an ale-ship, while his GOBLET is a wine-path: lgvellir (6), lkjll (33), vnferill (31). A PILLAR is a steep-stone: brattsteinn (29). If hreinglkn (24) is a kenning, then its meaning is uncertain. Two dubious kennings are the results of emendations: skr skkuls (37) may be a GOAT-kenning, and eitrhrmeitir (39) a WINTER-kenning.

The only noticeable metrical peculiarity of Hymiskvia is the frequency with which pronouns are made to carry the alliterative staves (see below). Some, not all, of these may be meant to carry special emphasis. The stave is carried by an auxillary verb in one line (10:2 var sbinn), and by r twice (12:7 en r tvau ; 15:6 r sofa gengi). Line 14:2 is substantially overlong: hugr vel er hann s. (Bugge "solved" this by transporting the unwanted syllables into the next line and assuming triple resolution: hugr vel / er hann s ggjar grti, which simply creates a new anomaly).

Alliterating pronouns are found in the following lines:    3:4 (hann nst vi go), 3:6 (sr fra hver), 5:5 ( minn fair), 6:2 (ann lgvelli), 6:4 (vit gørvum til), 9:2 (ek viljak ykkr), 9:5 (er minn fri), 11:7 (fylgir hnum), 12:3 (sv fora sr), 13:8 (sinn andskota), 14:1 (sagit hnum), 16:8 (vr rr lifa), 18:1-2 (ess vnti ek / at r munit), 20:5-6 (en s jtunn / sna tali), 24:6 (s fiskr mar), 30:6 (hann er harari), 32:2 (mr gengin fr), 33:3 (t r ru), 36:6 (hann alla drap) 38:6 (hann laun um fekk).

Hymiskvia is one of three Eddaic poems which actually relate an extended myth (as opposed to the poems which merely cite them), the other two being Skrnisml and rymskvia. All three describe visits to Giant-world (Jtunheimar). Skrnisml relates the myth of the quest for a bride (Gerr Gymisdttir), Hymiskvia tells the tale of a quest for an item belonging to a giant (Hymir's cauldron), while rymskvia is concerned with the recovery of Thor's hammer. However, Hymiskvia differs from the other two. While the cauldron quest is a central motif, which frames the poetic narrative, it also incorporates other myths (or mythemes), the most important of which is the myth of "Thor's Fishing Trip". There is also a distinct possibility that the poet knew a myth, not referred to elsewhere, relating to Tr's giant parentage.

Hymiskvia is thus not as purely epic in structure as its closest relative, rymskvia. Its narrative is composite, even episodic, enumerating eight of rr's exploits/feats, which are carefully linked and embedded in a framing story (stanzas 1-6 and 39). The story of rr's goats (stanzas 7 and 37-8) seems almost accidental, and is very loosely connected with the rest of the poem. The eight separate "episodes" are as follows (and it should be noted that in the first and sixth rr relies on the help of Tr's mother to accomplish his tasks):

1. rr manages to evade Hymir's deadly blast of anger by hiding behind a pillar (12).
2. rr exhibits his tremendous appetite by eating two whole oxen (15).
3. rr faces the giant's bull-herd, and tears off the head of Hymir's bull (19).
4. rr dares to row further out, and catches a much bigger "fish" than Hymir (23).
5. rr carries out a double task: he lands the boat, and carries the whales home (27).
6. rr performs Hymir's test by smashing the magic goblet (31).
7. rr manages to lift Hymir's cauldron and carry it out of the giant's dwelling (34).
8. rr conventionally slays all the giants of Hymir's clan, when they pursue him (36).