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Monday: May 16, 2011


"The Sea Battle" by Arthur Rackham


We are enthusiasts for vintage and antique illustrations, the written word and in particular, the role that narratives maintain in forming our identities, our sense of the world and our place in it. The written word weaves a spell that insinuates its way into the hearts and minds of the populace - forever changing the course of the future to move humanity forward to the beat of the Hero's drum - and when associated with powerful visual images like those held within the Spirit of the Ages Collection, that spell is all the more potent.


Over time, almost as if guided by the Fates, we have found ourselves the self-appointed guardians of this magnificent Collection of antique illustrated books  and in performing this role, we seek to pay homage to the Masters who were inspired to create these artworks and enhance the stories they convey. Similarly, we are ever mindful of our role in sharing this with the rest of the world and our fellow lovers of great art. Thus, we hope to contribute to the preservation and ongoing promotion of the artwork within the collection to others throughout the world who will also be captivated by these stories and images.


On today's Blog, we show "The Sea Battle" by Arthur Rackham - a powerful illustration inspired by

Buchheim's variant of a tale within the "Norse Edda of Snorri Sturluson". For comparative purposes, we also

show Buchheim's text and the original tale as records by Sturluson.






To the right, we show "The Sea Battle"

by Arthur Rackham.


Arthur Rackham - ''The Sea Battle''


 The variant by Buchheim describes the encounter as follows:


Those pondered deeply how he could avenge himself on the giants for the deceptions practised on him in Utgard,

and so recover his honour. He assumed the form of a youth, and went forth to visit one of the frost giants named

Hymir, who gave him shelter for the night. When it was dawn, the giant arose, and prepared to go forth and catch

fish in the sea. Thor offered to accompany him, but the giant shook his head.


"Little help should I have from thee," he said; "thou art too small and young to be aught but a hindrance to me. Long

shall I be away, and thou would'st find it bitter cold."


"Be not afraid," returned Thor. "It remains to be seen which of us will first desire to return. What bait shall we take?"


Hymir told him to choose his own bait, whereupon he went to the giants' herds, slew the biggest ox, and tore off his

head. Then he joined Hymir in the boat and rowed, so that the latter wondered at his strength. At length, the giant

said they had reached his usual fishing ground, but Thor desired to go further out to sea. After a time Hymir ceased



"It is not safe to go further," said he, "lest we chance upon the Midgard snake."


Thor said they must not stop yet, and rowed with all his might, while Hymir sat in sullen silence. At last Thor stopped

rowing, and baited a mighty line with the ox's head, for it was not small fish that he meant to catch that day.


The Midgard snake lay at the bottom of the ocean. When the tempting bait dangled before it, it raised its head, and

snapped at it, and the hook caught in the snake's mouth. Then it grew mad with rage and terror, and pulled and

tugged at the line, so that Thor was flung to the bottom of the boat. Now his wrath awoke, and with his wrath his

strength grew.


His feet went through the boat, and he stood on the sea bottom. The snake struggled and fought, lashing the water,

so that the sea grew wild and tumultuous, that waves dashed high, and great was the turmoil, but Thor never let go,

and slowly, slowly, he raised the monster out of the water. Its horrible eyes were fixed on him; it breathed forth

venom against him, but little cared the mighty god, as he stood there straining every muscle.


With pale face and sinking heart the giant watched the deadly struggle; he saw ho the boat filled with water, and his

courage failed him, so that he grew faint with terror.


Thor heeded him not, but, raising his hammer, prepared to slay the enemy of the gods, but Hymir rushed forward

and cut through the line. The earth groaned and shuddered, the rocks burst asunder, the abyss howled, as swiftly

the great snake sank through the waters to its lair at the bottom of the sea, and there it lay till its hour had come,

and with it the hour of Thor, the strong god.


Terrible was the wrath of Thor; few there were who cared to face him when his anger came upon him. The giant sat

and said no word. Then Thor struck him a blow, so that he fell into the water, while he himself waded to the shore.

Hymir managed to save himself, but ere long he and all his kin perished at the hands of the slayer of giants.


As recorded by Sturluson, the tale of 'The Fishing of Thor' is retold by Hαrr thus:


It is not unknown, though one be not a scholar, that Thor took redress for this journey of which the tale has but now been told; and he did not tarry at home long before he made ready for his journey so hastily that he had with him no chariot and no he-goats and no retinue. He went out over Midgard in the guise of a young lad, and came one evening at twilight to a certain giant's, who was called Hymir. Thor abode as guest there overnight; but at dawn Hymir arose and clothed himself and made ready to row to sea a-fishing. Then Thor sprang up and was speedily ready, and asked Hymir to let him row to sea with him. But Hymir said that Thor would be of little help to him, being so small and a youth, 'And thou wilt freeze, if I stay so long and

so far out as I am wont.' But Thor said that he would be able to row far out from land, for the reason that it was not certain whether he would be the first to ask to row back. Thor became so enraged at the giant that he was forthwith ready to let his hammer crash against him; but he forced himself to forbear, since he purposed to try his strength in another quarter. He asked Hymir what they should have for bait, but Hymir bade him get bait for himself. Then Thor turned away thither where he, saw a certain herd of oxen, which Hymir owned; he took the largest ox, called Himinbrjotr, and cut off its head and went therewith to the sea. By that time Hymir had shoved out the boat.


Thor went aboard the skiff and sat down in the stern-seat, took two oars and rowed; and it

seemed to Hymir that swift progress came of his rowing. Hymir rowed forward in the bow,

and the rowing proceeded rapidly; then Hymir said that they had arrived at those fishing-banks


Detail from ''The Sea Battle'' by Arthur Rackham



Above, we show a detail from

"The Sea Battle" by Arthur Rackham.

where he was wont to anchor and angle for flat-fish. But Thor said that he desired to row much further, and they took a

sharp pull; then Hymir said that they had come so far that it was perilous to abide out farther because of the Midgard

Serpent. Thor replied that they would row a while yet, and so he did; but Hymir was then sore afraid. Now as soon as

Thor had laid by the oars, he made ready a very strong fishing-line, and the hook was no less large and strong. Then

Thor put the ox-head on the hook and cast it overboard, and the hook went to the bottom; and it is telling thee the truth to

say that then Thor beguiled the Midgard Serpent no less than Ϊtgarda-Loki had mocked Thor, at the time when he lifted

up the Serpent in his hand.


The Midgard Serpent snapped at the ox-head, and the hook caught in its jaw; but when the Serpent was aware of this, it

dashed away so fiercely that both Thor's fists crashed against the gunwale. Then Thor was angered, and took upon him his

divine strength, braced his feet so strongly that he plunged through the ship with both feet, and dashed his feet against the

bottom; then he drew the Serpent up to the gunwale. And it may be said that no one has seen very fearful sights who might

not see that: bow Thor flashed fiery glances at the Serpent, and the Serpent in turn stared up toward him from below and blew

venom. Then, it is said, the giant Hymir grew pale, became yellow, and was sore afraid, when he saw the Serpent, and how

the sea rushed out and in through the boat. In the very moment when Thor clutched his hammer and raised it on high, then the

giant fumbled for his fish-knife and hacked off Thor's line at the gunwale, and the Serpent sank down into the sea. Thor hurled

his hammer after it; and men say that he struck off its head against the bottom; but I think it were true to tell thee that the

Midgard Serpent yet lives and lies in the encompassing sea. But 'Thor swung his fist and brought it against Hymir's ear, so

that he plunged overboard, and Thor saw the soles of his feet. And Thor waded to land.



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Blog Archive


• Saturday, 30 July, 2011

• A Brief History of the Illustrated Book


• Friday, 22 July, 2011

• Masculinity and Femininity (Part 2)


• Saturday, 16 July, 2011

• Masculinity and Femininity (Part 1)


• Monday, 27 June, 2011

• Heroes (Part 3)


• Friday, 20 June, 2011

• Heroes (Part 2)


• Tuesday, 14 June, 2011

• Heroes (Part I)


• Friday, 7 June, 2011

• Archetypes


• Friday, 27 May, 2011

• Morality through Narrative


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Last modified: 10/03/11