The above small bronze statue (about 2.5 in, 6.4 cm), probably made about A.D.
1000, was found on a farm at Akureyri in
Iceland. It portrays the bearded god Thor with his hammer.
Click on image for full size
Image reproduced by courtesy of the National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik.
In Norse mythology, Thor was the god of thunderstorms. He produces the thunder
with his marvelous hammer called Mjolnir (The Destroyer). This hammer, made by
skillful dwarfs, magically returned to Thor's hand whenever he needed it. Thor
was depicted as a tall and muscular man with red hair and beard. He could double his strength by wearing a magic belt in his possession. His greatest enemy was the
World Serpent which lived in the ocean surrounding Midgard
, the Earth.
An old legend tells us how the giant, Thrym, stole and hid Thor's hammer, asking in exchange for it the hand of the beautiful goddess Freya. Instead, the gods decided to send Thor disguised as Freya, and the god Loki disguised as a maidservant. When
the two gods arrived dressed as women, they were served the nuptial feast. But,
the giants were surprised by the incredible appetite of the "bride" who ate
several oxen and salmon. The gods explained that this singular appetite
was due to the fact that the bride had fasted for nine days prior to the
marriage. Finally, when Thrym took the hammer out for the ceremony, Thor grasped it and slew Thrym.
In yet another story, Thor was sent on a quest to destroy the hated World Serpent. He disguised himself as a young fisherman, and joined the giant, Hymir on his boat. Using the head of an ox as bait, Thor caught the serpent on his line. Just as he swung his hammer to kill the serpent, a scared Hymir cut the line. The World Serpent safely escaped back into the ocean.
Thor was often challenged by giants. One in particular, named Hrungnir, boasted that he could defeat the strong champion of the gods. Thor's companion, Thjalfi, tricked the giant into standing on his shield, to protect himself from an attack from below. Thor swooped down from above and shattered the giant's stone head with his hammer.
Thor was probably the most important god in Norse mythology. He represented the champion of both the gods and people. Without him, Midgard would have belonged to the evil giants, or the trickster, Loki.
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