Ægir is god of the sea (œgir, “sea”) or rather a Sea-giant. In primitive thought the sea was regarded as a mighty being, which was personified or regarded as more or less distinct from the sea. The kennings for Ægir show that, even in late times, there was not a clear distinction between sea (œgir) and Sea-god (Ægir). Snorri says that sœ, “sea,” is called “husband of Ran,” “visitor of the gods,” father of Ægir’s daughters,” “land of Ran.”1 The skald Ref speaks of “Ægir’s wide jaws,” as if the sea itself was a vast being. Into these jaws Ran wiles the ships.2 Ægir, the personal name, or œgir, “sea,” is connected with Gothic ahva, Latin aqua, ON á, “water,” “river.” The ON name of the river Eider (Egidora), Ægisdyr, is literally “door of the sea.”3
Ægir is also called Gymir in the Introduction to Lokasenna and in skaldic verse. Ran, his wife, is “Gymir’s Volva”; the breakers or the murmur of the sea are “Gymir’s song”; the sea is “Gymir’s dwelling.”4 Ægir’s father is Fornjot, a giant, who is also father of wind and fire.5
Though on the whole depicted as a friend of the gods in the Eddas, Ægir is of the giant folk. His name is given in Snorri’s list of giants,6 and Hymiskvitha calls him bergbui and jötun, and describes him sitting “merry as a child” (barnteitr) like other giants. Why the sea should be a Mountain-giant (bergbui) is not clear. Kindly and good-humoured, Ægir represents the peaceful rather than the stormy sea.
The gods feasted in Ægir’s halls. Hymiskvitha opens by describing a feast at which the gods found the ale scanty. They consulted the divining-twigs and the blood and found that
there was abundance in Ægir’s dwelling. Thor bade Ægir furnish a banquet for them, but Ægir, in order to cause trouble, said that Thor must procure a vessel large enough to brew ale for all the gods. This is introductory to the story of Thor’s adventure with the giant Hymir to whom he goes to procure this vessel.
Lokasenna continues the story. Ægir prepared the banquet in his halls, and to it came many gods and elves. The ale served itself and the banquet was proceeding gaily, but the gods praised Ægir’s servants, Fimafeng and Eldir, for their cleverness, and this annoyed Loki, who slew Fimafeng. The bulk of the poem is taken up with Loki and his slanders of the gods and goddesses. Ægir takes no part in this: only at the end, ere Loki goes away, does he address Ægir:
i.e., the fire which is to consume the world.
In explaining why gold is called “Ægir’s fire,” Snorri speaks of this banquet. Ægir had gone to Asgard to a feast and, on leaving, invited Odin and the Æsir to visit him three months hence. When the guests (all but Thor) had assembled, Loki bandied sharp words with the gods and slew Fimafeng.7 Nothing further is told by Snorri of the banquet, and neither here nor in the story of Thor and Hymir does he speak of the mighty vessel.
Lokasenna tells how, in place of fire, bright gold served to give light in Ægir’s hall. Snorri enlarges upon this. Ægir caused bright gold to be brought in and set on the floor. It illumined the hall and served as lights at the banquet. Hence gold is called “fire,” “light,” or “brightness” of Ægir, of Ran, or of Ægir’s daughters. Gold is also “fire of the sea.”8 As Ægir seems to personify the calm sea, the brilliant gleam of the sun
on its surface may have given rise to these kennings and to the myth of the light-giving gold in his hall.
As brewer of ale for his banquet to the gods, Ægir is called by Egill “ale-brewer of all the gods,” and as one present at their banquets he is “the visitor of the gods.”9
Ægir also bears the name Hler, and the island Hlesey (Hler’s island, Læsö in the Kattegat) was his dwelling. Snorri begins his Bragarœdur with this statement, making Ægir a man versed in magic. He visits the gods in Asgard and partakes of their banquet, and as he sits next to Bragi, he learns many things from him of the doings of the Æsir and the methods of skaldic art. Hler may have been a local name of the Sea-giant in Denmark and in the west of Norway. In different accounts Hler alternates with Ægir as Fornjot’s son, who rules the sea.10 Hler may also be the giant Lm who dwells in Læsö according to the Annales Lundenses, or, as in another account, Olaus’ Chronica regum Danorum, a Hill-giant or troll, with many heads, dwelling within the rocks.11