Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Matthew Townend;

1. Hǫfuðlausn (Hfl) - 20

Skj info: Óttarr svarti, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 289-99, BI, 267-75).

Skj poems:
Lausavísur
1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska
2. Hǫfuðlausn
3. Knútsdrápa

The Icelandic poet Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’ (Ótt) was remembered in the twelfth century (ESk Geisl 12) as one of the hǫfuðskǫld ‘chief skalds’ of the late Viking Age. His nickname would seem to locate him within the tradition of poets being ‘dark’ in either appearance or temperament (see Clunies Ross 1978b; Finlay 2000). According to Styrmir Kárason (ÓH 1941, II, 688), the poet Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) was a mikill vinr ‘great friend’ of Óttarr, and indeed Óttarr’s Hǫfuðlausn (Ótt Hfl) is greatly indebted to Sigvatr’s Víkingarvísur (Sigv Víkv, see Introduction to Hfl). Snorri Sturluson (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203) further describes Óttarr as Sigvatr’s maternal nephew, and if this is correct he would have been the grandson of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’ (see Biography of Sigvatr Þórðarson). Óttarr features in the various sagas of Óláfr Haraldsson, but the only major anecdote about him is the story surrounding his Hfl (see Introduction).

Skáldatal, in one or both of its recensions (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 253, 258, 260, 261, 267, 269), lists Óttarr as having composed for six patrons: the Danes Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson and his son Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great); Óláfr sœnski ‘the Swede’ Eiríksson and his son Ǫnundr Óláfsson; and the Norwegian King Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr), and the Norwegian magnate Dala-Guðbrandr (‘Guðbrandr of the Dales’, on whom, see ÍF 27, 183-90; ÓH 1941, I, 271-82). For Sveinn and Dala-Guðbrandr, Óttarr is the only poet listed in Skáldatal. Panegyric poetry by Óttarr is certainly extant for three of these patrons: Óláfsdrápa (ÓldrIII) for Óláfr Eiríksson (preserved only in SnE and therefore edited in SkP III), Hfl for Óláfr Haraldsson, and Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) and Lv 2 for Knútr. It has, moreover, been suggested that one stanza in Knútdr may have been misplaced from an earlier poem for Sveinn (see Note to st. 9 [All]). No poetry survives for Ǫnundr or Dala-Guðbrandr. From all the evidence, it is likely that Óttarr visited, and composed, for, his patrons in this order: Sveinn until his death in 1014; Óláfr Eiríksson until his death c. 1021 (though ÓHLeg 1982, 130-1, has Óttarr, a young man fresh from Iceland, approaching him as his first patron), then his son Ǫnundr; Óláfr Haraldsson in the early 1020s, and Dala-Guðbrandr in the same period; Knútr by c. 1027 for an unknown period (Knútr died in 1035). For previous discussions of Óttarr’s career, see SnE 1848-87, III, 326-33, LH I, 574-7 and Poole (1993).

Hǫfuðlausn (‘Head-ransom’) — Ótt HflI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 739.

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Skj: Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn, o. 1023 (AI, 290-6, BI, 268-72); stanzas (if different): 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

in texts: FGT, Flat, Fsk, Gramm, Hkr, Knýtl, Orkn, ÓH, ÓHHkr, ÓHLeg, ÓHÆ, Skm, SnE

SkP info: I, 739

notes: incomplete list of mss

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files

 

1 Hlýð, manngǫfugr, minni
myrkblás, þvít kannk yrkja;
finnum yðr ok annan,
allvaldr, konung fallinn.
Þat telk, garms ok Gauta
glaðnistanda misstak,
dǫglings verk at dýrka,
dýrr þengill, mitt lengi.
Listen, noble with your retinue, to the recollection of the dark black one [Óttarr], because I know how to compose; we [I] come to you, mighty ruler, and another worthy king. I reckon it my [task] to glorify the work of the prince for a long time, precious ruler, and I have lost the glad feeder of the hound of Gauti <= Óðinn> [WOLF > WARRIOR = Óláfr Eiríksson].
2 Góðmennis þarfk gunnar
glóðbrjótanda at njóta;
hérs alnennin inni
inndrótt með gram svinnum.
I need to enjoy the favour of the good men of the breaker of the ember of battle [(lit. ‘ember-breaker of battle’) SWORD > WARRIOR]; here there is a very active household retinue inside with a wise king.
3 Ungr hratt á vit vengis,
vígrakkr konungr, blakki
(þú hefr dýrum þrek) dreyra
Danmarkar (þik vanðan).
Varð nýtligust norðan
— núst ríkr af hvǫt slíkri —
(frák til þess, es fóruð,)
fǫr þín, konungr (gǫrva).
Battle-bold king, you launched [when] young the steed of the blood of the land [SEA > SHIP] towards Denmark; you have accustomed yourself to splendid valour. King, your journey from the north became most successful; I heard clearly about this, that you travelled; now you are powerful on account of such boldness.
4 Ǫttuð ôrum skreyttum
austr í salt með flaustum;
bôruð lind af landi,
landvǫrðr, á skip randir.
Neyttuð segls, ok sættuð
sundvarpaði stundum;
sleit mjǫk róin mikla
mǫrg ôr und þér bôru.
You urged decorated oars alongside the ships east on the salt sea; land-guardian [RULER], you carried the linden-shield from the land, shields onto the ships. You made use of the sail and sometimes deployed the sea-thrower [OAR]; many a much-rowed oar cut the great swell beneath you.
5 Skôruð skǫfnu stýri
(skaut) sylgháar bylgjur
(lék við hún á hreini
hlunns, þats drósir spunnu).
You cut the high, engulfing waves with a smoothed rudder; the sail, which women had spun, played against the mast-top on the reindeer of the roller [SHIP].
6 Drótt vas drjúgligr ótti,
dolglinns, at fǫr þinni,
svanbræðir; namt síðan
Svíþjóðar nes rjóða.
Feeder of the swan of the battle-serpent [(lit. ‘swan-feeder of the battle-serpent’) SWORD > RAVEN/EAGLE > WARRIOR], there was great terror for the people from your journey; afterwards you began to redden the headland(s) of Sweden.
7 Gildir, komt at gjaldi
gotneskum her, flotna;
þorðut þér at varða
þjóðlǫnd firar rǫndu.
Rann, en maðr of minna
margr býr of þrek (varga
hungr frák austr) an yngvi,
Eysýslu lið (þeyja).
Supporter of seafarers [RULER], you forced the Gotland host to [pay] tribute; the men did not dare to defend the nation’s lands against you with the shield. The people of Saaremaa ran, and many a man possesses less courage than the king; I heard the hunger of the wolves to be diminished in the east.
8 Enn brauzt, éla kennir
Yggs gunnþorinn, bryggjur
(linns hefr lǫnd at vinna)
Lundúna (þér snúnat).
Hǫfðu hart of krafðir
— hildr óx við þat — skildir
gang, en gamlir sprungu
gunnþinga járnhringar.
Battle-daring master of the storms of Yggr <= Óðinn> [BATTLES > WARRIOR], you further broke the wharves of London; it has turned out for you to win the lands of the serpent [GOLD]. Shields, hard pressed, had movement, and old iron-rings of battle-meetings [MAIL-SHIRTS] sprang apart; battle increased at that.
9 Þengill, frák, at þunga
þinn herr skipum ferri
(rauð Hringmaraheiði)
hlóð valkǫstu (blóði).
Laut fyr yðr, áðr létti,
landfolk í gný randa,
Engla ferð, at jǫrðu
ótt, en mǫrg á flótta.
King, I heard that your army heaped up heavy piles of the slain far from the ships; they reddened Ringmere Heath with blood. The people of the land bowed down frantically to the ground before you in the clash of shields [BATTLE], and many a troop of the English [took] to flight, before it ended.
10 Atgǫngu vannt, yngvi,
ætt siklinga mikla;
blíðr hilmir, rautt breiða
borg Kantara of morgin.
Lék við rǫnn af ríki
— rétt, bragna konr, gagni —
(aldar, frák, at aldri)
eldr ok reykr (of beldir).
King, you made a great attack on the race of princes; gracious ruler, you reddened broad Canterbury in the morning. Fire and smoke played against the houses mightily; kinsman of chieftains [RULER], you gained victory; I heard that you harmed the life of people.
11 Máttit enskrar ættar
ǫld, þars tókt við gjǫldum,
vísi, vægðarlausum,
víðfrægr, við þér bægja.
Guldut gumnar sjaldan
goll dǫglingi hollum;
stundum frák til strandar
stór þing ofan fóru.
Widely-famous ruler, the people of English race could not stand against you, merciless, when you received tribute. Men not seldom paid gold to the gracious king; I heard that at times great goods went down to the shore.
12 Nôðuð ungr at eyða,
ógnteitr jǫfurr, Peitu;
reynduð, ræsir, steinda
rǫnd á Túskalandi.
Battle-glad prince, you were able [when] young to lay waste to Poitou; ruler, you tested the stained shield in Touraine.
13 Komt í land ok lendir,
láðvǫrðr, Aðalráði;
þín naut rekka rúni
ríki efldr at slíku.
Harðr vas fundr, sás fœrðuð
friðlands á vit niðja
(réð áttstuðill áðan)
Játmundar (þar grundu).
Land-guardian [KING], you brought Æthelred into the land and gave [him] land; strengthened with a kingdom, the counsellor of warriors [KING = Æthelred] had help from you in this. The fighting was hard, by which you brought the kinsman of Eadmund [= Æthelred] into a land of peace; the prop of the family ruled the land there previously.
14 Valfasta, bjótt vestan,
veðrǫrr, tváa knǫrru;
hætt hafið ér í ótta
opt, skjǫldunga þopti.
Næði straumr, ef stœði,
strangr kaupskipum angra,
innanborðs, á unnum,
erringar lið verra.
Brisk in the weather of the fire of the slain [(lit. ‘weather-brisk of the slain-fire’) SWORD > BATTLE], you prepared two cargo-ships from the west; benchmate of kings [RULER], you have often ventured into danger. The strong current would have been able to trouble the merchant-ships on the waves if a crew poorer in vigour had stood on board.
15 Eigi hrædduzk ægi;
ér fóruð sæ stóran;
allvaldr of getr aldar
engi nýtri drengi.
Opt varð fars, en forsi
flaust hratt af sér brǫttum,
neytt, áðr Nóreg beittuð,
niðjungr Haralds, miðjan.
You were not afraid of the ocean; you travelled across a great sea; no mighty ruler of men [RULER] gains abler warriors. The ship was often tested, and the vessel threw from itself the steep cataract, before, descendant of Haraldr [= Óláfr], you beat to the middle of Norway.
16 Blágjóða, tókt, bræðir
bengjalfrs, ok þá sjalfa,
skatti gnœgðr, með skreyttu
skeið Hôkonar reiði.
Ungr sóttir þú, Þróttar
þings mágrennir, hingat,
(máttit jarl) þaus ôttuð,
áttlǫnd (fyr því standa).
Feeder of the dark ospreys of the wound-sea [BLOOD > RAVENS/EAGLES > WARRIOR = Óláfr], replete with tribute, you captured the warship of Hákon with [its] ornamented tackle, and the men themselves. Feeder of the gull of the assembly of Þróttr <= Óðinn> [(lit. ‘gull-feeder of the assembly of Þróttr’) BATTLE > RAVEN/EAGLE > WARRIOR = Óláfr], you sought [when] young your ancestral lands here, which you owned; the jarl could not stand in the way of that.
17 Lýtandi, hefr ljótu
lands rôðǫndum, branda,
umbstillingar allar,
ifla folds, of goldit.
Hafa lézt heiðska jǫfra,
herskorðandi, forðum,
mundangs laun, þás meinum,
mætr gramr, við þik sættu.
Harmer of the flames of the land of the hawk [HAND > GOLD > GENEROUS MAN = Óláfr], you have paid with ill the rulers of the land for all their plottings. Army-supporter [RULER], excellent ruler, you let the Hedmark princes who previously planned injuries against you receive an appropriate payment.
18 Braut hafið, bǫðvar þreytir,
branda rjóðr, ór landi
— meir fannsk þinn an þeira
þrekr — dǫglinga rekna.
Stǫkk, sem þjóð of þekkir,
þér hverr konungr ferri;
heptuð ér en eptir
orðreyr, þess’s sat norðast.
Wager of battle [WARRIOR], reddener of swords [WARRIOR], you have driven the rulers away from the land; your courage was more in evidence than theirs. Each king fled far from you, as the people know; afterwards you restrained the word-reed [TONGUE] of the one who dwelt furthest north.
19 Nú ræðr þú fyr þeiri
(þik remmir goð miklu)
fold, es forðum heldu
fimm bragningar (gagni).
Breið eru austr til Eiða
ættlǫnd und þér; Gǫndlar
engr sat elda þrøngvir
áðr at slíku láði.
Now you rule over that land which five princes held previously; God strengthens you with a great victory. Broad ancestral lands lie under you eastwards to Eiðar; no forcer of the fires of Gǫndul <valkyrie> [SWORDS > WARRIOR] presided over such territory before.
20 Gegn, (eru þér at þegnum)
þjóðskjǫldunga góðra
haldið hæft á veldi
(Hjaltlendingar kenndir).
Engi varð á jǫrðu
ógnbráðr, áðr þér nôðum,
austr, sás eyjum vestan,
ynglingr, und sik þryngvi.
Trustworthy one, you hold fittingly onto the power of good kings of the people; the Shetlanders are known to you as your thanes. No battle-bold king who subjugated under himself the islands in the west arose east in the land, before we got you.
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