Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

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

2. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

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 (1993b).

Knútsdrápa (‘Drápa about Knútr’) — Ótt KnútdrI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa’ 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. 767.

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Skj: Óttarr svarti: 3. Knútsdrápa, 1026 (AI, 296-8, BI, 272-5); stanzas (if different): 8 | 10

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Hkr, Knýtl, LaufE, ÓH, ÓHHkr, ÓHLeg, Skm, SnE

SkP info: I, 767

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files

 

1 Hratt lítt gamall, lýtir
lǫgreiðar, framm skeiðum;
fórat fylkir œri,
folksveimuðr, þér heiman.
Hilmir, bjótt ok hættir
harðbrynjuð skip kynjum;
reiðr hafðir þú rauðar
randir, Knútr, fyr landi.
Destroyer of the sea-chariot [SHIP > SEAFARER], you launched ships forward at no great age; army-traveller [WARRIOR], no ruler younger than you went from home. Prince, you made ready hard-armoured ships and were wondrously daring; in your anger, Knútr, you raised [lit. had] red shields before the land.
2 Út fylgðu þér Jótar,
auðmildr, flugar trauðir;
skauthreina bjó skreytir
Skônunga liðvánir.
Vôð blés of þér, vísi;
vestr settir þú flesta
— kunnt gørðir þú þannig
þitt nafn — í haf stafna.
The Jótar, reluctant to flee, accompanied you abroad, wealth-generous one; the adorner of sail-reindeer [SHIPS > SEAFARER] prepared the expected troops of the Skánungar. The cloth billowed over you, prince; you directed a great many prows westwards across the sea; you made your name known in that way.
3 Herskjǫld bart ok helduð,
hilmir, ríkr af slíku;
hykkat, þengill, þekkðusk
þik kyrrsetu mikla.
Ætt drap Jóta dróttinn
Játgeirs í fǫr þeiri;
þveit rakt — þrár est heitinn —
þeim, stillis konr, illan.
You carried the war-shield, prince, and prevailed, powerful by such means; I do not think, lord, you cared much for sitting in peace. The lord of the Jótar [DANISH KING = Knútr] struck the kindred of Eadgar [THE ENGLISH] on that expedition; ruler’s son [= Knútr], you dealt them a harsh blow; you are called defiant.
4 Brunnu byggðir manna,
buðlungr, fyr þér ungum;
opt lézt húss of heiptir
herkall búendr gerva.
King, settlements of people burned before you in your youth; often you caused the residents to make a war-cry on account of the destroyer of the house [FIRE].
5 Gunni lézt í grœnni,
gramr, Lindisey framða;
belldu viðr, þvís vildu,
víkingar þar ríki.
Bíða lézt í breiðri
borg Hemminga sorgir
œst fyr Úsu vestan
engst folk, Svía þrøngvir.
King, you caused battle to be fought in green Lindsey; there the vikings used in opposition the strength they wished. Oppressor of the Swedes [= Knútr], you angrily caused the English people to experience sorrows in broad Hemingbrough, to the west of the Ouse.
6 Ungr fylkir, lézt Engla
allnær Thesu falla;
flóði djúpt of dauðra
dík Norðimbra líkum.
Svefn braut svǫrtum hrafni
sunnarr hvǫtuðr gunnar;
olli sókn inn snjalli
Sveins mǫgr at Skorsteini.
Young ruler, you caused the English to fall very near the Tees; the deep ditch flowed over the bodies of dead Northumbrians. The urger of battle [WARRIOR] broke the sleep of the dark raven further south; the bold son of Sveinn [= Knútr] made an attack at Sherston.
7 Fjǫrlausa hykk Frísi,
friðskerðir, þik gerðu,
— brauzt með byggðu setri
Brandfurðu þar — randa.
Játmundar hlaut undir
ættniðr gǫfugr hættar;
danskr herr skaut þá dǫrrum
drótt, es þú rakt flótta.
Peace-breaker of shields [WARRIOR], I believe you made the Frisians lifeless; you destroyed Brentford there with its inhabited settlement. The noble descendant of Eadmund [= Edmund Ironside] received dangerous wounds; the Danish army then pierced the host with spears when you pursued the fleeing.
8 Framm gekkt enn, þars unnuð
— almr gall hátt — við malma;
knôttut slæ, þars sóttuð,
sverð, kastala, verða.
Unnuð eigi minni
— ulfs gómr veit þat — rómu,
hnekkir hleypiblakka
hlunns, á Tempsar grunni.
Still you went forward, where you fought against metal weapons; the bow cried loudly; swords did not become blunt where you attacked the fortification. Restrainer of the leaping steeds of the roller [SHIPS > SEAFARER], you fought no less a battle in the shallows of the Thames; the wolf’s gums know that.
9 Bjóðr, vannt brynjur rauðar,
blíðr stórgjafa, síðan
— lætr ǫnd, áðr þrek þrjóti
þinn — fyr Norðvík innan.
Gracious giver of great gifts [GENEROUS MAN], you afterwards made mail-shirts red inland from Norwich; you will give up your spirit [die] before your strength fails.
10 Skjǫldungr, vannt und skildi
skœru verk, inn sterki;
fekk blóðtrani bráðir
brúnar Assatúnum.
Vátt, en valfall þótti
verðung, jǫfurr, sverði,
nær fyr norðan stóru
nafn gnógt Danaskóga.
Strong Skjǫldungr, you performed a feat of battle under the shield; the blood-crane [RAVEN/EAGLE] received dark morsels at Ashingdon. Prince, you won by fighting a great enough name with a mighty sword nearby to the north of the Forest of Dean, and it seemed a slaughter to the retinue.
11 Svíum hnekkðir þú, søkkva
siklingr ǫrr, en mikla
ylgr, þars Ô in helga,
ulfs beitu fekk, heitir.
Helt, þars hrafn né svalta,
(hvatráðr est þú) láði,
ógnar stafr, fyr jǫfrum,
ýgr, tveimr (við kyn beima).
Sovereign generous with treasures, you checked the Swedes, and the she-wolf received much wolf’s food [CORPSES], at the place which is called Helgeå. Fierce staff of battle [WARRIOR], you held the territory against two princes, where the raven did not at all go hungry; you are bold-minded against the race of men.
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