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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

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

2. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

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, ‘ 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. <> (accessed 5 July 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11 

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


Nine complete stanzas and two helmingar are printed here as Óttarr svarti’s KnútsdrápaDrápa about Knútr’ (Ótt Knútdr). Composed in honour of Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great, d. 1035), most of the poem (sts 1-10) is preserved exclusively in Knýtl chs 8-13, whereas st. 11 is preserved (in whole or part) in ÓHLeg and Fsk, in the Separate (ÓH) and Hkr (ÓHHkr) versions of Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga, and in SnE.

The likely date of Óttarr’s poem is c. 1027 (see Townend 2001, 157-61). On the basis of the stanzas preserved, it appears to date from after the battle of Á in helga (Helgeå, Skåne, c. 1026), but before Knútr’s annexation of Norway (c. 1028). The greater part of the poem (sts 1-10) is concerned with Knútr’s English battles. Knútr’s father Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson, king of England and Denmark, died in February 1014. Following the return from exile of the Anglo-Saxon king Æthelred II, Knútr’s forces soon withdrew from England to Denmark. However, in September 1015 Knútr launched his assault on England, and the ensuing campaign lasted till late 1016 (see Lawson 1993, 9-48). For a saga account of Óttarr’s service to Knútr, see ÓHLeg 1982, 130-2.

Most of the Knútdr stanzas are introduced with Svá segir Óttarr ‘As Óttarr says’ or a similar tag, which normally indicates that the stanza belonged to an extended poem (see ‘Reconstruction of skaldic poems’ in General Introduction). The title is given as Knútsdrápa in the introduction to st. 1 and indicated more loosely in the introductions to st. 11 (see Notes to st. 1 [All] and st. 11 [All]). However, the coherence of the poem, as reconstructed, is not without problems. Ten of the eleven surviving stanzas are relatively poorly witnessed; st. 11 has a different preservation history from the rest of the poem; st. 9 may conceivably belong to a different poem (see Note to st. 9 [All]); and Óttarr’s Lv 2 may possibly have functioned as a prologue-like preliminary to the Knútdr proper. On the plus side, the likely order of the stanzas can readily be determined by reference to other historical sources, and through attention to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC, s. a. 1016) the sequence of sts 8-10 in this edition departs from that in Skj and Skald, which simply follow the sequence of Knýtl. Knýtl quotes stanzas from Óttarr’s Knútdr for a series of battles, in the following sequence: Sherston (Wiltshire), Brentford (Middlesex), Ashingdon (Essex), Norwich (Norfolk) and London. The ASC’s ordering, however, differs, and is followed here: Sherston (st. 6), Brentford (st. 7), London (our st. 8), Ashingdon (our st. 10). If Knútr fought a battle at or near Norwich (on which, see Note to st. 9 [All]), it must – again judging from ASC – have come between those at London and Ashingdon.

The poem, with its numerous English place names (both northern and southern) is a valuable source for early eleventh-century Scandinavian campaigns in England, whereas the extant Knútsdrápa by Sigvatr (Sigv Knútdr) only refers to Knútr’s eventual success, and Hallvarðr’s Knútsdrápa (Hallv KnútdrIII) offers little detail. In terms of style, a salient feature of Ótt Knútdr is the predominance of second-person rather than third-person narration (see Frank 1994a). In a number of cases this use of second-person narration is metrically guaranteed (e.g. sts 1/5, 8/1, 8/5). However, this is not always the case, and it is difficult to judge whether the (metrically unguaranteed) examples of third-person narration found in the mss represent Óttarr’s original, or alteration to the more usual mode on the part of scribes (e.g. st. 2/3; cf. st. 8/1, where emendation seems necessary). The poem is composed in dróttkvætt, in this case with an apparent fondness for self-contained couplets.

The portion of Knýtl containing sts 1-10 is poorly witnessed in terms of mss, and the best text (though far from excellent) is a printed edition of 1741 by Jón Ólafsson (JÓ); also used in this edition are 20dˣ, 873ˣ and 41ˣ. Such an insecure preservation for most of the poem means that in places more editorial intervention is required than would otherwise be desirable; several emendations that have become traditional go back to Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s edition of Knýtl (Fms 11, 186-97, Fms 12, 247-50 and notes to SHI 11, 174-85). For the numerous ms. witnesses to st. 11, which include the sole vellum leaf that survives from the Kringla ms. of Hkr, see ms. listing there.

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated