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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

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

III. Óláfsdrápa sœnska (Óldr) - 6

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

Skj poems:
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).

Óláfsdrápa sœnska (‘Drápa about Óláfr the Swede’) — Ótt ÓldrIII

Matthew Townend 2017, ‘ Óttarr svarti, Óláfsdrápa sœnska’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 335. <> (accessed 18 May 2022)

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Skj: Óttarr svarti: 1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska, omkr. 1018 (AI, 289-290, BI, 267); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 5

in texts: LaufE, LaufE, Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 335

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Óttarr svarti’s poem Óláfsdrápa sœnskaDrápa about Óláfr the Swede’ (Ótt Óldr) in praise of Óláfr Eiríksson, king of Sweden, is preserved only in Skm (SnE); however, ÓHLeg, ÓH and Hkr contain accounts of Óttarr’s time in Sweden (ÓHLeg 1982, 130; ÓH 1941, II, 688; ÍF 27, 90-2), and he is listed in Skáldatal as one of Óláfr’s poets (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 260, 271). Óláfr reigned from the mid 990s to 1022, but the saga accounts, if they can be trusted, would place Óttarr’s time in Sweden as c. 1017-18. However, the date of the poem could really be any time up to Óláfr’s death in 1022. Óttarr’s poem is composed in the metre known as hálfhnept ‘half-curtailed’ (see SnSt Ht 77, Faulkes in SnE 2007, 88-9 and the General Introduction in SkP I, lxiii), and some lines (cf. sts 1/4, 2/2, 5/2, 4 and 6/4) are not hálfhnept but alhnept ‘completely curtailed’ (SnSt Ht 78); hálfhnept is a metre for which Irish influence has been suggested (Einar Ólafur Sveinsson 1976). The title in Skj and Skald, Óláfsdrápa sœnska, is purely editorial, as no title is given in the mss. The poem consists of six half-stanzas, and preservation only in Skm means that the order of stanzas must be more uncertain than usual for a royal encomium. The order adopted here differs from that of Skj and Skald (both of which give the stanzas in the order of (our) sts 1, 5, 2, 4, 3, 6) and assumes the following sequence: (1) the poet’s call for a hearing (present tense); (2) the king’s youth (past tense); (3) a storm/battle stanza (past tense); (4) a battle stanza (present tense); (5) the king’s marriage to the land (present tense); and (6) a summary of the current situation (present tense). This ordering, which assumes a movement from past-tense to present-tense narration, is offered only tentatively, however, and other sequences are certainly possible (Fidjestøl 1982, 171). Mss R, and C contain all six stanzas, B (represented by 744ˣ) has sts 1-5, A has sts 3-4 and 6, and U has sts 1-2. Ms. R is chosen as base ms. for this edition, except for st. 3 where A is used since R preserves only two lines of the stanza. All stanzas are attributed to Óttarr svarti (sts 1-2, 5) or just to Óttarr (sts 3-4, 6).

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