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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Judith Jesch;

II. Bersǫglisvísur (Berv) - 18

Skj info: Sigvatr Þórðarson, Islandsk skjald, o. 995-o. 1045 (AI, 223-75, BI, 213-54).

Skj poems:
1. Víkingarvísur
2. Nesjavísur
3. Austrfararvísur
4. En drape om kong Olaf
5. Vestrfararvísur
6. Et kvad om Erlingr Skjalgsson
7. Flokkr om Erlingr Skjalgsson
8. Tryggvaflokkr
9. Et digt om dronning Astrid
10. Knútsdrápa
11. Bersǫglisvísur
12. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga
13. Lausavísur
14. Et par halvvers af ubestemmelige digte

Sigvatr or Sighvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) is said (ÍF 27, 54) to have been the son of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’, an Icelander who served, in succession, Sigvaldi jarl Strút-Haraldsson, leader of the Jómsvíkingar, his brother Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’, who campaigned in England, and Óláfr Haraldsson, later king of Norway (r. c. 1015-30) and saint. Þórðr is listed as one of Sigvaldi’s skalds in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 259, 268), but none of his poetry survives. The family tradition of poetry can also be traced in Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’, said to have been Sigvatr’s sister’s son (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203). Sigvatr was brought up by a certain Þorkell, at Apavatn in south-west Iceland. When nearly fully grown he sailed to what is now Trondheim, where he met up with his father and joined King Óláfr’s retinue. According to Snorri (ÍF 27, 54-6; ÓH 1941, I, 81-3), Sigvatr recited Lv 2-3 at this time, and he interceded with the king on behalf of Icelandic merchants forced to pay a heavy tax in Norway (cf. Sigv Lv 4). It is also likely that this is when Þórðr provided Sigvatr with the material for Víkv (see Introduction to Sigv Víkv), which may be the poem referred to in the prose introduction to Sigv Lv 2 (Fidjestøl 1982, 118). There is no evidence that Sigvatr ever returned to Iceland, and according to the anecdote in which Sigv Lv 11 is preserved, he died on the island of Selja in north-western Norway and was buried at Kristskirkja (Kristkirken) in Trondheim. His poetry records his various journeys to Sweden, England and the Continent, as well as incidents in Norway. We know nothing of Sigvatr’s private life, except that he had a daughter called Tófa, who had King Óláfr himself as her godfather (Sigv Lv 19).

Sigvatr’s surviving poetic oeuvre is both large and remarkably diverse, encompassing different kinds of encomia not only on King Óláfr (Sigv Víkv, Sigv Nesv, Sigv Óldr, Sigv ErfÓl), but also on King Knútr of Denmark (Sigv Knútdr) and the Norwegian nobleman Erlingr Skjálgsson (Sigv Erl, Sigv Erlfl). Sigvatr was godfather to King Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson and composed some avuncular words of advice to the boy-king (Sigv BervII). All of these patrons are recognised in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 252-4, 258, 260-2, 269), where Sigvatr is also credited with having composed for the Swedish king Ǫnundr Óláfsson (although no such poetry survives, cf. Sigv Knútdr 4/6) and the Norwegian chieftain Ívarr inn hvíti ‘the White’ (cf. Context to Sigv Lv 8). Sigvatr also composed a poem on the Norwegian pretender Tryggvi Óláfsson (Sigv Tryggfl) and is unique in having composed in dróttkvætt in praise of a woman, Óláfr Haraldsson’s widow Ástríðr Óláfsdóttir (Sigv Ást). Several of Sigvatr’s poems are more or less loosely connected sequences of stanzas rather than more formal compositions, and encompass both travelogue (Sigv Austv) and political commentary (Sigv Vestv, Sigv BervII). The latter genre is also well represented in his lausavísur, which also include some remarkably personal stanzas expressing his grief at the death of King Óláfr (Sigv Lv 22-4). Sigvatr’s status as a hǫfuðskáld ‘chief skald’ was recognised in the twelfth century (cf. Esk Geisl 12/8VII). His versatility as a poet has clearly inspired a number of anecdotes focusing on the composition of poetry, mostly of doubtful authenticity (cf. Contexts to Sigv Lv 1, 8, 11, 27; also Introduction to Ótt Hfl). Apart from two fragments preserved in SnE (Sigv Frag 1-2III), Sigvatr’s poetry is transmitted in a wide range of texts within the tradition of the kings’ sagas and is therefore edited in this volume or (in the case of the late Sigv Berv) in SkP II. For general studies of Sigvatr’s life and works, see Paasche (1917), Hollander (1940) and Petersen (1946).

Bersǫglisvísur (‘Plain-speaking Vísur’) — Sigv BervII

Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Bersǫglisvísur’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 11-30. <> (accessed 23 October 2021)

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Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 11. Bersǫglisvísur, o. 1038 (AI, 251-6, BI, 234-9); stanzas (if different): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 13 | 15 | 18

in texts: Ágr, Flat, Fsk, Gramm, H-Hr, Hkr, MGóð, MH, ÓH, ÓTOdd, Skm, SnE, TGT

SkP info: II, 11-30

notes: ms. refs separated from first cards. In Magnúss saga ins góða.

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Sigvatr Þórðarson’s Bersǫglisvísur ‘Plain-speaking Vísur’ (Sigv Berv) is a unique political poem which Sigvatr, acting as the appointed spokesman for the Norw. farmers, recited before King Magnús Óláfsson of Norway around the year 1038 (see also Þflekk Lv, Kolgr Ól and BjHall Kálffl 7I; for Sigvatr’s biography, see SkP I). The poem was occasioned by Magnús’s heavy-handed treatment of the Norw. farmers who had participated in the overthrow of his father, Óláfr Haraldsson (S. Óláfr), in 1030. The poem got its name from the word bersǫgli ‘plain-speaking’ in st. 9. That name is transmitted as Bersǫglisvísur in Hkr (ÍF 28, 26), H-Hr (Fms 6, 38) and ÓH (ÓH 1941, I, 625) or as Bersǫglisflokkr (‘berfyglis flockur’) ‘Plain-speaking Flokkr’ in Flat (Flat 1860-8, III, 267).

The bulk of Berv is found in the redactions of Mgóð (H-Hr; Flat; Fsk; Hkr), ultimately derived from a no longer extant archetype (*Oldest Mork, ÆMork), and in the various redactions of the Separate Saga of S. Óláfr (ÓH). Mork has a lacuna at this point, and the text in Mork 1928-32 and in Andersson and Gade 200 has been supplied from Flat. Stanzas 1, 5-6, 9-14 are preserved in MgóðHkr (mss , 39, E, J2ˣ) and ÓH (mss Holm2, 972ˣ, 325VI, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, Holm4 (st. 1/1-3), 325VII, 325V, 61, Tóm, Bb), sts 2-14 in H-Hr, sts 2-17 in Flat and sts 7-17 also in AM 325 XI 3 4° (325XI 3), a sister ms. to Flat. Stanzas 9/5-8 and 10/1-4 are transmitted in FskBˣ and FskAˣ (Fsk), sts 11 and 13 in FskBˣ and st. 12 in FskAˣ. Stanza 12 is also recorded in Ágr (Ágr), and st. 12/1-4 in mss W and A of TGT. Stanza 15/7-8 is found in AM 310 4° (310) of ÓTOdd and st. 18 is preserved only in mss R, , A, B and C of SnE (Skm). Stanza 15 is also recorded in ms. F of MgóðHkr. The present numbering of the sts corresponds to that of Flat and H, Hr, with the following exceptions: st. 1 in Hkr (Skj st. 9) is given here as st. 1, and Skj st. 15, which is recorded in SnE only, is given as st. 18. The table below shows the order of sts in the various redactions of the kings’ sagas, the order of sts in Skj and Skald, and the sequence in which the sts are given in the present edn. The rationale for the order of sts in SkP II is explained in the Notes to the individual sts.

SkP Flat/
H-Hr Fsk Hkr/
1 Fregnk, at suðr með Sygnum - - - 1 9
2 Vask með gram, þeims gumnum 1 1 - - 1
3 Fylgðak þeim, es fylgju, 2 2 - - 2
4 Gekk við móð inn mikla, 3 3 - - 3
5 Hét, sás fell á Fitjum, 4 4 - 2 4
6 Rétt hykk kjósa knttu 5 5 - 3 5
7 Ungr, vask með þér, þengill, 6 6 - - 6
8 Fǫður Magnúss létk fregna 7 7 - - 7
9 Skulut ráðgjafar reiðask 8 8
1/5-8 4 8
10 Gjalt varhuga, veltir, 9 9 2/1-4 7 10
11 Hverr eggjar þik hǫggva, 10 10 3 6 11
12 Hætts, þats allir ætla, 11 11 5 8 12
13 Hverr eggjar þik, harri 12 12 4 5 10
14 Eitt es mál, þats mæla: 13 13 - 9 14
15 Syni láfs biðk snúðar 14 - - - 18
16 láfr lét mik jǫfra 15 - - - 16
17 Sighvats es hugr hizig 16 - - - 17
18 Lát auman nú njóta, - - - - 15

It is unclear whether all of the sts now included in Berv originally belonged to that poem (see Louis-Jensen 1977, 83-4; Andersson and Gade 2000, 28-30). In AM 761 b 4°ˣ (761bˣ), Árni Magnússon prefaces sts 15-17 as follows (326r): þetta fylgir Bersǫglis vísum í Flateyiarboc ‘this comes after Bersǫglisvísur in Flateyjarbók’, which shows that he may also have doubted that these sts were included in that poem. For the order of the sts in Berv, see also Vestlund 1929 and Jón Skaptason 1983.

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