This interface will soon cease to be publicly available. Use the new interface instead. Click here to switch over now.

Cookies on our website

We use cookies on this website, mainly to provide a secure browsing experience but also to collect statistics on how the website is used. You can find out more about the cookies we set, the information we store and how we use it on the cookies page.

Runic Dictionary

login: password: stay logged in: help

Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

II. Bersǫglisvísur (Berv) - 18

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, ‘(Introduction to) 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.

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18 

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


1 Fregnk, at suðr með Sygnum
Sighvatr hefr gram lattan
folkorrostu at freista;
fer, ef þó skulum berjask.
Fǫrum í vôpn ok verjum
(vel tvist, konungr) lystir
(hvé lengi skal) hringum
hans grund (til þess fundra)?
I hear that Sigvatr has [I have] dissuaded the lord from waging civil war in the south among the Sygnir; I shall go, if we nonetheless must fight. Let us put on arms and let us defend, eager, his land with swords; king, how long must one ponder so very silent on this?
2 Vask með gram, þeims gumnum
goll bauð dróttinhollum
— nafn fekk hann — en hrǫfnum
hræ, þess konungs ævi.
Fullkerska sák falla
(fráneygjum sonr grônum
gaf margan val vargi)
verðung (konungs sverðum).
I was with the lord, who gave gold to his loyal men and carrion to the ravens, throughout the lifetime of that king; he gained fame. I saw the most valiant troop fall; the son of the king gave many a slain warrior to the grey, keen-eyed wolf by means of swords.
3 Fylgðak þeim, es fylgju,
fémildum gram, vildi,
— nú eru þegnar frið fegnir —
feðr þínum vel, mína.
Vasat á her, með hjǫrvi,
hlið, þars stóðk í miðjum
hrœsinn (skal með hrísi)
hans flokki (við þjokkva).
I followed your father well, that generous lord, who wanted my company; now people are pleased with the peace. There was no gap in the ranks where I stood proudly in the midst of his men with my sword; one must make the forest denser with brush.
4 Gekk við móð inn mikla,
Magnús, allt í gǫgnum
ferð, þars flotnar bǫrðusk,
faðir þinn liði sínu.
Varði hart, en hjǫrtu
hugfull við þat skullu,
(Ôláfr réð svá) jǫfra
erfðir (framm at hverfa).
Magnús, your father went with great spirit with his company all through the throng where sea-warriors fought. He defended the inheritance of princes fiercely, and high-mettled hearts beat hard at that; Óláfr pushed forwards thus.
5 Hét, sás fell á Fitjum,
fjǫlgegn, ok réð hegna
heiptar rán, en hônum,
Hôkun, firar unnu.
Þjóð helt fast á fóstra
fjǫlblíðs lǫgum síðan
(enn eru af, þvís minnir)
Aðalsteins (búendr seinir).
Hákon, who fell at Fitjar, was called most just, and he punished hostile looting, and people loved him. Later men held firmly onto the laws of the most friendly foster-son of Æthelstan [= Hákon]; the farmers are still slow to relinquish what they remember.
6 Rétt hykk kjósa knôttu
karlfolk ok svá jarla,
af þvít eignum lofða
Ôláfar frið gôfu.
Haralds arfi lét haldask
hvardyggr ok sonr Tryggva
lǫg, þaus lýðar þôgu,
laukjǫfn, af þeim nǫfnum.
I think that both farmers and jarls knew how to choose rightly, because [the two] Óláfrs brought protection to people’s properties. The very reliable heir of Haraldr [= Óláfr Haraldsson] and the son of Tryggvi [= Óláfr Tryggvason] let the just laws be upheld, which men received from those namesakes.
7 Ungr, vask með þér, þengill,
þat haust, es komt austan;
einn, stillir, mátt alla
jǫrð hegna, svá fregnisk.
Himin þóttusk þá heiðan
hafa, es landa krafðir,
lofðungs burr, ok lifðir,
landfolk tekit hǫndum.
Young prince, I was with you that autumn when you came from the east; lord, you alone can secure the entire country; that will be heard. The countrymen then thought they had caught the bright heaven with their hands when you claimed the lands, king’s son, and were alive.
8 Fǫður Magnúss létk fregna
folgin jǫfurs dolga
orð, þaus eyru heyrðu
ór, á svik hvé fóru.
Mál bark hvert af heilum
hug, þvít eigi brugðumk
(ek vissa þó) ossum
(ótta) lánardróttni.
I let Magnús’s father [= Óláfr Haraldsson] hear the hidden words of the prince’s enemies, which our [my] ears heard, how they plotted deceit. I carried each message with a candid heart, because I did not betray our liege-lord; I nonetheless knew there was danger.
9 Skulut ráðgjafar reiðask
(ryðr þat, konungr) yðrir
(dróttins orð til dýrðar)
dǫglingr, við bersǫgli.
Hafa kveðask lǫg, nema ljúgi
landherr, búendr verri
endr í Ulfasundum
ǫnnur, an þú hézt mǫnnum.
Lord, your counsellors must not get enraged at my plain-speaking; that royal command will open the way for glory, king. The farmers claim they have other, inferior laws, unless the countrymen lie, than you promised people earlier in Ulvesundet.
10 Gjalt varhuga, veltir,
viðr, þeims nú ferr heðra,
þjófs (skal hǫnd í hófi)
hǫlða kvitt (of stytta).
Vinrs, sás varmra benja
vǫrnuð býðr, en hlýðið,
tármútaris teitir,
til, hvat búmenn vilja.
Toppler of the thief [JUST RULER], pay heed to the chatter of men which now is spreading here; the hand must be held back by moderation. He is a friend who offers a warning, but you, gladdener of the hawk of the tear of warm wounds [(lit. ‘gladdener of the tear-hawk of warm wounds’) BLOOD > RAVEN/EAGLE > WARRIOR], must heed what the farmers want.
11 Hverr eggjar þik hǫggva,
hjaldrgegnir, bú þegna?
Ofrausn es þat jǫfri
innanlands at vinna.
Engr hafði svá ungum
áðr bragningi ráðit;
rán hykk rekkum þínum
— reiðrs herr, konungr — leiðask.
Who urges you, battle-promoter [WARRIOR], to slay the livestock of your subjects? It is insolence for a prince to do that in his own land. No one had earlier advised a young ruler in such a way; I think your troops are tired of plunder; people are angry, king.
12 Hætts, þats allir ætla
— áðr skal við því ráða —
hárir menn, es heyrik,
hót, skjǫldungi at móti.
Greypts, þats hǫfðum hneppta,
heldr, ok niðr í feldi
— slegit hefr þǫgn á þegna —
þingmenn nǫsum stinga.
The threat is dangerous when all grey-haired men, as I hear, intend [to revolt] against the ruler; that must be prevented in advance. It’s rather grim when assembly members hang their heads and stick their noses into their cloaks; silence has descended on your followers.
13 Hverr eggjar þik, harri
heiptarstrangr, at ganga
(opt reynir þú) þínum
(þunn stôl) á bak môlum?
Fastorðr skyli fyrða
fengsæll vesa þengill;
hœfir heit at rjúfa,
hjaldrmǫgnuðr, þér aldri.
Who urges you, vengeful lord, to go back on your promises? Frequently you test slender swords. A prosperous prince of the people must be true to his word; it is never proper for you to break your pledges, battle-increaser [WARRIOR].
14 Eitt es mál, þats mæla:
‘minn dróttinn leggr sína
eign á óðǫl þegna’;
ǫfgask búendr gǫfgir.
Rán mun seggr, hinns sína
selr út, í því telja,
flaums at fellidómi
fǫðurleifð konungs greifum.
They all say the same thing: ‘my lord appropriates his subjects’ ancestral properties’; proud farmers revolt. That man, who parcels out his patrimony to the king’s counts according to precipitate rulings, will call that robbery.
15 Syni Ôláfs biðk snúðar
— síð kveða aptans bíða
óframs sǫk; meðal okkar
allts hôligt — svá mála.
Erum, Magnús, vér vægnir;
vildak með þér mildum
— Haralds varðar þú hjǫrvi
haukey — lifa ok deyja.
Thus I ask for a quick change in the affairs of Óláfr’s son [= Magnús]; they say the cautious man’s business must wait until late in the evening; all is splendid between us two. Magnús, we are [I am] well disposed; I would wish to live and die with you, generous one; you protect Haraldr’s hawk-isle [= Norway] with the sword.
16 Ôláfr lét mik jǫfra
órýrr framask dýrða
— urðu drjúg ins digra
dróttins þing — með hringum.
Goll bark jafnt of allan
aldr hans, ok vask sjaldan
hryggr, á hvárritveggju
hendi flotna sendis.
Óláfr, not decreasing in princely honours, let me be promoted with rings; the belongings of the stout lord proved lasting. Throughout his entire lifetime, I constantly bore the gold of the sender of sea-warriors [KING] on both arms, and I was seldom sad.
17 Sighvats es hugr hizig
Hǫrðaknúts í garði,
mildr nema mjǫk vel skaldi
Magnús konungr fagni.
Fórk með feðrum þeira
— fekk ungum mér tunga
golls; vask enn með ǫllu
óskeggjaðr þá — beggja.
Sigvatr’s heart will be there in Hǫrðaknútr’s hall unless generous King Magnús welcomes the skald very well. I followed the fathers of them both; then I was still altogether beardless; my tongue brought me gold as a youth.
18 Lát auman nú njóta,
Nóregs, ok gef stórum,
— môl halt * — svá sem sælan,
sinjórr, laga þinna.
Seigneur of Norway [= Magnús], let the poor as well as the prosperous now enjoy your laws, and give lavishly; keep your promises.
© 2008-