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.

Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

login: password: stay logged in: help

Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

11. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga (ErfÓl) - 28

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).

Erfidrápa Óláfs helga (‘Memorial drápa for Óláfr inn helgi (S. Óláfr)’) — Sigv ErfÓlI

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Erfidrápa Óláfs helga’ 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. 663. <> (accessed 24 June 2022)

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 12. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga, o. 1040 (AI, 257-65, BI, 239-45)

in texts: Flat, Gramm, Hkr, LaufE, MGóð, ÓH, ÓHHkr, Skm, SnE, SnEW, TGT

SkP info: I, 663

notes: ms. refs separated from first cards

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Twenty-eight whole or partial stanzas are edited here as belonging to Erfidrápa Óláfs helga ‘Memorial drápa for Óláfr inn helgi (S. Óláfr)’ by his chief skald Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv ErfÓl). The poem briefly covers Óláfr Haraldsson’s accession to power (sts 1-2), his acquisition of a ship equal to that of Óláfr Tryggvason (st. 3), and his bringing of order to Norway (sts 4-6), before concentrating on the events of his final battle at Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad, 1030, sts 7-20). Various stanzas then sum up his career (sts 21-2), note some of his miracles (sts 23-4), and explore effects of his sanctity (sts 25-8). The poem is clearly not complete.

The genre of ErfÓl and its stef ‘refrain’ are mentioned when st. 7 is introduced, Svá segir Sigvatr skáld í erfidrápu þeiri, er hann orti um Óláf konung ok stælti eptir uppreistarsǫgu ‘Sigvatr the poet says this in the memorial drápa which he composed about King Óláfr and to which he gave a refrain from the story of Creation’ (ÍF 27, 366-7; cf. ÓH 1941, I, 553). An anecdote found in interpolated versions of ÓH (1941, II, 840, cf. 841) expands on this to claim that Sigvatr composed the poem when he was nearing death himself, and that he proposed to give it a refrain efter Sigurdar so᷎gu ‘from the saga of Sigurðr’ (presumably Fáfnisbani; see Note to Þorf Lv [All] for the legend), but following a dream-vision intervention by Óláfr gave it a refrain from the story of Creation instead (see also Context to Sigv Lv 11). The anecdote is unlikely to be historical and in any case there is no evidence in the surviving stanzas for references to either Sigurðr or the Creation. For a suggestion that st. 22/7-8, with its appeal to God and reference to Óláfr’s son Magnús, is the refrain of the original poem, see Note to that stanza.

The stanzas are preserved in Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga, in both the Separate (ÓH) and Hkr (ÓHHkr) versions, jointly referred to as ÓH-Hkr below, and in associated texts, with some fragments in various redactions of SnE. Apart from the section focusing on the battle of Stiklastaðir (sts 7-20), neither the ordering nor indeed the inclusion of the stanzas is certain. Some of them could be seen as lausavísur, e.g. sts 1, 22-7, in all of which Sigvatr refers to himself in the first person. Stanza 1, in particular, is difficult to place as it survives only in transcriptions of a lost ms., but its content accords well with the picture of the rising monarch asserting his authority over various groups in sts 2, 4-6. As Fidjestøl (1982, 121-2) pointed out, the references to Magnús Óláfsson in sts 22/7 and 25/7 could be expected in a memorial poem presumably composed during Magnús’s reign (and cf. st. 6/6). He excludes st. 27 from the poem on the grounds that it is cited as if it were a lausavísa (see Context, and Note to st. 27 [All]) and argues that it should instead be linked with Sigv Lv 18 and 20. However, st. 27, with its description of Sigvatr’s sword, clearly echoes the description of Óláfr’s sword in st. 9. Given Sigvatr’s well-documented affection for his king, this personal angle seems a natural way for the poem to develop, and Fidjestøl (1982, 122) acknowledges parallels with Hfr ErfÓl, which also concludes with reflections on the poet’s loss after the death of his king in battle. Fidjestøl (1982, 121-2, 171) also raised doubts about the inclusion of sts 1-3 and 26-8. Despite these uncertainties, all of the disputed stanzas have been included here on the grounds that a memorial poem about Norway’s royal saint could well have included some account of his earlier career as king, as well as acknowledging his posthumous role as saint.

The reference to miracles at S. Óláfr’s shrine in st. 24 indicates a time of composition some time after the translation of his relics which, to judge from ÓHLeg (1982, 206), took place in 1031 (see also Introduction to Þloft Glækv). However, a somewhat later date is more likely. The references to Magnús Óláfsson suggest that the poem was composed after his return to claim the throne of Norway in 1035 (see Sigv Ást). A date around this time is further supported by the probable allusion to Sigv BervII in st. 8/7 and the reference to the regret of the farmers in st. 11/2, 4.

The following mss are used in this edition. The Hkr ms. (as main ms.) is used for sts 3-25, plus 39 for sts 23-5 and F, E, J2ˣ for sts 24-5. Jöfraskinna, represented here by its transcript J2ˣ, belongs to the ÓH redaction for Óláfs saga helga in sts 3, 4, 7-20, and to the Kringla (x) class within the Hkr redaction in sts 21-3, where a lacuna has been filled from K; here the readings are not used. It then reverts to the Jöfraskinna (y) class within the Hkr redaction for sts 24-5. Stanza 1 survives only in transcriptions of the lost Uppsala ms. of ÓH, R686ˣ (as main ms.), 972ˣ and the printed text Hkr 1697 I, and st. 2 survives in one of the articuli from Styrmir Kárason’s saga of Óláfr helgi preserved in Flat (ms. Flat). The ÓH mss used are Holm2 (as main ms. for st. 27), 61, Flat, Tóm for sts 3-25, 27, plus J2ˣ, 325VI, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, Holm4, 75c, 75e 4, 325V, 325VII, Bb, 325XI 2 g, 325XI 2 n, for subsets of these. Also consulted are 761bˣ for st. 2 (where it is independent of Flat) and papp18ˣ (an independent copy of the vellum K ms. of Hkr) for st. 4. The SnE mss R (as main ms.), , W, U, A are used for st. 28, and W for st. 15/1-4. The TGT mss A (as main ms.) and W are used for st. 26. Stanzas 15/1-4 and 28 were copied from W into ms. 2368ˣ of LaufE (1979, 370, 365 respectively). The 2368ˣ readings are therefore not of independent value and are not cited in this edition, except that they are used selectively to supplement the W text where it is damaged in st. 28.

© Skaldic Project Academic Body, unless otherwise noted. Database structure and interface developed by Tarrin Wills. All users of material on this database are reminded that its content may be either subject to copyright restrictions or is the property of the custodians of linked databases that have given permission for members of the skaldic project to use their material for research purposes. Those users who have been given access to as yet unpublished material are further reminded that they may not use, publish or otherwise manipulate such material except with the express permission of the individual editor of the material in question and the General Editor of the volume in which the material is to be published. Applications for permission to use such material should be made in the first instance to the General Editor of the volume in question. All information that appears in the published volumes has been thoroughly reviewed. If you believe some information here is incorrect please contact Tarrin Wills with full details.