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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;

7. Flokkr about Erlingr Skjálgsson (Erlfl) - 10

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).

Flokkr about Erlingr Skjálgsson — Sigv ErlflI

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Flokkr about Erlingr Skjálgsson’ 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. 629. <> (accessed 25 June 2022)

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 7. Flokkr om Erlingr Skjalgsson, 1028-29 (AI, 244-7, BI, 228-31)

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Hkr, ÓH, ÓHHkr, ÓHLeg, ÓT

SkP info: I, 629

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The ten stanzas of Sigvatr Þórðarson’s Flokkr about the Norwegian chieftain Erlingr Skjálgsson (Sigv Erlfl) focus chiefly on Erlingr’s defeat in battle, and subsequent killing, by the forces of King Óláfr Haraldsson c. 1027 off Bókn (Bokn in Boknafjorden, Rogaland, south-west Norway; see further ‘Biographies of other dignitaries’ in Introduction to this volume). Erlingr repeatedly came into conflict with Óláfr, who wanted to curb his power in the west of Norway, and on occasion made common cause with Óláfr’s enemies, including King Knútr. Despite the poet’s closeness to King Óláfr, the poem is a rather strongly-worded criticism of the killing of Erlingr, with extensive praise for his heroic life and death. Sigvatr appears to pick up on the ambivalent feelings the king himself had about this killing (see the blend of regret and justification in Ólhelg Lv 6-7; also Fidjestøl 1982, 67-70), but includes some formulaic praise for Óláfr in st. 2. Admiration for Erlingr as the greatest Norwegian among those without a greater title is also reflected in the prose sources (e.g. ÍF 27, 318), and cf. Sigv Erl.

The genre and the contents of the poem are indicated by Snorri in introducing st. 1 (ÍF 27, 314, cf. ÓH 1941, I, 481): Sigvatr orti flokk um fall Erlings, ok er þessi vísa þar í ‘Sigvatr composed a flokkr about the death of Erlingr, and this is a stanza in it’. From this and the internal evidence of the poem Erlfl therefore appears to be a separate composition from the single stanza in which Sigvatr addresses Erlingr directly (Sigv Erl; see Introduction). Stanzas 1-7 and 9-10 are preserved in Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga in both the Separate version (ÓH) and the Hkr version (ÓHHkr), jointly designated ÓH-Hkr below. Stanzas 1-7 are cited in the chapter describing Erlingr’s final battle (ÓHHkr ch. 176; ÓH ch. 172), while sts 9 and 10 are preserved much earlier in the saga (ÓHHkr ch. 22; ÓH ch. 30), in an account of Erlingr’s relationships with Óláfr Haraldsson’s predecessors. The preservation of the stanzas elsewhere complicates the reconstruction of Erlfl. Stanza 3 is preserved in Fsk, while sts 3 and 8 are preserved in ÓHLeg, flanking Sigv Erl, but no reference is made in either of these texts to a flokkr or any other kind of longer poem. Stanza 8 is also preserved among the excerpts (articuli) relating to Óláfr and deriving from Styrmir Kárason’s Lífssaga which are collected in Flat, and here again Sigvatr is named, but without any indication of the source poem.

The place of sts 8-10 in the poem is uncertain and the traditional ordering (as in Skj) is followed here in the absence of any better one. The content of st. 8 clearly suggests it belongs near the end of the poem and st. 10 probably alludes to Erlingr’s last battle (see Note to st. 10/4 below). Stanza 9/1-4 refers to Erlingr’s power and his kinship in law with Óláfr Tryggvason, and st. 9/5-8 to a marriage alliance between Óláfr and Rǫgnvaldr jarl Úlfsson. The relationship internally between the helmingar, and between the stanza and the rest of the poem, is problematic (see Notes to this stanza below), but its use of the preterite tense about Erlingr suggests it belongs in this poem rather than Sigv Erl. Both sts 9 and 10 could be seen as summarising Erlingr’s career in general terms, unlike the other stanzas which relate specifically to the battle, hence their placing together at the end of the poem.

The mss used in this edition are as follows: the Hkr ms. for sts 1-7, 9-10; the ÓH mss Holm2, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, 61, 325V, Tóm for sts 1-7, 9-10, plus R686ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 78aˣ, Holm4ˣ, 75c, 325VII, Bb, Flat, 325XI2b for subsets of these; 325V has only ll. 1-4 of st. 1, J2ˣ has only ll. 1-4 of st. 4 and several mss have only ll. 1-2 of st. 10. The remaining mss are the ÓT mss 61, 53, 54, 325VIII 2g, Bb, Flat for sts 9, 10; ms. Flat, within an extract from Styrmir Kárason’s Lífssaga, for st. 8; the ÓHLeg ms. DG for sts 3, 8; and the Fsk mss FskBˣ, FskAˣ for st. 3. is adopted as the main ms., except for st. 8, where it is Flat.

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