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Runic Dictionary

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

10. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

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).

Knútsdrápa (‘Drápa about Knútr’’) — Sigv KnútdrI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Knútsdrápa’ 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. 649. <> (accessed 27 May 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 10. Knútsdrápa, o. 1038 (AI, 248-51, BI, 232-4)

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Hb, Hkr, Knýtl, ÓH, ÓHHkr, ÓHLeg, RagnSon

SkP info: I, 649

notes: ms. refs separated from first cards

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Sigvatr Þórðarson’s KnútsdrápaDrápa about Knútr’ (Sigv Knútdr), in honour of King Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great), is preserved only in an incomplete state. Its eleven extant stanzas are distributed across six prose texts: Óláfs saga helga in the Separate (ÓH) and Hkr (ÓHHkr) versions (jointly designated ÓH-Hkr below), Fsk and OHLeg, Knýtl, Ragnars saga loðbrókar (Ragn) and Ragnars sona þáttr (RagnSon).

As the poem survives, sts 1-2 (both single helmingar) are concerned with Knútr’s conquest of England in 1016, sts 3-9 with the events culminating in the battle of Á in helga (Helgeå, Skåne) c. 1026, and sts 10-11 with Knútr’s pilgrimage to Rome in 1027. In terms of preservation, st. 1 is, unusually, found only in the fornaldarsögur RagnSon and Ragn (on which, see SkP VIII); st. 2 is in ÓH-Hkr and Knýtl; sts 3-4, 6-9 in ÓH-Hkr, Fsk, and ÓHLeg; st. 5 in Fsk and ÓHLeg; st. 10 only in Fsk; and st. 11 in Fsk and Knýtl. The title of the poem is given as Knútsdrápa in ÓH-Hkr, Knýtl, RagnSon and Ragn (see Note to st. 1 [All]) but not in Fsk and ÓHLeg, which however refer to it as an erfidrápa ‘memorial drápa’ (see Note to st. 7 [All]). The ordering of the main body of stanzas, sts 3-9, is different in the two main textual traditions. In ÓH-Hkr the order is sts 3, 4, 7, 8, 6, 9 (with no st. 5), whereas in Fsk and ÓHLeg the order is sts 7, 8, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9. The poem has a klofastef ‘split refrain’, in which the first line of one stanza and the last line of a later stanza combine to form a sentence (see sts 3/1, 6/8, 7/1, 9/8 and 11/8 and Note to st. 3/1). This, together with the preservation in Fsk in particular, enables the heart of the poem to be reconstructed in two blocks, of sts 3-6 and 7-9. Stanzas 3-6 detail the journey of the Norwegian king Óláfr Haraldsson and the Swedish king Ǫnundr Óláfsson (presented first in ÓH-Hkr), and sts 7-9 that of Knútr (presented first in Fsk and ÓHLeg), but in terms of narrative structure it may be that Sigvatr is attempting to present the two journeys concurrently, as the kings converge, rather than sequentially; sts 6 and 9 thus tell the same story twice, st. 6 from Óláfr’s point of view and st. 9 from Knútr’s. The poem’s metre is tøglag or tøgdrápulag; on its form and name see Introduction to Þórarinn loftunga, Tøgdrápa (Þloft Tøgdr), composed c. 1028 for Knútr. As noted in that Introduction, the difficulty of dating Sigv Knútdr makes it impossible to determine whether Sigvatr or Þórarinn was the first to use the tøglag metre.

The dating of Sigvatr’s poem is indeed highly problematic (see Townend 2001, 153-6). We know from Sigv Vestv and associated lausavísur that he visited Knútr’s court in England, at a time when Knútr was planning an attack on Norway. Skj dates Vestv to 1025-6 (that is, before Á in helga, as in ÓH-Hkr’s account), but Sigvatr’s visit is perhaps better dated to 1027 (that is, after Á in helga but before the Norway expedition of 1028, as in Fsk’s account). The events narrated in the poem as it survives all took place before mid-1027. The use of the distinctive metre tøglag may indicate composition at Knútr’s court, as may the pronounced Old English influence on the language of the poem (see Hofmann 1955, 87-93 and Notes to sts 2/4, 10/7-8, 11/2 below). On the other hand, the description of the poem as an erfidrápa in Fsk and ÓHLeg would place it after Knútr’s death in 1035. Moreover, at one point Snorri claims that Sigv Knútdr also alluded to Sigvatr’s stay at the Swedish court, which would belong in the early 1030s (see ÍF 28, 17-18). Finally, the dominant ms. form for the poem’s refrain is preterite tense (Knútr vas und himnum ‘Knútr was under the heavens’), though some mss preserve a present-tense reading (Knútrs … ‘Knútr is …’). Metrically, the latter is preferable, as it results in a four-syllable line; but here as elsewhere it is an issue of how regularly one believes the four-syllable tøglag line was observed (Snorri in Ht (SnE 2007, 30) claims that Í ǫllu tøglagi er eigi rangt þótt fimm samstǫfur sé í vísuorði er skammar eru sumar ok skjótar ‘In all tøglag it is not wrong if there are five syllables in the line when some are short and quick’). Hence, for example, Skj B presents the refrain in the preterite tense, Skald in the present. The consequence of these mixed indications is that Sigv Knútr was either composed in the milieu of Knútr’s court in (probably) 1027, or after Knútr’s death in 1035. Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 590-1) suggested composition in 1038, on the occasion of the reconciliation between Hǫrðaknútr and Magnús, the sons of Knútr and Óláfr. In the present edition the refrain is presented in the preterite tense, but this is only on the basis of the ms. readings, not in the belief that the poem is necessarily an erfidrápa.

The mss used in this edition are: the Hkr ms. (for sts 2-4, 6-9, as main ms.) and 325XI 1 (for sts 6-9); the ÓH mss Holm2, J2ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, 61, 325V, Bb, Flat and Tóm (for sts 2-4, 6-9) plus R686ˣ, 75c, 78aˣ, 321ˣ, 325VII, J1ˣ and Holm4 (for various subsets of these); the Fsk ms. FskBˣ and the OHLeg ms. DG8 (for sts 3-9), and FskAˣ (for sts 10-11, supplemented by 301ˣ for st. 10); the Knýtl printed text JÓ and mss 20dˣ, 41ˣ and 873ˣ (for sts 2, 11), plus 20iˣ (for st. 2 only); and Hb (Hb, within its text of RagnSon) and the Ragn ms. AM 147 4o (147) for st. 1 (see Note to st. 1 [All]). In 325XI 1, cropping of the top of fol. 3 into an inverted ‘v’ shape has removed several letters, while 147 in its present state is barely legible, and the transcription in Ragn 1906-8, 193 has also been consulted.

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