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Runic Dictionary

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

5. Vestrfararvísur (Vestv) - 8

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).

Vestrfararvísur (‘Verses on a Journey to the West’) — Sigv VestvI

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Vestrfararvísur’ 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. 615. <> (accessed 3 July 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 5. Vestrfararvísur, 1025-26 (AI, 241-3, BI, 226-8)

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Hkr, Knýtl, ÓH, ÓHHkr

SkP info: I, 615

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Eight stanzas from Sigvatr’s Vestrfararvísur ‘Verses on a Journey to the West’ (Sigv Vestv) are preserved in Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga, in the Separate (ÓH) and Hkr (ÓHHkr) versions, jointly referred to as ÓH-Hkr below. The genre, the name and the first stanza of the poem are identified before the citation of st. 1: Sigvatr orti flokk þann, er kallaðr var Vestrfararvísur, ok er þetta upphaf ‘Sigvatr composed the flokkr which is called Vestrfararvísur, and this is the beginning (of it)’ (ÓHHkr ch. 146, ÍF 27, 271). The designation of the poem as a flokkr (used of Austrfararvísur ‘Verses on a Journey to the East’ (Sigv Austv) only in Fsk, ÍF 29, 179) implies a certain unity that is hard to discern in the surviving stanzas, and most of them are introduced by a tag normally associated with lausavísur, such as Þá kvað Sigvatr ‘Then Sigvatr recited’. Although both poems derive from personal experience, Vestv, unlike Austv, is less a description of a voyage than a political commentary. The context is the attempt of the Danish Knútr inn ríki (Cnut the Great) to recruit followers of King Óláfr Haraldsson to his common cause against the king with the Norwegian jarl Hákon Eiríksson, and this common cause is an important sub-theme of the poem. Stanza 4, following on from st. 3, is introduced (ÍF 27, 273), Enn orti Sigvatr fleiri vísur um ferð þeira Knúts ok Hákonar. Þá kvað hann enn ‘Sigvatr further composed more stanzas about the journey of Knútr and Hákon. Then he further recited’. This would suggest that st. 4 is not one of those stanzas directly about the ‘journey of Knútr and Hákon’, though on a closely related topic. Hkr (ÍF 27, 295) relates that, despite general criticism of Hákon, Sigvatr var inn mesti vinr jarls ‘Sigvatr was a very great friend of the jarl’. In this context, Vestv could be seen as Sigvatr’s self-justification for having served Knútr (see Sigv Knútdr), and indeed Hákon, while still remaining essentially loyal to Óláfr. The conflicted loyalties of a skald are a theme of other poems such as Sigvatr’s own Erlfl, and Arn Þorfdr 19-21II. While Jón Skaptason (1983, 251-2) suggests that sts 6-7 may not originally have been a part of this poem, the direct mention of Knútr in st. 7 firmly anchors it in this political context, and the direct address to Óláfr in st. 6 sets up a contrast between the two kings that gives point to Sigvatr’s claim that Kvaðk einn dróttinn senn sœma mér ‘I declared that one lord at a time was fitting for me’ (st. 7). Furthermore, the poet’s self-justification is fairly explicit in st. 8, despite the difficulties of interpretation.

The date of the poem is difficult to determine (in Skj BI, 226 it is assigned a date of 1025-6) and may depend on whether or not there is a relationship with Knútsdrápa, which Townend (Introduction to Sigv Knútdr, below) dates to either c. 1027 or c. 1035. The later date is out of the question for Vestv, with its direct address to King Óláfr (r. c. 1015-1030) in sts 6 and 8, but a date of c. 1027 is perfectly possible.

The ordering of the stanzas follows from Snorri’s identification of st. 1 as the beginning of the poem, closely followed by sts 2-4 (ÓHHkr ch. 146, ÓH ch. 136), while sts 6-7 are cited together in ÓHHkr ch. 160, ÓH ch. 152 and bring the poem to an appropriate conclusion, along with st. 8 which follows on from them, though in only one ms. (75 c). If anything, it is st. 5 that is the odd one out, as it is cited in ÓHHkr ch. 131, ÓH ch. 120 before the naming of the poem, along with Sigv Lv 12, which might suggest it is better viewed as a lausavísa. However st. 5 does complement the other stanzas of Vestv, in its references to a travelling-companion (cf. sts 1 and 6) and to Knútr’s gifts (cf. st. 7 and possibly st. 2), and it has therefore been retained in this edition.

The main ms. for sts 1-7 is the Hkr ms. , while for st. 8 it is the ÓH ms. 75c, the only one to preserve it. Other ÓH mss used are Holm2, 972ˣ, 68, Holm4, 61, 325V, Bb, Flat, Tóm for sts 1-7, plus J2ˣ, 75a, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 75c, 325VII and 325IX 2 g for subsets of these. The J2ˣ text belongs to the Hkr redaction for sts 6-7: see Note to st. 6 [All]. Also used are the Fsk mss FskBˣ and FskAˣ for st. 3, and JÓ (the 1741 printed edition of Knýtl) and the Knýtl mss 873ˣ, 20dˣ, 41ˣ and 20i 23ˣ for st. 5.

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