Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Matthew Townend;

1. Hǫfuðlausn (Hfl) - 20

Skj info: Óttarr svarti, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 289-99, BI, 267-75).

Skj poems:
1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska
2. Hǫfuðlausn
3. Knútsdrápa

The Icelandic poet Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’ (Ótt) was remembered in the twelfth century (ESk Geisl 12) as one of the hǫfuðskǫld ‘chief skalds’ of the late Viking Age. His nickname would seem to locate him within the tradition of poets being ‘dark’ in either appearance or temperament (see Clunies Ross 1978b; Finlay 2000). According to Styrmir Kárason (ÓH 1941, II, 688), the poet Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) was a mikill vinr ‘great friend’ of Óttarr, and indeed Óttarr’s Hǫfuðlausn (Ótt Hfl) is greatly indebted to Sigvatr’s Víkingarvísur (Sigv Víkv, see Introduction to Hfl). Snorri Sturluson (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203) further describes Óttarr as Sigvatr’s maternal nephew, and if this is correct he would have been the grandson of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’ (see Biography of Sigvatr Þórðarson). Óttarr features in the various sagas of Óláfr Haraldsson, but the only major anecdote about him is the story surrounding his Hfl (see Introduction).

Skáldatal, in one or both of its recensions (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 253, 258, 260, 261, 267, 269), lists Óttarr as having composed for six patrons: the Danes Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson and his son Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great); Óláfr sœnski ‘the Swede’ Eiríksson and his son Ǫnundr Óláfsson; and the Norwegian King Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr), and the Norwegian magnate Dala-Guðbrandr (‘Guðbrandr of the Dales’, on whom, see ÍF 27, 183-90; ÓH 1941, I, 271-82). For Sveinn and Dala-Guðbrandr, Óttarr is the only poet listed in Skáldatal. Panegyric poetry by Óttarr is certainly extant for three of these patrons: Óláfsdrápa (ÓldrIII) for Óláfr Eiríksson (preserved only in SnE and therefore edited in SkP III), Hfl for Óláfr Haraldsson, and Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) and Lv 2 for Knútr. It has, moreover, been suggested that one stanza in Knútdr may have been misplaced from an earlier poem for Sveinn (see Note to st. 9 [All]). No poetry survives for Ǫnundr or Dala-Guðbrandr. From all the evidence, it is likely that Óttarr visited, and composed, for, his patrons in this order: Sveinn until his death in 1014; Óláfr Eiríksson until his death c. 1021 (though ÓHLeg 1982, 130-1, has Óttarr, a young man fresh from Iceland, approaching him as his first patron), then his son Ǫnundr; Óláfr Haraldsson in the early 1020s, and Dala-Guðbrandr in the same period; Knútr by c. 1027 for an unknown period (Knútr died in 1035). For previous discussions of Óttarr’s career, see SnE 1848-87, III, 326-33, LH I, 574-7 and Poole (1993).

Hǫfuðlausn (‘Head-ransom’) — Ótt HflI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn’ 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. 739.

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Skj: Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn, o. 1023 (AI, 290-6, BI, 268-72); stanzas (if different): 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

SkP info: I, 741

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Ótt Hfl 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 1’ 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. 741.

Hlýð, manngǫfugr, minni
myrkblás, þvít kannk yrkja;
finnum yðr ok annan,
allvaldr, konung fallinn.
Þat telk, garms ok Gauta
glaðnistanda misstak,
dǫglings verk at dýrka,
dýrr þengill, mitt lengi.

Hlýð, manngǫfugr, minni myrkblás, þvít kannk yrkja; finnum yðr, allvaldr, ok annan fallinn konung. Þat telk mitt at dýrka verk dǫglings lengi, dýrr þengill, ok misstak {glaðnistanda {garms Gauta}}.

Listen, noble with your retinue, to the recollection of the dark black one [Óttarr], because I know how to compose; we [I] come to you, mighty ruler, and another worthy king. I reckon it my [task] to glorify the work of the prince for a long time, precious ruler, and I have lost {the glad feeder {of the hound of Gauti <= Óðinn>}} [WOLF > WARRIOR = Óláfr Eiríksson].

Mss: Tóm(122r) (ÓH); NRA52(3r) (ÓHÆ, l. 1); DG8(91r) (ÓHLeg, l. 1); 761bˣ(268r)

Readings: [1] Hlýð manngǫfugr: ‘[…]fogr’ NRA52    [2] ‑blás: ‘‑bals’ Tóm, 761bˣ;    þvít (‘þviat’): því 761bˣ    [3] finnum: ‘f̣æ̣ṛịṃ’ 761bˣ    [5] garms: grams Tóm, 761bˣ    [6] ‑nistanda: ‘sistanda’ Tóm, 761bˣ    [8] mitt: mik Tóm, 761bˣ

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 1: AI, 290, BI, 268, Skald I, 137, NN §§721-3, 2988E; ÓH 1941, II, 702; ÓHÆ 1893, 7; ÓHLeg 1922, 57, ÓHLeg 1982, 132-3.

Context: The stanza is quoted (whole or first line only) in the context of the head-ransom story derived from Styrmir (see Introduction).

Notes: [All]: Tóm introduces the stanza with the explanation that Óttarr began reciting the drápa he had composed about the king, ok er þetta upp haf ‘and this is the beginning’ (ÓH 1941, II, 702). The technical term upphaf ‘beginning’ suggests that the Tóm author regarded this stanza (and presumably st. 2 as well) as integral to the poem, and not a semi-independent introductory verse in the way that, for example, Sigv Lv 2 leads into Sigv Víkv, and Ótt Lv 2 may have led into Ótt Knútdr. — [All]: Readings from 761bˣ are included here since Tóm has the only complete text, and although the 761bˣ readings correspond closely to those of Tóm, they are not identical, so that it cannot be certain that there was not another source. — [1-2]: These lines echo the first two lines of Sigv Lv 2, the lausavísa with which Sigvatr supposedly sought service with Óláfr Haraldsson: Hlýð mínum brag, meiðir | myrkblás, þvít kannk yrkja ‘Listen to my poetry, destroyer of the dark black (steed of awnings [SHIP > WARRIOR]), because I know how to compose’ (the ship-kenning appears in Sigvatr’s l. 4). Finnur Jónsson assumes that l. 2 is simply a mistaken scribal duplication of Sigvatr’s line (and hence he does not print a l. 2 in Skj B), but, as noted below, Kock argues that Óttarr, at the start of his own poem seeking service with Óláfr, is deliberately recalling and wittily re-using Sigvatr’s call for a hearing (see also Fidjestøl 1982, 214-5); this includes the opening Hlýð ‘Listen’. Skj B suggests minni is part of the poss. pron. minn (qualifying a f. noun such as drápu in the putative lost l. 2). Kock (NN §721), however, takes minni as the noun ‘memory, recollection’, and this solution is adopted here, not least because, as Rainford (1995, 62) points out, Sigvatr uses minni in a similar sense in Víkv 1/6. — [1] manngǫfugr ‘noble with your retinue’: The adj., which probably refers to Óláfr’s capacity for inspiring loyalty, is here taken as quasi-substantival. It could alternatively be construed as qualifying allvaldr ‘mighty ruler’ (l. 4). — [2] myrkblás ‘dark black one’: The emendation is justifiable on the basis of the reading of Sigv Lv 2/2, and because the only ms. witness is the often unreliable Tóm. Kock’s attractive suggestion (NN §721) is that Óttarr is here referring to himself, with myrkblár as an onomastic play on his nickname svarti ‘black’; he cites as parallels examples such as naðrstunga ‘adder-tongue’ for (Gunnlaugr) ormstunga ‘Serpent-tongue’ and húnn ‘cub’ for Bersi ‘bear’ (on onomastic play see further Frank 1970). Óttarr is dexterously adapting Sigvatr’s line even as he reproduces it: in Sigvatr’s stanza myrkblár qualifies part of a ship-kenning (see Note ad loc.). — [2] kannk ‘I know how to’: Tóm reads ek kann ‘I know how to’, with typical scribal addition of a pron. subject producing a hypermetric line. The present edn, with Skald, normalises to kannk, but the original reading could have been 3rd pers. sg. kann, which would be suitable in the light of Óttarr’s apparent 3rd-pers. reference to himself in myrkblás ‘of the dark black one’ (cf. Note above). — [3-4]: The lines seem to be saying something about Óttarr’s move from the service of the deceased Óláfr Eiríksson to that of Óláfr Haraldsson, but the most obvious rendering of them, ‘we come to you, lord, and another fallen king’, would be difficult to account for, and the sense tentatively assumed here remains contextually puzzling. (a) In the translation above, fallinn is taken primarily in the sense of ‘worthy’, which is attested in prose texts (see CVC: falla B. II. 2), although normally as part of a gen. construction fallinn til e-s or just fallinn e-s ‘worthy of (being) something’. Annan is taken in its general sense ‘another’, since Skáldatal records Óttarr’s prior service of Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson, and (in ms. U only) Ǫnundr Óláfsson, as well as of Óláfr Eiríksson (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 258, 260, 267). For the audience of these lines there may have been a studied ambiguity between ‘another fallen king’ and ‘another worthy king’, hingeing on Óttarr’s movement from the one Óláfr to the other. (b) Rainford (1995, 62) also adopts the translation ‘worthy’, and takes annan as the ordinal ‘second’, hence ‘we come to you as (our) second lord, worthy sovereign’, but in construing fallinn as nom. sg. qualifying allvaldr ‘mighty ruler’ she assumes contorted syntax in l. 8. (c) Kock (NN §722) keeps the more obvious sense of fallinn as ‘fallen’, takes it as acc. sg. qualifying konung ‘king’ and suggests emending ok to fyr: ‘we find you, lord, in place of another, fallen king’. This gives excellent sense, but does require emendation. (d) Following his belief that there is a missing l. 2, Finnur declares these lines to be unintelligible as they stand, and offers no interpretation in Skj B. — [5-8]: These are very difficult lines, for which considerable emendation may be needed. All previous commentators agree in reading nistanda ‘feeder’ for ms. ‘sistanda’ as base-word of a warrior-kenning. Parallels elsewhere in the later skaldic corpus include ESk Geisl 25/6VII nistandi ulfs ‘feeder of the wolf’ and Gkǫrt Lv 1/5IV valnistandi ‘hawk-feeder’. Most eds emend ms. grams ‘of the king’, and it is reasonable to think that scribes may have erroneously assumed a phrase grams Gauta ‘king of the Gautar’, but there are varying views about the best emendation, and about the interpretation of glað-. (a) Skj B takes glað as ‘horse’ (cf. LP: glaðr 1), and emends ms. grams ‘of the king’ to gífrs ‘of the giantess’ to produce a kenning gífrs glaðnistandi ‘feeder of the horse of the giantess [(lit. horse-feeder of the giantess) WOLF > WARRIOR]’. However, this entails a very complex word order in ll. 5-8: Telk þat lengi mitt verk at dýrka gífrs glaðnistanda, dýr [sic] þengill, síz mistak dǫglings Gauta ‘I reckon it for a long time my work to glorify the feeder of the horse of the giantess, excellent lord, since I have lost the prince of the Gautar’. (b) Kock (NN §723), followed here, argues that ms. grams should be garms ‘of the dog’, that Gauta is not the ethnic name but rather the Óðinn-name (i.e. gen. sg. of Gauti rather than gen. pl. of Gautar), and that glað has its more usual sense ‘glad’ rather than ‘horse’. Another kenning in which ‘wolf’ is referred to as the dog of Óðinn is HHund I 13/7 grey Viðris (NK 132). Under this interpretation garms ... mis(s)tak (ll. 5-6) forms a coordinate clause. The interaction of the two clauses expresses well both Óttarr’s grief for Óláfr Eiríksson and his hopes for new service with Óláfr Haraldsson. (c) Rainford (1995, 63) suggests a middle course in which Garmr might simply be taken as a heiti for ‘wolf’ (cf., perhaps, Mánagarmr ‘moon-hound’ referring to a wolf in SnE 2005, 14; see Note to Gsind Hákdr 8/8). Hence the kenning would be glaðnistandi Garms ‘glad feeder of the Garmr [WARRIOR]’. In favour of this would be Einarr Skúlason’s kenning nistandi ulfs ‘feeder of the wolf’ in Geisl 25/6VII, a poem explicitly indebted to Óttarr’s poem on Óláfr Haraldsson (see Geisl 12VII), which may indicate that Einarr took Óttarr’s example to be nistandi Garms. The addition of Gauta ‘of the Gautar’ to the warrior-kenning to produce a reference to Óláfr Eiríksson, King of the Swedes, would be appropriate, but such constructions are unusual. — [5] ok ‘and’: To clarify the syntax of the helmingr Finnur Jónsson (Skj B), Kock (Skald) and Rainford (1995, 62) all emend ok to síz ‘since’ (‘since I lost …’), but this does not seem necessary. — [7] dýrka ‘glorify’: The verb dýrka takes the acc., so its two possible objects are -nistanda ‘feeder’ (as proposed by Skj B) or verk ‘work’ (as proposed by Skald and followed here). Verk is thus to be understood twice: the king’s ongoing verk as a ruler supplies the material for the poet’s verk of praise, and Óttarr’s syntax nicely recognises this with the closing words of the stanza (mitt ‘my’ (by emendation); lengi ‘for a long time’). — [8] mitt ‘my’: There seems no grammatically acceptable way of retaining ms. mik, and all eds emend to mitt.

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