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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 (1993b).

Hǫfuðlausn (‘Head-ransom’) — Ótt HflI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘ 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. <> (accessed 17 January 2022)

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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, 753

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

10 — Ótt Hfl 10I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 10’ 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. 753.

Atgǫngu vannt, yngvi,
ætt siklinga mikla;
blíðr hilmir, rautt breiða
borg Kantara of morgin.
Lék við rǫnn af ríki
— rétt, bragna konr, gagni —
(aldar, frák, at aldri)
eldr ok reykr (of beldir).

Yngvi, vannt ætt siklinga mikla atgǫngu; blíðr hilmir, rautt breiða Kantaraborg of morgin. Eldr ok reykr lék við rǫnn af ríki; {konr bragna}, rétt gagni; frák, at of beldir aldri aldar.

King, you made a great attack on the race of princes; gracious ruler, you reddened broad Canterbury in the morning. Fire and smoke played against the houses mightily; {kinsman of chieftains} [RULER], you gained victory; I heard that you harmed the life of people.

Mss: (227r) (Hkr); Holm2(7r), J1ˣ(141r), J2ˣ(122v), 325VI(6va), 73aˣ(20v), 78aˣ(19v), 68(6r), 61(80ra), 75c(3r), 325V(8vb), 325VII(2r), Bb(126vb-127ra), Flat(80rb), Tóm(96v) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] vannt: vatt J1ˣ, vann 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ;    yngvi: ‘iyngvi’ Bb    [2] ætt: átt Tóm;    siklinga: siglinga Bb    [3] blíðr: blíð 73aˣ;    rautt (‘rꜹðtu’): tóktu Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, 61, 75c, 325V, 325VII, Bb, Flat, Tóm, tóku 78aˣ;    breiða: bæði 325VI, 78aˣ    [4] Kantara‑: ‘kantera’ 75c, Flat, ‘cantera’ 325VII;    morgin: corrected from ‘morgon’ Holm2    [5] Lék: lét 325VI, 68, 325V, 325VII, Bb, Tóm;    af: ok 325VI, 78aˣ, of 68    [6] konr: vinr J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, konungr Bb    [7] aldar: aldir Holm2, 61, aldr 325V    [8] reykr: reyk 325VI;    of: so 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 325VII, at þú Kˣ, Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 68, 61, Bb, at 75c, 325V, Flat, Tóm;    beldir: beldi 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 75c, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 10: AI, 293, BI, 270, Skald I, 138, NN §2218C; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 21, IV, 110-11, ÍF 27, 20 (ÓHHkr ch. 15); ÓH 1941, I, 46 (ch. 24), Flat 1860-8, II, 20.

Context: Óláfr and his army sack Kantarabyrgi (Canterbury).

Notes: [All]: For the battle at Canterbury, see also Sigv Víkv 8. — [3] rautt ‘you reddened’: The majority (ÓH) reading tókt ‘you took’ is equally possible in the context. — [3] breiða ‘broad’: As Jesch (2001a, 61) notes, Óttarr also collocates this adj. with the noun borg in Ótt Knútdr 5/5-6: í breiðri | borg Hemminga ‘in broad Hemingbrough’, ‘suggesting certainly that Óttarr liked an easy alliteration but possibly also that large towns were still an imposing sight to Scandinavians’. — [4] borg Kantara ‘Canterbury’: The ASC (s. a. 1011) records the capture of Canterbury by Þorkell’s army, including the martyrdom of Archbishop Ælfheah there, about which Óttarr and Sigvatr are silent, to judge from the extant poetry. The p. n. (OE Cantwaraburh ‘the stronghold of the Cantware, people of Kent’) has been slightly remodelled by Norse speakers, poetry and prose having alternative forms, and, here and in Sigv Víkv 8/6, the metre has encouraged mild tmesis for metrical reasons. See further Townend (1998, 46-9). — [5] af ríki ‘mightily’: See LP: ríki 1 for parallels. — [8] of beldir ‘you harmed’: There is a problem here in that no ms. reads of beldir. Those that read beldir have at þú rather than of, while those that read of have beldi (presumably an impersonal 3rd pers. sg. form). The best mss seem to point to a reading of at beldir (with þú a later, hypometrical addition), but this seems unlikely since the conj. at is already present in l. 7. The reading favoured here is also adopted in Skj B, Skald and ÍF 27. On the verb bella see NN §2218 .

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