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Runic Dictionary

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

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

1. Hǫfuðlausn (Hfl) - 20

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 27 November 2021)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20 

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, 755

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

11 — Ótt Hfl 11I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 11’ 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. 755.

Máttit enskrar ættar
ǫld, þars tókt við gjǫldum,
vísi, vægðarlausum,
víðfrægr, við þér bægja.
Guldut gumnar sjaldan
goll dǫglingi hollum;
stundum frák til strandar
stór þing ofan fóru.

Víðfrægr vísi, ǫld enskrar ættar máttit bægja við þér vægðarlausum, þars tókt við gjǫldum. Gumnar guldut sjaldan hollum dǫglingi goll; frák stundum stór þing fóru ofan til strandar.

Widely-famous ruler, the people of English race could not stand against you, merciless, when you received tribute. Men not seldom paid gold to the gracious king; I heard that at times great goods went down to the shore.

Mss: (227v) (Hkr); Holm2(7r), J1ˣ(141v), J2ˣ(123r), 325VI(6va-b), 73aˣ(21r), 78aˣ(20r-v), 68(6r-v), 61(80rb), 75c(3v), 325V(9ra), 325VII(2r), Bb(127ra), Flat(80va), Tóm(96v) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Máttit: môttut 73aˣ, 61, Bb, ‘mattie’ Tóm;    enskrar: ‘enskar’ 61, 325V, Bb;    ættar: ættir 61, Bb    [2] þars (‘þar er’): þá er 68;    tókt: tók J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 68    [4] víð‑: vand‑ 68, víg‑ Bb;    ‑frægr: ‑fræg Holm2, ‑frægu 73aˣ;    við þér: viðir J1ˣ, J2ˣ;    við: om. 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ;    þér: þik Bb, Flat, Tóm;    bægja: bægjask 68, 61, 325V, Flat, Tóm    [5] gumnar: gunnr J1ˣ, gunnar 61, 325VII, ‘gummar’ Bb, gunnari Tóm;    sjaldan: so all others, ‘sialdar’ Kˣ    [6] goll: gǫll J1ˣ, J2ˣ;    dǫglingi: dǫglingum 325VI, 78aˣ, Tóm;    hollum: so J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, hollust Kˣ, hollast Holm2, 75c, Bb, þollar 68, 61, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm    [7] stundum: stǫndum J1ˣ, J2ˣ;    frák (‘fra ec’): frá 68    [8] ofan: ‘viti’ 325VI, 78aˣ

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 11: AI, 293, BI, 270, Skald I, 138; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 22, IV, 112, ÍF 27, 22 (ÓHHkr ch. 15); ÓH 1941, I, 47 (ch. 24), Flat 1860-8, II, 21.

Context: Óláfr travels widely throughout England, taking tribute from the people or raiding as an alternative.

Notes: [All]: The ASC (s. a. 1012) records the payment of tribute to Þorkell’s army at Canterbury. Snorri Sturluson places this stanza after Sigv Víkv 9 (which records a battle at a place called Nýjamóða), and assumes it refers to a series of payments in unrecorded places, but this is probably a mistake, and it is more likely that Hfl 11 refers, with st. 10, to the attack on Canterbury (and note repetition of tókt and aldar/ǫld in the two stanzas). — [6] hollum ‘to the gracious’: The mss show a variety of forms. The two leading mss ( and Holm2) read hollust/hollast, which would make little sense in context, unless hollast is an adverbial usage, ‘most graciously’, perhaps ironic. It therefore seems best to adopt (with ÍF 27) the positive form hollum, found in some A-class mss. Skj B adopts þollar from certain B- and C-class mss and gunnar from 61, 325VII in l. 5 to create a warrior-kenning þollar gunnar ‘fir-trees of battle [WARRIORS]’, replacing gumnar as the subject of the sentence. Skald follows Skj, but prefers þollar Gunnar ‘fir-trees of Gunnr <valkyrie> [WARRIORS]’.

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