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, ‘(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.

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, 756

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

12 — Ótt Hfl 12I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 12’ 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. 756.

Nôðuð ungr at eyða,
ógnteitr jǫfurr, Peitu;
reynduð, ræsir, steinda
rǫnd á Túskalandi.


Battle-glad prince, you were able [when] young to lay waste to Poitou; ruler, you tested the stained shield in Touraine.

context: Redirected northwards from Spain by a dream presaging his rule over Norway, Óláfr campaigns in Peita (Poitou).

notes: Óláfr’s battles in Brittany and Spain are detailed in Sigv Víkv 10-13, quoted in ÓH and Hkr between Hfl 11 and 12, and his return to Leira (the Loire) and burning of a town called Varrandi in Peituland (Poitou) are depicted in Víkv 14, quoted immediately after Hfl 12. Snorri (ÍF 27, 27; ÓH 1941, I, 52) tells that after his battles in Poitou Óláfr remained for a while in Normandy, and this appears to be confirmed by William of Jumièges (van Houts 1992-5, II, 24-9), who records his baptism at the court of Duke Richard II; the tradition passed from William to Theodoricus (McDougall and McDougall 1998, 72 n. 102). — [1-4]: The prose order followed here is that of Kock (NN §729) and ÍF 27. Skj B’s proposed syntax is much more complexly interlaced, with ungr ‘young’ qualifying jǫfurr ‘prince’ and ógnteitr ‘battle-glad’ qualifying ræsir ‘ruler’. However, as Kock points out, the syntax and structure of the opening two lines of this stanza have a parallel in st. 3/1-2.

texts: Flat 440, ÓH 27 (25), ÓHHkr 23 (II 23), Hkr 224 (II 23)

editions: Skj Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn 12 (AI, 293; BI, 270); Skald I, 139, NN §729; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 26, IV, 113-14, ÍF 27, 25 (ÓHHkr ch. 19); ÓH 1941, I, 50 (ch. 25), Flat 1860-8, II, 27.


AM 36 folx (Kx) 229r, 24 - 229r, 27 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 7v, 17 - 7v, 18 (ÓH)  image  
AM 37 folx (J1x) 142v, 17 - 142v, 18 (ÓH)  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 124r, 15 - 124r, 18 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VI 4° (325VI) 6vb - 6vb (ÓH)  image  
AM 73 a folx (73ax) 21v - 22r (ÓH)  image  
AM 78 a folx (78ax) 21v, 4 - 21v, 7 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 6v, 22 - 6v, 22 (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 80vb, 9 - 80vb, 10 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 75 c fol (75c) 4r, 4 - 4r, 4 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 9va, 4 - 9va, 6 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VII 4° (325VII) 2v, 11 - 2v, 11 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 127rb, 34 - 127va, 1 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 81rb, 53 - 81rb, 55 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 97r, 12 - 97r, 12 (ÓH)  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 271r, 14 - 271r, 17  image  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 48va, 27 - 48va, 30 (ÓH)  image  image  
UppsUB R 686x (R686x) 13v, 28 - 13v, 29 (ÓH)  image  image  
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