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, ‘(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, 760

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

15 — Ótt Hfl 15I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 15’ 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. 760.

Eigi hrædduzk ægi;
ér fóruð sæ stóran;
allvaldr of getr aldar
engi nýtri drengi.
Opt varð fars, en forsi
flaust hratt af sér brǫttum,
neytt, áðr Nóreg beittuð,
niðjungr Haralds, miðjan.

Eigi hrædduzk ægi; ér fóruð stóran sæ; {engi allvaldr aldar} of getr nýtri drengi. Fars varð opt neytt, en flaust hratt af sér brǫttum forsi, áðr, {niðjungr Haralds}, beittuð miðjan Nóreg.

You were not afraid of the ocean; you travelled across a great sea; {no mighty ruler of men} [RULER] gains abler warriors. The ship was often tested, and the vessel threw from itself the steep cataract, before, {descendant of Haraldr} [= Óláfr], you beat to the middle of Norway.

Mss: (234r) (Hkr); Holm2(8v), J1ˣ(145r), J2ˣ(126r), 73aˣ(24r), 78aˣ(24r), 68(7v), 61(81va), 75c(5v), 325V(10vb), Bb(130ra), Flat(81vb), Tóm(98r) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] hrædduzk: hræddizk 325V, Bb;    ægi: jǫfra 68, ýtar 61    [2] ér: opt J1ˣ, ótt 78aˣ;    fóruð: fór 68    [3] getr: sitr 68;    aldar: aldri 325V, aldir Bb    [5] varð: var all others;    fars: ‘fyrs’ 61    [6] flaust: flaustr Flat, Tóm    [7] neytt: nautt 61, nýtt 325V, nýtr Bb, ‘neyd’ Tóm;    áðr: áðr en Tóm;    beittuð: hittuð J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 325V    [8] niðjungr: níðingr Tóm;    Haralds: Nóreg Flat

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 14: AI, 294, BI, 271, Skald I, 139, NN §620; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 36-7, IV, 117, ÍF 27, 35-6 (ÓHHkr ch. 29); ÓH 1941, I, 57 (ch. 29), Flat 1860-8, II, 31.

Context: The stanza follows st. 14 (see Context).

Notes: [4] drengi ‘warriors’: On the important term drengr ‘warrior, worthy or manly man’, see Note to Anon Sveinfl 1/6. — [5] opt ‘often’: This adv. is construed with var(ð) ‘was’ (so also Kock (NN §620) and ÍF 27). Skj B takes it as qualifying hratt ‘threw’. — [5] varð ‘was’: Var (normalised vas) ‘was’, the reading of the ÓH mss, is equally acceptable here. — [7] neytt ‘tested’: An impersonal construction, with gen. fars ‘vessel, ship’. — [7] beittuð ‘you beat’: A technical term, meaning ‘to sail to windward’ (Jesch 2001a, 174). — [8] niðjungr Haralds ‘descendant of Haraldr [= Óláfr]’: The Haraldr alluded to could be either Óláfr’s father Haraldr grenski ‘from Grenland’, or his putative great-great-grandfather Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’; see Note to Sigv Knútdr 3/2, 3. — [8] miðjan ‘to the middle’: Snorri (ÍF 27, 36) identifies the destination as the island of Sæla … út frá Staði ‘Selja, off the coast of Stad’ (see Note to Sigv Lv 11/8).

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