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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 7 July 2022)

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, 763

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

18 — Ótt Hfl 18I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 18’ 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. 763.

Braut hafið, bǫðvar þreytir,
branda rjóðr, ór landi
— meir fannsk þinn an þeira
þrekr — dǫglinga rekna.
Stǫkk, sem þjóð of þekkir,
þér hverr konungr ferri;
heptuð ér en eptir
orðreyr, þess’s sat norðast.

{Þreytir bǫðvar}, {rjóðr branda}, hafið rekna dǫglinga braut ór landi; þrekr þinn fannsk meir an þeira. Hverr konungr stǫkk ferri þér, sem þjóð of þekkir; en eptir heptuð ér {orðreyr}, þess’s sat norðast.

{Wager of battle} [WARRIOR], {reddener of swords} [WARRIOR], you have driven the rulers away from the land; your courage was more in evidence than theirs. Each king fled far from you, as the people know; afterwards you restrained {the word-reed} [TONGUE] of the one who dwelt furthest north.

Mss: (281v), Bb(146rb-va), J(2ra) (l. 8), J2ˣ(149v) (Hkr); Holm2(20r), 325V(26ra), 75a(12va), 73aˣ(52r), 68(19r), 61(90rb), Holm4(11va), 325VII(9r), Flat(86vb), Tóm(108r) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] hafið: hefir Holm4, 325VII, Flat, Tóm;    bǫðvar: bǫðva 75a;    þreytir: ‘þręter’ Bb, þrautir 68, ‘þreytenn’ Holm4    [2] branda: ‘bran’ 75a;    rjóðr ór landi: om. 75a;    ór: af 73aˣ, 325VII    [3] meir: om. 75a;    þinn: þeim Holm4    [4] þrekr: þrek Flat    [5] Stǫkk: stóð 68, ‘stæykk’ 325VII;    þjóð: om. Bb;    þekkir: þekkti 61    [6] þér: þér er J2ˣ, Holm2, 325V, 75a, 73aˣ;    konungr: gramr 325VII;    ferri: verri 75a, 73aˣ, fyrri 325VII, firra Tóm    [7] heptuð: heptu J2ˣ, 75a, 325VII, hǫfðut 68;    en: þess 73aˣ    [8] orðreyr: orðsreyr Bb, om. J, orðreyrs 75a;    þess: om. 73aˣ

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 17: AI, 295, BI, 271-2, Skald I, 139, NN §§620, 731, 732, 1417D, 1853A; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 130-1, IV, 129, ÍF 27, 106 (ÓHHkr ch. 75); ÓH 1941, I, 155 (ch. 58), Flat 1860-8, II, 67.

Context: See Context to st. 17 above.

Notes: [2] branda ‘of swords’: Brandr means ‘sword’ here but ‘flame’ in st. 17/2. — [2] rjóðr branda ‘reddener of swords [WARRIOR]’: This and þreytir bǫðvar ‘wager of battle’ or ‘contender in battle’ are taken here as parallel apostrophes within the main clause, as also by Kock (NN §§731, 1417D, 1853A; Skald) and ÍF 27. Skj B takes rjóðr branda as part of the intercalary clause. — [3] meir ‘more’: This appears to be the comp. of adv. mjǫk ‘much, greatly’, qualifying fannsk ‘was in evidence’, rather than of adj. mikill ‘large, great’ qualifying þrekr þinn ‘your courage’, since the adj. would be in the weak form meiri ‘greater’. — [5, 6] stǫkk ferri þér ‘fled far from you’: The sense of this helmingr is not wholly clear. If each king fled, does this mean that Óláfr subsequently captured the northernmost king and cut out his tongue (ll. 7-8)? In Snorri’s prose, the kings are surrounded and cannot flee; one is subsequently blinded, one has his tongue cut out, and three are sent into exile. Ferri, a variant on fjarri, is indicated here by the aðalhending with hverr. — [7] en eptir ‘afterwards’: Skj B takes en as the conj. ‘but, and’, and eptir as the adv. ‘after(wards)’ qualifying sat ‘dwelt’, but this entails the difficulty that the finite verb heptuð ‘you restrain’ precedes the conj. The interpretation here therefore follows Kock (NN §620) in taking eptir as modifying heptuð ‘restrained’ rather than sat, and in taking en(n) eptir as an adverbial phrase ‘still later, afterwards’ (NN §732; Skald). Kock emends en to the adv. enn ‘still, yet’, but en can equally be taken as an unstressed variant of enn (so ÍF 27 and this edn).  — [8] þess’s sat norðast ‘of the one who dwelt furthest north’: Snorri (ÍF 27, 105) records that Óláfr cut out the tongue of Guðrøðr, king of Guðbrandsdalar (Gudbrandsdalen, Oppland).

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated