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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 20 September 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, 766

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

20 — Ótt Hfl 20I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 20’ 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. 766.

Gegn, (eru þér at þegnum)
þjóðskjǫldunga góðra
haldið hæft á veldi
(Hjaltlendingar kenndir).
Engi varð á jǫrðu
ógnbráðr, áðr þér nôðum,
austr, sás eyjum vestan,
ynglingr, und sik þryngvi.

Gegn, haldið hæft á veldi góðra þjóðskjǫldunga; Hjaltlendingar eru kenndir þér at þegnum. Engi ógnbráðr ynglingr, sás þryngvi und sik eyjum vestan, varð austr á jǫrðu, áðr nôðum þér.

Trustworthy one, you hold fittingly onto the power of good kings of the people; the Shetlanders are known to you as your thanes. No battle-bold king who subjugated under himself the islands in the west arose east in the land, before we got you.

Mss: (329v-330r), Bb(160va) (Hkr); Holm2(31v), 325V(33rb-va), 75a(24rb), 325VI(19va), 73aˣ(79r), Holm4(23vb), 75c(18v), 325VII(16v), Tóm(119r) (ÓH); DG8(86r) (ÓHLeg); FskBˣ(45r-v), FskAˣ(170-171) (Fsk); 332ˣ(16), Flat(102rb) (Orkn); R(40r), Tˣ(41v), U(37v), A(15v), B(6v), 744ˣ(43v), C(9v) (SnE, ll. 5-8)

Readings: [1] eru: er at Bb, erut 73aˣ, Flat, es Tóm;    at: frá FskAˣ    [2] ‑skjǫldunga: ‘[…]’ 75c, ‘skialldungra’ DG8, skjǫld ungra FskBˣ, Flat;    góðra: góða 325V, Flat, ‘[…]’ 75c, ‘daugua’ Tóm    [3] haldið: ‘[…]’ 75c;    hæft: hept Bb, 325VI, FskBˣ, hefr 73aˣ, ‘hopt’ 332ˣ, ‘hæift’ Flat    [4] Hjalt‑: ‘hiat’ FskBˣ, FskAˣ;    ‑lendingar: ‑lendingum Flat;    kenndir: kennir Flat    [5] Engi varð á jǫrðu: ‘E[…]’ B, engi varð á jǫrðu 744ˣ;    Engi: eigi Bb, Holm2, 325VI, 325VII, Tóm, Flat;    varð: verðr 75a, 73aˣ;    á: í Tˣ    [6] ógnbráðr áðr þér: ‘[…]’ B, ógnbráðr áðr þér 744ˣ;    ‑bráðr: ‑djarfr FskAˣ;    áðr: áðr en 75a, FskAˣ;    þér: om. FskBˣ, þess 332ˣ;    nôðum: nôðuð Bb, 325V, 75a, 73aˣ, DG8, Flat, náði 332ˣ, R, Tˣ, U, náðit C    [7] austr: ‘ǫztr’ 332ˣ;    vestan: flestum 75a, 73aˣ    [8] ynglingr: unglingr Bb, ǫðlingr 325V, ynglingi 73aˣ, ‘vnlingr’ corrected from ǫðlingr A;    und: ‘vnndi’ Bb, unn 325V, við R;    sik: þik R;    þryngvi: ‘þrygir’ 325V, ‘þrygþvi’ 325VII, ‘þrœgui’ DG8, ‘þrꝍgðe’ FskBˣ, ‘þry[…]’ B, þryngvi 744ˣ, ‘þryngndi’ C

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 19: AI, 295-6, BI, 272, Skald I, 139; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 213, IV, 138, ÍF 27, 172-3 (ÓHHkr ch. 102); ÓH 1941, I, 254 (ch. 88), Flat 1860-8, II, 181-2; ÓHLeg 1922, 43, ÓHLeg 1982, 106-7; Fsk 1902-3, 159 (ch. 27), ÍF 29, 181 (ch. 31); Orkn 1913-16, 41, ÍF 34, 41 (ch. 19); SnE 1848-87, I, 526-7, II, 344-5, 463, 542, 609, SnE 1931, 185, SnE 1998, I, 105.

Context: In the konungasǫgur, the context is an account of the relations between Óláfr and the Orcadian Rǫgnvaldr jarl Brúsason (in c. 1022), and Óláfr’s overlordship of Orkney and Shetland more generally. In SnE, ll. 5-8 are quoted in exemplification of the king-heiti ynglingr.

Notes: [All]: Ms. 744ˣ, has been used to supply B readings where necessary; see Note to st. 5 [All]. Ms. 75c is also badly rubbed and barely legible in places. — [All]: This stanza has the widest preservation of all the stanzas from the poem. The introductory words in ÓH, Hkr and Orkn attribute it to a drápa composed by Óttarr for King Óláfr. Ms. U attributes ll. 5-8 to Arnórr. — [2] þjóðskjǫldunga ‘of kings of the people’: The cpd is a hap. leg. in ON. Its OE cognate þēodscylding also occurs only once, in Beowulf l. 1019 (Þēod-Scyldingas, Beowulf 2008, 36), where it is an alternative term for the Danes. Here the word seems to be a variant on ON þjóðkonungr, a particular favourite of Sigvatr (see LP: þjóðkonungr), which could mean ‘king of a people’ or (if þjóð is simply an intensifier) ‘mighty king’. — [4] Hjaltlendingar ‘the Shetlanders’: The earliest extant reference to Shetland or its inhabitants in ON. — [5] á jǫrðu ‘in the land’: Faulkes (SnE 1998, I, 224) suggests this should be taken as an adverbial phrase meaning ‘ever’, but in his glossary (SnE 1998, II, 331) he proposes rather that á jǫrðu austr should be taken to mean ‘in Norway’; the latter seems more likely. — [6] nôðum ‘we got’: A number of mss read 3rd pers. sg. náði, presumably either with jǫrð ‘land’ as the understood subject (‘before it [the land] got you’) or as an impersonal construction (‘until you were got, until you appeared’: see SnE 1998, II, 361). There is some sense to this reading, since, according to saga accounts, Óttarr was neither Norwegian nor (as ÍF 27 notes) in Óláfr’s retinue at the time of composition of Hfl, so the use of 1st pers. pl. ‘we’ might seem presumptuous. The variant nôðuð in several mss would give áðr þér nôðuð ‘before you attained [this; the lordship]’. — [7] austr ‘east’: See Note to l. 5 above. The sense of austr here is probably ‘Norway’, in opposition to the islands in the west (vestan, l. 7). Conceivably, though, it alludes specifically to the origin of Óláfr’s dynasty in Grenland in south-east Norway. — [7] eyjum ‘the islands’: Arguably, eyjar should be capitalised here and treated as a proper name for Orkney (or Orkney and Shetland). See also Óttarr’s use of Eybúar ‘Island-dwellers’ as a term for the inhabitants of Orkney in his Lv 2/4.

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