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 (1993).

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, 744

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Ótt Hfl 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 2’ 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. 744.

Góðmennis þarfk gunnar
glóðbrjótanda at njóta;
hérs alnennin inni
inndrótt með gram svinnum.

Þarfk at njóta góðmennis {{gunnar glóð}brjótanda}; hérs alnennin inndrótt inni með svinnum gram.

I need to enjoy the favour of the good men {of the breaker {of the ember of battle}} [(lit. ‘ember-breaker of battle’) SWORD > WARRIOR]; here there is a very active household retinue inside with a wise king.

Mss: R(33r), R(36r), Tˣ(34v), Tˣ(37v), W(75-76), W(82), U(31v), A(10r), B(5v), C(4r) (SnE)

Readings: [1] ‑mennis: ‘[…]ennis’ U;    þarfk (‘þarf ek’): ‘þarf e’ W(75), ‘þar[…] ek’ U    [2] glóð: so R(36r), Tˣ(37v), W(82), A, golls R(33r), C, goll‑ Tˣ(34v), W(75), U, B;    brjótanda: ‑brjótandi Tˣ(37v);    at: om. Tˣ(34v), W(75), B, C;    njóta: ‘ni[…]’ U    [3] hérs (‘her er’): hann er W(75), ‘[…]’ U;    alnennin: ‘[…]is’ U    [4] inn‑: ‘[…]’ U;    gram: so all others, ‘gu[...]a’ R(33r)

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 2: AI, 290, BI, 268, Skald I, 137; SnE 1848-87, I, 406-7, 458-9, II, 323, 434, 533, 583, SnE 1931, 145, 163, SnE 1998, I, 62, 81.

Context: The helmingr is quoted twice in SnE (Skm). The first citation illustrates how ‘gold’ is used in kennings for ‘man’ (specifying brjótr gullsins ‘breaker of gold’), and the second how ‘men’ or ‘retainers’ are to be referred to (here inndrótt ‘household retinue’).

Notes: [All]: Following on from st. 1, this helmingr is of interest in illustrating how a skald might feel obliged to appeal to a king’s retinue, as well as to the king himself, in seeking new service. — [1] gunnar ‘of battle’: The usual uncertainty exists here whether to take this as the abstract noun gunnr ‘battle’ or the valkyrie-name Gunnr; cf. Note to Hfr ErfÓl 6/6. — [1-2] gunnar glóðbrjótanda ‘of the breaker of the ember of battle [(lit. ‘ember-breaker of battle’) SWORD > WARRIOR]’: The exact configuration of kennings is elusive here. The first citation in SnE draws attention to golls brjótandi or gollbrjótandi ‘gold-breaker’, a kenning for ‘generous man’. If this construal is correct, gunnar ‘of battle’ is not integral to the kenning but must loosely qualify either this, hence ‘generous man of battle’ referring to Óláfr, or else góðmennis ‘good men’, hence ‘good men of battle’, i.e. warriors. However, the construal may be incorrect (so Faulkes in SnE 1998, I, 190, II, 251), and the full kenning may be a kenning not for ‘generous man/ruler’ but rather for ‘warrior’: Óttarr’s idiom plays with the ‘generous man/ruler’ concept in passing, but embeds it and re-analyses it within the ‘warrior’ concept, creating a sword-kenning by combining either glóð ‘ember’ or goll(s) ‘gold’ with gunnar ‘battle’. The second citation in SnE has glóðbrjótandi ‘ember-breaker’, which forms an inverted warrior-kenning with gunnar, and this is preferred in this edn, as in Skj B and Skald. Goll(s) would not be a standard base-word for a sword-kenning. The closest comparandum would be gim (Meissner 150), and this is not a true parallel since its meaning in sword-kennings is ‘fire’ rather than ‘gem, jewel’.

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