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, 746

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

4 — Ótt Hfl 4I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 4’ 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. 746.

Ǫttuð ôrum skreyttum
austr í salt með flaustum;
bôruð lind af landi,
landvǫrðr, á skip randir.
Neyttuð segls, ok sættuð
sundvarpaði stundum;
sleit mjǫk róin mikla
mǫrg ôr und þér bôru.


You urged decorated oars alongside the ships east on the salt sea; {land-guardian}, [RULER] you carried the linden-shield from the land, shields onto the ships. You made use of the sail and sometimes deployed {the sea-thrower}; [OAR] many a much-rowed oar cut the great swell beneath you.

context: In the autumn, Óláfr ravages Sweden in revenge for the death of his father at Swedish hands. The stanza is quoted as evidence that he travelled east from Denmark.

notes: [1-2]: The general sense of the lines is clear, but subtly different construals of the syntax are possible. (a) Ǫttuð is 2nd pers. pl. pret. indic. of etja ‘goad, urge’ or possibly here ‘try, strain’. It is taken here, as normally, to be transitive, with a dat. object skreyttum ôrum ‘decorated oars’. Með (flaustum) is taken as ‘alongside (the ships)’ (cf. LP: með 8). (b) Kock (NN §725) takes ǫttuð as intransitive, with the sense ‘went’, comparing Þór Lv 1/1-2 etjum á sæ kaldan ‘we drive forward on the cold sea’. He takes ôrum skreyttum ... með flaustum to mean ‘with decorated oars [and] with ships’. (c) ÍF 27 follows Kock, but takes skreyttum to qualify flaustum, hence ‘with ships ornamented with oars’; p. p. skreyttr ‘decorated’ frequently governs the dat. (see examples in LP: skreyta). (d) Skj B suggests Ǫttuð skreyttum flaustum með ôrum austr í salt ‘you drove the ornamented ships with oars east on the salt sea/Baltic’. This gives excellent sense, but it is implausible that með ‘with’ and skreyttum are to be taken not with the adjacent words but with those at one line’s remove (cf. Kock, NN §725).

texts: Flat 420, ÓH 7 (4), ÓHHkr 2 (II 2), Hkr 203 (II 2)

editions: Skj Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn 4 (AI, 291; BI, 268); Skald I, 138, NN §§725, 1853C; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 6-7, IV, 105-6, ÍF 27, 6 (ÓHHkr ch. 5); ÓH 1941, I, 36 (ch. 21), Flat 1860-8, II, 15.


AM 36 folx (Kx) 220v, 4 - 220v, 11 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 5v, 28 - 5v, 30 (ÓH)  image  
AM 37 folx (J1x) 137r, 4 - 137r, 8 (ÓH)  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 119r, 17 - 119r, 24 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VI 4° (325VI) 5rb, 24 - 5rb, 27 (ÓH)  image  
AM 73 a folx (73ax) 16r, 23 - 16r, 23 (ÓH)  image  
AM 78 a folx (78ax) 14v, 26 - 15r, 4 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 5r, 7 - 5r, 7 (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 79ra, 11 - 79ra, 14 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 6vb, 29 - 7ra, 1 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 125rb, 27 - 125rb, 32 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 79vb, 6 - 79vb, 9 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 95r, 29 - 95r, 29 (ÓH)  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 270r, 10 - 270r, 17  image  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 36va, 18 - 36va, 25 (ÓH)  image  
UppsUB R 686x (R686x) 9v, 27 - 9v, 31 (ÓH)  image  image  
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