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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 1 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, 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.

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

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.

Mss: (220v) (Hkr); Holm2(5v), J1ˣ(137r), J2ˣ(119r), 325VI(5rb), 73aˣ(16r), 78aˣ(14v-15r), 68(5r), 61(79ra), 325V(6vb-7ra), Bb(125rb), Flat(79vb), Tóm(95r) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Ǫttuð: ýttum J1ˣ, J2ˣ;    ôrum skreyttum: órum knǫrrum J1ˣ, J2ˣ, skreyttum ôrum 68    [2] salt: haf Flat;    flaustum: ‘fleystum’ Bb, ‘flaustrum’ Tóm    [3] lind: land J1ˣ, J2ˣ, lendr 73aˣ, 78aˣ, lund 68    [4] ‑vǫrðr: ‑vǫrð J1ˣ, J2ˣ, ‘her’ 68    [5] segls: segli 78aˣ;    sættuð: settuð Kˣ, Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 61, 325V, Flat, Tóm, sættusk 68, sóttuð Bb    [6] ‑varpaði: ‘‑uarpaðar’ Tóm;    stundum: so all others, corrected from ‘stundo’ in a later hand Kˣ    [7] mjǫk: ‘myk’ J1ˣ;    róin: ‘rō’ J1ˣ, roðin Flat, ‘rum’ or ‘ruin’ Tóm    [8] þér: þær Tóm;    bôru: so Holm2, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 68, 61, 325V, Bb, Flat, Tóm, ‘baror’ Kˣ, bára J1ˣ, J2ˣ

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.

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). — [2] austr í salt ‘east on the salt sea’: Doubtless a reference to the Baltic (Eystrasalt ‘the Eastern Salt’): cf. Sigv Austv 21/8 (and Introduction to Austv) and Arn Hryn 4/2II. — [3] lind ‘the linden-shield’: Lind f. ‘linden-tree, lime-tree’ can refer to spear-shafts or shields made of linden-wood, hence spears and shields in general (LP: 1. lind); here it appears to be in apposition with randir ‘shields’. Finnur Jónsson in Skj B adopts the reading land from J1ˣ, J2ˣ, producing an adv. phrase land af landi ‘from land to land’ which he takes to modify the clause in ll. 1-2. The proposal is not persuasive, though, either in terms of ms. authority or syntax. — [4] skip ‘the ships’: The word could be sg. or pl. — [5] sættuð ‘deployed’: Following Skj B, the verb is taken in this edn as sættuð (from sæta), here with the sense ‘used, took advantage of, deployed’ (Skj B benyttede). This takes a dat. object, here sundvarpaði ‘sea-thrower [OAR]’. Meissner 103 suggests instead the sense ‘you gave the oar peace’ (by using the sail). Skald and ÍF 27 retain settuð (from setja), as indicated by the ms. readings, with the exception of Bb and possibly of 68, but in the absence of an acc. object for the verb, this entails assuming that segl ‘sail’ is understood from l. 5 segls as the direct object, and that sundvarpaði is an indirect object; see further Note to l. 6.  — [6] sundvarpaði ‘for the sea-thrower [OAR]’: This hap. leg. appears to be an agent noun (nom. sundvǫrpuðr), and it is taken here as an oar-kenning similar to Anon (ÓT) 3/6 sveipr ǫldu ‘sweeper of the wave’ (so also Meissner 103). It is dat., and provides an object to sættuð ‘you deployed’ (see Note to l. 5). Other eds have taken it as an expression for ‘wind’ or ‘storm’ and construed it as indirect object of setja ‘set’, hence ‘you set [the sail] for the sea-thrower’; see ÍF 27, and also Jesch (2001a, 162-3), who suggests the translation ‘strait-disturber’. However, if a wind-kenning, it does not belong to a known pattern, and it takes the focus away from parts of the ship, which otherwise dominate the stanza. — [6] stundum ‘sometimes’: The adv. could be taken with either or both of the verbs in ll. 5-6: neyttuð ‘you made use of’ and sættuð ‘you deployed’ (as here). 

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