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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 27 November 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, 750

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

8 — Ótt Hfl 8I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 8’ 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. 750.

Enn brauzt, éla kennir
Yggs gunnþorinn, bryggjur
(linns hefr lǫnd at vinna)
Lundúna (þér snúnat).
Hǫfðu hart of krafðir
— hildr óx við þat — skildir
gang, en gamlir sprungu
gunnþinga járnhringar.


{Battle-daring master {of the storms of Yggr}}, [BATTLES > WARRIOR] you further broke the wharves of London; it has turned out for you to win {the lands of the serpent}. [GOLD] Shields, hard pressed, had movement, and {old iron-rings of battle-meetings} [MAIL-SHIRTS] sprang apart; battle increased at that.


In ÓH and Hkr, fighting in support of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred), Óláfr and his Norwegian force gain control of London Bridge and the River Thames, so the citizens surrender and accept Aðalráðr. FGT cites the stanza with the words, Skáld eru hǫfundar allrar rýnni eða málsgreinar, sem smiðir [smíðar] eða lǫgmenn laga. En þessa lund kvað einn þeira eða þessu líkt ‘the skalds are authorities on all writing or speaking, just as craftsmen on their craft and lawyers on the law. One of them made a poem somewhat as follows’ (FGT 1972b, 20); on this passage see Clunies Ross (2005a, 154-5).

notes: According to Sigv Víkv 4-5, after further raiding in the Baltic, Óláfr sailed back west, to places that have been located in Denmark and the Netherlands. Both poems (Víkv 6-9, Hfl 8-11) then depict Óláfr’s fighting in England. In particular, Hfl 8-10 follow Víkv 6-8 closely in specifying the three locations of London, Ringmere Heath, and Canterbury. The konungasǫgur claim that these campaigns were in the company of the Danish leader Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’ and the Scandinavian sources tally well with the ASC’s account of Þorkell’s campaigns of 1009-12, even though Óláfr himself is not mentioned in English sources. The claim of Snorri Sturluson (ÓH and Hkr) that Óláfr was fighting in support of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred) at this early stage is probably erroneous: see Note to st. 13 [All]. For detailed discussion of Óláfr’s campaigns in England, and the stanzas and sagas in which they are recorded, see Campbell (1998, 76-82) and Turville-Petre (1969, 10-13); on Þorkell, see Keynes (1980, 216-22). — [1-4]: The syntax and kennings in these lines can be construed in a variety of ways. (a) Kock (NN §727), followed here, adopts gunnþorinn, the reading of Holm2 and other A- and C-class mss of ÓH, takes linns as a determinant for lǫnd (‘the lands of the serpent [GOLD]’), and reads kennir éla Yggs, gunnþorinn ‘master of the storms of Yggr [BATTLES > WARRIOR], battle-daring’. A reference to gold is fitting since in the pre-Norway stanzas of Hfl the emphasis is precisely on Óláfr’s viking exploits and his consequent accumulation of booty (see e.g. sts 7 and 11). (b) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B also adopts gunnþorinn, but assumes an elaborate warrior-kenning, kennir linns éla Yggs ‘master of the serpent of the storms of Yggr <= Óðinn> [BATTLES > SWORD > WARRIOR]’. However, this involves complex syntax and a statement that Óláfr won lǫnd ‘lands’ in England, and there is no evidence of this. (c) ÍF 27 follows interpretation (b), refining it by retaining the reading veðrþorinn and reading kennir linns éla, Yggs veðrþorinn ‘master of the serpent of battles [SWORD > WARRIOR], daring in the weather of Yggr [BATTLE]’. The assumption that él ‘storm’ alone can mean ‘battle’, is, however, problematic. — [5-8]: Skj B takes járnhringar ‘iron-rings’ to be the subject of hǫfðu (gang) ‘had (movement)’ and skildir ‘shields’ to be the subject of sprungu ‘sprang apart’, whereas Kock (NN §728) and this edn take skildir as the subject of hǫfðu and járnhringar as the subject of sprungu. ÍF 27 follows Kock in terms of subjects and verbs, but like Skj B attaches gunnþings ‘of battle-meeting’ (for gunnþinga pl.) to hart of krafðir, giving ‘hard pressed in battle-meeting’. Kock’s view is preferable, in assuming that the groups of words before and after en ‘and’ each form a discrete clause.

texts: FGT 1 [5-8], Flat 427, ÓH 14 (12) [1-4], ÓHHkr 10 (II 10), Gramm 1, Hkr 211 (II 10)

editions: Skj Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn 7 (AI, 291-2; BI, 269);

Skald I, 138, NN §§727, 728; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 18, IV, 108-9, ÍF 27, 16-17 (ÓHHkr ch. 13); ÓH 1941, I, 45 (ch. 23), Flat 1860-8, II, 19; FGT 1972a, 226-7, FGT 1972b, 20-1.


AM 36 folx (Kx) 226r, 6 - 226r, 13 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 7r, 5 - 7r, 7 (ÓH)  image  
AM 37 folx (J1x) 129v, 3 - 129v, 5 (ÓH)  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 121v, 33 - 122r, 2 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VI 4° (325VI) 6rb, 32 - 6rb, 34 (ÓH)  image  
AM 73 a folx (73ax) 20r, 2 - 20r, 2 (ÓH)  image  
AM 78 a folx (78ax) 19r, 3 - 19r, 6 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 6r, 14 - 6r, 14 (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 80ra, 10 - 80ra, 12 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 75 c fol (75c) 3r, 4 - 3r, 4 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 8va, 15 - 8va, 18 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VII 4° (325VII) 2r, 9 - 2r, 9 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 126vb, 6 - 126vb, 6 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 80rb, 33 - 80rb, 34 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 96v, 2 - 96v, 2 [1-4] (ÓH)  image  
AM 242 fol (W) 87, 6 - 87, 7 [5-8] (FGT)  image  image  image  
AM 761 a 4°x (761ax) 96r, 7 - 96r, 10 [5-8] (Skáldatal)  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 270v, 8 - 270v, 11 [1-4]  image  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 44va, 24 - 44va, 27 (ÓH)  image  
UppsUB R 686x (R686x) 12r, 27 - 12r, 30 (ÓH)  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated