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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 22 October 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, 757

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

13 — Ótt Hfl 13I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 13’ 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. 757.

Komt í land ok lendir,
láðvǫrðr, Aðalráði;
þín naut rekka rúni
ríki efldr at slíku.
Harðr vas fundr, sás fœrðuð
friðlands á vit niðja
(réð áttstuðill áðan)
Játmundar (þar grundu).


{Land-guardian}, [KING] you brought Æthelred into the land and gave [him] land; strengthened with a kingdom, {the counsellor of warriors} [KING = Æthelred] had help from you in this. The fighting was hard, by which you brought {the kinsman of Eadmund} [= Æthelred] into a land of peace; the prop of the family ruled the land there previously.

context: In Hkr and ÓH, the stanza immediately follows st. 8 within an account of fighting in London, and Fsk assumes the same context (see Notes below). In Knýtl, the stanza is the first to be quoted in the saga, and it is placed in a different, and more historically correct, context, of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred) returning home and recovering his kingdom with Óláfr’s support.

notes: As is known from the ASC and other sources, King Æthelred II went into exile in Normandy in 1013, and the English throne was assumed by the Danish conqueror Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson. However, following Sveinn’s death in early 1014, Æthelred was invited back and he himself resumed the throne (not his sons, as Snorri and Fsk claim, in the mistaken belief that Æthelred was already dead). The current stanza, then, concerns Óláfr’s role in Æthelred’s return to England in spring 1014. Relative ignorance of the details of this phase of Anglo-Saxon history led Snorri in ÓH and Hkr and the author of Fsk to place this stanza out of position, with those detailing Óláfr’s earlier English adventures, rather than with his role in the re-establishment of the English dynasty; the placing in Skj follows this tradition. The author of Knýtl, however, who quotes no other verses from Óttarr’s Hfl (but many from his Knútdr), correctly places the stanza at the time of Æthelred’s return to England after Sveinn’s death. Similarly, it is clear that the author of ÓHLeg knew this stanza and interpreted it correctly, even though he does not quote it (see ÓHLeg 1982, 44). For further discussion see A. Campbell (1971, 11-12); Campbell (1998, 77-82) and Poole (1980, 273-5).

texts: Flat 428, Fsk 132, Knýtl 1, ÓH 15 (13), ÓHHkr 11 (II 11), Hkr 212 (II 11)

editions: Skj Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn 8 (AI, 292; BI, 269); Skald I, 138, NN §§172, 2486B; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 18-19, IV, 109, ÍF 27, 17 (ÓHHkr ch. 13); ÓH 1941, I, 45 (ch. 23), Flat 1860-8, II, 19; Fsk 1902-3, 141 (ch. 25), ÍF 29, 168 (ch. 27); 1741, 8-9, Knýtl 1919-25, 34, ÍF 35, 99 (ch. 7).


AM 36 folx (Kx) 226r, 15 - 226r, 22 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 7r, 7 - 7r, 9 (ÓH)  image  
AM 37 folx (J1x) 139v, 6 - 139v, 9 (ÓH)  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 122r, 4 - 122r, 11 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VI 4° (325VI) 6rb, 34 - 6rb, 37 (ÓH)  image  
AM 73 a folx (73ax) 20r, 7 - 20r, 7 (ÓH)  image  
AM 78 a folx (78ax) 19r, 8 - 19r, 15 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 6r, 15 - 6r, 15 (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 80ra, 12 - 80ra, 14 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 75 c fol (75c) 3r, 6 - 3r, 6 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 8va, 18 - 8va, 23 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VII 4° (325VII) 2r, 10 - 2r, 12 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 126vb, 8 - 126vb, 8 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 80rb, 34 - 80rb, 37 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 96v, 4 - 96v, 4 (ÓH)  image  
OsloUB 371 folx (FskBx) 40r - 40r (Fsk)  image  
AM 303 4°x (FskAx) 153, 16 - 153, 23 (Fsk)  image  
Jón Ólafsson 1741 (JÓ) 8 - 8 (Knýtl)  image  
AM 20 d folx (20dx) 3v, 18 - 3v, 25 (Knýtl)  image  
NKS 873 4°x (873x) 4v, 10 - 4v, 17 (Knýtl)  image  
AM 51 folx (51x) 36v, 9 - 36v, 16 (Fsk)  image  
AM 301 4°x (301x) 56r, 13 - 56r, 17 (Fsk)  transcr.  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 270v, 12 - 270v, 19  image  
Holm papp 41 4°x (41x) -  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 44va, 29 - 44va, 36 (ÓH)  image  
UppsUB R 686x (R686x) 12r, 32 - 12r, 39 (ÓH)  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated