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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, 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).

{Láðvǫrðr}, komt Aðalráði í land ok lendir; efldr ríki, naut {rúni rekka} þín at slíku. Fundr vas harðr, sás fœrðuð {niðja Játmundar} á vit friðlands; áttstuðill réð grundu þar áðan.

{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.

Mss: (226r); Holm2(7r), J1ˣ(139v), J2ˣ(122r), 325VI(6rb), 73aˣ(20r), 78aˣ(19r), 68(6r), 61(80ra), 75c(3r), 325V(8va), 325VII(2r), Bb(126vb), Flat(80rb), Tóm(96v) (ÓH); FskBˣ(40r), FskAˣ(153) (Fsk); JÓ(8), 20dˣ(3v), 873ˣ(4v) (Knýtl)

Readings: [1] ok: í Bb    [2] láð‑: land 78aˣ;    ‑vǫrðr: ‑varðr 78aˣ, 68, 325VII, FskBˣ, FskAˣ, vǫrðs Bb, vǫrð 20dˣ    [3] þín: þíns 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, FskAˣ, því FskBˣ;    rúni: reyn 325VI, reynir 325VI, 78aˣ, 68, 61, reyni corrected from ‘ryne’ 325VII    [4] ríki: ríkis 325VI, 78aˣ, 75c, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, FskAˣ;    efldr: ‘elfdr’ J1ˣ, Bb, mest 325VI, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, framr FskBˣ, FskAˣ    [5] vas fundr sás (‘var fundr sa er’): ‘[…]’ 325VI;    vas (‘var’): varð 325V, Bb, Tóm, FskBˣ;    sás (‘sa er’): þá er Flat, Tóm, þar er FskAˣ;    fœrðuð: fœrðusk 78aˣ, fóruð 325V, ‘værðið’ FskBˣ    [6] ‑lands: land Holm2, 325VII, landi J1ˣ, J2ˣ, lǫnd 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, land or lǫnd 68, 61, 75c, Flat, Tóm;    á: í Holm2, om. J1ˣ, J2ˣ;    vit: við J1ˣ, J2ˣ;    niðja: niðjar 325V, miðja Bb, niðra FskBˣ, 20dˣ    [7] átt‑: ætt‑ Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 68, 61, 325V, 325VII, FskAˣ, JÓ, 873ˣ, ‘a‑’ Bb, Tóm, ‘eð‑’ 20dˣ    [8] ‑mundar: ‑mundr FskAˣ;    þar: þá Flat, Tóm, FskBˣ, FskAˣ

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).

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: [All]: 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). — [2] Aðalráði ‘Æthelred’: Skj B takes this dat. sg. noun as direct object of lendir ‘you gave [him] land’, whereas the present edn, following ÍF 27 (also ÍF 29 and ÍF 35), takes it as a dat. object of komt (in the usage koma e-m ‘to bring sby’), with an implicit hann ‘him’, understood from Aðalráði, as the object of lendir ‘gave land to’. The latter seems preferable, as lenda when transitive seems to take an acc. object (CVC: lenda III; Fritzner: lenda 1, though they only have a single citation between them). — [4] efldr ríki ‘strengthened with a kingdom’: The phrase is taken here with rúni rekka ‘counsellor of warriors’ (l. 3) as referring to Æthelred. Skj B (followed by Skald) takes it as describing Óláfr, the addressee of komt ‘you brought’ (l. 1), and thus regards the main clause as extending across the entire helmingr, with rúni rekka naut þín at slíku ‘the counsellor of warriors had help from you in this’ as an intercalary clause. Ríki could here have either an abstract sense ‘power’ (so Skj B; ÍF 27 followed by ÍF 35) or a concrete one ‘kingdom’, and the latter is adopted here, as it emphasises Óttarr’s claim that Óláfr restored Æthelred to his land (l. 1). Fsk reads rather ríki framr ‘outstanding in power’. — [5] fœrðuð ‘you brought’: Kock is unhappy with this form, as he claims á vit ‘into’ can only follow an intransitive verb, and here niðja Játmundar ‘the kinsman of Eadmund [= Æthelred]’ is the direct object of fœrðuð; but his solutions (NN §172, superseded by NN §2486 and Skald) depend on minority readings and have not been followed by subsequent eds. — [6] friðlands ‘a land of peace’: There is clearly some paradoxical play at work in ll. 5-6: how can entry into a friðland involve fundr ‘fighting’ that is harðr ‘hard’? ÍF 27 attempts to reconcile the paradox by translating friðland as ‘a pacified land’ (followed by ÍF 29 and ÍF 35), while Poole translates as ‘the country friendly to him [i.e. Æthelred]’ (1980, 274). Poole’s interpretation seems more apposite. As the ASC makes clear, following Sveinn’s death Æthelred com … ham to his agenre þeode, 7 he glædlice fram him eallum onfange<n> wæs ‘came home to his own people and was gladly received by them all’ (Cubbin 1996, 59). On the term friðland see further Fell (1982-3, 95-7), who argues it has a positive legal sense based on interpersonal or diplomatic relations rather than simply the absence of warfare. — [6, 8] niðja Játmundar ‘the kinsman of Eadmund’: The Eadmund referred to here could be one of three: Æthelred’s son Eadmund Ironside (king of Wessex 1016), Æthelred’s grandfather Eadmund (king of England 939-46), or Eadmund, king of East Anglia (martyred by vikings in 869). Óttarr uses a similar phrase, ættniðr Játmundar ‘descendant of Eadmund’, in Knútdr 7/5-6, where the person so designated is Eadmund Ironside, so the Eadmund who is the determinant of the kenning there must be one of the other, older Eadmunds. In the present case, ÍF 27 assumes that the Eadmund referred to must be Eadmund Ironside, and points out that niðr does not always mean ‘descendant’ and can simply mean ‘relative’. But it is at least as likely that it is Æthelred’s grandfather who is invoked here. — [6] niðja ‘the kinsman’: Either acc. sg., from a variant form niði, or acc. pl., with pl. possibly standing for sg. (CVC: niðr; Finnur Jónsson 1901, 31-2). — [7] áttstuðill ‘the prop of the family’: Referring to the central member of a family. The first element is not uncommon in skaldic verse, and, as is seen in the Readings, exists in two forms, ôtt (later and compounding form átt) and ætt (see LP: ôtt, átt).

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