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Runic Dictionary

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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 30 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, 752

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

9 — Ótt Hfl 9I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 9’ 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. 752.

Þengill, frák, at þunga
þinn herr skipum ferri
(rauð Hringmaraheiði)
hlóð valkǫstu (blóði).
Laut fyr yðr, áðr létti,
landfolk í gný randa,
Engla ferð, at jǫrðu
ótt, en mǫrg á flótta.

Þengill, frák, at herr þinn hlóð þunga valkǫstu ferri skipum; rauð Hringmaraheiði blóði. Landfolk laut ótt at jǫrðu fyr yðr í {gný randa}, en mǫrg ferð Engla á flótta, áðr létti.

King, I heard that your army heaped up heavy piles of the slain far from the ships; they reddened Ringmere Heath with blood. The people of the land bowed down frantically to the ground before you in {the clash of shields} [BATTLE], and many a troop of the English [took] to flight, before it ended.

Mss: (226v) (Hkr); Holm2(7r), J1ˣ(139v-140r), J2ˣ(122v), 325VI(6va), 73aˣ(20r), 78aˣ(19v), 68(6r), 61(80ra), 75c(3r), 325V(8vb), 325VII(2r), Bb(126vb), Flat(80rb), Tóm(96v) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] at: enn 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm;    þunga: þungum 73aˣ    [2] skipum: með skip 68;    ferri: færi Bb, Tóm    [3] rauð: ‘hra[...]’ 325V    [4] hlóð: ‘hlǫp’ J1ˣ;    ‑kǫstu: ‑kǫstum Bb    [5] Laut: ‘hvit’ or ‘hrvt’ Bb;    fyr: frá J1ˣ, J2ˣ;    yðr: om. Bb;    áðr: áðr en Bb    [6] land‑: lands 325VI, 68, 61, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm;    ‑folk: ‑flokk Bb;    í gný: ‘ygní’ Bb, ‘j kny’ Tóm;    randa: branda Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 68, 61, 325V, 325VII, Bb, Tóm    [7] at: á 68, 61, 75c, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 9: AI, 292-3, BI, 269-270, Skald I, 138, NN §1130 anm.; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 20, IV, 110, ÍF 27, 19 (ÓHHkr ch. 14); ÓH 1941, I, 46 (ch. 23), Flat 1860-8, II, 20.

Context: Óláfr, together with King Aðalráðr (Æthelred), wins a great victory at Hringmaraheiðr (Ringmere Heath).

Notes: [All]: For the battle at Ringmere Heath, see also Sigv Víkv 7. See ÞKolb Eirdr 15 for what seems to be a later battle at the same place. — [3] rauð ‘they reddened’: Skj B and ÍF 27 take rauð here as an impersonal verb with passive meaning (‘Ringmere Heath was reddened’), but it is possible to take herr þinn ‘your army’ as the understood subject (cf. ÞKolb Eirdr 15/7-8 rauð Hringmaraheiði | herr). — [3] Hringmaraheiði ‘Ringmere Heath’: According to John of Worcester, Þorkell’s army fought a battle at Ringmere near Thetford in Norfolk, 5 May 1010, and the English were put to flight (Darlington and McGurk 1995-, II, 464-7; the ASC s. a. 1010 mentions the battle but does not specify the location). As Sigv Víkv 7/3 acknowledges, the local forces were led by the ealdorman (high-ranking nobleman) Ulfcytel, who is also named in Anon Liðs 6/2. For discussion of the p. n. Hringmaraheiðr see Townend (1998, 38-42). Óttarr’s use of the name matches that of Sigv Víkv 7/5 (stóð Hringmaraheiði) and ÞKolb Eirdr 15/7 (rauð Hringmaraheiði), though it is uncertain whose usage comes first. It has been argued that the attempt to incorporate the name into a dróttkvætt line led to a new metrical type, in which the first hending came in position 1 in the line, immediately before the first alliterating syllable (Kuhn 1969a, 416; Gade 2001b, 66-8). — [6] randa ‘of shields’: Branda ‘of swords’, the majority reading here, is equally possible in the context. — [7, 8] en mǫrg ferð Engla á flótta ‘and many a troop of the English [took] to flight’: (a) The ellipsis of a verb of motion is assumed here, as in Skj B, and mǫrg is construed with ferð Engla, hence ‘many a troop of the English’. This requires complex syntax but provides the most satisfactory subject for the en-clause in l. 8. (b) Kock (NN §1130 anm., followed by ÍF 27) argues that laut ‘bowed down’ should be understood as an instance of apo koinou, participating in both clauses and giving a (somewhat implausible) sense of ‘[bowed down] in flight’ in l. 8. Kock and ÍF 27 assume that landfolk ‘people of the land’ and ferð Engla stand in apposition as joint subjects of the main clause, though they differ in their interpretation of mǫrg ‘many’. Kock takes it as substantival, with the sense ‘a great number’, though m. nom. pl. margir ‘many (men)’ might have been expected in this context. ÍF 27 links mǫrg with an understood repetition of ferð Engla. — [8] ótt ‘frantically’: Adverbial n. form from the adj. óðr ‘mad, frantic’. Kock (NN §1130 anm.) takes it with the remainder of l. 8.

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