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Runic Dictionary

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Matthew Townend;

2. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

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).

Knútsdrápa (‘Drápa about Knútr’) — Ótt KnútdrI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘ Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa’ 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. 767. <> (accessed 23 September 2021)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11 

Skj: Óttarr svarti: 3. Knútsdrápa, 1026 (AI, 296-8, BI, 272-5); stanzas (if different): 8 | 10

SkP info: I, 769

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Ótt Knútdr 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 1’ 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. 769.

Hratt lítt gamall, lýtir
lǫgreiðar, framm skeiðum;
fórat fylkir œri,
folksveimuðr, þér heiman.
Hilmir, bjótt ok hættir
harðbrynjuð skip kynjum;
reiðr hafðir þú rauðar
randir, Knútr, fyr landi.

{Lýtir {lǫgreiðar}}, hratt skeiðum framm, lítt gamall; {folksveimuðr}, fylkir œri þér fórat heiman. Hilmir, bjótt harðbrynjuð skip ok hættir kynjum; reiðr hafðir þú, Knútr, rauðar randir fyr landi.

{Destroyer {of the sea-chariot}} [SHIP > SEAFARER], you launched ships forward at no great age; {army-traveller} [WARRIOR], no ruler younger than you went from home. Prince, you made ready hard-armoured ships and were wondrously daring; in your anger, Knútr, you raised [lit. had] red shields before the land.

Mss: (10), 20dˣ(4v), 873ˣ(5v), 41ˣ(4v) (Knýtl)

Readings: [1] Hratt: ‘Hræztu’ JÓ, 41ˣ, ‘Hrestu’ 20dˣ, ‘Hręztu’ 873ˣ    [3] fylkir: so all others, fylki JÓ    [4] folk‑: fjǫl 41ˣ    [7] hafðir: kafdýr 41ˣ

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 3. Knútsdrápa 1: AI, 296, BI, 272-3, Skald I, 140, NN §2011; Fms 11, 186, Fms 12, 247, SHI 11, 174-5, Knýtl 1919-25, 35, ÍF 35, 101-2 (ch. 8).

Context: The stanza follows the Knýtl account of Knútr’s gathering of his army to attack England.

Notes: [All]: The introduction in Knýtl specifies the title of the poem as Knútsdrápa. — [1] lítt gamall ‘at no great age’: Lit. ‘little old’ (adv. + adj.). Knútr’s date of birth is unknown, but he was probably born c. 995-1000. For further emphasis on his youth, see sts 1/3-4, 4/2, and 6/1, and for discussion see Jesch (2004b); on the topos of Scandinavian rulers embarking on their careers in early youth, see Marold (1993c, 103-5). — [4] folksveimuðr ‘army-traveller [WARRIOR]’: The mss have ‘-sveimadr’, which could be normalised to sveimaðr (as in ÍF 35), but sveimuðr is the earlier type of form (cf. Note to Ótt Lv 1/2), and is also adopted in Skj B, Skald and Knýtl 1919-25. — [6] harðbrynjuð skip ‘hard-armoured ships’: The cpd harðbrynjaðr occurs only here and in Hallv Knútdr 3/4III, where it also describes Knútr’s ships. See further Jesch (2001a, 157-9), who suggests the armour concerned may be shields along the sides of the ship. Óttarr and Hallvarðr may well have been contemporaries at Knútr’s court, and on account of the probable dates of composition for their respective Knútsdrápur, it is more likely that Hallvarðr is borrowing from Óttarr than vice versa. — [6] kynjum ‘wondrously’: From kyn n. ‘wonder’, here in the dat. pl. functioning as an adv. — [7-8] rauðar randir ‘red shields’: In skaldic verse shields are often red with the blood of enemies. Here, however, battle has not yet been joined, so the redness may be decorative, or possibly proleptic. A red shield is raised as a sign of hostile intention in HHund I 33/3, and see further Falk (1914b, 129-32).

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