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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 17 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, 781

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

11 — Ótt Knútdr 11I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 11’ 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. 781.

Svíum hnekkðir þú, søkkva
siklingr ǫrr, en mikla
ylgr, þars Ô in helga,
ulfs beitu fekk, heitir.
Helt, þars hrafn svalta,
(hvatráðr est þú) láði,
ógnar stafr, fyr jǫfrum,
ýgr, tveimr (við kyn beima).


Sovereign generous with treasures, you checked the Swedes, and the she-wolf received {much wolf’s food}, [CORPSES] at the place which is called Helgeå. {Fierce staff of battle}, [WARRIOR] you held the territory against two princes, where the raven did not at all go hungry; you are bold-minded against the race of men.

context: In ÓH and Hkr, the stanza is quoted after Snorri’s lengthy account of the battle of Á in helga (Helgeå), and in ÓHLeg and Fsk the context is the same battle. In SnE, ll. 5-8 are quoted first to exemplify the use of stafr ‘staff, stave’ in man-kennings and then to illustrate láð as a heiti for ‘earth, land’.

notes: The stanza is introduced in ÓH and Hkr (ÍF 27, 280), Óttarr svarti rœðir um fund þenna í þeiri drápu, er hann orti um Knút inn ríkaÓttarr svarti tells of this encounter in the drápa which he composed about Cnut the Great’. In ÓHLeg (1982, 146), it is introduced with Þessar orrostu mintizt Ottar, er hann orte um Knut konong ‘Óttarr commemorated this battle, when he composed about King Knútr’; virtually identical wording occurs in Fsk. There are thus no grounds for doubting that the stanza is from a poem by Óttarr in honour of Knútr (see further Townend 2001, 159-61), yet there must be some uncertainty as to whether it belongs with the rest of the poem. Unlike sts 1-10, this stanza is not preserved in Knýtl, but rather in ÓH and Hkr, ÓHLeg, Fsk (ll. 1-4 only), and SnE (ll. 5-8), and such a wide distribution may indicate a substantially different transmission from sts 1-10. Its subject matter is markedly different too, though the phrase þrøngvir Svía ‘oppressor of the Swedes’ in st. 5/8 suggests that the other stanzas were also composed post-1026, and so the observed difference in subject matter might disappear if we possessed other stanzas from the poem. In addition, it is notable that the syntax of the stanza does not observe the ‘couplet’ form found in many of the preceding stanzas. — [1-4]: In terms of syntax, Skj B gives the first helmingr as hnekkðir … þars … ‘checked … at the place which’, while Kock (NN §620; Skald) prefers fekk … þars ... ‘received … at the place which’. But it may be that one does not have to choose: the two activities (hnekkðir and fekk) are occurring in the same place. — [2]: The best mss of ÓH read f. acc. sg. mikla ‘much, great’, agreeing with beitu ‘food, bait’, and this lectio difficilior is thus presumably the original reading and is retained here. This line, however, clearly prompted a number of scribes or other transmitters of the poem to re-interpretation (see Readings). Some of the variants may have arisen from the instinctive temptation to read the whole line as a single, nom.-case noun phrase *siklingr ǫrr inn mikli ‘the generous great king’, which also produces a division of the first helmingr into two couplets. 

texts: Flat 544, Fsk 146 [1-4], LaufE 113 (374) [5-8], ÓH 106 (103), ÓHHkr 100 (II 100), ÓHLeg 37, Skm 219 [5-8], Skm 317 [5-8], Hkr 301 (II 100), SnE 221, SnE 319

editions: Skj Óttarr svarti: 3. Knútsdrápa 11 (AI, 298; BI, 275); Skald I, 141, NN §§620, 1783; ÓH 1941, I, 438 (ch. 140), Flat 1860-8, II, 281; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 365, IV, 146, ÍF 27, 280-1 (ÓHHkr ch. 150); ÓHLeg 1922, 61, ÓHLeg 1982, 146-7; Fsk 1902-3, 165 (ch. 27), ÍF 29, 186 (ch. 32); SnE 1848-87, I, 416-7, 474, II, 326, 437, 449, 586, 593, SnE 1931, 148, SnE 1998, I, 66, 193.


Holm perg 4 4° (Holm4) 46vb, 11 - 46vb, 15 (ÓH)  transcr.  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 112rb, 24 - 112rb, 27 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 75 c fol (75c) 31v, 15 - 31v, 18 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 59ra, 24 - 59ra, 29 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VII 4° (325VII) 30r, 12 - 30r, 13 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 182ra, 9 - 182ra, 12 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 115rb, 48 - 115rb, 51 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 138v, 22 - 138v, 24 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 52v, 6 - 52v, 9 (ÓH)  image  
AM 321 4°x (321x) 186, 2 - 186, 4 (ÓH)  transcr.  image  
AM 73 a folx (73ax) 160v, 36 - 161r, 7 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 50r, 24 - 50r, 26 (ÓH)  image  
Lbs fragm 82 (K) 1r, 13 - 1r, 17 (Hkr)  image  
AM 36 folx (Kx) 411v, 19 - 411v, 26 (Hkr)  image  image  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 197v, 24 - 197v, 31 (Hkr)  image  
AM 325 IX 2 4° (325IX 2) 4vb, 24 - 4vb, 28 (Hkr)  image  
AM 325 XI 1 4° (325XI 1) 4rb, 4 - 4rb, 9 (Hkr)  image  
DG 8 (DG8) 92v, 10 - 92v, 13 (ÓHLeg)  image  
AM 303 4°x (FskAx) 173, 16 - 173, 19 (Fsk)  image  
GKS 2367 4° (R*) 33v, 12 - 33v, 13 [5-8] (SnE)  image  image  image  
GKS 2367 4° (R*) 37r, 15 - 37r, 17 [5-8] (SnE)  image  image  image  
Traj 1374x (Tx*) 35r, 6 - 35r, 7 [5-8] (SnE)  image  
Traj 1374x (Tx*) 38v, 24 - 38v, 25 [5-8] (SnE)  image  
AM 242 fol (W) 77, 1 - 77, 3 [5-8] (SnE)  image  image  image  
DG 11 (U) 32r, 27 - 32v, 1 [5-8] (SnE)  image  
AM 748 I b 4° (A*) 10v, 29 - 10v, 31 [5-8] (SnE)  transcr.  image  image  
AM 748 I b 4° (A*) 13r, 6 - 13r, 6 [5-6] (SnE)  transcr.  image  image  
AM 748 II 4° (C*) 5r, 7 - 5r, 8 [5-7] (SnE)  image  image  
AM 748 II 4° (C*) 6r, 31 - 6r, 33 [5-8] (SnE)  image  image  
AM 301 4°x (301x) 63v, 22 - 63v, 23 [1-4] (Fsk)  
AM 303 4°x (FskAx) 198, 11 - 198, 14 (Fsk)  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 269r, 7 - 269r, 10 [5-8]  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 275r, 2 - 275r, 9  image  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 380va, 18 - 380va, 25 (ÓH)  image  image  
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