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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 19 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, 770

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Ótt Knútdr 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 2’ 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. 770.

Út fylgðu þér Jótar,
auðmildr, flugar trauðir;
skauthreina bjó skreytir
Skônunga liðvánir.
Vôð blés of þér, vísi;
vestr settir þú flesta
— kunnt gørðir þú þannig
þitt nafn — í haf stafna.

Jótar, trauðir flugar, fylgðu þér út, auðmildr; {skreytir {skauthreina}} bjó liðvánir Skônunga. Vôð blés of þér, vísi; þú settir flesta stafna vestr í haf; þú gørðir nafn þitt kunnt þannig.

The Jótar, reluctant to flee, accompanied you abroad, wealth-generous one; {the adorner {of sail-reindeer}} [SHIPS > SEAFARER] prepared the expected troops of the Skánungar. The cloth billowed over you, prince; you directed a great many prows westwards across the sea; you made your name known in that way.

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

Readings: [1] þér: þeir 20dˣ    [5] þér: þeir 41ˣ    [7] gørðir: gjǫrðu 873ˣ;    þannig: þenna all

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 3. Knútsdrápa 2: AI, 296, BI, 273, Skald I, 140, NN §721A; Fms 11, 186-7, Fms 12, 247, SHI 11, 175, Knýtl 1919-25, 36, ÍF 35, 102-3 (ch. 8).

Context: This stanza is quoted directly after st. 1.

Notes: [2] auðmildr ‘wealth-generous one’: This is assumed here to be a substantival use of the adj., and a direct address to Knútr (as in Skald, and see NN §721A for Kock’s proposed parallels including Ótt Hfl 1/1). Skj B and ÍF 35 take auðmildr rather as an attributive adj. qualifying skreytir ‘adorner’. — [2] trauðir flugar ‘reluctant to flee’: Lit. ‘reluctant of flight’. — [3] skauthreina ‘of sail-reindeer [SHIPS]’: Skaut- is used by Óttarr here and in Ótt Hfl 5/2 as a pars pro toto term (‘corner’ for ‘sail’); see Jesch (2001a, 163-4). — [3] bjó ‘prepared’: An example of the use of the 3rd pers. in a stanza of otherwise 2nd pers. narration. The reading of the mss gives acceptable sense, and so is retained here, although one may speculate that the original reading was 2nd pers. bjótt (as in st. 1/5; cf. st. 8/1, where emendation to 2nd pers. is required). — [4] Skônunga ‘of the Skánungar’: The people of Skáney (Skåne), now south-west Sweden but then Danish territory, which Knútr may have been defending in the battle of Á in helga (Helgeå): see Note to st. 11/3. — [4] liðvánir ‘the expected troops’: The interpretation followed here is that proposed in ÍF 35 (and apparently given support in Jesch 2001a, 198), whereby liðvánir is a f. acc. pl. noun ‘troop-expectations’ (i.e. ‘expected troops’, or perhaps ‘troops of whom there are high expectations’). Although the proposed cpd seems somewhat strained and hard to parallel, it agrees with the reading of the mss. Skj B, Skald, and Knýtl 1919-25, on the other hand, all emend ‑ir to ‑ar, to produce a kenning skauthreinar Vánar ‘sail-reindeer of Ván (where Ván is a river-name: see LP: 2. Vôn). However, since skauthreinn is already a kenning for ‘ship’, this emendation is not necessary or convincing. — [5] vôð blés ‘the cloth billowed’: I.e. the sail. This is an impersonal construction, with vôð in acc. sg. — [7] þannig ‘in that way’: The mss have þenna, apparently a m. acc. sg. demonstrative, but there is no noun for þenna to agree with, as nafn is n. Emendation to þannig is therefore adopted here, as in Skj B, Skald and ÍF 35. The alternative emendation to þarna ‘there’ (e.g. Knýtl 1919-25) is closer to the ms. readings but does not supply skothending, and is doubtful since this and other applications of the suffix -na are more characteristic of later Icelandic.

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