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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

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

2. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

Skj info: Óttarr svarti, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 289-99, BI, 267-75).

Skj poems:
1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska
2. Hǫfuðlausn
3. Knútsdrápa

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 29 January 2022)

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

SkP info: I, 774

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

6 — Ótt Knútdr 6I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 6’ 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. 774.

Ungr fylkir, lézt Engla
allnær Thesu falla;
flóði djúpt of dauðra
dík Norðimbra líkum.
Svefn braut svǫrtum hrafni
sunnarr hvǫtuðr gunnar;
olli sókn inn snjalli
Sveins mǫgr at Skorsteini.

Ungr fylkir, lézt Engla falla allnær Thesu; djúpt dík flóði of líkum dauðra Norðimbra. {Hvǫtuðr gunnar} braut svǫrtum hrafni svefn sunnarr; {inn snjalli mǫgr Sveins} olli sókn at Skorsteini.

Young ruler, you caused the English to fall very near the Tees; the deep ditch flowed over the bodies of dead Northumbrians. {The urger of battle} [WARRIOR] broke the sleep of the dark raven further south; {the bold son of Sveinn} [= Knútr] made an attack at Sherston.

Mss: (16), 20dˣ(6v), 873ˣ(8r), 41ˣ(6v) (Knýtl)

Readings: [2] Thesu: corrected from Tesu 20dˣ, Tesu 41ˣ    [3] flóði: ‘flædi’ JÓ, ‘fløði’ 20dˣ, 873ˣ, 41ˣ;    dauðra: dauða all    [4] Norðimbra: ‘Nordumbra’ 873ˣ    [6] hvǫtuðr: ‘hautudr’ all

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 3. Knútsdrápa 6: AI, 297, BI, 273-274, Skald I, 140, NN §620, 736, 737; Fms 11, 191, Fms 12, 248, SHI 11, 180, Knýtl 1919-25, 40, ÍF 35, 109 (ch. 10).

Context: The stanza follows a prose account of the battle of Skorsteinn (Sherston).

Notes: [1-2]: Steinn Óldr 2/1-2II, lines about a battle in 1066 by a different river, the Yorkshire Ouse (Úsa), are closely similar. — [2] Thesu ‘the Tees’: A river in northern England. The initial <Th> spelling in most mss is curious (and not matched in English sources), and is possibly attributable to Latin influence (see Townend 1998, 85). A battle by the Tees is not mentioned in the ASC (s.a. 1016), though it is plausible (see Poole 1987, 273). — [3] flóði ‘flowed’: There are two weak verbs of similar meaning: flóa (pret. flóði) and flœða (pret. flœddi). The ms. readings might seem to indicate the latter, but this would mean there is no skothending in the line. Skj B, Skald, Knýtl 1919-25, and ÍF 35 accordingly all print flóði (and see also LP: 2. flóa). — [3] dauðra ‘dead’: The emendation to a gen. pl. adj. modifying Norðimbra ‘Northumbrians’ is proposed by Kock (NN §736) and followed in ÍF 35; otherwise dauða must be taken as acc. pl. modifying Engla, and such syntax seems out of keeping with Óttarr’s ‘couplet’ style in this poem. — [4] Norðimbra ‘Northumbrians’: The inhabitants of Northumbria, the most northerly Anglo-Saxon kingdom. — [5-8]: The question as to whether or not Óttarr alternates in this poem between 2nd and 3rd pers. narration is especially pressing here. (a) In the mss both verbs in the second helmingr are in the 3rd pers. (braut ‘broke’, olli ‘made’), and so are retained here, as also by Kock (NN §737 and Skald, followed by ÍF 35), this being the only point in the poem where he retains the 3rd pers. (b) Skj B and Knýtl 1919-25 emend to 2nd pers. forms. Although the use of the def. art. in inn snjalli mǫgr Sveins ‘the bold son of Sveinn’ may suggest that this phrase is a 3rd pers. subject rather than an apostrophe, Óttarr does use the def. art. in a 2nd pers. context in st. 10/1-2. — [6] sunnarr ‘further south’: This is taken in Skj B with ll. 7-8, and specifically with at Skorsteini ‘at Sherston’, which gives a more complex syntactic arrangement (cf. NN §620). — [6] hvǫtuðr gunnar ‘the urger of battle [WARRIOR]’: A typical kenning problem arises, as to whether the locution here involves the abstract noun gunnr ‘battle’ (so JÓ, 873x, Knýtl 1919-25, and ÍF 35) or the valkyrie-name Gunnr (so 20dx, Skj B and Skald). Since Óttarr is otherwise sparing in his use of mythological figures in this poem, the former view is preferred here. Emendation to the agent noun hvǫtuðr ‘urger’ seems necessary to make sense of the ms. reading ‘hautudr’ (normalised hǫtuðr ‘hater’), and all eds emend here. — [8] mǫgr Sveins ‘the son of Sveinn [= Knútr]’: As Frank (1994b, 112) points out, Knútr’s poets frequently characterise him as being his father’s son. The same phrase is also found, in identical position, in Hallv Knútdr 1/4III. — [8] Skorsteini ‘Sherston’: In Wiltshire (OE Sceorstan), site of a major battle between Knútr and Eadmund Ironside in 1016 (see ASC s. a.).

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