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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 7 July 2022)

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, 775

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

7 — Ótt Knútdr 7I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 7’ 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. 775.

Fjǫrlausa hykk Frísi,
friðskerðir, þik gerðu,
— brauzt með byggðu setri
Brandfurðu þar — randa.
Játmundar hlaut undir
ættniðr gǫfugr hættar;
danskr herr skaut þá dǫrrum
drótt, es þú rakt flótta.

{Friðskerðir randa}, hykk þik gerðu Frísi fjǫrlausa; þar brauzt Brandfurðu með byggðu setri. {Gǫfugr ættniðr Játmundar} hlaut hættar undir; danskr herr skaut þá drótt dǫrrum, es þú rakt flótta.

{Peace-breaker of shields} [WARRIOR], I believe you made the Frisians lifeless; you destroyed Brentford there with its inhabited settlement. {The noble descendant of Eadmund} [= Edmund Ironside] received dangerous wounds; the Danish army then pierced the host with spears when you pursued the fleeing.

Mss: (20), 20dˣ(8r-v), 873ˣ(10r), 41ˣ(8r) (Knýtl)

Readings: [1] hykk: hyr 20dˣ    [2] þik: þeir with þér in margin JÓ, 873ˣ, þeir 20dˣ, 41ˣ    [4] þar: þér with þeir in margin JÓ, 873ˣ, þér 20dˣ, 41ˣ    [5] hlaut: laut all    [6] hættar: hættir all    [8] es: enn 41ˣ;    rakt: ‘rakzt’ 873ˣ

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 3. Knútsdrápa 7: AI, 297, BI, 274, Skald I, 140; Fms 11, 194, Fms 12, 248-9, SHI 11, 183, Knýtl 1919-25, 43, ÍF 35, 112 (ch. 12).

Context: The stanza is quoted after a brief account of Knútr’s attack on Brandfurða (Brentford).

Notes: [1-4]: Some emendation is necessary here. The ms. reading þeir in l. 2 suggests that scribes interpreted gerðu as a pret. pl., whereas modern eds instead take it as a past inf. All eds emend þeir in l. 2 and þér in l. 4 to þar ‘there’ and þik ‘you’, but differ as to which should be which. Skj B and Skald prefer to emend þeir to þar and þér to þik, while Knýtl 1919-25 and ÍF 35 emend þeir to þik and þér to þar. The latter seems preferable on account of a more compact syntax, and is adopted here, though þar may seem a little redundant alongside Brandfurðu. — [1] Frísi ‘the Frisians’: Either Frísir is here being used as a somewhat loose, alliteratively driven term for the English, or else this may be a reference to the Frisian population in late Anglo-Saxon London, caught up in the fighting (see Poole 1987, 274). — [2, 4] friðskerðir randa ‘peace-breaker of shields [WARRIOR]’: I. e. ‘destroyer of the well-being of shields’. This is also assumed by previous eds; cf. other kennings referring to a man as a destroyer or damager of shields (Meissner 311). LP: friðskerðir offers the parallel friðskerðir hjǫrva ‘peace-breaker of swords’ in Hfr Lv 12/7, 8V (Hallfr 15; see also Meissner 301), though only one ms. reads frið- there while the majority form is fúr- ‘fire’. (b) A more straightforward kenning friðskerðir ‘peace-breaker’ and a syntactic arrangement into couplets as seen elsewhere in the poem are obtained if randa ‘of shields’ is emended to an instr. dat. sg. rǫndu (cf. ANG §416.2) meaning ‘by/with the shield’ and comparable with sverði ‘by/with the sword’ in st. 9/6. The parallel und skildi ‘under the shield’ in st. 9/1 indicates that Óttarr invokes shields metonymically to indicate aggressive action, not simply defensive. Under either interpretation, the density of allusions to shields in this poem is likely to be a play on Knútr’s dynastic status as a Skjǫldungr: see further Frank (1994b, 111-12). — [4] Brandfurðu ‘Brentford’: In Middlesex (OE Bregentford), scene of a major battle in 1016 (see ASC s. a.). — [6-7] ættniðr Játmundar ‘the descendant of Eadmund [= Eadmund Ironside]’: The person referred to by the kenning as a whole is (somewhat confusingly) Eadmund Ironside, though English sources do not record Eadmund as suffering wounds in a battle near Brentford (if the two helmingar refer to the same event). But there are two candidates for the Eadmund who is his ancestor, and determinant of the kenning: the king of East Anglia martyred by vikings in 869, and the king of England from 939-46. Both are plausible: Knútr’s devotion to the cult of S. Eadmund (see Lawson 1993, 142-3) might suggest it is the saint who is being invoked, while Óttarr’s allusion to Eadgar in st. 3/6 indicates that he was familiar with the royal house of Wessex. Eadmund Ironside was indeed the descendant of the tenth-century king, but not of the ninth-century martyr; however, kinship need not be literal in honorific locutions such as this. The same kenning occurs in Ótt Hfl 13/6, 8 as niðja Játmundar ‘kinsman of Eadmund’, but there refers to Æthelred. — [6] hættar ‘dangerous’: Emendation seems necessary to make the adj. agree grammatically with undir (f. acc. pl.) ‘wounds’ and is adopted in all eds.

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated