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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

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

III. Óláfsdrápa sœnska (Óldr) - 6

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).

Óláfsdrápa sœnska (‘Drápa about Óláfr the Swede’) — Ótt ÓldrIII

Matthew Townend 2017, ‘ Óttarr svarti, Óláfsdrápa sœnska’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 335. <> (accessed 21 May 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6 

Skj: Óttarr svarti: 1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska, omkr. 1018 (AI, 289-290, BI, 267); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 5

SkP info: III, 336

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Ótt Óldr 1III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2017, ‘Óttarr svarti, Óláfsdrápa sœnska 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 336.

Jǫfurr heyri upphaf
— ofrask mun konungs lof —
— hôttu nemi hann rétt
hróðrs míns — bragar síns.

Heyri jǫfurr upphaf bragar síns; lof konungs mun ofrask; nemi hann rétt hôttu hróðrs míns.

May the prince hear the beginning of his poem; the king’s praise will be raised; may he note correctly the forms of my panegyric.

Mss: R(39v), Tˣ(41r), U(37r), 744ˣ(41r), C(9r) (SnE)

Readings: [1] heyri: gefi U    [2] lof: ‘lof’ 744ˣ    [4] hróðrs: so U, 744ˣ, hróðr R, Tˣ, C;    míns: síns C;    síns: míns C

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska 1: AI, 289, BI, 267, Skald I, 137, NN §§620, 716, 2485; SnE 1848-87, I, 520-1, II, 342, 540, 606, III, 109, SnE 1931, 182, SnE 1998, I, 102.

Context: This stanza is quoted in Skm to illustrate the use of jǫfurr ‘prince’ as one of many heiti for ‘ruler’.

Notes: [1] heyri jǫfurr upphaf ‘may the prince hear the beginning’: This opening line is echoed in Anon Brúðv 1/1VII (jöfurr giefi upphaf ‘may the prince provide the beginning’), a C13th poem also composed in hálfhnept, which reinforces the conclusion that this is the first stanza of the poem (and may also explain the reading in ms. U).  — [1] upphaf ‘the beginning’: Upphaf is a technical term for the first part of a drápa. — [3] hôttu ‘the forms’: This is the acc. pl. of the noun háttr ‘manner, verse-form, metre’ (as in the title of Háttatal ‘Enumeration of verse-forms’). It seems to be used here as a technical term, self-consciously drawing attention to the poem that will follow – especially, perhaps, in terms of its metrical aspects, as this seems to be the first recorded use of hálfhnept for a royal encomium. Cf. Óttarr’s opening stanza to his Hfl for Óláfr Haraldsson (Ótt Hfl 1/1I). — [3] rétt ‘correctly’: From the point of view of word order, it seems preferable to take this adv. as modifying nemi ‘may note’ (l. 3) (so NN §620) rather than mun ofrask ‘will be raised’ (l. 2) (so Skj B). — [4] bragar; hróðrs ‘poem; panegyric’: There is uncertainty here as to which of these gen. nouns belongs with upphaf, and which with hôttu. Skj B prefers upphaf hróðrs ‘the beginning of his panegyric’ and hôttu bragar ‘the forms of the poem’, while Skald (and SnE 1998), following Sveinbjörn Egilsson (SnE 1848-87, III), adopts upphaf bragar ‘the beginning of the poem’ and hôttu hróðrs ‘the forms of the panegyric’ (NN §2485). The latter is preferable in terms of syntax: the stanza thus has the structure of a main clause (ll. 1 and 4b) with two consecutive, separate intercalary clauses which are not interwoven with each other (i.e. l. 2; ll. 3 and 4a). — [4] síns; míns ‘of his; of my’: All mss except C agree that míns ‘my’ qualifies hróðrs ‘panegyric’ and síns ‘his’ qualifies bragar ‘poem’; however, both Skj B and Skald choose to adopt C’s version. The present edn, like SnE 1998 (and Sveinbjörn Egilsson in SnE 1848-87, III), retains the majority reading of the mss.

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