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Runic Dictionary

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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 28 September 2021)

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, 339

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

5 — Ótt Óldr 5III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2017, ‘Óttarr svarti, Óláfsdrápa sœnska 5’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 339.

Vísi tekr víg-Freys
víst austr munlaust
(aldar hefr allvaldr)
óskvíf (gótt líf).

Vísi tekr víst {munlaust óskvíf {víg-Freys}} austr; allvaldr aldar hefr gótt líf.

The ruler takes for certain {the loveless chosen wife {of the battle-Freyr <god>}} [= Óðinn > = Jǫrð (jǫrð ‘earth’)] in the east; the mighty ruler of men leads a good life.

Mss: R(39r), Tˣ(40v), 744ˣ(46r), C(8v) (SnE)

Readings: [1] Freys: ‘‑freyrs’ C    [2] mun‑: so 744ˣ, C, munn‑ R, Tˣ    [3] allvaldr: allvald Tˣ    [4] óskvíf: ‘ósvifr’ 744ˣ;    líf: ‘líf’ 744ˣ

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska 2: AI, 289, BI, 267, Skald I, 137, NN §§717, 3396N; SnE 1848-87, I, 512-15, II, 545, 604, III, 107, SnE 1931, 180, SnE 1998, I, 100.

Context: This stanza is quoted in Skm to illustrate the use of vísi ‘ruler’ as a ókent nafn ‘non-periphrastic term’ for ‘man’.

Notes: [All]: The wording and imagery of the stanza participate in the well-established tradition of describing a ruler’s conquest or subjugation of the land (jǫrð) in terms of marriage or sex, as most famously found in Hfr Hákdr (see Note to Anon Nkt 8/1, 2II, and see also Frank 2007). There are two options for construing the stanza: (a) The interpretation adopted here (and in Frank 2007, 182) follows that of Skald and does not require emendation. (b) Skj B emends in l. 4 and reads Vísi tekr víst munlaust víf Óska austr; allvaldr aldar hefr gótt líf víg-Freys which can be translated as ‘The ruler takes for certain the loveless wife of Óski <= Óðinn> [= Jǫrð (jǫrð ‘earth’)] in the east; the mighty ruler of men leads the good life of a battle-Freyr <god> [WARRIOR]’. — [1] víg-Freys ‘of the battle-Freyr <god> [= Óðinn]’: This may be construed as either a kenning for Óðinn (as in interpretation (a) above; see NN §717) or ‘warrior’ (as in interpretation (b)). The latter is more easily paralleled (see Meissner 260-1), but necessitates emendation elsewhere in the stanza (see Note to [All] above). — [2] austr ‘in the east’: Although austr can also refer to the Baltic, Russia, or even Byzantium, in skaldic verse Sweden remains the most common meaning (see e.g. Sigv AustvI, and see further Jesch 2001a, 89-90). The use of austr must cast doubt on Faulkes’s suggestion (SnE 1998, I, 219) that the stanza represents an incitement to invade Norway. — [2] munlaust ‘loveless’: So mss 744ˣ and C; mss R and Tx read munnlaust ‘mouthless’. The land might be munlaust for two reasons:  (a) It might be bereaved, and lacking a strong ruler (cf. munar lausasta ‘most bereaved of love’, Guðr I 4/4, NK 202). The adv. víst ‘for certain, certainly’ in the same line strongly suggests that the land’s loveless condition will be remedied by Óláfr’s military might. (b) The adj. qualifies a kenning for ‘Jǫrð’ (lit. ‘Earth’, Óðinn’s consort and mother of his son Þórr), who may have been abandoned when Óðinn left her for Frigg (see McKinnell 2005, 152-6, and see also Faulkes, SnE 1998, II, 358, who compares Hfr Hákdr 3/4 biðkván Þriðja ‘waiting wife of Þriði <= Óðinn> [= Jǫrð (jǫrð (‘earth’)]’). Kock (NN §3396N; Skald) emends instead to mundlaust ‘without a bride-price’ and compares ómyndr ‘lacking bride-payment’ in a similar ofljóst play on Jǫrð (jǫrð ‘earth’) in ÞjóðA Sex 3/4II. McKinnell (2005, 155) suggests that munlaust has the colourless meaning ‘without doubt’, but this would seem pleonastic following víst ‘for certain’. — [4] óskvíf ‘chosen wife’: So mss R, , C (the 744ˣ (B) variant ósvífr ‘bold, reckless’ must be a lectio facilior). Skj B emends to Óska víf (followed by Faulkes, SnE 1998 in his main text, but not in his notes or glossary: cf. SnE 1998, I, 100, 219, II, 370) to produce an ofljóst kenning for ‘land’. Óski is a name for Óðinn (see Þul Óðins 8/3 and Note there), and the wife of Óðinn is Jǫrð. Kock (Skald) retains the ms. reading óskvíf (see Kock, Metr. §27); the word is not discussed in NN). Óskvíf appears to mean ‘chosen, desired, beloved wife’, and is paralleled in skaldic verse by similar compounds such as óskamey ‘chosen girl’, óskkván ‘chosen wife’, óskmǫgr ‘chosen son’ (see LP; Fritzner additionally records óskbarn ‘chosen child’ and óskmær ‘chosen girl’ in prose; see also McKinnell 2005, 150-1). Óláfr’s óskvíf is Sweden.

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