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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

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

3. Lausavísur (Lv) - 3

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).

Lausavísur — Ótt LvI

Matthew Townend and R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘ Óttarr svarti, Lausavísur’ 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. 783. <> (accessed 23 May 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3 

Skj: Óttarr svarti: Lausavísur (AI, 299, B)

SkP info: I, 786

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Ótt Lv 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Lausavísur 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. 786.

The likely date of Óttarr svarti’s Knútsdrápa (Ótt Knútdr) is c. 1027, and the date of this lausavísa (Ótt Lv 2) is likely to be the same (see Introduction to Knútdr, and Townend 2001, 157-61). Fidjestøl (1982, 84-5) explored the possibility that (semi-) independent verses sometimes introduced formal drápur and it is conceivable that this stanza (in irregular fornyrðislag) formed a kind of prologue to Óttarr’s Knútdr proper (in dróttkvætt), though its different preservation, only in ÓHLeg (ms. DG8), might suggest that saga compilers were not aware of this. In terms of its date and political rhetoric, Lv 2 closely resembles Knútr’s 1027 Letter to his subjects (see Note to ll. 2-4 below).

Svá skal kveðja         konung Dana,
Íra ok Engla         ok Eybúa,
at hans fari         með himinkrǫptum
lǫndum ǫllum         lof víðara.

Skal svá kveðja {konung Dana, Íra ok Engla ok Eybúa}, at lof hans fari með himinkrǫptum víðara ǫllum lǫndum.

[I] shall so greet {the king of the Danes, of the Irish and of the English and of the Island-dwellers} [= Knútr], that his praise may travel with heavenly support more widely through all the lands.

Mss: DG8(90v) (ÓHLeg)

Readings: [6] með: ‘me’ DG8    [8] víðara: víðari DG8

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, Lausavísur 2: AI, 299, BI, 275, Skald I, 141, NN §3073; ÓHLeg 1922, 56, ÓHLeg 1982, 130-1.

Context: ÓHLeg tells of how Óttarr entered into Knútr’s service. He comes into the king’s hall and speaks the stanza, which serves as a promise of a fuller kvæði ‘poem’ which Óttarr subsequently recites (and which is not quoted; see Introduction).

Notes: [1] skal ‘[I] shall’: The verb could either be 1st pers. with unexpressed subject (‘I shall so greet’) or 3rd pers. with an impersonal usage (‘one shall so greet’ or ‘the king shall so be greeted’). — [2-4]: The best parallel for this ostentatious roll-call of subjects is Knútr’s 1027 Letter, which proclaims him as (in William of Malmesbury’s version) rex totius Angliae et Danemarkiae et Norregiae et partis Swauorum ‘king of all England, Denmark, and Norway, and of part of the Swedes’ (Mynors, Thomson and Winterbottom 1998-9, I, 324, cf. Darlington and McGurk 1995-, II, 512). The rhetoric of imperial over-kingship is similar, though Óttarr’s list in ll. 3-4 seems to focus deliberately on the British Isles (on Knútr’s empire see Bolton 2009). — [3] Íra ‘of the Irish’: On Knútr’s relations with the Irish see Hudson (1994). — [4] Eybúa ‘of the Island-dwellers’: In skaldic poetry Eyjar ‘(the) Isles’ is normally used as a term to refer to Orkney, though in Old Norse prose Eyjar covers both the Northern and Western Isles (Shetland and the Hebrides, as well as Orkney); hence the Eybúar, a term occurring only here, are presumably the Orcadians. See further Jesch (1993b, 229-35 and 236 n. 14). — [6] með himinkrǫptum ‘with heavenly support’: Skj B emends to himinskautum ‘(under) the regions of heaven’, i.e. the whole earth, by analogy with occurrences elsewhere in eddic and skaldic verse (LP: himinskaut). However, the proposed parallels all postdate Óttarr’s work by at least a century and a half, and the reading of DG8 gives perfectly good sense. The second element could be either kraptr ‘power, might’ (compare cognate OE cræft) or krapti ‘timber, pillar’. Kock (NN §3073) argues for the element to be kraptr, with the resultant meaning ‘with heavenly powers’ or ‘with heavenly support’, as here, following ÓHLeg 1982, 131 (mit himmlischen Beistand). Óttarr’s stanza thus makes a bold claim of divine sanction for both the king’s fame and the poet’s praise, a claim in keeping with both the language of the 1027 Letter (which stresses divine omnipotence) and other poems for Knútr (such as the ‘cosmic’ refrains of Sigv Knútdr 3/1 and 7/1, Þloft Hfl, Þloft Tøgdr 1/1, and Hallv Knútdr 8/8: see Note to Þloft Hfl [All]).  — [8] lof ‘praise’: A double meaning may be intended here, as the word can mean ‘poem’ as well as ‘praise’. — [8] víðara ‘more widely’: A minor emendation is needed to produce this comp. adv., an alternative form to víðar (see ANG §442, Anm. 3). 

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