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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Judith Jesch;

3. Austrfararvísur (Austv) - 21

Skj info: Sigvatr Þórðarson, Islandsk skjald, o. 995-o. 1045 (AI, 223-75, BI, 213-54).

Skj poems:
1. Víkingarvísur
2. Nesjavísur
3. Austrfararvísur
4. En drape om kong Olaf
5. Vestrfararvísur
6. Et kvad om Erlingr Skjalgsson
7. Flokkr om Erlingr Skjalgsson
8. Tryggvaflokkr
9. Et digt om dronning Astrid
10. Knútsdrápa
11. Bersǫglisvísur
12. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga
13. Lausavísur
14. Et par halvvers af ubestemmelige digte

Sigvatr or Sighvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) is said (ÍF 27, 54) to have been the son of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’, an Icelander who served, in succession, Sigvaldi jarl Strút-Haraldsson, leader of the Jómsvíkingar, his brother Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’, who campaigned in England, and Óláfr Haraldsson, later king of Norway (r. c. 1015-30) and saint. Þórðr is listed as one of Sigvaldi’s skalds in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 259, 268), but none of his poetry survives. The family tradition of poetry can also be traced in Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’, said to have been Sigvatr’s sister’s son (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203). Sigvatr was brought up by a certain Þorkell, at Apavatn in south-west Iceland. When nearly fully grown he sailed to what is now Trondheim, where he met up with his father and joined King Óláfr’s retinue. According to Snorri (ÍF 27, 54-6; ÓH 1941, I, 81-3), Sigvatr recited Lv 2-3 at this time, and he interceded with the king on behalf of Icelandic merchants forced to pay a heavy tax in Norway (cf. Sigv Lv 4). It is also likely that this is when Þórðr provided Sigvatr with the material for Víkv (see Introduction to Sigv Víkv), which may be the poem referred to in the prose introduction to Sigv Lv 2 (Fidjestøl 1982, 118). There is no evidence that Sigvatr ever returned to Iceland, and according to the anecdote in which Sigv Lv 11 is preserved, he died on the island of Selja in north-western Norway and was buried at Kristskirkja (Kristkirken) in Trondheim. His poetry records his various journeys to Sweden, England and the Continent, as well as incidents in Norway. We know nothing of Sigvatr’s private life, except that he had a daughter called Tófa, who had King Óláfr himself as her godfather (Sigv Lv 19).

Sigvatr’s surviving poetic oeuvre is both large and remarkably diverse, encompassing different kinds of encomia not only on King Óláfr (Sigv Víkv, Sigv Nesv, Sigv Óldr, Sigv ErfÓl), but also on King Knútr of Denmark (Sigv Knútdr) and the Norwegian nobleman Erlingr Skjálgsson (Sigv Erl, Sigv Erlfl). Sigvatr was godfather to King Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson and composed some avuncular words of advice to the boy-king (Sigv BervII). All of these patrons are recognised in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 252-4, 258, 260-2, 269), where Sigvatr is also credited with having composed for the Swedish king Ǫnundr Óláfsson (although no such poetry survives, cf. Sigv Knútdr 4/6) and the Norwegian chieftain Ívarr inn hvíti ‘the White’ (cf. Context to Sigv Lv 8). Sigvatr also composed a poem on the Norwegian pretender Tryggvi Óláfsson (Sigv Tryggfl) and is unique in having composed in dróttkvætt in praise of a woman, Óláfr Haraldsson’s widow Ástríðr Óláfsdóttir (Sigv Ást). Several of Sigvatr’s poems are more or less loosely connected sequences of stanzas rather than more formal compositions, and encompass both travelogue (Sigv Austv) and political commentary (Sigv Vestv, Sigv BervII). The latter genre is also well represented in his lausavísur, which also include some remarkably personal stanzas expressing his grief at the death of King Óláfr (Sigv Lv 22-4). Sigvatr’s status as a hǫfuðskáld ‘chief skald’ was recognised in the twelfth century (cf. Esk Geisl 12/8VII). His versatility as a poet has clearly inspired a number of anecdotes focusing on the composition of poetry, mostly of doubtful authenticity (cf. Contexts to Sigv Lv 1, 8, 11, 27; also Introduction to Ótt Hfl). Apart from two fragments preserved in SnE (Sigv Frag 1-2III), Sigvatr’s poetry is transmitted in a wide range of texts within the tradition of the kings’ sagas and is therefore edited in this volume or (in the case of the late Sigv Berv) in SkP II. For general studies of Sigvatr’s life and works, see Paasche (1917), Hollander (1940) and Petersen (1946).

Austrfararvísur (‘Verses on a Journey to the East’) — Sigv AustvI

R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Austrfararvísur’ 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. 578. <> (accessed 6 July 2022)

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Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 3. Austrfararvísur, 1019 (AI, 233-40, BI, 220-5)

SkP info: I, 583

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Sigv Austv 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Austrfararvísur 1’ 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. 583.

Hugstóra biðk heyra
hressfœrs jǫfurs, þessar
— þolðak vás — hvé vísur,
verðung, of fǫr gerðak.
Sendr vask upp af ǫndrum
austr (svafk fátt í hausti)
til Svíþjóðar (síðan)
svanvangs í fǫr langa.

Biðk hugstóra verðung hressfœrs jǫfurs heyra, hvé gerðak þessar vísur of fǫr; þolðak vás. Vask sendr upp af {ǫndrum {svanvangs}} í langa fǫr austr til Svíþjóðar; svafk fátt síðan í hausti.

I ask the mighty-hearted retinue of the energetic ruler [Óláfr] to hear how I composed these verses about a journey; I endured hardship. I was sent up from {the skis {of the swan-plain}} [SEA > SHIPS] on a long journey east to Sweden; I slept little after that in the autumn.

Mss: Holm2(26r), 325V(32bis rb), R686ˣ(50r), 972ˣ(180va), 325VI(17va), 75a(15va-b), 68(24v-25r), 61(94rb), Holm4(17va), 325VII(12v), Flat(93rb), Tóm(113v) (ÓH); Kˣ(305v), Bb(153rb) (Hkr)

Readings: [1] ‑stóra: ‑stóran 61, ‑stóran corrected from stóra 325VII;    biðk (‘bið ec’): læt ek R686ˣ, lét ek 75a;    heyra: heyja Tóm    [2] hress‑: hvers 68, 61;    ‑fœrs: ‘fors’ Holm2, 325V, 972ˣ, 68, ‘fǫrs’ R686ˣ, ‑lynds 325VI, fǫr 75a, ‘forst’ 61, ‑lyndr Holm4, 325VII, Tóm, ‑lundr Flat, fœrr Kˣ, dýr Bb;    jǫfurs: jǫfurr 325V, 61, Holm4, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, Kˣ;    þessar: þessa 75a    [3] þolðak (‘þolða ec’): þolða Bb;    hvé: en 325VI, hvé hvé 75a, ok 61, fyrir Flat;    vísur: vísir 75a    [4] verðung: verðumk 325VI;    of: ⸜um⸝ 75a, ok Flat;    fǫr: ‘ford’ Bb;    gerðak: ‘giorþ(c)’ R686ˣ, gørva Tóm, gerðat Kˣ    [5] af: frá 68    [6] fátt: lítt R686ˣ, fast 75a;    í: á Kˣ    [8] ‑vangs: ‑vagns 325V, ‑fangs 68, 61, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, ‘vógns’ Bb

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 3. Austrfararvísur 1: AI, 233, BI, 220, Skald I, 114-15, NN §§624, 625; Fms 4, 190, Fms 12, 85, ÓH 1853, 82, 274, ÓH 1941, I, 204 (ch. 75), Flat 1860-8, II, 115; Hkr 1777-1826, II, 127, VI, 87-8, Hkr 1868, 310 (ÓHHkr ch. 92), Hkr 1893-1901, II, 174, ÍF 27, 141, Hkr 1991, I, 350 (ÓHHkr ch. 91); Ternström 1871, 20-3, 49-50, Jón Skaptason 1983, 82, 237.

Context: When Sigvatr returns from his journey to the east, he tells of his travels and speaks the following verses (vísur þessar, referring to this and sts 17-20, which follow with only brief interruption).

Notes: [1]: The line is a borrowing from the well-known Eskál Vell 1/1, as pointed out by de Vries (1964-7, I, 244). — [2] hressfœrs jǫfurs ‘of the energetic ruler’: The nom. form hressfœrr/hresslyndr jǫfurr found in some mss may be vocative, and is adopted and treated as such by Noreen (1923, 34; also ÍF 27; Hkr 1991). An address to the king does not sit well with a request to the retinue for a hearing, however, and the gen. hressfœrs jǫfurs appears to have been the form known to Snorri, since the prose following the stanza implies that Sigvatr addresses the king in the next stanza, not this one. — [3] þolðak vás ‘I endured hardship’: The word vás may, as frequently, have the more specific sense of ‘wetness, bad weather’ (cf. st. 9/3 and Note). The present construal is preferable from a syntactic point of view, and is favoured in several eds (from Ternström 1871 to Hkr 1991), though it seems to produce the sense that what Sigvatr proposes to relate is how he composed the verses, rather than the hardships of the journey, as might have been expected. This is presumably the reason that Skj B takes hvé þolðak vás ‘how I endured hardship’ as the clausal object of heyra ‘hear’. However, this produces a ‘syntactic monster’ (so Kock, NN §624), with two sentence elements, including the verb þolðak ‘I endured’, preceding the conj. hvé ‘how’. — [5, 8] upp af ǫndrum svanvangs ‘up from the skis of the swan-plain [SEA > SHIPS]’: Snorri must have understood the phrase to mean simply that Sigvatr and his companions travelled inland, given the point of departure and route of travel he describes in this chapter (see the Introduction). Some scholars have taken it to mean that the first part of the journey was accomplished on shipboard: see, e.g., Barði Guðmundsson (1927, 548). — [6] í hausti ‘in autumn’: This phrase is placed here in the intercalary clause, qualifying svafk ‘I slept’ (so also Kock NN §625, followed by ÍF 27; Jón Skaptason 1983; Hkr 1991). This avoids the tripartite line that results if í hausti is taken with vask sendr ‘I was sent’ (so Skj B), though it is unclear why Sigvatr would refer to autumn in connection with sleeplessness, while the logical connection to his departure is obvious. The present analysis has permitted some (e.g. Edqvist 1943, 63-4) to suppose that the journey began in the spring, though Snorri apparently did not understand the syntax this way since, as noted in the Introduction above, he says that the travellers set out at the beginning of winter. See Notes to st. 10 below. — [7] til Svíþjóðar ‘to Sweden’: This is Sweden as distinct from Götaland. It is not improbable that the journey described in Austv included travel farther east than Skara in Götaland: see the Introduction.

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