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, ‘(Introduction to) 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.

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

SkP info: I, 585

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Sigv Austv 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Austrfararvísur 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. 585.

Létk til Eiðs, þvít óðumk
aptrhvarf, dreginn karfa
(vér stiltum svá) valtan
vátr (til glœps á báti).
Taki hlœgiskip hauga
herr; sákat far verra;
létk til húms á hrúti
hætt; fór betr an vættak.

Vátr létk valtan karfa dreginn til Eiðs, þvít óðumk aptrhvarf; vér stiltum svá til glœps á báti. {Herr hauga} taki hlœgiskip; sákat verra far; létk hætt til á {hrúti húms}; fór betr an vættak.

Wet, I had the unsteady vessel dragged to Eið, because I dreaded turning back; we had managed so badly in the boat. May {the host of burial mounds} [TROLLS] take the laughable ship; I never saw a worse craft; I courted danger on {the ram of the sea} [SHIP]; it went better than I had expected.

Mss: Holm2(25v), R686ˣ(49r), 972ˣ(177va), 325VI(16vb), 75a(14va), 68(24v), 61(94ra), Holm4(17ra), 75c(14v), 325VII(12v), Flat(93ra), Tóm(113r) (ÓH); Kˣ(303v), Bb(152vb) (Hkr)

Readings: [1] Létk (‘let ek’): læt ek 75c, 325VII, leit Tóm;    til: eigi 325VII;    óðumk: óðusk 68    [2] ‑hvarf: ‘huerf’ or ‘huorf’ R686ˣ, ‑hvarfs Kˣ;    dreginn: ‘dre(ck)ín’(?) Bb    [4] vátr: nátt Tóm;    glœps: glóps Bb    [5] Taki hlœgi‑: ‘her taci lægi’ 325VII, taki hlœgis Flat, taki hlæði Tóm;    hauga: hǫrga 68, hauka Tóm    [6] sákat (‘saka ek’): so R686ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 68, 61, Holm4, 75c, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, Bb, sakaða ek Holm2, eigi Kˣ    [7] létk (‘let ec’): læt ek 325VI, 75c, Tóm, lét 68;    til: om. Bb;    húms: heims Holm2, R686ˣ, 972ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 68, Holm4, 75c, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, Kˣ, Bb, hafs 61;    hrúti: hrauti Tóm    [8] fór: fǫr 325VI, 75a, 68, Tóm, fórsk Kˣ;    betr: bœttr R686ˣ

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 3. Austrfararvísur 2: AI, 233, BI, 220, Skald I, 115, NN §626; Fms 4, 185-6, Fms 12, 83, ÓH 1853, 80, 271, ÓH 1941, I, 199 (ch. 75), Flat 1860-8, II, 113; Hkr 1777-1826, II, 124, VI, 84, Hkr 1868, 307 (ÓHHkr ch. 92), Hkr 1893-1901, II, 169-70, ÍF 27, 135-6, Hkr 1991, I, 346 (ÓHHkr ch. 91); Ternström 1871, 12-15, 42-3, Konráð Gíslason 1892, 36, 176, 231, Jón Skaptason 1983, 83, 237-8.

Context: Sigvatr and his men go east to Eiðar and cross the river with great difficulty, using an unreliable boat, a kind of ferry. Afterwards, the poet delivers this stanza.

Notes: [All]: The stanza seems to say that the men crossed the water in a leaky, laughable boat, then dragged it, presumably across a neck of land. Snorri, however, does not mention any portage. — [1] til Eiðs ‘to Eið’: Eið n. means ‘isthmus’, hence this is a classic site for portage. If Snorri’s identification of the travellers’ route is correct, the name (also used in the pl.: see the Note to st. 3/2) may refer to the area of Stora Edet (at or near modern Trollhättan on the Götaälv in Bohuslän), the analysis advocated by Beckman (1923 and 1934; see Noreen 1922a, 69-70, for references to similar, earlier proposals). Also suggested, in connection with a more northerly route (see the Introduction), are Eid on the Glomma in Blaker sogn, Aurskog, Akershus (von Friesen 1942, 225) and Eidsvoll, just south of Lake Mjøsa (Schreiner 1927-9c, 38), in which event the forest mentioned in the following stanza would be Eidskogen in Norway. Even Ternström (1871, 43), who accepts Snorri’s account, rejects the identification of Eið with Stora Edet. He instead proposes Ed in Dalsland, near the present Norwegian border, at the southern end of Store Le (as suggested earlier by Munthe in Aall 1838-9, 240, and Munch 1852-63, II, 563 n. 1). Cf. the criticisms of Noreen (loc. cit.) and of Beckman (1934, 216). — [2] aptrhvarf ‘turning back’: Ternström (1871, 42-3) takes the word to refer to the return journey, after they have reached their destination, but this requires less probable word order, with þvít ‘because’ in l. 1 introducing not the clause headed by óðumk ‘I dreaded’ but the intercalary clause. Sahlgren (1927-8, I, 185) also assumes this meaning for aptrhvarf, but he surmises, contradicting Snorri’s account, that the party alternately dragged and rowed the boat across Norway to Eda in Värmland and left it there (see also Noreen 1922a, 74, and cf. Beckman 1923, 323-4; Beckman 1934, 207-8). Thus he is able to construe þvít with óðumk, taking the sense of the passage to be that Sigvatr dreaded the prospect of a return journey without a boat. This explains admirably the logical connection between the clauses beginning with Létk and þvít, but it obscures the logical ties between these clauses and the rest of the stanza. — [2] karfa ‘vessel’: The term occurs only here in the skaldic corpus, and its meaning is elusive (Jesch 2001a, 135). Snorri identifies this as an eikjukarfi ‘ferry-boat’, an interpretation that Finnur Jónsson (1932, 11) defends against Noreen’s suggestion (1922a, 70-1) that it was actually a rather substantial vessel, one with at least six pair of oars, better suited to crossing a large lake than a river. It is not improbable that karfa here is intended to be comically grandiose: see Beckman (1923, 322); Beckman (1934, 213); and cf. rǫnn ‘mansions, great halls’ in reference to cottages (Ótt Lv 3/2, a vísa possibly by Sigvatr). — [4] vátr ‘wet’: The word might be construed with the intercalary clause (so, e.g., Hollander 1964a, 335), but the word order would then seem exceptionally knotty. If it is to be placed in the principal clause, as in this edn, Eið must lie beyond the water crossed, since it is not to be supposed that Sigvatr was wet before the crossing. — [4] til glœps ‘badly’: The phrase more literally means ‘for a crime’ or ‘for badness’, but prepositional phrases with til sometimes have adverbial force, as with til fulls ‘fully’ and til loks ‘finally’. The sense of the clause is thus that the reason Sigvatr will not turn back is that he would have to cross the dangerous water again. This is not precisely how the phrase has generally been understood. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B; so also Noreen 1922a, 69) assigns glœpr the unrecorded sense ‘mortal danger’; Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ÍF 27) suggests that the clause may mean ‘We thus decided on a mad undertaking in the boat’; the eds of Hkr 1991 propose the sense ‘We thus got ourselves into trouble’; Jón Skaptason (1983, 83) renders this ‘Thus we began [this] folly on a boat’. Kock (NN §626) rather makes of til glœps an intensifier modifying vátr ‘wet’ (cf. Ger. sündhaft ‘terribly, very’, Icel. firna- ‘terribly, very’, etc.), but this obliges him to construe á báti ‘in the boat’ with the principal clause (beginning with Létk ‘I had’, l. 1), where it makes little sense. It also renders the remaining intercalary relatively pointless: vér stiltum svá ‘we managed so’ (or ‘thus did I arrange it’, Turville-Petre 1976, 81). Sahlgren (1927-8, I, 183-4), rejecting Kock’s view, suggests etymological links with words meaning ‘swallow, gulp, idiot’ and reads vátr til glóps/glœps ‘wet up to the neck’. — [7] húms ‘of the sea’: The mss almost all have heims ‘world’s’, though 61 has hafs ‘ocean’s’ (the reading adopted in Fms). Plainly the meaning ‘sea’s’ is required, and the assumption of húms (first adopted in Hkr 1777-1826, II, 124, and accepted in most critical eds, excluding ÍF 27, Hkr 1991) best explains how heims entered the textual tradition of the poem. Turville-Petre (1976, 81), retaining heims, takes it to be a half-kenning for ‘sea’, comparing Bragi Rdr 4/7III lǫnd Leifa ‘lands of Leifi <sea-king>’, though this seems unlikely.

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