Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

II. Bersǫglisvísur (Berv) - 18

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).

Bersǫglisvísur (‘Plain-speaking Vísur’) — Sigv BervII

Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘(Introduction to) Sigvatr Þórðarson, Bersǫglisvísur’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 11-30.

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Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 11. Bersǫglisvísur, o. 1038 (AI, 251-6, BI, 234-9); stanzas (if different): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 13 | 15 | 18

SkP info: II, 27

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

15 — Sigv Berv 15II

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Bersǫglisvísur 15’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 27.

Syni Ôláfs biðk snúðar
— síð kveða aptans bíða
óframs sǫk; meðal okkar
allts hôligt — svá mála.
Erum, Magnús, vér vægnir;
vildak með þér mildum
— Haralds varðar þú hjǫrvi
haukey — lifa ok deyja.

Svá biðk snúðar mála {syni Ôláfs}; kveða óframs sǫk bíða síð aptans; allts hôligt meðal okkar. Magnús, vér erum vægnir; vildak lifa ok deyja með mildum þér; þú varðar {haukey Haralds} hjǫrvi.

Thus I ask for a quick change in the affairs {of Óláfr’s son} [= Magnús]; they say the cautious man’s business must wait until late in the evening; all is splendid between us two. Magnús, we are [I am] well disposed; I would wish to live and die with you, generous one; you protect {Haraldr’s hawk-isle} [= Norway] with the sword.

Mss: F(38vb); 325XI 3(1v), Flat(190ra) (Flat); 310(80) (ÓTOdd, ll. 7-8)

Readings: [1] Syni: so all others, ‘Seyni’ F;    snúðar: segja 325XI 3, Flat    [4] allts (‘allt er’): allt 325XI 3, Flat;    hô‑: hag‑ Flat;    mála: máli 325XI 3, Flat    [6] þér: om. 325XI 3, Flat    [7] Haralds: ‘Har’ 310    [8] haukey lifa ok: ‘heyk ey lifa ok’ 325XI 3, ‘heyk eilífa ath’ Flat

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 11. Bersǫglisvísur 18: AI, 256, BI, 238-9, Skald I, 124, NN §655; F 1871, 177 (Mgóð); Louis-Jensen 1970b, 150, Flat 1860-8, III, 269 (MH), Mork 1928-32, 29-30, Andersson and Gade 2000, 108, 468 (MH); ÓTOdd 1932, 192 (ch. 65); Jón Skaptason 1983, 155, 297-8.

Context: In ÓTOdd, the last two ll. are mistakenly attributed to Jarl Sigvaldi Strút-Haraldsson. The kenning ‘Haraldr’s hawk-isle’ is taken as a term for Norway as the tributary of the Dan. king Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ Gormsson.

Notes: [All]: F only cites this st. of Berv, and it is said to conclude the poem: er þessi síðazt ‘this one is the last’. — [1]: The l. lacks internal rhyme. — [7, 8] haukey Haralds ‘Haraldr’s hawk-isle [= Norway]’: The meaning of this phrase is not immediately transparent, although there can be no doubt that it denotes the country of Norway. Munch (1853, 101), following the prose in ÓTOdd, suggested that it referred to the annual taxes due to the Dan. king Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ from the Norw. Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (20 hawks; see Theodoricus, MHN 11; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 62 n. 45). Finnur Jónsson (LP: haukey) connects the first part of the cpd haukey with an adj. haukr ‘splendid’ (LP: 2. haukr adj.), and gives the translation ‘splendid island’ (i.e. ‘Norway’), tacitly equating Haraldr with the Norw. king Haraldr hárfagri rather than with Haraldr blátǫnn. Kock (NN §655) accepts that identification, but he rejects the translation ‘splendid island’ and suggests that ‘hawk-isle’ referred to the lofty mountainous regions of Norway (‘where hawks perch’; see also Steinn Óldr 6/1). That interpretation seems preferable, because the reference to Haraldr blátǫnn makes no sense in the present context, and the existence of an adj. haukr ‘splendid’ is tenuous at best. It is interesting, however, that Sigvatr refers to Norway as an ‘island’.

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