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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;

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, ‘ 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. <> (accessed 22 October 2021)

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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, 12-14

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Sigv Berv 1II

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Bersǫglisvísur 1’ 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. 12-14.

Fregnk, at suðr með Sygnum
Sighvatr hefr gram lattan
folkorrostu at freista;
fer, ef þó skulum berjask.
Fǫrum í vôpn ok verjum
(vel tvist, konungr) lystir
(hvé lengi skal) hringum
hans grund (til þess fundra)?

Fregnk, at Sighvatr hefr lattan gram at freista folkorrostu suðr með Sygnum; fer, ef þó skulum berjask. Fǫrum í vôpn ok verjum lystir grund hans hringum; konungr, hvé lengi skal fundra vel tvist til þess?

I hear that Sigvatr has [I have] dissuaded the lord from waging civil war in the south among the Sygnir; I shall go, if we nonetheless must fight. Let us put on arms and let us defend, eager, his land with swords; king, how long must one ponder so very silent on this?

Mss: (504r), 39(14va), E(5v), J2ˣ(245r) (Hkr); Holm2(74r), 972ˣ(584va), 972ˣ(584vb), 325VI(42ra-b), 321ˣ(282), 73aˣ(216r), Holm4(69vb) (ll. 1-3), 325VII(41v), 325V(89va), 61(130rb), Tóm(161r), Bb(206rb) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Fregnk at (‘Fregn ek at’): so 39, E, J2ˣ, Holm2, 972ˣ(584va), 972ˣ(584vb), 325VI, 321ˣ, Holm4, 325VII, 325V, Tóm, Bb, Fregn ek á Kˣ, Fregnat 73aˣ, Fregni ek at 61;    suðr: ‘syðr’ 325VI, 321ˣ;    Sygnum: ‘suignum’ 39    [2] Sighvatr: ‘Sigvat’ 972ˣ(584va), ‘sigh’ 972ˣ(584vb);    ‑hvatr: so 39, E, J2ˣ, Holm2, 325VI, 73aˣ, Holm4, 325V, Tóm, Bb, ‑vatr Kˣ, 325VII, 61, ‘‑hvatur’ 321ˣ;    hefr: hafa 972ˣ(584va), ‘hꜹfer’(?) 972ˣ(584vb)    [3] folkorrostu at: om. 73aˣ, folkorrostur at 325VII, 61;    freista: so 39, Holm2, 972ˣ(584va), 972ˣ(584vb), 325VI, 73aˣ, 325VII, 325V, 61, Bb, fresta Kˣ, E, J2ˣ, 321ˣ, fremja Tóm    [4] fer: so E, J2ˣ, Holm2, 972ˣ(584vb), 325VI, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 325VII, 325V, 61, Tóm, Bb, fer ek Kˣ, 39, 972ˣ(584va);    ef: om. 972ˣ(584va);    þó: so 39, E, J2ˣ, Holm2, 972ˣ(584va), 972ˣ(584vb), 325VI, 73aˣ, 325VII, 325V, 61, Tóm, Bb, svá Kˣ, 321ˣ;    skulum: skal 39, ‘skom’ 321ˣ    [5] Fǫrum: farim 325VI, 321ˣ;    vôpn: vápni 972ˣ(584vb);    verjum: verjumsk 73aˣ, 325V, 61, Tóm, ‘væriumc’ 325VII    [6] tvist: traust Bb;    konungr: konung 39, E, J2ˣ, 972ˣ(584va), 325VI, 73aˣ, 325VII, 61, Tóm, Bb, konungar 972ˣ(584vb), kóng 321ˣ;    lystir: listir 972ˣ(584va), 73aˣ, 325V, ‘lustir’ 61, hraustan Bb    [8] grund: grundar 325VII;    fundra: so 39, E, Holm2, 972ˣ(584vb), 325VII, 325V, fundar Kˣ, J2ˣ, 972ˣ(584va), 325VI, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 61, Tóm, Bb

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 11. Bersǫglisvísur 9: AI, 253-4, BI, 236-7, Skald I, 122-3, NN §§653, 2260; ÍF 28, 26-7 (Mgóð ch. 16), E 1916, 17; ÓH 1941, I, 625 (ch. 261); Jón Skaptason 1983, 146, 292-3.

Context: According to Hkr and ÓH, the people of Sogn were threatening to revolt against Magnús who was staying in Hordaland deliberating his next move. Sigvatr was chosen by lot to act as the spokesman for the king’s friends. In the words of Hkr (ÍF 28, 26): ok hefr hann fyrst um þat, at þeim þótti konungr of mjǫk velkja ráðin at setja bœndr aptr, þá er heituðusk at reisa ófrið í móti honum ‘and he first opens by addressing the fact that the king seemed to them to have hesitated far too long to act on the advice to restrain the farmers who threatened to wage war on him’.

Notes: [All]: Hkr gives this st. as the first st. in Berv, and from the content it is reasonable to treat it as such (see also Jón Skaptason 1983, 292). It is not clear why Finnur Jónsson changes the order of sts and gives it as st. 9 in Skj. — [3] folkorrostu ‘civil war’: Taken in the meaning ‘battle or war fought between different factions of the population’. It could also be glossed as ‘pitched battle’ (cf. OE folcgefeoht). LP: folkorrusta provides the translation hovedkamp ‘major battle’. See also Note to GullásÞ Víðdr 1/2. Holm4 ends after the first element of this cpd. — [3] freista ‘wage’: Lit. ‘attempt, try’. So the majority of mss. The variant fresta ‘delay, hesitate’ (so , E, J2ˣ, 321ˣ) makes little sense and could have been influenced by the prose context. — [4] fer ‘I shall go’: The pron. ek ‘I’ (introduced in Skj B, Skald) has been omitted on the evidence of the majority of mss. — [5] fǫrum í vôpn ok verjum ‘let us put on arms and and let us defend’: These verbs can either be construed as imp. pl. (so NN §653) or as 1st pers. pl. (so Skj B). In view of the general content of the st., the former is more likely. — [6] tvist ‘silent’: Earlier eds emend to tyst to retain the aðalhending (cf. ODan. tyst; AEW: tvistr), and it is quite likely that Sigvatr could have used an Old East Norse form since he had just spent a long time in Sweden (1031-5; see ÍF 28, 17-18). For another, possibly Old East Norse form, see st. 10/4 below. Skj B translates the word as tvedragt ‘discord, division’ (so also LP: tvistr 1), but it is otherwise unattested in that meaning. — [6] konungr (m. nom. sg.) ‘king’: All earlier eds adopt the variant konung (m. acc. sg.) ‘king’. However, the nom. form is higher up on the stemma, and it would be natural for Sigvatr to address the king in the opening st. of his poem. For a similar apostrophe in an identical metrical environment, see st. 9 below. — [7] hringum (dat. instr.) ‘with swords’: Hringr ‘ring’ referred to the rings on sword-hilts, and is used pars pro toto for ‘swords’. See LP: 2. hringr and Note to st. 16/4 below. — [8] fundra ‘ponder’: Skj B retains the reading fundar (m. gen. sg.) ‘meeting’ (so also ÍF 28). However, fundra is the form warranted by the ms. witnesses, and it is easy to see how this lectio difficilior could have been replaced by the familiar fundar. Kock was the first to adopt the variant fundra (NN §2260), which he connected with Swed., Norw., Icel. dialects fundra ‘lurk, lie in wait for’, OSwed. funda ‘ruminate’ (see AEW: fundra). That meaning is corroborated by the prose context (see Context above).

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