Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

10. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

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).

Knútsdrápa (‘Drápa about Knútr’’) — Sigv KnútdrI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Sigvatr Þórðarson, Knútsdrápa’ 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. 649.

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Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 10. Knútsdrápa, o. 1038 (AI, 248-51, BI, 232-4)

SkP info: I, 660

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

9 — Sigv Knútdr 9I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Knútsdrápa 9’ 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. 660.

Létat af jǫfurr
(ætt manna fannsk)
Jótlands etask
ílendr (at því).
Vildi foldar
fæst rôn Dana
hlífskjǫldr hafa.
Hǫfuðfremstr jǫfurr.

Ílendr létat {jǫfurr Jótlands} etask af; ætt manna fannsk at því. {Hlífskjǫldr Dana} vildi hafa fæst rôn foldar. … Hǫfuðfremstr jǫfurr.

Arrived in his land, {the lord of Jutland} [DANISH KING = Knútr] did not let himself be deprived; the race of men were pleased at that. {The protecting shield of the Danes} [DANISH KING = Knútr] would allow minimal plundering of the land. … The most eminent prince.

Mss: (410r), 325XI 1(3rb) (Hkr); Holm2(52r), J2ˣ(196v-197r), 321ˣ(184), 73aˣ(160r), 68(49v), Holm4(46rb), 61(112ra), 75c(31r), 325V(58va), Bb(181va), Flat(115rb), Tóm(138r) (ÓH); FskBˣ(47r) (Fsk); DG8(92v) (ÓHLeg)

Readings: [1] Létat: ‘let[…]’ 325XI 1, ‘Lezat’ 61, leit Flat, leitat Tóm, lét at FskBˣ, DG8;    af: om. J2ˣ, 321ˣ, 73aˣ;    jǫfurr: jǫfrar J2ˣ    [2] ætt: átt Tóm;    fannsk: fann J2ˣ, 321ˣ, 73aˣ    [3] Jótlands: Jótland J2ˣ, DG8, í Jótlands Bb;    etask: ættask J2ˣ, eta 321ˣ, 73aˣ, í etask Bb, er lauk DG8    [4] ílendr: ílendi J2ˣ;    at: af 61, 75c, 325V, Bb, Flat, DG8    [5] Vildi: ‘[…]di’ 325XI 1, valdi 75c, Bb, Flat;    foldar: ‘fulldar’ 321ˣ    [6] fæst rôn: frán 321ˣ, fráneygr 73aˣ;    fæst: flest 75c, Flat, fest 325V, Bb, FskBˣ, ‘faust’ Tóm, fast DG8;    rôn: rann 61, 75c, 325V, Bb, Tóm;    Dana: ‘da’ 325V    [7] ‑skjǫldr: skjǫld 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 75c, Bb, Flat    [8] Hǫfuðfremstr: ‘[…]fremstr’ 325XI 1;    jǫfurr: ‘jo[...]’ 325XI 1

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 10. Knútsdrápa 9: AI, 250-1, BI, 234, Skald I, 121; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 361, IV, 145, ÍF 27, 278 (ÓHHkr ch. 149); ÓH 1941, I, 434 (ch. 139), Flat 1860-8, II, 280; Fsk 1902-3, 164 (ch. 27), ÍF 29, 186 (ch. 32); ÓHLeg 1922, 61, ÓHLeg 1982, 146-7.

Context: In ÓH-Hkr, Snorri quotes this stanza in illustration of Knútr’s pursuit of Óláfr and Ǫnundr, prior to their encounter at Á in helga (Helgeå). In Fsk and ÓHLeg, the stanza is quoted after a brief account of the battle.

Notes: [All]: The stanza may well refer to the sea-battle at Á in helga (Helgeå, c. 1026, on which, see ÞSjár Róðdr, Ótt Knútdr 11 and Note to Ótt Knútdr 11/3), but since the p. n. is not given, this remains less than certain. The prose Contexts (above) cite the stanza in relation either to the battle itself or to the lead-up to it. — [4] ílendr ‘arrrived in his land’: On this rare word, see Note to Arn Þorfdr 22/5II. — [6] fæst ‘minimal’: Superlative of fár ‘few, little’; here presumably a litotes for ‘none at all’. — [8]: The line completes the klofastef ‘split refrain’; see Note to st. 3/1 above. 

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