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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;

2. Nesjavísur (Nesv) - 15

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).

Nesjavísur (‘Vísur about Nesjar’) — Sigv NesvI

Russell Poole 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Sigvatr Þórðarson, Nesjavísur’ 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. 555.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 2. Nesjavísur, 1016 (AI, 228-32, BI, 217-20); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 14

SkP info: I, 558

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Sigv Nesv 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Nesjavísur 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. 558.

Fór ór Vík á vári
válaust konungr austan,
— þeir kníðu blô báðir
borð — en jarl kom norðan.
Kannk sigrviðum segja,
sund*, hvé þeira fundir,
œrin skil, þeims ôrum,
at bôrusk, þar skôru.

Konungr fór válaust austan ór Vík á vári, en jarl kom norðan; þeir báðir kníðu blô borð. Kannk segja {sigrviðum}, þeims skôru sund* þar ôrum, œrin skil, hvé fundir þeira bôrusk at.

The king set forth, without doubt, from the east out of Vík in spring, and the jarl came from the north; they both urged on the black planks. I am able to tell {the victory-trees} [WARRIORS], those who cut the sea there with their oars, sufficient information as to how their encounters took place.

Mss: FskBˣ(43r), 51ˣ(39r), 302ˣ(65v), FskAˣ(163), 301ˣ(60r) (Fsk); A(5r), W(104) (TGT, l. 1)

Readings: [1] á: at 51ˣ, 302ˣ    [3] kníðu: so 51ˣ, 302ˣ, ‘knyðu’ FskBˣ, knúðu FskAˣ, 301ˣ    [5] ‑viðum: ‘vidrum’ 301ˣ    [6] sund*: sunds all;    fundir: fyndir all    [7] œrin: so corrected from ‘[…]en’ 51ˣ, ‘æirinn’ FskBˣ, ‘o᷎rem’ 302ˣ, œrinn FskAˣ, 301ˣ    [8] bôrusk: ‘breculz’ FskAˣ, ‘bæcusz’ 301ˣ;    skôru: so FskAˣ, 301ˣ, vôru FskBˣ, 51ˣ, 302ˣ

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 2. Nesjavísur 1: AI, 228, BI, 217, Skald I, 113, NN §618; Fsk 1902-3, 151 (ch. 27), ÍF 29, 175 (ch. 29); SnE 1848-87, II, 120-1, TGT 1884, 79, TGT 1927, 55, TGT 1998, 144-5; CPB II, 127, Poole 2005d, 171-2.

Context: In Fsk, the citation of st. 1 is preceded by a summary of the battle at Nesjar, noting that Óláfr had the victory and that Sveinn jarl narrowly evaded capture, thanks to Einarr þambarskelfir. It is followed by a comment that Sigvatr composed the poem (kvæðit) when the events were of recent occurrence (ný orðin), and that he had been present at the battle; further stanzas are announced. In TGT, the first line is cited to illustrate cacenphaton (see Note to l. 1).

Notes: [All]: Although st. 3 has already been cited in Fsk, this stanza is stated there to be first in the poem: Sigvatr hefr svá Nesjavísur ‘Sigvatr begins Nesjavísur thus’. — [1-4]: On the trope of two forces approaching each other from different directions, see Note to Sigv Tryggfl 1/1-4. — [1] fór … ór ‘set forth … out of’: In TGT the repetition of sounds in these two opening words is used to illustrate one variety of the rhetorical vice of cacenphaton, Gk ‘ill-sounding’.  — [2] válaust ‘without doubt’: The function of the adv., lit. ‘without calamity or danger’, is probably to vouch for the truth of the statement, as it does in ESk Geisl 37/6VII, but it could alternatively characterise the king’s action as decisive. — [3, 4] blô borð ‘the black planks’: Black probably because tarred. This is among the few references to the colour of ships’ hulls in the skaldic corpus (Jesch 2001a, 144). — [5, 6, 7, 8] kannk segja sigrviðum, þeims skôru sund* þar ôrum, œrin skil ‘I am able to tell the victory-trees [WARRIORS], those who cut the sea there with their oars, sufficient information’: Sigvatr asserts his entitlement to give an authoritative account of the engagement in front of an audience of persons who had themselves participated. Finnur Jónsson’s emendation of ôrum to órut in l. 7 (Skj B) gives þeims órut þar ‘who were not there’, producing a contrast with the skald, but emendation is unnecessary, as shown by Fidjestøl (1982, 227-8: see Note to l. 7 below). — [6] sund* ‘the sea’: Various interpretations address the problems of the helmingr: the function of sunds, and the fact that skôru ‘cut’ seems to lack an object. (a) Following ÍF 29, the minor emendation of sunds to sund ‘sea’ is adopted here. This provides an object for skôru ‘cut’, which would be normal (cf. ESk Run 10/1II skark sund súðum ‘I cut the sea with ship-sides’, LP: skera 1, and Jesch 2001a, 177). Although the word order is convoluted this is often a feature of Sigvatr’s style, and it might well account for the presumed corruption. (b) Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) emends more drastically: sunds to n. nom. pl. sund ‘inlets’, and skôru ‘cut’ (l. 8) to m. v. skôrusk, producing sund skôrusk ‘inlets were cut’. (c) Ms. sunds could be retained as a gen. defining fundir ‘encounters’, hence ‘encounters of the sea, naval encounters’. Skôru ‘cut’ is then left without formal object, but this finds a partial parallel in Hharð Gamv 2II súð sneið ‘the hull sliced’ (noted by Jesch 2001a, 177); or an object is provided if sund ‘the sea’ is understood from sunds; cf. interpretation (a) in Note to st. 2/7. (d) Sunds could alternatively be construed as an adverbial gen. of location, ‘at sea’ (cf. Poole 2004). — [7] ôrum ‘with their oars’: The interpretation of ms. orom as dat. pl. of ár ‘oar’ is due to Fidjestøl (1982, 227-8) and renders unnecessary the very complex interpretations by Finnur Jónsson (Skj B), Kock (NN §618) and Bjarni Einarsson (ÍF 29).

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