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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, ‘ 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. <> (accessed 27 September 2021)

 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, 561

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

3 — Sigv Nesv 3I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Nesjavísur 3’ 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. 561.

Þat erumk kunnt, hvé kennir
Karlhǫfða lét jarli
odda frosts fyr austan
Agðir nær of lagðan.

Þat erumk kunnt, hvé {kennir {frosts odda}} lét Karlhǫfða of lagðan nær jarli fyr austan Agðir.

It is known to me, how {the master {of the frost of points}} [BATTLE > WARRIOR] had Karlhǫfði (‘Man-head’) put in position near the jarl to the east of Agder.

Mss: (251r), papp18ˣ(75v) (Hkr); Holm2(12v), R686ˣ(25r), 972ˣ(85va), J1ˣ(158r), J2ˣ(134v), 325VI(10vb), 321ˣ(53), 73aˣ(34v), 78aˣ(32r), 68(11v), 61(84va), Holm4(4va), 325V(16ra), 325VII(5r), Bb(135ra), Flat(83va), Tóm(102r) (ÓH); DG8(78v) (ÓHLeg); FskBˣ(42v-43r), FskAˣ(162) (Fsk)

Readings: [1] Þat: þar Tóm;    erumk: ‘er unnc ⸜(ø)m⸝’(?) papp18ˣ, er af 61, er Flat, er oss FskAˣ;    kunnt: ‘knítt’ 73aˣ, kunnr Tóm;    hvé: hver Bb, hvé corrected from er DG8;    kennir: ‘kæmner’ FskBˣ    [2] Karl‑: karla‑ papp18ˣ, R686ˣ, Karls‑ 972ˣ, ‘[...]rl‑’ Tóm;    ‑hǫfða: ‑hǫfðann 73aˣ, 61, ‑hǫfði Tóm    [3] odda: eggja 61, orða DG8;    frosts: ‘frorz’ Holm2, frost 972ˣ, 325VI, 321ˣ, 78aˣ, DG8, frests 68, ‘tfrost’ Bb, ‘p̄tz’ Tóm, ‘froz’ FskBˣ, fróns FskAˣ    [4] Agðir: ‘agðr’ R686ˣ, J1ˣ;    of (‘um’): corrected from inn DG8;    lagðan: lagði 325V, lagða Flat

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 2. Nesjavísur 4: AI, 229, BI, 217, Skald I, 113; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 69-70, IV, 120, ÍF 27, 61 (ÓHHkr ch. 49); Fms 4, 97, Fms 12, 78, ÓH 1941, I, 92 (ch. 40), Flat 1860-8, II, 43; Fsk 1902-3, 150 (ch. 27), ÍF 29, 174 (ch. 29); ÓHLeg 1922, 25, ÓHLeg 1982, 76-7; CPB II, 127, Poole 2005d, 173.


ÓH-Hkr introduces the stanza after st. 2 (see Note to st. 3 [All] below). ÓHLeg introduces it after st. 6, explaining how the ships were brought together. The stanza is followed by a general summary of the battle. Fsk places st. 3 first in its account of the battle and describes how King Óláfr, despite having a smaller force than the jarl, brings his ship Karlhǫfði alongside the jarl’s and ties the prows together. The battle is noted to have been on Palm Sunday.

Notes: [All]: Fsk and ÓH-Hkr identify the source poem as Nesjavísur, in which Sigvatr tells in detail of the battle. It is specified in ÓH-Hkr that Sigvatr was present at the battle and composed the poem, a flokkr, the summer immediately after. — [1] kunnt … hvé kennir ‘known … how the master’: Another juxtaposition of etymologically related words (see Note to st. 2/1).  — [2] Karlhǫfða ‘Karlhǫfði (“Man-head”)’: Viking Age ships were most often named after animals (Jesch 2001a, 136-7). Snorri (ÍF 27, 59) explains Karlhǫfði as being named after a king’s head figurehead carved by King Óláfr himself, which set a fashion for rulers’ ships. Jesch (2001a, 137) inclines instead to the suggestion of Paasche (1914, 13) that the ship-name was influenced by Óláfr’s royal model Charlemagne (ON Karlamagnús). — [3] frosts odda ‘of the frost of points [BATTLE]’: This use of frost evidently confused copyists, and its only analogue in a kenning is SnSt Ht 61/3III. Base-words in this kenning type normally denote dynamic weather phenomena, e.g. hagl ‘hail’, él ‘blizzard’ and þeyr ‘thawing wind’ (Meissner 178-82), rather than static ones such as frost. (LP: frost takes the word in Sveinn Norðrdr 1/3III as ‘mountain storm’ but this is uncertain.)

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