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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 17 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, 562

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

4 — Sigv Nesv 4I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Nesjavísur 4’ 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. 562.

Vasa sigmána Sveini
sverða gnýs at frýja,
gjóðs né góðrar hríðar
gunnreifum Ôleifi,
þvít kvistingar kosta
— koma herr í stað verra —
ôttu sín, þars sóttusk
seggir, hvárirtveggja.

Vasa at frýja Sveini {gnýs sverða} né gunnreifum Ôleifi {góðrar hríðar {gjóðs {sigmána}}}, þvít hvárirtveggja ôttu kosta kvistingar sín, þars seggir sóttusk; herr koma í verra stað.

There was no cause [lit. it was not] to reproach Sveinn {for the din of swords} [BATTLE], nor the battle-glad Óláfr {for the good storm {of the osprey {of the battle-moon}}} [SHIELD > RAVEN/EAGLE > BATTLE], because both parties had to strive for the maiming of each other, where men attacked; the army never came into a worse place.

Mss: (251r), papp18ˣ(75v) (Hkr); Holm2(12v), R686ˣ(25r), 972ˣ(85va), J1ˣ(158v), J2ˣ(134v), 325VI(11ra), 75a(1r) (ll. 3-8), 73aˣ(34v), 78aˣ(32r), 68(11v), 61(84va), Holm4(4va-b), 325V(16ra), 325VII(5r), Bb(135ra), Flat(83va), Tóm(102r) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Vasa (‘vara’): vart R686ˣ;    sig‑: svinn 61;    ‑mána: huglum 61, mara 325V, Flat, Tóm    [2] gnýs: ‘gnyrs’ 61;    frýja: corrected from ‘ṿerḍa’ Flat, freyja Tóm    [3] gjóðs: ‘gods’ R686ˣ, griðs 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ;    góðrar: gǫrrar Holm2, R686ˣ, 972ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 73aˣ, gildrar 61, gildar 325V, grárar Bb;    hríðar: corrected from liðar Kˣ, hirðar R686ˣ    [4] gunn‑: vinn‑ J1ˣ, ímun J2ˣ;    ‑reifum: ‑leifum Bb    [5] kvistingar: kvistungar R686ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, kvistingum 61;    kosta: kostu Holm2, 972ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 78aˣ, 61, Bb, kossu R686ˣ, ‘kostri’ J1ˣ, kǫstu 73aˣ, 68    [6] herr: ‘herarr’ R686ˣ    [7] sín: sýn papp18ˣ, sínn Holm2, 972ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 68, Bb, sér Holm4, svá 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm;    sóttusk: sóttumsk Holm2, 972ˣ, sóttu 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, Bb    [8] seggir: sekir J2ˣ;    hvárir‑: corrected from ‘hverarir’ Holm2, hvárra J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 75a;    ‑tveggja: so 61, 325V, tveggju Kˣ, papp18ˣ, Holm2, R686ˣ, 972ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 78aˣ, 68, Holm4, 325VII, Bb, Flat, Tóm

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 2. Nesjavísur 5: AI, 229, BI, 218, Skald I, 113, NN §619; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 70, IV, 120-1, ÍF 27, 61-2 (ÓHHkr ch. 49); Fms 4, 98, Fms 12, 78-9, ÓH 1941, I, 92 (ch. 40), Flat 1860-8, II, 44; CPB II, 127, Poole 2005d, 173.

Context: The battle is extremely fierce, with many killed or wounded on both sides, and the outcome is in the balance for a long time.

Notes: [1, 3] hríðar gjóðs sigmána ‘storm of the osprey of the battle-moon [SHIELD > RAVEN/EAGLE > BATTLE]’: The similarity between l. 3 and st. 10/5-6, þás til góðs, en gjóði | gǫrt, has evidently confused some copyists. Various construals of the kenning elements in the helmingr are possible. (a) Hríðar (‘storm’, l. 3 end), gjóðs (‘osprey’, l. 3 beginning) and sigmána (‘battle-moon’, l. 1) seem to belong together, leaving gnýs sverða ‘din of swords’ as a separate and more straightforward battle-kenning contained in l. 2 (so ÍF 27, citing a parallel kenning, and adopted in this edn). (b) Finnur Jónsson (Hkr 1893-1901, IV; cf. NN §619) reads gnýs sigmána ‘din of victory-moons [SHIELD > BATTLE]’ and hríðar gjóðs sverða ‘storm of the osprey/falcon of swords [RAVEN > BATTLE]’. (c) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B reads góðs ‘good’ for gjóðs in l. 3, qualifying gnýs ‘din’, but this is weakly attested and apparently a lectio facilior; he reads gǫrrar ‘complete’ rather than góðrar ‘good’ later in the line.  — [5] kvistingar ‘for the maiming’: Or strictly ‘lopping’, which resonates with the metaphorical sigrviðir ‘trees of victory [WARRIORS]’ in st. 1/5. Guðbrandur Vigfússon (CPB II, 580) comments, ‘The men were cut down as saplings’, and cf. Jón Skaptason’s translation (1983, 72) as ‘dismembering’. — [5, 7] ôttu kosta kvistingar sín ‘had to strive for the maiming of each other’: The copyists appear to have been confused about the (admittedly complex) motifs and syntax. (a) In this edn kosta is preferred, as the reading of the main ms. and perhaps the lectio difficilior. The finite verb ôttu ‘had’ then governs inf. kosta ‘to strive, endeavour’, which in turn governs the gen. kvistingar ‘maiming’. The gen. pron. sín ‘of each other, of themselves’, referring to the two opposing forces, is then the object of kvistingar (cf. Hkr 1893-1901, IV). (b) The majority of mss have the noun kostu, acc. pl. from kostr ‘choice’. This is the reading preferred by Finnur Jónsson (Hkr 1893-1901; Skj B) and it may be correct, giving the sense ‘had the chance for their own maiming (to be maimed)’. — [6] herr ‘the army’: Presumably Sveinn’s (cf. st. 10/7), unless the sense is more grandly that no army has been in such straits. — [8] hvárirtveggja; seggir ‘both parties; men’: Hvárirtveggja is taken here as the pronominal subject of ôttu, hence ‘both parties had to’, and seggir as the subject of sóttusk ‘attacked’. Previous eds read seggir hvárir tveggja (ÍF 27) or seggir hvárra tveggja (Skj B) ‘the men of both parties’, seemingly taking hvárirtveggja as adjectival.

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