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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, 571

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

10 — Sigv Nesv 10I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Nesjavísur 10’ 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. 571.

Sjalfr bað svartar kylfur
Sveinn harðliga skeina
— nær vas áðr í óra
auðvôn róit hônum —,
þás til góðs, en gjóði
gǫrt fengusk hræ svǫrtum
Yggs, lét herr of hǫggvit
hrafni skeiðar stafna.

Sveinn sjalfr bað skeina svartar kylfur harðliga — áðr vas róit nær hônum í auðvôn óra —, þás herr lét stafna skeiðar of hǫggvit til góðs hrafni, en hræ fengusk gǫrt {svǫrtum gjóði Yggs}.

Sveinn himself commanded the black stem-fittings be cut off ruthlessly — previously the rowing was close to him in our expectation of riches —, when [his] army had the stems of the ship hewn off, to the benefit of the raven, and corpses were provided amply {for the black osprey of Yggr <= Óðinn>} [RAVEN/EAGLE].

Mss: (252v), papp18ˣ(76r) (Hkr); Holm2(12v-13r), R686ˣ(25v), 972ˣ(87va), J1ˣ(159r-v), J2ˣ(135v), 325VI(11rb), 75a(1va), 73aˣ(35v), 78aˣ(33r), 68(12r), 61(84vb), Holm4(4vb-5ra), 325V(16rb-va), 325VII(5r), Bb(135rb), Flat(83vb), Tóm(102r-v) (ÓH); FskBˣ(43r-v), FskAˣ(164) (Fsk)

Readings: [1] Sjalfr: sjalf J1ˣ;    bað: bauð J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 78aˣ, Tóm;    svartar: ‘svarta ta’ 325V, svarta 325VII, Flat, Tóm;    kylfur: ‘kylfr’ 972ˣ, 78aˣ, FskAˣ, kylfu 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm    [2] Sveinn: sein R686ˣ    [3] nær: né FskAˣ;    óra: ‘ærna’ 325VII, óru FskBˣ, orna FskAˣ    [4] auð‑: all 972ˣ, ǫll 73aˣ, 68, 61, ‘avr’ Bb;    ‑vôn: ‑vann Bb, ‘‑nonn’ FskAˣ;    róit: ‘rórt’ papp18ˣ, réð FskAˣ    [5] þás (‘þa er’): þat var 972ˣ;    til: om. FskAˣ;    góðs: gjóðs Flat, Tóm;    en gjóði: ‘enggiodi’ R686ˣ;    en: við FskBˣ, viðr FskAˣ;    gjóði: so Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 78aˣ, Holm4, 325VII, Bb, Flat, ‘gioðo’ Kˣ, papp18ˣ, gjóða 972ˣ, 68, 61, FskBˣ, FskAˣ, ‘gięði’ 73aˣ, gjóð 325V, góði Tóm    [6] gǫrt: ‘gæ(re)’(?) 325VII, ‘gíor’ Tóm;    fengusk: fengum Holm2, R686ˣ, 972ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 68, 61, Holm4, 325V, 325VII, Bb, Flat, Tóm, fennum J1ˣ, fengu FskAˣ;    hræ: vér R686ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, her Bb;    svǫrtum: sveitum Holm4, snertu Bb, svǫrtu FskAˣ    [7] Yggs: ‘jggs’ papp18ˣ, ‘vggs’ 325V, viggs FskBˣ;    lét: lék papp18ˣ;    herr: ‘hrr’ R686ˣ, hann Bb;    hǫggvit: hǫggvinn 325VI    [8] skeiðar: ‘steiþar’ R686ˣ

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 2. Nesjavísur 9: AI, 231, BI, 219, Skald I, 114, NN §§620, 621; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 73, IV, 122-3, ÍF 27, 64-5 (ÓHHkr ch. 50); Fms 4, 100-1, Fms 12, 79-80, ÓH 1941, I, 94 (ch. 40), Flat 1860-8, II, 45; Fsk 1902-3, 152 (ch. 27), ÍF 29, 176 (ch. 29); CPB II, 128, Poole 2005d, 176.

Context: ÓH-Hkr introduces st. 10 after st. 9, describing how the king’s men make to board Sveinn’s ship, fixing grappling hooks on to its stem-fitting (-kylfuna). Sveinn gives orders for the kylfa to be cut down. In Fsk, st. 10 follows immediately after st. 7.

Notes: [1] kylfur ‘stem-fittings’: This is the sole skaldic attestation of kylfa, which normally means ‘club’, as a nautical term. Jesch (2001a, 150) explains it as the highest and narrowest part of the ship’s stem, where ‘stem’ means both prow and stern (ibid., 144; but see Note on ll. 7, 8 of this stanza). The highest part of the stem stood in the way of would-be boarders but, being made of relatively slender pieces of timber, could readily be cut down so as to gain easier access (ibid., 150; cf. Christensen 1985, 158-60, 232). Most boarding and fighting seems to have taken place at either end of the ship, not amidships (Jesch 2001a, 213). The sg. variant svarta kylfu ‘black stem-fitting’ in 325V, 325VII, Flat and Tóm has been explained as an attempt to bring the stanza into closer agreement with the prose narrative (ÍF 27). — [3-4] vas róit nær hônum í auðvôn óra ‘the rowing was close to him in our expectation of riches’: Vas róit, lit. ‘was rowed’, is impersonal, but óra ‘our’ points to the skald and Óláfr’s men as the logical subject. Seemingly their manoeuvres are influenced by high hopes of plunder.  — [5, 8] til góðs hrafni ‘to the benefit of the raven’: Gratifying to the carrion-birds because boarding opens the way for numerous casualties during hand-to-hand fighting calculated to hrjóða ‘clear’ the ship of her complement (Jesch 2001a, 211-13). — [6] hræ fengusk gǫrt ‘corpses were provided amply’: The word gǫrt ‘amply, completely’ is used adverbially, modifying the m. v. form fengusk ‘were provided’ with hræ (pl.) ‘corpses’ as the subject and gjóði (dat.) ‘osprey’ as the object (cf. NN §621). More in line with the copyists’ expectations, to judge from the ms. variants, would have been a construction using the active form fengum ‘we gave’. — [7, 8] herr lét stafna skeiðar of hǫggvit ‘[his] army had the stems of the ship hewn off’: Either this is a restatement of the cutting down of the kylfur in ll. 1-2 or, if kylfa is only the upper part of the ship’s stems, a further development; cf. Note to l. 1 above. The construal adopted by Finnur Jónsson (Hkr 1893-1901, IV; Skj B) is not credible because it takes of ‘over’ as a prep. with skeiðar ‘ships’, but in this position it must be the expletive particle. — [7] herr ‘[his] army’: This word is used, as in st. 4/6, to refer to Sveinn’s following.

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