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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

1. Víkingarvísur (Víkv) - 15

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).

Víkingarvísur (‘Vísur about Viking Voyages’) — Sigv VíkvI

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur’ 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. 532. <> (accessed 25 May 2022)

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

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 1. Víkingarvísur, 1014-15 (AI, 223-8, BI, 213-16)

SkP info: I, 537

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

3 — Sigv Víkv 3I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 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. 537.

Hríð varð stáls í stríðri
strǫng Herdala gǫngu
Finnlendinga at fundi
fylkis niðs in þriðja.
En austr við leysti
leið víkinga skeiðar;
Bálagarðs at borði
brimskíðum síða.


{The third powerful storm of steel} [BATTLE] {of the descendant of the ruler} [= Óláfr] happened during the difficult journey to Herdalar in a meeting with Finns. And the sea let loose the warships of the vikings east by the breakers; Bálagarðssíða lay alongside {the surf-skis}. [SHIPS]

context: Óláfr has a difficult fight against some forest-dwelling Finns, in which he loses many men. The Finns use magic to raise a storm, but Óláfr escapes by beating along the coast and sailing out to sea.  

notes: The reference to Finnlendingar ‘Finns’ in this stanza locates Herdalar (l. 2) and Bálagarðssíða (ll. 7, 8) in Finland, and previous eds assume Bálagarðssíða is on the south-west coast of Finland, which fits the Baltic context of the previous stanza. Snorri’s prose (see Context) also locates these events in Finnland, though the reference to magic suggests confusion with the more usual meaning of ON Finnar, ‘Saami’. The prose of ÓHLeg (1982, 42) assumes two separate events, first the third battle a Finnlande austr ‘in the east in Finland’ and then a raid in Bálagarðssíða, which it locates a Siolande ‘in Zealand’, consistent with this text’s interest in events in Denmark (see Introduction to this poem). — [5-6]: The detailed interpretation is problematic. (a) Here, it is assumed that leið is a heiti for ‘sea’ (cf. SnE 1998, I, 92, citing Anon (SnE) 11III; also SnSt Ht 34/3III) and is the subject of the sentence. Leysti ‘loosened, set loose’ with flota ‘fleet’ as its object is found as a variant in ESk IngdrII 4/6 (see Note), and with lábrostinn lögr ‘wave-bursting sea’ as its subject and flaust ‘ships’ as its object in Sturl Hrafn 15/5II, though in the latter there is an adverbial phrase to explain what the ships were loosened from. The use of ‘breakers’ in this sentence and brim- ‘surf’ in l. 8, though conventional diction, might suggest a turbulent sea which could have set the ships loose from their moorings. (b) Indeed, Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) takes as the subject of the sentence, and reads við austrleið ‘from the east coast’, though this is precluded by the syntax, since prep. við must modify , which follows it (cf. Kuhn 1983, 120-2 on the placing of prepositions). (c) Kock (NN §612) takes the king as the implied subject of the clause, but his interpretation requires an otherwise unknown word leiðvíkinga, in which he regards leið as equivalent to leiðangr, a seaborne expedition (cf. Note to Hár Lv 1/1-4). (d) Jón Helgason (1935-6, 263) preferred to take leið víkinga ‘path of vikings’ as a kenning for the sea. This would be an attractive solution, which avoids attaching the label víkingar to Óláfr’s troop (see Note to l. 6 below), but close parallels are lacking.

texts: Flat 424, ÓH 11 (9), ÓHHkr 7 (II 7), Hkr 208 (II 7)

editions: Skj Sigvatr Þórðarson: 1. Víkingarvísur 3 (AI, 223-4; BI, 213); Skald I, 111, NN §§612, 2468; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 13, IV, 107-8, ÍF 27, 11, Hkr 1991, I, 258 (ÓHHkr ch. 9); ÓH 1941, I, 41 (ch. 22), Flat 1860-8, II, 18; Fell 1981b, 111-12, Jón Skaptason 1983, 55, 220-1.


AM 36 folx (Kx) 223r, 26 - 223v, 5 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 6v, 2 - 6v, 4 (ÓH)  image  
UppsUB R 686x (R686x) 11r, 22 - 11r, 25 (ÓH)  image  image  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 41va, 7 - 41va, 14 (ÓH)  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 120v, 19 - 120v, 26 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VI 4° (325VI) 5vb, 35 - 5vb, 37 (ÓH)  image  
AM 321 4°x (321x) 25, 5 - 25, 7 (ÓH)  image  
AM 73 a folx (73ax) 18v, 13 - 18v, 20 (ÓH)  image  
AM 78 a folx (78ax) 17v, 4 - 17v, 11 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 5v, 16 - 5v, 18 (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 79rb, 37 - 79va, 1 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 7vb, 18 - 7vb, 23 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 126ra, 29 - 126ra, 32 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 80ra, 37 - 80ra, 40 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 95v, 39 - 95v, 41 (ÓH)  image  
AM 37 folx (J1x) 140v, 18 - 140v, 22 (Hkr)  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated