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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, ‘(Introduction to) 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.

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, 539

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

4 — Sigv Víkv 4I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 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. 539.

Enn kvôðu gram Gunnar
galdrs upphǫfum valda
— dýrð frák, þeims vel varðisk,
vinnask — fjórða sinni,
þás ólítill úti
jǫfra liðs á miðli
friðr gekk sundr í slíðri
Suðrvík Dǫnum kuðri.

Enn kvôðu gram valda upphǫfum {galdrs Gunnar} fjórða sinni — frák dýrð vinnask, þeims varðisk vel —, þás ólítill friðr á miðli liðs jǫfra gekk sundr úti í slíðri Suðrvík, kuðri Dǫnum.

Further, they said the prince caused the beginnings {of a chant of Gunnr <valkyrie>} [BATTLE] for the fourth time — I heard that glory was achieved for the one who defended himself well —, when the not little peace among the army of the rulers was sundered out in dangerous Søndervig, known to the Danes.

Mss: (223v-224r) (Hkr); Holm2(6v), R686ˣ(11r), J2ˣ(120v-121r), 325VI(6ra), 73aˣ(18v), 78aˣ(17v), 68(5v), 61(79va), 325V(7vb), Bb(126ra-b), Flat(80ra), Tóm(96r) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] kvôðu: kvǫddu R686ˣ;    gram: gil 78aˣ    [2] galdrs: galdr J2ˣ, gjalds 325V, Flat, Tóm    [3] dýrð: dýr J2ˣ, om. 325VI;    frák: om. 61;    þeims vel (‘þeim er vel’): vel þeim er J2ˣ, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, er þeim vel 61    [5] þás (‘þa er’): þá 325VI, Tóm;    ólítill: ólítil R686ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, ólítin J2ˣ, 325V, ólítit 61, ólítlum Flat, ‘olitum’ Tóm    [6] liðs: lið 68;    á: í R686ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ    [7] friðr: frið R686ˣ, fiðr Flat;    í: með 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ;    slíðri: suðri 325VI, Tóm, saðri 61    [8] kuðri: ‘kvedri’ Bb

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 1. Víkingarvísur 4: AI, 224, BI, 214, Skald I, 111; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 14, IV, 108, ÍF 27, 12, Hkr 1991, I, 259 (ÓHHkr ch. 10); ÓH 1941, I, 41 (ch. 22), Flat 1860-8, II, 18; Fell 1981b, 112-13, Jón Skaptason 1983, 56, 221.


Óláfr sails to Denmark where he is joined by Þorkell inn hávi. Together they take on numerous ships of vikings at a place called Suðrvík (Søndervig on the Jutland coast), winning the battle and much booty. The briefer account in ÓH does not mention Þorkell.

Notes: [1] kvôðu ‘they said’: It is not clear who this refers to, but Sigvatr elsewhere in this poem (sts 1/5-6, 11/5) stresses the fact that his information is based on hearsay, rather than experience. — [5] ólítill ‘not little’: The possibility of adopting the variant ólítinn with an adverbial sense ‘greatly’ is suggested by Finnur Jónsson in Hkr 1893-1901, IV, Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson in ÍF 27, and Fell (1981b) (‘violently’). — [6-7] friðr á miðli liðs jǫfra gekk sundr ‘peace among the army of the rulers was sundered’: This implies the transition from peace to war within an attacking host led by two or more leaders, and would fit the situation described by Snorri (see Context), in which Óláfr is associated with Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’ Strút-Haraldsson, brother of the Dane Sigvaldi jarl. Á miðli tends to mean ‘among’ (a large group, or more than two parties) and í miðli tends to mean ‘between’ (two parties), although the distinction is not absolute and many mss have variants with í and á respectively for these (LP: miðli). — [7] slíðri ‘dangerous’: The adj. is rare as a simplex, though occurring in compounds such as slíðrhugaðr ‘ruthless-minded’ (Anon Liðs 6/5). The range of senses seems to be ‘terrible, cruel, fearsome, dangerous’ (cf. AEW: slíðr 2), but ‘dangerous’ seems appropriate in most cases. It is not clear why Suðrvík is described as ‘dangerous’ or ‘cruel’; Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ÍF 27) speculates that it was thought to be ‘dangerous to vikings’. — [8] Suðrvík ‘Søndervig’: Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ÍF 27, 475) identifies this with Søndervig on the west coast of Jutland, and explains kuðri Dǫnum ‘known to the Danes’ as ‘in Denmark’. ÓHLeg (1982, 42-3) does not cite the stanza, but places the battle in England, presumably identifying Suðrvík with Southwark (see st. 6/8 and Note, below). Fell (1981b) points out that ‘a town or port in England might equally well be ... described’ as kuðri Dǫnum ‘known to the Danes’.

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated