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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;

1. Víkingarvísur (Víkv) - 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).

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.

 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, 541

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

6 — Sigv Víkv 6I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 6’ 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. 541.

Rétts, at sókn in sétta,
(snarr þengill bauð Englum
at) þars Ôleifr sótti
(Yggs) Lundúna bryggjur.
Sverð bitu vǫlsk, en vǫrðu
víkingar þar díki;
átti sumt í sléttu
Súðvirki lið búðir.

Rétts, at in sétta sókn, þars Ôleifr sótti bryggjur Lundúna; snarr þengill bauð Englum {at Yggs}. Vǫlsk sverð bitu, en víkingar vǫrðu þar díki; sumt lið átti búðir í sléttu Súðvirki.

It is correct that the sixth battle [took place] where Óláfr attacked the wharves of London; the valiant prince offered the English {the strife of Yggr <= Óðinn>} [BATTLE]. Frankish swords bit, and vikings defended the ditch there; some of the troop had huts in level Southwark.

Mss: (226r-v) (Hkr); Holm2(7r), R686ˣ(12r), J2ˣ(122r), 325VI(6va), 73aˣ(20r), 78aˣ(19r), 68(6r), 61(80ra), 75c(3r), 325V(8va), 325VII(2r), Bb(126vb), Flat(80rb), Tóm(96v) (ÓH); FskBˣ(40r), FskAˣ(153) (Fsk); DG8(72v) (ÓHLeg)

Readings: [1] Rétts (‘Rett er’): ‘Let(t er)’(?) 325VI, rétt varð 75c, 325V, Flat, Tóm, er corrected from varð 325VII, ‘Rett ier’ Bb;    at: ‘[…]’ 325VI, om. 75c, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm;    in: inn 325VII, ina FskAˣ;    sétta: séttu FskAˣ    [2] þengill: þengil 68;    bauð: ‘(bauð)’(?) 325VI, vann DG8;    Englum: ‘(englom)’(?) 325VI    [3] at: ‘att’ R686ˣ, 325VI, 78aˣ, 61, átt 73aˣ;    sótti: sœtti DG8    [4] Yggs: uggs FskBˣ;    Lundúna: Lundúnar 61, 325V;    bryggjur: bryggju Bb, FskAˣ, bryggjum DG8    [5] Sverð bitu: ‘[…]’ 325VI;    vǫlsk: ‘vꜹls’ J2ˣ, ‘(vau)lsk’(?) 325VI, ‘vold’ 68, ‘uausk’ Tóm, ‘volks’ FskAˣ;    vǫrðu: varði 61    [6] víkingar: víkingr R686ˣ, víkinga 61;    þar: lið 61, þá FskBˣ, FskAˣ;    díki: ‘þiki’ R686ˣ    [7] átti: áttu 325VII;    sumt: ‘sunnz’ 68, 325VII, Flat, Tóm    [8] Súð‑: suðr Tóm, FskBˣ, FskAˣ;    lið: þar 325V

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 1. Víkingarvísur 6: AI, 224-5, BI, 214, Skald I, 112, NN §2469; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 19, IV, 109-10, ÍF 27, 17-18, Hkr 1991, I, 262 (ÓHHkr ch. 13); ÓH 1941, I, 45 (ch. 23), Flat 1860-8, II, 20; Fsk 1902-3, 141 (ch. 25), ÍF 29, 168 (ch. 27); ÓHLeg 1922, 10, ÓHLeg 1982, 46-7; Fell 1981b, 114-15, Jón Skaptason 1983, 58, 222-3.

Context: ÓH-Hkr and ÓHLeg have a long description of Óláfr’s battle in London before citing the stanza. According to ÓHLeg he was supporting Knútr inn ríki (Cnut the Great), while according to ÓH-Hkr it was Aðalráðr (the English King Æthelred). In Fsk, it is cited after a very brief introduction of Óláfr Haraldsson and an enumeration of his first five battles. He is then said to have gone west to England where he fought at Lundúnabryggjur (on which, see Note to l. 4, below) against Danes who were launching viking raids.

Notes: [All]: For the events of Víkv 6-8, see also Ótt Hfl 8-10 and Note to Hfl 8 [All]; the battle at Lundúnabryggjur is commemorated in Hfl 8. Although Óláfr appears to have fought for the English King Aðalráðr (Æthelred) after the death of Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ in 1014, Snorri’s claim that Óláfr’s earlier battles were fought in support of him (see Contexts to sts 6, 7) is probably erroneous: see Note to Ótt Hfl 13 [All]. His earlier English campaigns seem rather to have been fought alongside Þorkell inn hávi and the Danes (see Note to Ótt Hfl 8 [All]), and it appears that Óláfr ‘like his friend Þorkell, changed sides and became a supporter of Æthelred’ (A. Campbell 1971, 12). The skaldic stanzas do not in themselves clarify who Óláfr’s allies and opponents were, nor exactly where and when he fought; even when they are considered in conjunction with the English and Norse prose sources much remains uncertain (see A. Campbell 1971, 4, 8-12; Campbell 1998, 73-82). — [1] rétts, at in sétta sókn ‘it is correct that the sixth battle [took place]’: (a) The subject sókn ‘battle’ lacks a verb and a verb meaning ‘took place’ or ‘was’ appears to be implied; cf. Anon Ól 1/8 for a parallel. (b) Skj B supplies the verb vas ‘was’ by emendation. (c) Kock prefers the reading Rétt varð to the alternative of assuming an understood verb, and interprets rétt as p. p. of rétta ‘to stretch out, hand over, offer’, rather than an adj., hence ‘(battle) was offered’. However, this variant is found only in C-class mss of ÓH, added to which rétta in this meaning is not common in the skaldic corpus, and never occurs in collocation with a battle-word, despite the frequency with which skalds have need of an expression meaning ‘to give battle’. — [4] bryggjur Lundúna ‘the wharves of London’: Or possibly ‘bridge’. The prose of Hkr clearly understands Lundúna bryggjur to be a bridge, while ÓHLeg seems to imagine them as jetties. The only other skaldic instance of bryggja (also in the pl.) is Ótt Hfl 8/2, referring to the same event and probably derivative of Sigvatr. The reference is usually assumed to be to London Bridge (e.g. Townend 1998, 73), and portrayal of an attack on the bridge would seem likely – both strategic and memorable. However, this sense is only possible with semantic influence from the OE cognate brycg ‘bridge’, since ON bryggja normally means ‘quay, landing-stage, wharf’ (ONP). Only one bridge in London is known from the period, and archaeological research shows that it was built between 990 and 1020 AD (Watson et al. 2001, 57, 73). Fell (1981b) explains the pl. form as ‘used for the singular’, citing Hofmann’s suggestion (1955, 82) that the pl. form is used to distinguish the ‘bridge’ meaning from the normal meaning. However, this explanation of the pl. is not wholly satisfactory and the normal meaning of ON bryggja ‘quay, wharf, jetty’ would be compatible with the extensive development of the Thames foreshore known to have taken place in the late C10th and C11th (Milne 1992, 7, 24-6, 37, 42, 46; Milne 2003, 43-7, 57-62); the structures found at New Fresh Wharf (Steedman et al. 1992, 99-103, also cover illustration) could appropriately be described as bryggjur. — [5-8]: It is tentatively assumed here that Óláfr and Þorkell’s forces wield Frankish swords and have temporary huts in Southwark, while the English defend the ditch. However, the identifications are far from certain: see Notes to [All] and to ll. 6 and 7 below. — [5] vǫlsk ‘Frankish’: Also applied to swords in Arn Magndr 9/3II, Þham Magndr 4/4II. The exact geographical range of this adj. in skaldic poetry is not well defined; among the possibilities are ‘southern, foreign’ (Falk 1914b, 40) and ‘Norman’, applied to two earls in Gísl Magnkv 10/8II. Since Frankish swords were particularly prized in the Viking Age it is likely that that is what is meant here. — [6] víkingar ‘vikings’: See also st. 3/6 and Note, and st. 10/6. (a) Since the predicate of víkingar is vǫrðu þar díki ‘defended the ditch there’, the word appears to denote the inhabitants or defenders of London, the Englar ‘English’ of l. 2. This is consonant with the tendency in Víkv for the first helmingr to refer to Óláfr’s attack and the second to describe the defence (sts 2, 5, 7, 9, 10), and with the clear antithesis between sótti ‘attacked’ (l. 3) and vǫrðu ‘defended’ (l. 5). (b) On the other hand it is possible, with Hellberg (1980, 37), to understand víkingar to mean Scandinavians of some sort and to assume that the whole helmingr gives further information about Óláfr’s army, defending themselves in Southwark. For Scandinavian troops in London constructing earthworks in this era see Anon Liðs 7/4 and Note; cf. also Hkr (ÍF 27, 15). — [6] díki ‘the ditch’: There seems to have been a defensive ditch dated to the early C11th in Southwark, in which a few weapons of Scandinavian type have been found (Watson et al. 2001, 53-4). — [8] Súðvirki ‘Southwark’: The bridgehead on the south bank of the Thames. The form of the name is uncertain. A long vowel is indicated by the rhyme on búð-. ON suðr ‘south’ normally has a short vowel, while OE sūð, with the same meaning, had a long vowel. Townend proposes either that ‘Sigvatr is prepared to alter the expected form of a place-name for a purely metrical reason’ (1998, 74) or that ‘the English first element appears to have been reproduced rather than the Norse cognate substituted’ (1998, 97). As Townend notes, most of the mss also lack the expected -r, except for the Fsk group, which have reinterpreted the name correctly but at the expense of the rhyme. A further possibility is that Sigvatr may have misinterpreted the first element as equivalent to ON súð ‘planking’ and the p. n. therefore as meaning something like ‘wooden, planked fortification’ (Jesch 2001a, 73). Finally, it is possible that the rhyme is inexact in terms of vowel length, as, e.g., in Sigv Austv 18/6 jafnvíst : Lista, also involving a p. n. — [8] lið ‘the troop’: Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ÍF 27) takes this to be the defenders, the víkingar ‘vikings’ who vǫrðu þar díki ‘defended the ditch there’, while Fell (1981b) seems to suggest that they are the attackers. In favour of the latter is the fact that búðir ‘huts’ are temporary structures which could well have been occupied by transient warriors, i.e. Óláfr’s attacking troop.

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