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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 8 December 2021)

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, 545

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

8 — Sigv Víkv 8I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 8’ 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. 545.

Veitk, at víga mœtir
Vinðum háttr inn átta
— styrkr gekk vǫrðr at virki
verðungar — styr gerði.
Sinn môttut bœ banna
borg Kantara — sorgar
mart fekksk prúðum Pǫrtum —
portgreifar Ôleifi.

Veitk, at {mœtir víga}, háttr Vinðum, gerði inn átta styr; {styrkr vǫrðr verðungar} gekk at virki. Portgreifar môttut banna Ôleifi bœ sinn, Kantaraborg; mart sorgar fekksk prúðum Pǫrtum.

I know that {the meeter of battles} [WARRIOR], dangerous to Wends, held the eighth battle; {the strong guardian of the troop} [RULER] advanced against the fortification. The townreeves were not able to ban Óláfr from their city, Canterbury; much sorrow was caused for the proud Partar.

Mss: (227r) (Hkr); Holm2(7r), R686ˣ(12v), J2ˣ(122v-123r), 325VI(6va), 73aˣ(20v), 78aˣ(20r), 68(6r), 61(80ra), 75c(3r), 325V(8vb), 325VII(2r), Bb(127ra), Flat(80rb-va), Tóm(96v) (ÓH); FskBˣ(40v), FskAˣ(154) (Fsk, ll. 1-4); DG8(73v) (ÓHLeg, ll. 1-4)

Readings: [1] mœtir: hneitir 325VI, 78aˣ, meitir 325V    [2] Vinðum: vǫndum 325VI, 73aˣ, vǫndu 78aˣ, virðum 61;    háttr: hátt 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 325V, FskBˣ, FskAˣ, DG8, hættr 61, Bb, hóttr 325VII;    inn: enn Holm2, 68, en R686ˣ, 325VI, 75c, Bb, it 61, DG8, ek FskBˣ    [3] styrkr: ‘strycr’ Holm2;    gekk: fekk J2ˣ, helt FskBˣ, FskAˣ, DG8;    virki: verki J2ˣ, Tóm    [4] styr: frið 75c;    gerði: gjǫrðu Tóm    [5] môttut: môttuð Holm2, R686ˣ, J2ˣ, 78aˣ, 75c, 325VII, máttit 68, máttu Bb, Tóm    [6] Kantara‑: ‘kantra’ R686ˣ, ‘kantera’ 325VII, Flat;    sorgar: sorgir R686ˣ, Bb    [7] fekksk: so Holm2, R686ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 68, 61, 325V, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, fekk Kˣ, 75c, Bb, DG8    [8] port‑: ‘por‑’ J2ˣ, 68, ‘fort’ 325V;    ‑greifar: ‘‑greifir’ R686ˣ

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 1. Víkingarvísur 8: AI, 225, BI, 214-15, Skald I, 112, NN §613; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 21, IV, 111, ÍF 27, 20-21, Hkr 1991, I, 263-4 (ÓHHkr ch. 15); ÓH 1941, I, 47 (ch. 24), Flat 1860-8, II, 20; Fsk 1902-3, 142 (ch. 25), ÍF 29, 169 (ch. 27); ÓHLeg 1922, 13, ÓHLeg 1982, 54-5; Fell 1981b, 116-17, Jón Skaptason 1983, 60, 223-4.


In ÓH-Hkr, Óláfr leads an army in a battle at Canterbury which culminates in their sacking of the town. The stanza is cited after Ótt Hfl 10. Fsk and ÓHLeg note that Óláfr’s eighth battle at Canterbury was once more against Danes, together with Wends; Fsk adds that they were Danakonungs menn ‘the men of the king of the Danes’.

Notes: [All]: For the battle at Canterbury, see also Ótt Hfl 10. — [1-4]: ÓHLeg does not name Sigvatr, but attributes the lines merely to skalldet ‘the poet’. — [2] háttr Vinðum ‘dangerous to Wends’: It is not known why Óláfr is described thus, as there is otherwise no mention of Wends in connection with his youthful battles, though his namesake Óláfr Tryggvason is said to have attacked the Wends (e.g. Hfr Óldr 1). Háttr is established as the form of the adj. by the rhyme on átt-. This is the only known occurrence (LP: háttr), but it is clearly related to the nouns háski and hætta, both ‘danger’, and is equivalent to the adj. hættr ‘dangerous’ as in ÞjóðA Sex 2/7II hættr Serkjum ‘dangerous to Serkir (Saracens)’ or Hfr Óldr 2/1, 2 hættr fjǫrvi Gota ‘dangerous to the life of the Gotar’. — [6] Kantaraborg ‘Canterbury’: See Note to Ótt Hfl 10/4. — [7] fekksk ‘was caused’: This reading is found in several ÓH mss across all three classes. The alternative fekk would give mart fekk sorgar prúðum Pǫrtum, either ‘he provided much sorrow to the proud Partar’ or ‘much caused sorrow to the proud Partar’. — [7] prúðum ‘proud’: Another early loan-word, possibly borrowed from OE rather than directly from OFr. (AEW: prúðr); Sigvatr uses it again in Austv 12/2. — [7] Pǫrtum ‘Partar’: Who or (less likely) what is intended by this term, which also occurs in ESk Run 9/3II, is unknown; thorough studies by Poole (1980) and Townend (1998, 62-5) have not resolved the question. — [8] portgreifar ‘the town reeves’: In this context, it is clear that this word must have been a borrowing from the frequently-attested OE port-gerēfa ‘town reeve’ (a form of local official). It is however difficult to derive ON greifi directly from OE, and MLG is the most likely alternative (Hofmann 1955, 82; AEW: greifi). This example suggests that the simplex was already known, and that it influenced the form in which the OE cpd was borrowed. Sigvatr also uses it later, though with a Norwegian referent, in Berv 14/8II; see Note.

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