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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

5. Vestrfararvísur (Vestv) - 8

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).

Vestrfararvísur (‘Verses on a Journey to the West’) — Sigv VestvI

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Vestrfararvísur’ 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. 615. <> (accessed 19 January 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 5. Vestrfararvísur, 1025-26 (AI, 241-3, BI, 226-8)

SkP info: I, 618

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Sigv Vestv 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Vestrfararvísur 2’ 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. 618.

Útan varðk, áðr Jóta
andspilli fekk’k stillis,
— melld sák hús fyr hauldi —
húsdyrr fyrir spyrjask.
En eyrendi óru
ôttungr í sal knátti
Gorms — berk opt á armi
járnstúkur — vel lúka.

Varðk spyrjask fyrir útan húsdyrr, áðr fekk’k andspilli {stillis Jóta}; sák melld hús fyr hauldi. En {ôttungr Gorms} knátti lúka eyrendi óru vel í sal; opt berk járnstúkur á armi.

I had to make enquiries from outside the main door before I got an audience with {the ruler of the Jótar} [DANISH KING = Knútr]; I saw a locked building in front of the man [me]. But {the descendant of Gormr} [DANISH KING = Knútr] was able to conclude our [my] errand well in the hall; I often wear iron sleeves on my arm.

Mss: (406r) (Hkr); Holm2(51r), 972ˣ(368va), 321ˣ(181), 73aˣ(158r), 68(49r), Holm4(45rb), 61(111rb), 325V(57rb), Bb(180va), Flat(114vb), Tóm(137v) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Útan: nátt 325V;    varðk: verð 321ˣ, varð 325V;    áðr: so 73aˣ, 61, 325V, áðr enn Kˣ, Holm2, 972ˣ, 321ˣ, 68, Holm4, þá er Bb, Flat, áðr at Tóm;    Jóta: ‘iata’ 73aˣ, Tóm    [2] ‑spilli: ‘‑spillín’ Tóm;    fekk’k (‘fecc ec’): fekk 61, 325V, Bb, Flat;    stillis: stillir 325V, Flat    [3] melld: so Holm2, 972ˣ, 61, 325V, mæld Kˣ, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, Holm4, Bb, Flat, ‘millz’ Tóm;    sák (‘sa ec’): sá Holm4, 61, 325V, Bb, Flat, fekk Tóm;    hús: her Kˣ, Holm2, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, herr Holm4, 61, 325V, Bb, Flat, Tóm;    fyr: ‑fǫr 68, um Tóm;    hauldi: haulda 972ˣ, hauldum 73aˣ, haldi 61, 325V, Bb, Flat, haldit Tóm    [4] hús‑: her‑ 61, Tóm;    fyrir spyrjask: spǫkum hlýra 61    [5] En eyrendi óru: om. Holm2;    En: áðr 321ˣ, 73aˣ;    eyrendi: ættgǫfugs 321ˣ, ‘eyrindr’ 61;    óru: átta 321ˣ, om. Tóm    [6] ôttungr: ôttugr 325V;    knátti: knátta 321ˣ, knáttu Bb, knúti Flat    [7] Gorms: grams 61, 325V;    opt: orms 68;    á: frá Tóm;    armi: járni Bb    [8] járn‑: ‘ꜹr’ 61;    ‑stúkur: ‑stúka 61, ‑stokkr Tóm;    lúka: leika 68, om. Tóm

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 5. Vestrfararvísur 2: AI, 241, BI, 226, Skald I, 117, NN §2472Hkr 1893-1901, II, 351, IV, 142-3, ÍF 27, 271-2, Hkr 1991, II, 450 (ÓHHkr ch. 146); ÓH 1941, I, 426 (ch. 136), Flat 1860-8, II, 277Jón Skaptason 1983, 105, 248.

Context: In England, Sigvatr goes to King Knútr, who is preparing military action against King Óláfr, to ask him for permission to sail to Norway. The king’s quarters are locked and he has to wait a long time, but eventually gets permission.

Notes: [3] melld ‘locked’: This was first explained in LP (1860): mæld as the p. p. of a verb mella deriving from a noun mella or malla meaning ‘lock, bolt’ (cf. also AEW: mella), and this explanation has been adopted by all eds since, though close parallels are lacking. — [3] hús ‘building’: While some mss spell out her or herr, the main ms. abbreviates the word. Skj A transcribes this as ‘hus’, which is clearly the word needed here, but the abbreviation mark is the scribe’s usual one for -er (as in l. 7 ber) rather than for -us (as in l. 4 hus), and therefore emendation is required. Some of the other mss abbreviate this word, too, and it is likely that an ambiguous abbreviation at an early stage of transmission introduced the confusion. — [4] spyrjask fyrir ‘make enquiries’: While the prose word order might suggest that fyrir should be construed with útan ‘from outside’ it is, as Kock (NN §2472) notes, part of the prepositional verb spyrjask fyrir ‘to make enquiries’. Sigvatr uses the same construction in Austv 4/2, 4, in a context which, in a more comic vein, also pictures an approach to a building. — [8] járnstúkur ‘iron sleeves’: These could be either chain-mail or protective metal plates such as those found at Birka (Graham-Campbell 1980, 68, 75, 252; Stierna 2001, 40-3). The import of this statement is not clear. In ÍF 27 it is taken to indicate Sigvatr’s readiness to fight against Knútr, but it may rather mean that Sigvatr received armour as a gift from Knútr (cf. st. 5).

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