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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;

5. Vestrfararvísur (Vestv) - 8

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).

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

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘(Introduction to) 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.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 

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

SkP info: I, 619

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

3 — Sigv Vestv 3I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Vestrfararvísur 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. 619.

Ǫrr tegask Ôleif gerva
(allt hefr sá*) fjǫrvaltan
— konungs dauða munk kvíða —
Knútr ok Hôkun (úti).
Haldisk vǫrðr, þótt vildit
varla Knútr ok jarlar,
(dælla es) fyrst á fjalli
(fundr, ef sjalfr kømsk undan).

Ǫrr Knútr ok Hôkun tegask gerva Ôleif fjǫrvaltan; sá* hefr allt úti; munk kvíða dauða konungs. Vǫrðr haldisk fyrst á fjalli, þótt Knútr ok jarlar vildit varla; dælla es, fundr, ef sjalfr kømsk undan.

Bold Knútr and Hákon prove themselves ready to put Óláfr in danger of his life; he [Knútr] has all [his forces] out; I will dread the death of the king. The guardian [Óláfr] should in the first instance keep himself in the mountains, even though Knútr and the jarls hardly wanted [that]; it is easier, a meeting, if he himself gets away.

Mss: (406r-v) (Hkr); Holm2(51r), 972ˣ(368va-369va), J2ˣ(195r-v), 321ˣ(181), 68(49r), Holm4(45rb), 61(111rb), 325V(57rb), Bb(180va-b), Flat(114vb), Tóm(137v) (ÓH); FskBˣ(48r), FskAˣ(178) (Fsk)

Readings: [1] Ǫrr: ‘Ort’ Flat;    Ôleif: ‘ol̄’ Holm2, Holm4, 325V, Óláfr 972ˣ, 321ˣ, ‘Ol̄’ Bb, Flat, ‘Ola’ FskAˣ    [2] sá*: sá er all;    fjǫr‑: fór 325V;    ‑valtan: ‘valtad’ 972ˣ, ‘‑valltar’ 321ˣ, valdi FskAˣ    [3] konungs: konung J2ˣ;    munk (‘mun ec’): má FskBˣ, megum FskAˣ    [5] Haldisk: haldit Bb, haldi Flat, Haralds Tóm, hallisk FskBˣ;    vǫrðr: landvǫrðr Flat;    þótt (‘þo at’): sem FskBˣ, FskAˣ;    vildit: vildi 972ˣ, Tóm, virðit J2ˣ, valdit 61, 325V, Bb, Flat, vildu FskBˣ, FskAˣ    [6] Knútr: Knúts 61, 325V;    jarlar: jarli 61, 325V, Bb, jarla Flat    [7] á: at á Holm2, at 972ˣ, 321ˣ, af 68, Tóm;    fjalli: falli 972ˣ, 321ˣ    [8] fundr: fund 325V;    ef: er FskAˣ;    sjalfr: sjalf 321ˣ, om. Bb;    kømsk: ‘coms’ FskAˣ

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 5. Vestrfararvísur 3: AI, 241-2, BI, 226, Skald I, 117-18, NN §§631, 632, 2257, 3223Hkr 1893-1901, II, 352, IV, 143-4, ÍF 27, 272-3, Hkr 1991, II, 450-1 (ÓHHkr ch. 146); ÓH 1941, I, 427 (ch. 136), Flat 1860-8, II, 277; Fsk 1902-3, 170 (ch. 28), ÍF 29, 190-1 (ch. 33); Jón Skaptason 1983, 106, 248-50.

Context: In ÓH-Hkr, Sigvatr speaks this stanza when he becomes aware of Knútr’s plans to attack Óláfr and of the strength of his support. In Fsk, Sigvatr is in England, on his way to Rome, and speaks this stanza when he hears of Knútr’s and Hákon’s intentions to sail from England to Norway in a bid for power there.

Notes: [1] ǫrr ‘bold’: This adj. can mean either ‘bold’, appropriate to this context of Knútr preparing to attack Óláfr, or ‘generous’, which would tally with references to Knútr’s generosity in sts 5 and 7. — [1, 2] gerva Ôleif fjǫrvaltan ‘to put Óláfr in danger of his life’: Literally, ‘to make Óláfr life-unsteady’, cf. Sigvatr’s use of the adj. valtr of his rickety boat in Austv 2/3. — [2, 4] sá* hefr allt úti ‘he [Knútr] has all [his forces] out’: The word order is highly problematic if ms. ‘sa er’ (normalised sás), rel. pron. ‘who’, is retained in l. 2, since it is preceded not only by the object of the clause, allt ‘everything’, here ‘all [his forces]’, but also by the finite verb hefr ‘has’. Kock proposed two solutions: the present one in NN §631 (except that he takes úti with the main clause), and another in NN §§2257, 3223 and Skald, in which sás ‘who’ is followed by the verb fór ‘went’, but this is the reading of a single ms. and fjǫr-, in the cpd fjǫrvaltan ‘in danger of his life’, is likely to be the original reading. The clause could mean literally that Knútr has the whole of his fleet at sea, ready for the attack, or more metaphorically that he has used all available means to make the attack happen, cf., perhaps, the ModIcel. expression hafa allar klær úti ‘have all one’s claws out’ cited in Hkr 1893-1901, IV and ÍF 27. — [4] Hôkun ‘Hákon’: Hákon jarl Eiríksson; see Introduction, and see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. — [5-8]: The analysis here largely follows ÍF 27, but the relationship between the clauses is uncertain and, as Finnur Jónsson (Hkr 1893-1901, IV) noted, á fjalli ‘in the mountains’ could be construed with haldisk ‘should keep himself’ (as here), or fundr ‘meeting’, or the clause introduced by ef ‘if’. Kock (NN §632) chooses fundr but like Finnur is uncertain about the overall meaning. — [5] vǫrðr ‘the guardian [Óláfr]’: This is common as a base-word in kennings for ‘king’, as when Sigvatr calls Óláfr vǫrðr Nóregs ‘guardian of Norway’ in Austv 13/7-8 (and see LP: vǫrðr 1), but in the absence of a gen. phrase to act as determinant, it appears that vǫrðr is, uniquely, used here as a half-kennning. — [5-6] vildit varla ‘hardly wanted [that]’: The enclitic -t and varla lit. ‘hardly’ (or by litotes, ‘at all’) produce a double negative; cf., e.g., Gizsv Lv 1/1. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ÍF 27) suggests that vildi ‘wanted’ would be more correct. Jón Skaptason (1983, 249-50) takes varla ‘hardly’ as a form of varliga ‘cautiously’ and construes it with haldisk vǫrðr á fjalli, giving ‘let the king keep cautiously to the mountains’, but this is not justified. — [6] jarlar ‘the jarls’: No other jarl is mentioned in this context, so despite the pl., this must refer to Hákon Eiríksson, cf. the expression kyn Eireks ‘Eiríkr’s kin’ referring to Hákon in st. 4/6, and Note to st. 6/4, 6.  — [7, 8] dælla es, fundr ‘it is easier, a meeting’: LP: dæll notes the expression dælla es ‘it is easier, better’, and ÍF 27, ÍF 29 suggest the sense líklegra er, vera má ‘it is more likely, it can be’. As dælla is the n. nom. sg. form of the comp. adj., it cannot directly qualify the m. noun fundr, but rather qualifies the unexpressed subject of es, ‘it’ in the English translation (cf. also Sigv Lv 15/7). For a similar, though not identical, quasi-adverbial usage of dælla, see Fritzner: dælla adv. What sort of a meeting is meant by fundr, and between whom, is not clear, and deliberate ambiguity cannot be ruled out. Bjarni Einarsson in ÍF 29 thinks it refers to the impending battle, though why this should be more likely if the king gets away is not clear. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson in ÍF 27 suggests it is between the poet and the king, which at least fits with the more personal tone of l. 3. — [7] fyrst ‘in the first instance’: For the meaning ‘in the first instance, in the immediate future’, see Fritzner: fyrst 2.  — [7] á fjalli ‘in the mountains’: Kock (NN §632) suggests this is an expression for ‘Norway’, but it may just be intended to suggest an inaccessible, and therefore safe, place.

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