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Runic Dictionary

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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, ‘(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.

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, 621

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

4 — Sigv Vestv 4I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Vestrfararvísur 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. 621.

Átti jarl at sætta
allframr búendr gamla
ok, þeirs optast tóku,
Ôleif, at því máli.
Þeir hafa fyrr af fári
— framts Eireks kyn — meira
hǫfðum keypt an heiptir
kun saman mundi.


The most excellent jarl was to reconcile the old farmers, who most often brought up that matter, and Óláfr. They have previously dealt in heads out of rage, to a greater degree than kon was able to cancel out the animosities; {Eiríkr’s kin} [= Hákon] is outstanding.

context: The stanza is cited shortly after st. 3, but seemingly not as evidence for the same military expedition; see Introduction to this poem.

notes: The stanza eludes definite interpretation, but is assumed here to refer to animosities between Óláfr and the farmers, which Hákon jarl (in the first helmingr) intended to, or was expected to, resolve, but which (in the second helmingr) have gone too far to be resolved. Thus Sigvatr may be making excuses for his friend Hákon (see Introduction). This appears to be the implication of the stanza, although there is no evidence of such an attempt at reconciliation (as noted in ÍF 27 and Jón Skaptason 1983, 250) or of good relations between Hákon and Óláfr. Nor is it clear what the matter (því máli, l. 4) brought up by the old farmers was, and the second helmingr, which might explain it, is particularly difficult to construe (see Note to ll. 5-8). — [5-8]: On the overall interpretation of this helmingr, see Note to [All] above. Finnur Jónsson (Hkr 1893-1901, IV, 144; LP: kaupa) failed to make full sense of it, and the interpretation presented here develops that of Kock in NN §633 (as do ÍF 27 and Jón Skaptason 1983). The key points in Kock’s interpretation are the following. En(n) in l. 7 is taken as normalised an, hence meira an, lit. ‘more than, to a greater degree than’. Keypt (l. 7), lit. ‘bought, traded, bargained’ (inf. kaupa), belongs with hǫfðum ‘heads’, meaning that the sides indulged in reciprocal killings, and supplies the understood inf. kaupa to complete the auxiliary verb mundi ‘was able’ (l. 8). It is assumed here that þeir ‘they’ refers back to the farmers and Óláfr, and that meira modifies keypt hǫfðum ‘deal in heads’, contrasted with kaupa saman heiptir which means something like ‘cancel out animosities’, based on the idea of ‘exchange’ that is implicit in the verb. Kaupa saman ‘to have dealings, exchange’ is attested in HHj 3/7 (NK 141). Although there are no parallels for it taking an object (here heiptir ‘animosities’) there is a certain similarity with the expression rœkja heiptir manna ‘carry out the animosities of men’ (Þorm Þorgdr 7/3-4V (Fbr 10)). Unlike Kock, both ÍF 27 and Jón Skaptason (1983) take meira with af fári ‘out of rage’ and Jón adds the suggestion that þeir refers back to Hákon and Óláfr, who are both mentioned in the previous helmingr, resulting in his translation ‘They [Hákon and Óláfr] have traded heads [killed each other’s men] with too much violence for Hákon now to bring about reconciliation’.

texts: Flat 539, ÓH 101 (98), ÓHHkr 95 (II 95), Hkr 296 (II 95)

editions: Skj Sigvatr Þórðarson: 5. Vestrfararvísur 4 (AI, 242; BI, 227); Skald I, 118, NN §633Hkr 1893-1901, II, 352, IV, 144, ÍF 27, 273, Hkr 1991, II, 451 (ÓHHkr ch. 146); ÓH 1941, I, 427 (ch. 136), Flat 1860-8, II, 277; Jón Skaptason 1983, 107, 250-1.


AM 36 folx (Kx) 406v, 10 - 406v, 17 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 51r, 22 - 51r, 25 (ÓH)  image  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 369va, 8 - 369va, 15 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 321 4°x (321x) 181, 20 - 181, 22 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 49r, 11 - 49r, 12 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 4 4° (Holm4) 45rb, 22 - 45rb, 26 (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 111rb, 34 - 111rb, 37 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 57rb, 24 - 57rb, 29 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 180vb, 5 - 180vb, 9 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 114vb, 41 - 114vb, 44 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 137v, 20 - 137v, 22 (ÓH)  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 319v, 4 - 319v, 11  image  
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