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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, 626

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

8 — Sigv Vestv 8I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Vestrfararvísur 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. 626.

Eið láta þú, ýtir,
einn þótt værak seinni,
jarðar, allan verðask,
auðar mildr, an vildak.
Esa fyr mál, þats mála
mann þú lætr hér vanðan;
lǫng þǫrf mun gram gengis
— gestr Knúts vas ek — flestum.


{Impeller of land}, [RULER] generous with wealth, do not let the whole oath be forgotten, though I alone was later than I wished. It is not because of an agreement that you allow a hired soldier to become accustomed here; most kings will have a long-lasting need for a following; I was Knútr’s hired man.

context: The stanza follows from st. 7, with only a brief introductory phrase.

notes: [1-4]: To make sense of this helmingr, Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) proposed emending verðask ‘be forgotten’ to verða ‘become, apply to’ and auðar ‘of the treasure’ (somewhat improbably) to ófnis ‘of the snake’ (in the gold-kenning jarðar ófnis ‘of the ground of the snake’), giving a reading ‘Do not allow, generous prince, one oath to apply to all, even though I came later than I wished’. Kock (NN §636, followed by Jón Skaptason 1983, 111 and this edn) proposed a reading with only one emendation, of f. acc. sg. alla ‘all’ to m. acc. sg. allan. — [5-8]: Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) only managed to make partial sense of this helmingr, while Kock (NN §637) made some sort of sense of it only by ‘a considerable stretching of the language’ (Jón Skaptason 1983, 253, who nevertheless follows Kock ‘for lack of a better alternative’). All three eds assume that ms. ‘man’ in l. 6 stands for mann ‘man’ and Kock silently emends gengit (p. p. of ganga ‘go’) in l. 7 to gengis (gen. sg. of gengi ‘follower, following’), adopted by Jón Skaptason without comment. These are accepted in the current interpretation. Kock’s ‘stretching of the language’ assumes further that mála ‘paint’ (cf. Fritzner: mála), not otherwise attested in this period, is here used in the meaning ‘depict, expound’ (referring to the poet’s account of things) and that venja means ‘attract’, based on an OE parallel, since ON ones are lacking. At the same time, he takes fyr mál to mean ‘against (our) agreement’, giving overall: ej mot avtal är min skildring: | mannen drager här du til dig; |  varje kung — Knuts jäst jag varit — |  har av följe långt behov ‘my account is not against our agreement: you attract the man here to you; every king — I have been Knut’s guest — has a long need of followers’. It is instead proposed in this edn that mál and mála are both best interpreted as words from a semantic field appropriate to a king’s court, in which the word gestr (l. 8) is also significant. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B; LP: 2. máli) interprets mála as a form of máli m. ‘agreed wage’ although it can be difficult to separate this from forms of mál ‘agreement’ (cf. Sigv Lv 6/4, translated as ‘agreement’ in this edn). It is tentatively proposed here that mála be construed with mann, giving a phrase equivalent to the cpd málamann (acc. sg.) ‘waged man, man in the paid service of another, especially a prince or chieftain’ (Fritzner: málamaðr). This would fit well with gestr ‘hired man’ in l. 8, which in later texts also refers to a particular class of waged men at the Norwegian court (Fritzner: gestr 3). Sigvatr was surely more than just a ‘guest’ or visitor at Knútr’s court; his composition of Knútdr suggests he was a paid court poet, and payments are also referred to in Vestv (st. 5). Hence in ll. 5-6 Sigvatr could be contrasting his previous state as a (relatively lowly) hired man with Knútr with the welcome he expects or has received from Óláfr. So, it is not because of a mere mál ‘wage agreement’ that Óláfr allows the former málamaðr ‘hired man’ of Knútr to become accustomed to his court, but rather because of the oath he has sworn him (cf. Note to ll. 1, 3 above). The proposed solution, while still uncertain, is put forward as a small advance on previous ones, fits well with st. 7/1-4, at least as interpreted above, and has the additional merit of relatively straightforward syntax.

texts: ÓH 112 (108b)

editions: Skj Sigvatr Þórðarson: 5. Vestrfararvísur 8 (AI, 243; BI, 228); Skald I, 118, NN §§636, 637, 1934, 3403ÓH 1941, I, 455 n. (ch. 152); Jón Skaptason 1983, 111, 253-4.


AM 75 c fol (75c) 35r, 8 - 35r, 11 (ÓH)  transcr.  image  
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