Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

12. Lausavísur (Lv) - 30

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).

Lausavísur — Sigv LvI

R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Sigvatr Þórðarson, Lausavísur’ 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. 698.

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Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 13. Lausavísur (AI, 265-75, BI, 246-54); stanzas (if different): 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32

SkP info: I, 699

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Sigv Lv 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Lausavísur 1’ 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. 699.

Fiskr gengr oss at óskum,
eitrs sem vér hǫfum leitat
lýsu vangs ór lyngvi
leygjar orm at teygja.
Atrennir lét (annars)
ǫngulgripinn hanga
(vel hefr aurriða at egna)
agngalga (mér hagnat).

Fiskr gengr oss at óskum, sem vér hǫfum leitat at teygja {orm eitrs leygjar} ór {lyngvi {vangs lýsu}}. {Atrennir {agngalga}} lét ǫngulgripinn hanga; annars hefr hagnat mér vel at egna aurriða.

The fishing goes according to our [my] wishes, in that we have tried to lure {the poison-serpent of the sea} [FISH] out of {the heather {of the field of the cod}} [SEA > SEAWEED]. The caster {of the bait-gallows}} [FISHING LINE > FISHERMAN] let the one grasped by the hook hang; at all events, things have turned out well for me in catching the trout.

Mss: Flat(187rb), 73aˣ(38v), 71ˣ(28r), 76aˣ(38v), 78aˣ(36r), 61(83vb) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Fiskr: fisk 78aˣ;    gengr: so 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, 61, gekk Flat, yggr 78aˣ;    oss: ‘oz’ 76aˣ    [2] eitrs: eitr 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, 61, ‘ettr’ 78aˣ;    vér: við 78aˣ    [3] vangs: ‘vangs’ or ‘vanger’ 61;    ór: á 76aˣ;    lyngvi: so 78aˣ, 61, lyngi Flat, 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ    [5] Atrennir: atrennis 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, ‘surennis’ 78aˣ, ‘at renis’ 61;    lét: má 61;    annars: so all others, annan Flat    [6] ǫngul‑: anga 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, 78aˣ;    hanga: fanga 61    [7] egna: erja 61    [8] ‑galga: ‘galiga’ 76aˣ, gagli 61;    hagnat: fagnat 78aˣ, 61

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 13. Lausavísur 1: AI, 265, BI, 246, Skald I, 127, NN §§669, 670; Fms 4, 89, Fms 12, 77, Flat 1860-8, III, 243, ÓH 1941, II, 690, 707; Jón Skaptason 1983, 183, 312-3.

Context: As a boy, Sigvatr catches a large and beautiful fish in Apavatn in Iceland. A Norwegian who cooks the fish for him tells him to eat the head first, since that is where the intelligence of every living creature is hidden. Sigvatr does so and then delivers this stanza. Ever afterwards he is a clever person and a good poet.  

Notes: [All]: The stanza itself does not overtly commemorate anything other than a successful fishing trip, but the tale that supplies its context is of great interest. For conflicting views on its Irish or Norse derivation, see Bugge (1897a) and Lie (1946a), and on the tradition, in Old Icelandic literature, of miraculous origins for a poet’s craft, see Turville-Petre (1972b, 42-3) and ÍF 9, c-ci. See also Clunies Ross (1999a), who emphasises the wonder-tale elements of an initiatory rite of passage and the acquisition of special powers by ingestion of a marvellous substance. For another skaldic stanza attached to an anecdote accounting for a gift of poetry, see Hhal Lv and Introduction to that. — [2] eitrs ‘poison-’: Lit. ‘of poison’. This is equivalent to ‘poisonous’, and it should be understood that it is the serpent to which the fish is analogized that is poisonous, not the fish itself. Kock (NN §669) points out that the kenning can also refer to a warship, though he does not attribute that meaning to it here. — [3] lyngvi vangs lýsu ‘the heather of the field of the cod [SEA > SEAWEED]’: The base-word lyng ‘heather’ suggests some kind of vegetation as the referent, and Meissner 99 suggests seaweed (Tang). Strictly, ‘water-weed’ might be more appropriate since the scene is the inland lake Apavatn, south-west Iceland, judging from the prose context. An alternative is ‘ice’, since ice covers the water as heather does the moor, and Snorri’s prose indicates that Sigvatr was ice fishing, so very possibly he understood the kenning this way. However, other ice-kennings have a term denoting some kind of roof or covering as their base-word (see Meissner 100).  — [5-8]: The lines clearly express satisfaction with the catch, but more than one construal is possible. (a) The interpretation adopted here assumes that ǫngulgripinn (l. 6) is a p. p., lit. ‘hook-grasped’, used as a substantive, ‘the one grasped by the hook’, and is the object of lét hanga ‘let hang’ (ll. 5, 6), while aurriða ‘trout’ is the object of egna ‘catch’ (l. 7). (b) The main alternative is to take ǫngulgripinn aurriða together, leaving the normally transitive egna without an explicit object (so Skj B), but this produces an awkward word order and a tripartite l. 7. (c) Jón Skaptason (1983) takes -gripinn to be acc. sg. of gripr ‘costly thing’ plus def. art., and he renders the cpd ‘the hook-trophy’; but use of the def. art. as a suffix would be most unusual if the stanza is to be dated to Sigvatr’s day. — [7] aurriða ‘the trout’: The species is given as salmo trutta ‘salmon trout’, i.e. brown trout, in CVC: aurriði. — [7] egna ‘catching’: Consonant rhyme (skothending) fails in an odd line here, as in another four instances in Sigvatr’s oeuvre: see Höskuldur Þráinsson (1970, 27); Gade (1995a, 31-3). In order to provide proper skothending, Kock (NN §670) would adopt the reading erja ‘to plough’. However, his assumption of the sense ‘to cut’ is not convincing, and the fact that this reading is unique to ms. 61 suggests a scribal attempt to correct the hending (so Gering 1912, 134 n. 2, who ascribes the verse to a different, inferior poet; so also Bugge 1897a, 211). Jón Skaptason (1983, 183) adopts erja and renders it ‘baiting’, for no very clear reason.

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