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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Matthew Townend;

3. Lausavísur (Lv) - 3

The Icelandic poet Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’ (Ótt) was remembered in the twelfth century (ESk Geisl 12) as one of the hǫfuðskǫld ‘chief skalds’ of the late Viking Age. His nickname would seem to locate him within the tradition of poets being ‘dark’ in either appearance or temperament (see Clunies Ross 1978b; Finlay 2000). According to Styrmir Kárason (ÓH 1941, II, 688), the poet Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) was a mikill vinr ‘great friend’ of Óttarr, and indeed Óttarr’s Hǫfuðlausn (Ótt Hfl) is greatly indebted to Sigvatr’s Víkingarvísur (Sigv Víkv, see Introduction to Hfl). Snorri Sturluson (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203) further describes Óttarr as Sigvatr’s maternal nephew, and if this is correct he would have been the grandson of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’ (see Biography of Sigvatr Þórðarson). Óttarr features in the various sagas of Óláfr Haraldsson, but the only major anecdote about him is the story surrounding his Hfl (see Introduction).

Skáldatal, in one or both of its recensions (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 253, 258, 260, 261, 267, 269), lists Óttarr as having composed for six patrons: the Danes Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson and his son Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great); Óláfr sœnski ‘the Swede’ Eiríksson and his son Ǫnundr Óláfsson; and the Norwegian King Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr), and the Norwegian magnate Dala-Guðbrandr (‘Guðbrandr of the Dales’, on whom, see ÍF 27, 183-90; ÓH 1941, I, 271-82). For Sveinn and Dala-Guðbrandr, Óttarr is the only poet listed in Skáldatal. Panegyric poetry by Óttarr is certainly extant for three of these patrons: Óláfsdrápa (ÓldrIII) for Óláfr Eiríksson (preserved only in SnE and therefore edited in SkP III), Hfl for Óláfr Haraldsson, and Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) and Lv 2 for Knútr. It has, moreover, been suggested that one stanza in Knútdr may have been misplaced from an earlier poem for Sveinn (see Note to st. 9 [All]). No poetry survives for Ǫnundr or Dala-Guðbrandr. From all the evidence, it is likely that Óttarr visited, and composed, for, his patrons in this order: Sveinn until his death in 1014; Óláfr Eiríksson until his death c. 1021 (though ÓHLeg 1982, 130-1, has Óttarr, a young man fresh from Iceland, approaching him as his first patron), then his son Ǫnundr; Óláfr Haraldsson in the early 1020s, and Dala-Guðbrandr in the same period; Knútr by c. 1027 for an unknown period (Knútr died in 1035). For previous discussions of Óttarr’s career, see SnE 1848-87, III, 326-33, LH I, 574-7 and Poole (1993b).

Lausavísur — Ótt LvI

Matthew Townend and R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘ Óttarr svarti, 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. 783. <> (accessed 26 January 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3 

Skj: Óttarr svarti: Lausavísur (AI, 299, B)

SkP info: I, 788

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

3 — Ótt Lv 3I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Lausavísur 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. 788.

Ótt Lv 3 is preserved in ÓHLeg (DG8, used as main ms. here), where it is attributed to Óttarr, and in the excerpts (articuli) from Styrmir Kárason’s Lífssaga of S. Óláfr appended to ÓH (Flat, with parallel texts in Tóm, 73aˣ, 71ˣ and 76aˣ, the last three representing a lost part of Bæb, Bæjarbók á Rauðasandi), where it is attributed to Sigvatr Þórðarson and follows his Lv 19. The stanza is somewhat likelier to be the work of Óttarr than of Sigvatr: ÓHLeg is older than Styrmir’s work, and in it the stanza is found in a rambling chapter with poetry by various skalds, where it follows Ólhelg Lv 3. Styrmir might have altered the ascription in order to lend more narrative unity to his saga, while there is no obvious reason why the author of ÓHLeg would have altered it. Similarities in the preceding prose show that the different ascriptions in ÓHLeg and ÓH are not just oral variants.

Heðan sék reyk, þanns rjúka
rǫnn of fiskimǫnnum
— stór eru skalds of skærur
skellibrǫgð — ór helli.
Nú frýrat mér nýrar
nenningar dag þenna;
hlíti ek fyr hvítan
hornstraums dǫgurð Naumu.

Heðan ór helli sék reyk, þanns rǫnn rjúka of fiskimǫnnum; stór eru skellibrǫgð skalds of skærur. Nú frýrat mér nýrar nenningar þenna dag; ek hlíti {Naumu {hornstraums}} fyr hvítan dǫgurð.

From here out of the cave I see smoke, which mansions waft over fishermen; great are the roaring tricks of the poet in the dawn light. Now no-one will be jibing me into a new achievement today; I am content {with a Nauma <giantess> {of the horn-stream}} [ALE > WOMAN] instead of a white breakfast.

Mss: DG8(91v) (ÓHLeg); Flat(187ra), Tóm(122v), 73aˣ(127r), 71ˣ(105v), 76aˣ(135r) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] þanns (‘þann ær’): þann Flat, er Tóm    [2] rǫnn of: ‘rannum’ DG8, rǫnn af Flat, 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, hrǫnn yfir Tóm    [3] skalds: ‘skíalldr’ Tóm;    of (‘um’): om. 73aˣ;    skærur: skorar Tóm    [4] ór: í Tóm    [5] frýrat mér: ‘fryrrar mer’ 73aˣ, 71ˣ;    nýrar: so 73aˣ, 71ˣ, nýjar DG8, ‘nyrrar’ Flat, 76aˣ, ‘(ti)yrar’(?) Tóm    [6] nenningar: so Flat, 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, menningar DG8, nýjungar Tóm    [7] ek: so all others, ek þér DG8    [8] horn‑: harm‑ Tóm;    ‑straums: ‑straum 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ;    Naumu: so 73aˣ, 71ˣ, Nauma DG8, 76aˣ, nômu Tóm

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 13. Lausavísur 12: AI, 269, BI, 249, Skald I, 128ÓHLeg 1922, 57-8, ÓHLeg 1982, 136-7; Fms 5, 177, Fms 12, 109-10, Flat 1860-8, III, 241, ÓH 1941, II, 687, 700, 701.

Context: According to ÓHLeg, one day Óttarr told King Óláfr helgi Haraldsson about a small farmer named Karli whom he had stayed with in Iceland. Óttarr said that he took Karli’s wife and went into a cave and sat there and delivered this vísa as he looked over the farm. The same story is told of Sigvatr Þórðarson in the extracts from Styrmir in the ÓH mss. There the prose adds that Karli thought Sigvatr lazy, and Bæjarbók (73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76ˣ) adds further that the wife was young and attractive, and that they ‘played’ (liekum ockr) in the cave. In all texts, the king smiles and responds with Ólhelg Lv 3.

Notes: [2] rǫnn ‘mansions’: A rann was a large house. The intent is apparently ironic in reference to fishermen’s cottages. — [2] of ‘over’: This is not the reading of any ms., but the confluence of af and -um (see the variants) suggests an original um/of. Jón Skaptason (1983, 194) takes of to mean ‘from around’. — [3] of skærur ‘in the dawn light’: Jón Skaptason (loc. cit.) construes this with rjúka ‘waft, emit’ (l. 1). — [4] skellibrǫgð ‘the roaring tricks’: Or ‘noisy achievements’. The reference is to clever deeds (trickery need not be implied), which may be either the seduction of the wife or the stanza itself, or both. LP: skellibrǫgð tentatively suggests that loud laughter is meant, on the basis of comparison to ModIcel. skellihlátur ‘roar of laughter’. — [7, 8] hvítan dǫgurð ‘a white breakfast’: Milk products eaten at breakfast. The poet means he is such an early-rising hard labourer that he forgoes the morning meal. — [8] Naumu ‘with a Nauma <giantess>’: Nauma features quite frequently in woman-kennings, providing the base-word in the same way that names of goddesses and valkyries frequently do (LP: 1. nauma; Meissner 407), and hence may have been regarded as a goddess name, as seemingly in Þjóð Yt 22/5-6, though no such deity is mentioned in SnE or elsewhere. In the present instance, however, Nauma may be thought of as a giantess, since the stanza is set in a cave, and in the kenning salr Naumu ‘hall of Nauma [CAVE]’ in Grett Lv 28/6V (Gr 60) Nauma seems to be a giantess, denizen of rocks and caves. The two possibilities could perhaps be reconciled by adopting Brøgger’s suggestion (1924-6, 26) that Nauma was a minor deity whose domain is the abodes of the dead – grave-mounds and cairns.

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