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.

 1   2   3   4   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 

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, 720

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

17 — Sigv Lv 17I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Lausavísur 17’ 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. 720.

Flœja getr, en frýju,
fjandr, leggr oss til handa
— verðk fyr æðruorði —
allvalds, en fé gjalda.
Hverr skal þegn, þótt þverri
þengils vina gengi,
— upp hvalfra svik — sjalfan
sik lengst hafa miklu.

Getr flœja fjandr allvalds, en gjalda fé, en frýju leggr oss til handa; verðk fyr æðruorði. Hverr þegn skal hafa sjalfan sik miklu lengst, þótt gengi vina þengils þverri; svik hvalfra upp.

One can flee the enemies of the mighty ruler and pay out money, but a reproach will be laid on our heads [lit. hands]; I shall be the subject of talk of fear. Each retainer has to keep hold of himself by far the longest, even if the support of the prince’s friends is diminishing; treason will be overturned.

Mss: Holm2(56r), 972ˣ(415va-416va), J2ˣ(205r-v), 321ˣ(208), Bæb(1vb), 73aˣ(175r), 68(56r), Holm4(53vb), 61(115ra), 325V(66vb), Bb(188va), Flat(118rb), Tóm(145r) (ÓH); Kˣ(425v) (Hkr)

Readings: [1] Flœja: so 68, Holm4, Kˣ, ‘Flera’ Holm2, fleira 972ˣ, J2ˣ, Bæb, 73aˣ, 61, 325V, Bb, Flat, Tóm;    getr: getr oss 321ˣ;    frýju: ‘fryíu’ or ‘fryíur’ 73aˣ, frýja 325V, flýja Bb, freyja Tóm    [2] leggr: leggja 972ˣ, 68    [3] verðk (‘verþ ec’): varð ek Tóm;    æðru: so J2ˣ, 321ˣ, Bæb, 68, 61, 325V, Flat, æðra Holm2, 972ˣ, Holm4, Kˣ, ǫðru Bb, Tóm;    orði: orðum J2ˣ    [4] ‑valds: valdr 321ˣ, Bæb, 73aˣ, 68;    en: eða 321ˣ    [5] Hverr: hvar 321ˣ;    skal: skal hefnd enn 61;    þverri: þurfi 61, þykki 325V, þykkni Flat, ‘þy(nk)a’(?) Tóm    [6] vina: ‘uma’ 972ˣ, una Bb;    gengi: lengi 68    [7] upp: ulfs 68, om. 61, Flat, Tóm;    hvalfra: hvalfar 972ˣ, hvalfa J2ˣ, 321ˣ, 325V, hvelfa Bæb, 73aˣ, hvarfa 68, halda 61, Flat, Tóm, hvarfla Bb, ‘hualfara’ Kˣ;    svik: svá 321ˣ, sik 61, sér Flat, Tóm;    sjalfan: so J2ˣ, Bb, Kˣ, sjalfr Holm2, ‘sjalf(ir)’(?) 972ˣ, sjalfa 321ˣ, sjalfum Bæb, 73aˣ, 68, sjalfra Holm4, frá slíku 61, Flat, Tóm    [8] sik lengst: siklings 61, Flat, Tóm, lengst Bb;    miklu: mikinn Tóm

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 13. Lausavísur 20: AI, 271, BI, 251, Skald I, 129, NN §677; Fms 5, 2, Fms 12, 92, ÓH 1941, I, 469 (ch. 162), Flat 1860-8, II, 304; Hkr 1777-1826, II, 294, VI, 99, Hkr 1868, 437 (ÓHHkr ch. 178), Hkr 1893-1901, II, 392-3, IV, 150-1, ÍF 27, 304, Hkr 1991, II, 475 (ÓHHkr ch. 168); Jón Skaptason 1983, 202, 323-4.

Context: This follows close upon the preceding stanza. The king discusses the ominous situation with his men, and they respond in different ways. Sigvatr says this.

Notes: [All]: See Lv 16, Note to [All]. — [1-4]: The interpretation is close to that of Finnur Jónsson (Skj B); it includes the assumption that leggr is used impersonally (so LP: leggja 8c). The clause en gjalda fé ‘and pay out money’ is difficult to account for in historical terms. Kock (NN §677) would have allvalds ‘mighty ruler’s’ in l. 4 modify orði ‘word, talk’, and he construes verðk in l. 3 with both fyr æðruorði in l. 3 and fé gjalda in l. 4 in a kind of zeugma: ‘I am the subject of talk of fear … I must pay out money’, though he takes the sense of fé gjalda to be ‘lose money’. Thus he proposes the sense ‘I will be called timid by the king, and I will lose my reward’. A similar meaning is assumed in ÍF 27 and Hkr 1991, as well as by Jón Skaptason (1983, 202), for en fé gjalda, but the loss of money is there assumed, it seems, to be due to loss of possessions upon fleeing. Hellberg (1981a, 14-17) understands the reference to be to the practice of fulfilling one’s feudal obligation by supplying money rather than troops to King Knútr. Unless, like Hellberg, one rejects Snorri’s account of the context, there does not seem to be any very convincing way to account for en fé gjalda if en means ‘and’, as assumed here and in other eds. The other main option would be to take it as an instance of en = er ‘who’, which would fit the fact that the enemies of the king are said in Lv 13 to have been paying Óláfr’s countrymen and supporters to desert him. See CVC: en 2 ‘which’, though it is regarded as a ‘mere peculiarity or false spelling’. — [5-8]: Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) understands the helmingr to mean, ‘Everyone must try to help himself as much as he can, when the luck of the king’s friends diminishes; the enemies’ treason makes itself apparent’. The interpretation of the other eds is similar. Konráð Gíslason and Eiríkur Jónsson (Nj 1875-8, II, 61) compare the adage Verðr hverr með sjálfum sér lengst at fara ‘Everyone has to go the longest with/by himself’ in Gísla saga (ÍF 6, 49), and Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ÍF 27), citing the same comparandum, explains that Sigvatr is both fending off the charge of fear and warning the king to be cautious. But on the heels of Sigvatr’s worry in the preceding helmingr about being accused of cowardice, such a remark would hardly have the desired effect. It may be that the sense of what is literally ‘Each thane has to have himself by far most of the way’ is instead ‘Everyone has to live with himself the rest of his life’, i.e. ‘Do not do what will weigh heavy on your conscience’. (A similar interpretation, ‘Do not do anything rash’, is possible for the adage in Gísla saga.) This makes better sense of the adversative function of þótt ‘even if’ in l. 5, the implication being that flight is a bad choice despite the worsening situation. In that event, the vísa has a balanced structure, the first helmingrweighing the possibility (and the consequences) of flight, the second exhorting the king’s men instead to behave as they ought. — [7] hvalfra ‘be overturned’: Finnur Jónsson in Skj B and Kock in Skald adopt the minority reading hvalfa (assigning it the same meaning), following Konráð Gíslason and Eiríkur Jónsson (Nj 1875-8, II, 60-1), who call hvalfra a ‘monstrous’ reading motivated only by the rhyme with the sjalfr or sjalfra found in Holm2 and Holm4. The word is not otherwise attested, but the meaning is free of problems (ÍF 27): the function of the suffix -r- in weak verbs (klifra, haltra, hliðra, etc.) seems originally to have been intensification, and so it is fully plausible in this context. And there are reasons to think it is correct: sjalfr and sjalfra are so isolated in the ms. tradition that it seems likelier that they are influenced by hvalfra than the reverse; and certainly the reading of Kˣ, ‘hualfara’, is hard to explain by Konráð’s reasoning. It is debatable whether ‘overturn’ is better understood to mean ‘defeat’, as in ‘capsize a vessel’, the use to which hvalfa is commonly put (see CVC: hválfa), or ‘bring to light’ (as in ‘expose the underside’), which is what the previous eds generally assume.

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