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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

III. Fragments (Frag) - 2

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).

Fragments — Sigv FragIII

Diana Whaley 2017, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Fragments’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 347. <> (accessed 24 January 2022)

stanzas:  1   2 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 14. Et par halvvers af ubestemmelige digte (AI, 275, BI, 254)

SkP info: III, 347

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Sigv Frag 1III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Diana Whaley (ed.) 2017, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Fragments 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 347.

The source poem of this fragment (Sigv Frag 1) is unknown. It is preserved only in SnE (Skm) and followed immediately there by Sigv Nesv 7/5-8I (see Context below), but as Fidjestøl (1982, 123) points out, it is unlikely to belong to Nesjavísur since Sigvatr was present at the battle of Nesjar (1016), whereas the fragment does not claim to be an eyewitness report, but rather uses the formula frák ‘I heard’ (l. 1). The SnE mss R (as main ms.), , W, U are used below. A transcript of the helmingr in 761bˣ(331v) is copied from SnE mss, with the main text probably from W (except for the reading at rather than á in l. 1), and with marginal variants from R. It is not used in the present edition.

Þat frák víg á vatni
verðung jǫfurs gerðu,
nadda él en, nýla,
næst telk eigi in smæstu.


I heard the prince’s retinue recently fought that battle on the water, and next I will recount {not the smallest storms of barbs}. [BATTLES]

context: The helmingr is among citations illustrating terms for the retinues or war-bands of rulers. It is introduced Svá kvað Sigvatr ‘Sigvatr composed this’, and followed by Ok enn þetta ‘And also this’ and Sigv Nesv 7/5-8I.

notes: [3-4]: This edn and most others take these lines (with or without nýla ‘recently’) as a syntactic unit, and agree that smæstu él nadda ‘smallest storms of barbs [BATTLES]’ is the object of telk ‘I will recount’. However, telk, næst and eigi in (l. 4) are problematic and the meaning of the whole uncertain: see Notes below. (a) This edn reads eigi in smæstu ‘not the smallest’ and assumes litotes: the poet will go on to praise the retinue for battles that are far from minor; cf. ‘next I recount none of the smallest, the next ones I recount will be none of the smallest either’, suggested by Faulkes as a second possibility in SnE 1998, II, 365. This accords well with skaldic convention. (b) Finnur Jónsson’s solution in Skj B is syntactically similar, but he seems not to assume litotes, translating, men jeg opregner ingen af de mindste kampe derefter ‘but I (will?) recount none of the smallest battles afterwards’. (c) Kock (Skald; NN §683) finds the assumption of the conj. en ‘and, but’ problematic and offers a wholly different construal using the variant enn ‘still, further’. Lines 1-3 are read as a single clause, with él nadda ‘storm(s) of barbs [BATTLES]’ standing in apposition with víg ‘battle’ and hence as a second object to gerðu ‘fought, made’ (as reaffirmed in NN §1853E). Line 4 is read as a complete clause, Næst telk eng en smæstu!, with the sense härefter täljer jag de minsta ej! ‘after this I will not reckon up the smallest!’ However, this solution is unsatisfactory, not least because adv. enn would be metrically too heavy.

texts: Skm 287, SnE 289

editions: Skj Sigvatr Þórðarson: 14. Et par halvvers af ubestemmelige digte 1 (AI, 275; BI, 254); Skald I, 131, NN §683, 1853E; SnE 1848-87, I, 458-9, II, 337, III, 92-3, SnE 1931, 162, SnE 1998, I, 80.


GKS 2367 4° (R) 36r, 26 - 36r, 27 (SnE)  image  image  image  
Traj 1374x (Tx) 37v, 28 - 37v, 28 (SnE)  image  
AM 242 fol (W) 82, 11 - 82, 12 (SnE)  image  image  image  
DG 11 (U) 35v, 8 - 35v, 9 (SnE)  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 331v, 7 - 331v, 10  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated