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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.

Frák verðung jǫfurs gerðu nýla þat víg á vatni, en telk næst {eigi in smæstu él nadda}.

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].

Mss: R(36r), Tˣ(37v), W(82), U(35v) (SnE)

Readings: [1] Þat: þar U;    á: at U    [3] en: so W, at R, enn Tˣ, it U;    nýla: nýja U    [4] telk (‘tel ec’): so W, U, tel R, Tˣ;    eigi in (‘æigi hin’): so W, engin R, eigin Tˣ, ‘ong en’ U

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.

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: [2] gerðu ‘fought’: Past inf. of gera, gøra ‘do, make’, here ‘fight’. Verðung gerðu forms an acc. with past inf. construction, following frák, hence lit. ‘I heard the retinue to have fought …’. — [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. — [3] en ‘and’: The reading of W, is chosen here as having relatively strong ms. support and giving good sense. Alternatively, the R reading at could be selected and construed as the conj. ‘(so) that, ‘(such) that’. Though rare, it occurs with both indic. and subj. verbs (see LP: 2. at). Faulkes (SnE 1998, II, 365) suggests at tel engin smæstu n[æst] ‘such that I consider none of the smallest (battles) second (to it) (i.e. comparable to it)’, but engin smæstu is syntactically awkward. — [3] nýla ‘recently’: This is the only instance of this adv. in LP, alongside a later instance of the synonymous nýliga (LP: nýla, nýliga). It is taken here with the first clause (as also by Finnur Jónsson in Skj B and Faulkes in SnE 1998, I, 80), where it contrasts with næst, here taken in the temporal sense ‘next’. Nýla could alternatively be taken with the second clause, hence en nýla telk næst eigi in smæstu él nadda ‘and recently I will next recount not the smallest storms of barbs [BATTLES]’, but though this produces a more straightforward word order, nýla does not make sense in this context. — [4] næst ‘next’: This is taken as the sup. adv. ‘next, later, afterwards’, qualifying the whole second clause (cf. derefter ‘afterwards’, Skj B). It could alternatively be the sup. adj. ‘closest, second in importance’ used predicatively, hence the solution of Faulkes noted in the Note to l. 3 en above. — [4] telk ‘I will recount’: Further possibilities for the meaning of telja are ‘count, enumerate’ (as when Sigvatr refers to enumerating battles in Sigv Víkv 9/6I) or ‘reckon, consider, call’ (as when Sigvatr refers to calling an action robbery in Sigv Berv 14/6II) (see also LP, Fritzner: telja). — [4] eigi in ‘not the’: (a) This seems likely to be the starting point for the various ms. readings. It yields the phrase eigi in smæstu ‘not the smallest’, hence by litotes, ‘far from minor’, i.e. ‘major (battles)’. See also Note to ll. 3-4. Elision is assumed in  eigi (i)n to avoid a superfluous syllable. (b) Faulkes prints engin (SnE 1998, I, 80) but points out (ibid., 204) that the form engin would not be expected before the C14th, and Finnur Jónsson (LP: 2. engi) states that engin here must certainly be read as engi en (= engi in) ‘none the’, ‘not the’. This also seems possible. Again, elision of engi (i)n must be assumed, and elision is presumably intended in Skj B’s eng en.

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