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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 16 May 2022)

stanzas:  1   2 

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

SkP info: III, 349

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Sigv Frag 2III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Diana Whaley (ed.) 2017, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Fragments 2’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 349.

This fragment (Sigv Frag 2) is preserved only in LaufE. Nothing is known of its original poetic context, or its circumstances of composition, and while the attribution to Sigvatr is clear in all three mss it cannot be confirmed or denied. Although Sigvatr is renowned for his verbal facility and wit, the particular type of play with nýgerving found in this helmingr (see Notes below) is not characteristic of his work, and the metre is unique in his surviving oeuvre. It is runhent ‘end-rhyming’, here an end-rhymed version of fornyrðislag. The sequence of E- and B-lines each ending on a fully stressed syllable produces a clipped, battering effect also found in several other runhent compositions, for instance in much of Egill Skallagrímsson’s Hǫfuðlausn (Eg HflV) and throughout Einarr Skúlason’s Runhenda (ESk RunII). Here all four lines rhyme on the same syllable (-ǫrr), whereas rhyming in couplets is also common in runhent poetry. Runhent is more often used in lausavísur and ‘poems of a more mundane nature’ than in encomiastic poetry (Gade, SkP I, lix). The LaufE mss papp10ˣ (as main ms.), 2368ˣ and 743ˣ are used below.

Brýnd vôru dǫrr;
boga fylgði hǫrr;
sparn rastar knǫrr
rádýris vǫrr.

Dǫrr vôru brýnd; hǫrr fylgði boga; {knǫrr rastar} sparn {vǫrr rádýris}.

Spears were whetted; the bowstring went with the bow; {the ship of the league} [HORSE] pounded {the wake of the roe-deer} [LAND].

Mss: papp10ˣ(40rb), 2368ˣ(88), 743ˣ(69v) (LaufE)

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 14. Et par halvvers af ubestemmelige digte 2: AI, 275, BI, 254, Skald I, 131; SnE 1848-87, III, 348, LaufE 1979, 265-6, 341.

Context: The citation is prefaced by a statement (papp10ˣ version), Kiender eru yxn, dyr eða hestar skipa heitum, eða hvala ‘Oxen, deer and horses are referred to by kennings using terms for ships or whales’. It is followed by Hier er hestur kallaður knor jarðarinnar ‘Here a horse is called a ship of the earth’.

Notes: [2] hǫrr ‘the bowstring’: For hǫrr m., usually ‘flax, linen’, in the sense ‘bow-string’, cf. ÞjóðA Magnfl 10/2II. — [3] knǫrr rastar ‘the ship of the league [HORSE]’: This is a seemingly unique pattern of kenning (cf. Meissner 111), though it has skaldic logic on its side since it simply inverts the common metaphor of ‘horse of the sea’ for ‘ship’. Rǫst f. presumably has its common meaning ‘league, measurement of distance on land’ here (cf. LP: 1. rǫst), but it also means ‘sea-current’ (LP: 2. rǫst); and it occurs among ship-heiti in Þul Skipa 2/5. It therefore seems that the skald has given a further twist to the kenning, allowing possible maritime associations to linger in the determinant as well as the base-word. This might appear to be chance or even incompetence, except that the same happens with the land-kenning that follows. — [4] vǫrr rádýris ‘the wake of the roe-deer [LAND]’: Vǫrr m. is ‘oar-stroke, wake’, hence ‘sea’ (LP: 2. vǫrr). Here it forms a land-kenning belonging to a rare but recognised pattern (see Meissner 87) in which the base-word refers to sea and the determinant to a land-animal, inverting the more common conceit of the sea as the land of sea-creatures. As a further complication, the determinant , taken as normalised f., could be the word for ‘sailyard’ and hence rôdýri ‘sailyard-animal’ could be a kenning for ‘ship’. Thus the underlying image is comparable with knǫrr rastar ‘ship of the league [HORSE]’ (l. 3), and the two kennings form a harmonised metaphorical scheme, but both with a slight twist back in a maritime direction. For a similar kenning, see Eil Þdr 6/4 ver gaupu ‘sea of the lynx [MOUNTAINS]’.

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