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Runic Dictionary

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

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

2. Nesjavísur (Nesv) - 15

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).

Nesjavísur (‘Vísur about Nesjar’) — Sigv NesvI

Russell Poole 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Nesjavísur’ 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. 555. <> (accessed 29 June 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 2. Nesjavísur, 1016 (AI, 228-32, BI, 217-20); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 14

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Gramm, Hkr, ÓH, ÓHHkr, ÓHLeg, Skm, SnE, TGT

SkP info: I, 555

notes: ms. refs separated from first cards

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The fifteen stanzas of Sigvatr’s NesjavísurVísur about Nesjar’ (Sigv Nesv) centre upon a sea-battle between Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr) and Sveinn jarl Hákonarson at Nesjar, Vestfold in 1016 (see Note to st. 2/4 for the location). Returning to Norway from the British Isles in 1015, Óláfr quickly removed the threat of Hákon jarl Eiríksson, who headed to England where his father Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson already was (Johnsen 1916, 31; Andersen 1977, 108, 116; Krag 2003b, 193). As Óláfr gained expressions of allegiance from the people of Trøndelag (Johnsen 1916, 31), he came into conflict with Sveinn Hákonarson, kinsman of Eiríkr and Hákon and tributary jarl to Knútr inn ríki (Cnut the Great) in Trøndelag. Sveinn raised forces against Óláfr from Trøndelag, with support from his son-in-law Einarr þambarskelfir ‘Paunch-shaker’ (?) and perhaps also from Erlingr Skjálgsson. Óláfr was supported by the Upplendingar and Heinir (the people of Opplandene and Hedmark respectively). The timing of the battle of Nesjar, on Palm Sunday (26 March 1016), suggests the eagerness of the opponents to settle matters as soon as the winter ice had thawed. Following his defeat, Sveinn fled to Sweden, while Óláfr secured the allegiance of magnates in Trøndelag (Andersen 1977, 119) and came to rule over and Christianize most of the territory of later Norway. Nesv appears to foreshadow some of these subsequent developments. For a radically dissenting and highly speculative assessment of the historical element in Nesv, see Hellberg (1972). The same author suggests a link between Nesv, Sigv Tryggfl and Anon Sveinfl: see Hellberg (1972, 24-30) and Introduction to Sigv Tryggfl.

In his narration Sigvatr asserts his status as an eye-witness, addressing himself primarily to the king’s following (Fidjestøl 1982, 228; see Note to st. 3 [All]), though one stanza is addressed to a specific comrade (Fidjestøl 1982, 118-19; see Note to st. 5/1). From this vantage-point the poet notes how Óláfr’s command of wealth and resources brought him allies and a following. Some respect is shown for Óláfr’s adversaries, with the bulk of the obloquy falling on the people of Trøndelag. In commemorating the young king’s entry into his kingdom, the poem has affinity with, and may draw on, the conventions of the imperial adventus or civic welcome (Kantorowicz 1944; cf. Lundin 2006), where the orations characteristically invoke spring and Easter. The influence of Nesv can be detected in Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli (ESk GeislVII), Hallar-Steinn’s Rekstefja (HSt Rst) and Krákumál (Anon KrmVIII); see Olsen (1933a); Poole (2005d, 197-8).

The bulk of Nesv is preserved in Óláfs saga helga, in the Separate (ÓH) and Hkr (ÓHHkr) versions (jointly ÓH-Hkr below), and in Fsk, with minor contributions from ÓHLeg, SnE and TGT. Sigvatr’s authorship is not in doubt, and the title is attested in Fsk and ÓH-Hkr (see Notes to st. 1 [All], st. 3 [All]). The subset of stanzas selected in the various prose sources varies considerably (see the discussion of the prose sources below). Reconstruction of the stanza order in this edition largely follows Fidjestøl (1982, 118-19) and is based as far as possible on Hkr, since this source contains more stanzas than any other and, despite Hellberg (1972), is considered to be reliable in its general account. Fsk expressly states that st. 1 is the first in the poem (see Note to st. 1 [All]). The remaining stanza order is difficult to establish, not least because Sigvatr probably conceived his encomium as a comparatively loosely-knit narrative of events. An additional difficulty is that whereas sts 1-10, 13 and 15 are prefaced with the formula svá segir ‘thus says’ (or similar), sts 11, 12 and 14 in ÓH-Hkr have the contrasting formula þá kvað ‘then said’; but this discrepancy is unlikely to signify the existence of two distinct poems (Fidjestøl 1982, 118) and may arise from an over-literal construal of Sigvatr’s usage of tenses in ÓH-Hkr (see Note to st. 11/1). The incompleteness of preservation in the sources precludes determination of the place of st. 6 or the relative order of sts 12 and 13-14; st. 6 is in this edition tentatively placed before st. 7 because both mention stangir ‘standards’, but it could also be placed before st. 3, as in Skj. Particular difficulties are posed by st. 5, partly because it addresses a specific comrade of the skald’s and partly because the point in the battle to which it refers remains unclear. On the balance of the evidence, however, it is included in the present edition of Nesv rather than being treated as a lausavísa (see Note to st. 5/1) and placed as found in Hkr.

The textual relations between the prose sources are complex. ÓH was the principal source for the relevant part of Hkr but the relationship of Fsk to the other accounts remains unclear. The ms. texts of the stanzas also yield a complex picture, with variable patterns of agreement across, and within, the ÓH, Hkr and Fsk groupings. is used as the main ms. in this edition, but readings from other mss are adopted where the reading appears to be secondary. The mss used are: the Hkr mss , papp18ˣ for sts 2-5, 7-12, 14 (papp18ˣ lacking st. 5); the ÓH mss Holm2, R686ˣ, 972ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 68, 61 for sts 2-5, 7-12, 14, plus 75a, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, Holm4, 325V, 325VII, Bb, Flat, Tóm for subsets of these; the Fsk ms. FskBˣ for sts 1, 3, 7/1-4, 10, 12, 13, 15, plus 51ˣ, 302ˣ, FskAˣ, 301ˣ for subsets of these; the ÓHLeg ms. DG8 for sts 3, 6; the SnE mss R, , W, U, for st. 7/5-8; and the TGT mss A, W for st. 1/1.

Previous editions of Nesv, in addition to Skj, Skald and editions of the prose works concerned, include CPB II, 127-9 (which omits sts 6 and 13) and Poole (2005d, which adds Sigv Óldr 1, a stanza not linked to any specific poem in the sources). Hellberg (1972, 24) makes claims for two further stanzas, which are anonymous in the sources, but they are unconvincing; on the status of these stanzas and another verse fragment see Fidjestøl (1982, 122-3).

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