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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ótt Hfl 8I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 8’ 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. 750.

Óttarr svartiHǫfuðlausn

text and translation

Enn brauzt, éla kennir
Yggs gunnþorinn, bryggjur
(linns hefr lǫnd at vinna)
Lundúna (þér snúnat).
Hǫfðu hart of krafðir
— hildr óx við þat — skildir
gang, en gamlir sprungu
gunnþinga járnhringar.

{Gunnþorinn kennir {éla Yggs}}, brauzt enn bryggjur Lundúna; hefr snúnat þér at vinna {lǫnd linns}. Skildir, hart of krafðir, hǫfðu gang, en {gamlir járnhringar gunnþinga} sprungu; hildr óx við þat.
‘Battle-daring master of the storms of Yggr <= Óðinn> [BATTLES > WARRIOR], you further broke the wharves of London; it has turned out for you to win the lands of the serpent [GOLD]. Shields, hard pressed, had movement, and old iron-rings of battle-meetings [MAIL-SHIRTS] sprang apart; battle increased at that.

notes and context

In ÓH and Hkr, fighting in support of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred), Óláfr and his Norwegian force gain control of London Bridge and the River Thames, so the citizens surrender and accept Aðalráðr. FGT cites the stanza with the words, Skáld eru hǫfundar allrar rýnni eða málsgreinar, sem smiðir [smíðar] eða lǫgmenn laga. En þessa lund kvað einn þeira eða þessu líkt ‘the skalds are authorities on all writing or speaking, just as craftsmen on their craft and lawyers on the law. One of them made a poem somewhat as follows’ (FGT 1972b, 20); on this passage see Clunies Ross (2005a, 154-5).

According to Sigv Víkv 4-5, after further raiding in the Baltic, Óláfr sailed back west, to places that have been located in Denmark and the Netherlands. Both poems (Víkv 6-9, Hfl 8-11) then depict Óláfr’s fighting in England. In particular, Hfl 8-10 follow Víkv 6-8 closely in specifying the three locations of London, Ringmere Heath, and Canterbury. The konungasǫgur claim that these campaigns were in the company of the Danish leader Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’ and the Scandinavian sources tally well with the ASC’s account of Þorkell’s campaigns of 1009-12, even though Óláfr himself is not mentioned in English sources. The claim of Snorri Sturluson (ÓH and Hkr) that Óláfr was fighting in support of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred) at this early stage is probably erroneous: see Note to st. 13 [All]. For detailed discussion of Óláfr’s campaigns in England, and the stanzas and sagas in which they are recorded, see Campbell (1998, 76-82) and Turville-Petre (1969, 10-13); on Þorkell, see Keynes (1980, 216-22). — [1-4]: The syntax and kennings in these lines can be construed in a variety of ways. (a) Kock (NN §727), followed here, adopts gunnþorinn, the reading of Holm2 and other A- and C-class mss of ÓH, takes linns as a determinant for lǫnd (‘the lands of the serpent [GOLD]’), and reads kennir éla Yggs, gunnþorinn ‘master of the storms of Yggr [BATTLES > WARRIOR], battle-daring’. A reference to gold is fitting since in the pre-Norway stanzas of Hfl the emphasis is precisely on Óláfr’s viking exploits and his consequent accumulation of booty (see e.g. sts 7 and 11). (b) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B also adopts gunnþorinn, but assumes an elaborate warrior-kenning, kennir linns éla Yggs ‘master of the serpent of the storms of Yggr <= Óðinn> [BATTLES > SWORD > WARRIOR]’. However, this involves complex syntax and a statement that Óláfr won lǫnd ‘lands’ in England, and there is no evidence of this. (c) ÍF 27 follows interpretation (b), refining it by retaining the reading veðrþorinn and reading kennir linns éla, Yggs veðrþorinn ‘master of the serpent of battles [SWORD > WARRIOR], daring in the weather of Yggr [BATTLE]’. The assumption that él ‘storm’ alone can mean ‘battle’, is, however, problematic. — [5-8]: Skj B takes járnhringar ‘iron-rings’ to be the subject of hǫfðu (gang) ‘had (movement)’ and skildir ‘shields’ to be the subject of sprungu ‘sprang apart’, whereas Kock (NN §728) and this edn take skildir as the subject of hǫfðu and járnhringar as the subject of sprungu. ÍF 27 follows Kock in terms of subjects and verbs, but like Skj B attaches gunnþings ‘of battle-meeting’ (for gunnþinga pl.) to hart of krafðir, giving ‘hard pressed in battle-meeting’. Kock’s view is preferable, in assuming that the groups of words before and after en ‘and’ each form a discrete clause.



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 7: AI, 291-2, BI, 269, Skald I, 138, NN §§727, 728; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 18, IV, 108-9, ÍF 27, 16-17 (ÓHHkr ch. 13); ÓH 1941, I, 45 (ch. 23), Flat 1860-8, II, 19; FGT 1972a, 226-7, FGT 1972b, 20-1.


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