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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ótt Knútdr 6I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 6’ 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. 774.

Óttarr svartiKnútsdrápa

Ungr fylkir, lézt Engla
allnær Thesu falla;
flóði djúpt of dauðra
dík Norðimbra líkum.
Svefn braut svǫrtum hrafni
sunnarr hvǫtuðr gunnar;
olli sókn inn snjalli
Sveins mǫgr at Skorsteini.

Ungr fylkir, lézt Engla falla allnær Thesu; djúpt dík flóði of líkum dauðra Norðimbra. {Hvǫtuðr gunnar} braut svǫrtum hrafni svefn sunnarr; {inn snjalli mǫgr Sveins} olli sókn at Skorsteini.

Young ruler, you caused the English to fall very near the Tees; the deep ditch flowed over the bodies of dead Northumbrians. {The urger of battle} [WARRIOR] broke the sleep of the dark raven further south; {the bold son of Sveinn} [= Knútr] made an attack at Sherston.

Mss: (16), 20dˣ(6v), 873ˣ(8r), 41ˣ(6v) (Knýtl)

Readings: [2] Thesu: corrected from Tesu 20dˣ, Tesu 41ˣ    [3] flóði: ‘flædi’ JÓ, ‘fløði’ 20dˣ, 873ˣ, 41ˣ;    dauðra: dauða all    [4] Norðimbra: ‘Nordumbra’ 873ˣ    [6] hvǫtuðr: ‘hautudr’ all

Editions: Skj AI, 297, Skj BI, 273-274, Skald I, 140, NN §620, 736, 737; Fms 11, 191, Fms 12, 248, SHI 11, 180, Knýtl 1919-25, 40, ÍF 35, 109 (ch. 10).

Context: The stanza follows a prose account of the battle of Skorsteinn (Sherston).

Notes: [1-2]: Steinn Óldr 2/1-2II, lines about a battle in 1066 by a different river, the Yorkshire Ouse (Úsa), are closely similar. — [2] Thesu ‘the Tees’: A river in northern England. The initial <Th> spelling in most mss is curious (and not matched in English sources), and is possibly attributable to Latin influence (see Townend 1998, 85). A battle by the Tees is not mentioned in the ASC (s.a. 1016), though it is plausible (see Poole 1987, 273). — [3] flóði ‘flowed’: There are two weak verbs of similar meaning: flóa (pret. flóði) and flœða (pret. flœddi). The ms. readings might seem to indicate the latter, but this would mean there is no skothending in the line. Skj B, Skald, Knýtl 1919-25, and ÍF 35 accordingly all print flóði (and see also LP: 2. flóa). — [3] dauðra ‘dead’: The emendation to a gen. pl. adj. modifying Norðimbra ‘Northumbrians’ is proposed by Kock (NN §736) and followed in ÍF 35; otherwise dauða must be taken as acc. pl. modifying Engla, and such syntax seems out of keeping with Óttarr’s ‘couplet’ style in this poem. — [4] Norðimbra ‘Northumbrians’: The inhabitants of Northumbria, the most northerly Anglo-Saxon kingdom. — [5-8]: The question as to whether or not Óttarr alternates in this poem between 2nd and 3rd pers. narration is especially pressing here. (a) In the mss both verbs in the second helmingr are in the 3rd pers. (braut ‘broke’, olli ‘made’), and so are retained here, as also by Kock (NN §737 and Skald, followed by ÍF 35), this being the only point in the poem where he retains the 3rd pers. (b) Skj B and Knýtl 1919-25 emend to 2nd pers. forms. Although the use of the def. art. in inn snjalli mǫgr Sveins ‘the bold son of Sveinn’ may suggest that this phrase is a 3rd pers. subject rather than an apostrophe, Óttarr does use the def. art. in a 2nd pers. context in st. 10/1-2. — [6] sunnarr ‘further south’: This is taken in Skj B with ll. 7-8, and specifically with at Skorsteini ‘at Sherston’, which gives a more complex syntactic arrangement (cf. NN §620). — [6] hvǫtuðr gunnar ‘the urger of battle [WARRIOR]’: A typical kenning problem arises, as to whether the locution here involves the abstract noun gunnr ‘battle’ (so JÓ, 873x, Knýtl 1919-25, and ÍF 35) or the valkyrie-name Gunnr (so 20dx, Skj B and Skald). Since Óttarr is otherwise sparing in his use of mythological figures in this poem, the former view is preferred here. Emendation to the agent noun hvǫtuðr ‘urger’ seems necessary to make sense of the ms. reading ‘hautudr’ (normalised hǫtuðr ‘hater’), and all eds emend here. — [8] mǫgr Sveins ‘the son of Sveinn [= Knútr]’: As Frank (1994b, 112) points out, Knútr’s poets frequently characterise him as being his father’s son. The same phrase is also found, in identical position, in Hallv Knútdr 1/4III. — [8] Skorsteini ‘Sherston’: In Wiltshire (OE Sceorstan), site of a major battle between Knútr and Eadmund Ironside in 1016 (see ASC s. a.).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Fms = Sveinbjörn Egilsson et al., eds. 1825-37. Fornmanna sögur eptir gömlum handritum útgefnar að tilhlutun hins norræna fornfræða fèlags. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  7. ÍF 35 = Danakonunga sǫgur. Ed. Bjarni Guðnason. 1982.
  8. Poole, Russell. 1987. ‘Skaldic Verse and Anglo-Saxon History: Some Aspects of the Period 1009-1016’. Speculum 62, 265-98.
  9. ASC [Anglo-Saxon Chronicle] = Plummer, Charles and John Earle, eds. 1892-9. Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. Rpt. 1952.
  10. SHI = Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1828-46. Scripta historica islandorum de rebus gestis veterum borealium, latine reddita et apparatu critico instructa, curante Societate regia antiquariorum septentrionalium. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp etc. and London: John & Arthur Arch.
  11. Townend, Matthew. 1998. English Place-Names in Skaldic Verse. English Place-Name Society extra ser. 1. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.
  12. Knýtl 1919-25 = Petersens, Carl af and Emil Olsen, eds. 1919-25. Sǫgur danakonunga. 1: Sǫgubrot af fornkonungum. 2: Knýtlinga saga. SUGNL 66. Copenhagen: SUGNL.
  13. Frank, Roberta. 1994b. ‘King Cnut in the Verse of his Skalds’. In Rumble 1994, 106-24.
  14. Internal references
  15. Matthew Townend (ed.) 2017, ‘Hallvarðr háreksblesi, Knútsdrápa 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. 231.
  16. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Steinn Herdísarson, Óláfsdrápa 2’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 369-70.

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