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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ótt Knútdr 7I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 7’ 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. 775.

Óttarr svartiKnútsdrápa

Fjǫrlausa hykk Frísi,
friðskerðir, þik gerðu,
— brauzt með byggðu setri
Brandfurðu þar — randa.
Játmundar hlaut undir
ættniðr gǫfugr hættar;
danskr herr skaut þá dǫrrum
drótt, es þú rakt flótta.

{Friðskerðir randa}, hykk þik gerðu Frísi fjǫrlausa; þar brauzt Brandfurðu með byggðu setri. {Gǫfugr ættniðr Játmundar} hlaut hættar undir; danskr herr skaut þá drótt dǫrrum, es þú rakt flótta.

{Peace-breaker of shields} [WARRIOR], I believe you made the Frisians lifeless; you destroyed Brentford there with its inhabited settlement. {The noble descendant of Eadmund} [= Edmund Ironside] received dangerous wounds; the Danish army then pierced the host with spears when you pursued the fleeing.

Mss: (20), 20dˣ(8r-v), 873ˣ(10r), 41ˣ(8r) (Knýtl)

Readings: [1] hykk: hyr 20dˣ    [2] þik: þeir with þér in margin JÓ, 873ˣ, þeir 20dˣ, 41ˣ    [4] þar: þér with þeir in margin JÓ, 873ˣ, þér 20dˣ, 41ˣ    [5] hlaut: laut all    [6] hættar: hættir all    [8] es: enn 41ˣ;    rakt: ‘rakzt’ 873ˣ

Editions: Skj AI, 297, Skj BI, 274, Skald I, 140; Fms 11, 194, Fms 12, 248-9, SHI 11, 183, Knýtl 1919-25, 43, ÍF 35, 112 (ch. 12).

Context: The stanza is quoted after a brief account of Knútr’s attack on Brandfurða (Brentford).

Notes: [1-4]: Some emendation is necessary here. The ms. reading þeir in l. 2 suggests that scribes interpreted gerðu as a pret. pl., whereas modern eds instead take it as a past inf. All eds emend þeir in l. 2 and þér in l. 4 to þar ‘there’ and þik ‘you’, but differ as to which should be which. Skj B and Skald prefer to emend þeir to þar and þér to þik, while Knýtl 1919-25 and ÍF 35 emend þeir to þik and þér to þar. The latter seems preferable on account of a more compact syntax, and is adopted here, though þar may seem a little redundant alongside Brandfurðu. — [1] Frísi ‘the Frisians’: Either Frísir is here being used as a somewhat loose, alliteratively driven term for the English, or else this may be a reference to the Frisian population in late Anglo-Saxon London, caught up in the fighting (see Poole 1987, 274). — [2, 4] friðskerðir randa ‘peace-breaker of shields [WARRIOR]’: I. e. ‘destroyer of the well-being of shields’. This is also assumed by previous eds; cf. other kennings referring to a man as a destroyer or damager of shields (Meissner 311). LP: friðskerðir offers the parallel friðskerðir hjǫrva ‘peace-breaker of swords’ in Hfr Lv 12/7, 8V (Hallfr 15; see also Meissner 301), though only one ms. reads frið- there while the majority form is fúr- ‘fire’. (b) A more straightforward kenning friðskerðir ‘peace-breaker’ and a syntactic arrangement into couplets as seen elsewhere in the poem are obtained if randa ‘of shields’ is emended to an instr. dat. sg. rǫndu (cf. ANG §416.2) meaning ‘by/with the shield’ and comparable with sverði ‘by/with the sword’ in st. 9/6. The parallel und skildi ‘under the shield’ in st. 9/1 indicates that Óttarr invokes shields metonymically to indicate aggressive action, not simply defensive. Under either interpretation, the density of allusions to shields in this poem is likely to be a play on Knútr’s dynastic status as a Skjǫldungr: see further Frank (1994b, 111-12). — [4] Brandfurðu ‘Brentford’: In Middlesex (OE Bregentford), scene of a major battle in 1016 (see ASC s. a.). — [6-7] ættniðr Játmundar ‘the descendant of Eadmund [= Eadmund Ironside]’: The person referred to by the kenning as a whole is (somewhat confusingly) Eadmund Ironside, though English sources do not record Eadmund as suffering wounds in a battle near Brentford (if the two helmingar refer to the same event). But there are two candidates for the Eadmund who is his ancestor, and determinant of the kenning: the king of East Anglia martyred by vikings in 869, and the king of England from 939-46. Both are plausible: Knútr’s devotion to the cult of S. Eadmund (see Lawson 1993, 142-3) might suggest it is the saint who is being invoked, while Óttarr’s allusion to Eadgar in st. 3/6 indicates that he was familiar with the royal house of Wessex. Eadmund Ironside was indeed the descendant of the tenth-century king, but not of the ninth-century martyr; however, kinship need not be literal in honorific locutions such as this. The same kenning occurs in Ótt Hfl 13/6, 8 as niðja Játmundar ‘kinsman of Eadmund’, but there refers to Æthelred. — [6] hættar ‘dangerous’: Emendation seems necessary to make the adj. agree grammatically with undir (f. acc. pl.) ‘wounds’ and is adopted in all eds.


  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. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  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. ANG = Noreen, Adolf. 1923. Altnordische Grammatik I: Altisländische und altnorwegische Grammatik (Laut- und Flexionslehre) unter Berücksichtigung des Urnordischen. 4th edn. Halle: Niemeyer. 1st edn. 1884. 5th unrev. edn. 1970. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  8. ÍF 35 = Danakonunga sǫgur. Ed. Bjarni Guðnason. 1982.
  9. Poole, Russell. 1987. ‘Skaldic Verse and Anglo-Saxon History: Some Aspects of the Period 1009-1016’. Speculum 62, 265-98.
  10. ASC [Anglo-Saxon Chronicle] = Plummer, Charles and John Earle, eds. 1892-9. Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. Rpt. 1952.
  11. 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.
  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. Lawson, M. K. 1993. Cnut: The Danes in England in the Early Eleventh Century. London: Longman.
  15. Internal references
  16. Not published: do not cite (Hfr Lv 12V (Hallfr 15))
  17. Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 13’ 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. 757.

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