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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ótt Knútdr 8I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 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. 777.

Óttarr svartiKnútsdrápa

Framm gekkt enn, þars unnuð
— almr gall hátt — við malma;
knôttut slæ, þars sóttuð,
sverð, kastala, verða.
Unnuð eigi minni
— ulfs gómr veit þat — rómu,
hnekkir hleypiblakka
hlunns, á Tempsar grunni.

Enn gekkt framm, þars unnuð við malma; almr gall hátt; sverð knôttut verða slæ, þars sóttuð kastala. {Hnekkir {hleypiblakka hlunns}}, unnuð eigi minni rómu á grunni Tempsar; gómr ulfs veit þat.

Still you went forward, where you fought against metal weapons; the bow cried loudly; swords did not become blunt where you attacked the fortification. {Restrainer {of the leaping steeds of the roller}} [SHIPS > SEAFARER], you fought no less a battle in the shallows of the Thames; the wolf’s gums know that.

Mss: (24), 20dˣ(9r-v), 873ˣ(11r), 41ˣ(8v) (Knýtl)

Readings: [1] gekkt: gekk all;    þars (‘þar er’): ‘þar e’ 41ˣ    [3] slæ: sæ 20dˣ    [6] ulfs: ulf 20dˣ    [7] hnekkir: ‘heckir’ 20dˣ;    ‑blakka: bakka 41ˣ

Editions: Skj AI, 298, Skj BI, 274-5, Skald I, 141, NN §§739, 1992, 2781; Fms 11, 196-7, Fms 12, 249-50, SHI 11, 185, Knýtl 1919-25, 45, ÍF 35, 115 (ch. 13).

Context: This stanza is quoted in the course of Knýtl’s account of Knútr’s attack on London.

Notes: [All]: For the sequencing of sts 8-10 in this edn, see the Introduction. — [1-4]: Assuming the first helmingr to refer to the same events as the second, these lines record Knútr’s attack on London in mid 1016. London did not fall to Knútr in the siege described here (see ASC s. a. 1016); the helmingr therefore praises Knútr as warmly as possible without committing an actual untruth. The syntax again poses problems. (a) The four lines are divided here into two self-contained couplets (so also NN §739). (b) Skj B prefers a complex structure, with the main sentence, in prose order Gek(k)t enn framm, þars unnuð sverð slæ við malma ‘Still you went forward, where you made the swords blunt against metal weapons’, extending through the whole helmingr and punctuated by two intercalary sentences, one containing a subordinate clause. — [1] gekkt ‘you went’: The mss again present 3rd pers. narration, but here there is no noun to function as the subject of a 3rd pers. gekk, and (more importantly) there is a switch from 3rd to 2nd pers. within the same line. The 2nd pers. unnuð ‘you fought’ must be original, rather than a 3rd pers. vann, as it supplies both alliteration and the correct number of syllables for the line. Emendation to gekkt results in a fluctuation between 2nd pers. sg. and pl. verbs (gekktunnuð), but this is paralleled in this poem, and in Ótt Hfl. Skj B, Skald and Knýtl 1919-25 all emend to 2nd pers. gek(k)t; ÍF 35 alone retains 3rd pers. gekk. — [2] við malma ‘against metal weapons’: This could either be construed with unnuð ‘you fought’ (so Skj B, Skald, and here) or with gall ‘cried’ (so Knýtl 1919-25). ÍF 35 takes a wholly different view, interpreting við malma as ‘tree of metal weapons [WARRIOR]’, and as the direct object of unnuð, hence ‘you fought the warrior’. — [3, 4] sverð knôttut verða slæ ‘swords did not become blunt’: These words have been variously interpreted. (a) The reading of ÍF 35, ‘swords did not become blunt’ seems best and is adopted here since it avoids any form of emendation. That swords were not blunted could be a comment on the excellence of the swords – presumably Danish ones. (b) Skj B and Skald both emend verða to verja. See Note to [All] above for the construal in Skj B, while that in Skald gives ‘blunt swords could not defend the stronghold where you attacked’. This compromises the aðalhending (NN §2781), and may have been designed to avoid a tripartite l. 4, though this is acceptable: see Gade (1995a, 215-16). (c) Knýtl 1919-25 removes the suffixed negative -t from knôttu, to produce lit. ‘swords did become blunt’. If this refers to Danish swords, it could mean that they were blunted through vigorous use. — [4] kastala ‘the fortification’: This is the earliest extant occurrence of this word in skaldic verse, by over a hundred years. Since kastali is a weak m. noun in ON, kastala here could be either sg. or pl. (acc. direct object of sóttuð ‘attacked’). The origins and meaning of the word are unclear. The traditional view is that Lat. castellum was twice borrowed into OE, firstly (directly) as castel n. ‘village, settlement’ in the late C10th, and secondly (via French castel) as castel m. ‘stronghold, castle’ in the mid C11th (see OED; see also Parsons and Styles 2000, 145-8). However, it is clear that in C11th Anglo-Lat., castellum (pl. castella) could refer to fortifications or fortified towns (see Norton 2004, 208 n. 2). It is thus likely that Óttarr’s kastala refers to the old Roman city walls of London (within which urban development occurred in the late Anglo-Saxon period: see Vince 1990). Since the word is more likely to have entered Óttarr’s lexicon via OE than Lat., this suggests that OE castel (presumably n.) possessed an unrecorded sense of ‘fortification, fortified settlement’. Later occurrences of the word in ON are probably re-borrowings, with the French-derived sense of ‘stronghold, castle’. — [6] gómr ‘gums’: Lit. ‘gum’ (m. nom. sg.), the roof or floor of the mouth, here referring to the wolf’s mouth as a whole. — [8] Tempsar ‘of the Thames’: Most eds (Skj B; Knýtl 1919-25; ÍF 35) take final -ar as the gen. sg. inflexion of a f. river-name Temps. JÓ and 20dˣ have the spelling -ár, which may indicate a cpd form of the name, with the second element the gen. sg. of the noun á ‘river’, and Kock (NN §1992; Skald) takes it as such. However, the form at this date would be uncontracted Tempsáar, which produces a superfluous syllable. The p. n. also occurs in Anon Liðs 5/8, and for further discussion of the form, including the intrusive <p>, see Townend (1998, 81-4).


  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. Gade, Kari Ellen. 1995a. The Structure of Old Norse dróttkvætt Poetry. Islandica 49. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  7. OED = Murray, J. A. H. et al., eds. 1884-1928. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon. 2nd edn 1989. Simpson, J. A. and E. S. C. Weiner, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  8. ÍF 35 = Danakonunga sǫgur. Ed. Bjarni Guðnason. 1982.
  9. 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.
  10. Townend, Matthew. 1998. English Place-Names in Skaldic Verse. English Place-Name Society extra ser. 1. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.
  11. 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.
  12. Norton, Christopher. 2004. ‘York Minster in the Time of Wulfstan’. In Townend 2004, 207-34.
  13. Vince, Alan. 1990. Saxon London: An Archaeological Investigation. London: Seaby.
  14. Internal references
  15. Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Anonymous Poems, Liðsmannaflokkr 5’ 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. 1022.
  16. Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn’ 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. 739.

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