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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ótt Lv 1I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Lausavísur 1’ 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. 784.

Óttarr svartiLausavísur


This complaint about demeaning treatment from King Óláfr (Ótt Lv 1) is the only anecdotal lausavísa unequivocally attributed to Óttarr svarti, Lv 2 being more formal and Lv 3 of disputed authorship. Lv 1 is preserved in ÓHÆ (ms. NRA52), ÓHLeg (DG8) and the additions to ÓH. In Flat the stanza and the anecdote to which it is attached form one of the excerpts (articuli) preserved from Styrmir Kárason’s Lífssaga of Óláfr helgi (S. Óláfr), and there are parallel texts in 73aˣ (chosen as main ms. below), 71ˣ, 76aˣ and Tóm. In all sources Lv 1 is preceded by Sigv Lv 10, with which it forms a pair: see further Context below.

text and translation

Hnøtr sendi mér handan
hrǫnduðr alinbranda
— ár vas, þats mank meiri
mín þing — konungr hingat.
Mær es markar stjóri;
meir sék þar til fleira;
niðrat oss í ǫðru,
íslands mikils vísi.

Konungr, {hrǫnduðr {alinbranda}}, sendi mér handan hnøtr hingat; ár vas, þats mank þing mín meiri. {Stjóri markar} es mær; meir sék þar til fleira; niðrat oss í ǫðru, {vísi {mikils íslands}}.
‘The king, the distributor of arm-flames [GOLD > GENEROUS MAN = Óláfr], sent some nuts across to me here; it was long ago, when I remember my position [to have been] greater. The ruler of the forest [TREE] is slender; later I will look for more there; do not humiliate us again, sovereign of the great ice-land [SEA > RULER].

notes and context

The story tells that, on one occasion when Óttarr and Sigvatr did not stand as highly with Óláfr Haraldsson as they had previously, the king sent them some nuts from his table, and told them to share them out as if they were their patrimony. The two skalds each composed a stanza in reply: Sigv Lv 10 and this stanza. The king, we are told in most sources, brosti at vísunum ‘smiled at the verses’.

The impromptu, occasional nature of the stanza is underlined by the prose introductions, which use either the verb mæla ‘speak’ or kveða ‘speak in verse’. — [5-8]: The helmingr is lively but problematic, and both of the main solutions involve assuming unusual turns of expression. (a) The interpretation adopted here is essentially that of Kock (NN §2010). The final word is taken as vísi ‘sovereign’ (and this form is preferred to the later vísir; cf. ANG §401). (b) Skj B construes the clause structure of these lines very differently, reading mær es mikils vísir, with vísir not ‘ruler, sovereign’ but rather ‘bud’, and with a proposed proverbial sense, ‘small is the bud of something great’ (see also CVC: vísir). This leaves stjóri markar íslands ‘ruler of the forest of the ice-land’ as a kenning for Óláfr as Norwegian king; but it is difficult to explain why mǫrk íslands ‘forest (?) of the ice-land’ (or ísland markar ‘ice-land (?) of the forest’) should mean ‘Norway’ (see LP: ísland; also Meissner 88, 353; on ísland (l. 8), see Note below).



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, Lausavísur 1: AI, 299, BI, 275, Skald I, 141, NN §§2010, 3052B; ÓH 1941, II, 689, 703, 705, Flat 1860-8, III, 243; ÓHÆ 1893, 2; ÓHLeg 1922, 58, ÓHLeg 1982, 138-9.


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