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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigv Lv 1I

R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, 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. 699.

Sigvatr ÞórðarsonLausavísur

Fiskr gengr oss at óskum,
eitrs sem vér hǫfum leitat
lýsu vangs ór lyngvi
leygjar orm at teygja.
Atrennir lét (annars)
ǫngulgripinn hanga
(vel hefr aurriða at egna)
agngalga (mér hagnat).

Fiskr gengr oss at óskum, sem vér hǫfum leitat at teygja {orm eitrs leygjar} ór {lyngvi {vangs lýsu}}. {Atrennir {agngalga}} lét ǫngulgripinn hanga; annars hefr hagnat mér vel at egna aurriða.

The fishing goes according to our [my] wishes, in that we have tried to lure {the poison-serpent of the sea} [FISH] out of {the heather {of the field of the cod}} [SEA > SEAWEED]. The caster {of the bait-gallows}} [FISHING LINE > FISHERMAN] let the one grasped by the hook hang; at all events, things have turned out well for me in catching the trout.

Mss: Flat(187rb), 73aˣ(38v), 71ˣ(28r), 76aˣ(38v), 78aˣ(36r), 61(83vb) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Fiskr: fisk 78aˣ;    gengr: so 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, 61, gekk Flat, yggr 78aˣ;    oss: ‘oz’ 76aˣ    [2] eitrs: eitr 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, 61, ‘ettr’ 78aˣ;    vér: við 78aˣ    [3] vangs: ‘vangs’ or ‘vanger’ 61;    ór: á 76aˣ;    lyngvi: so 78aˣ, 61, lyngi Flat, 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ    [5] Atrennir: atrennis 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, ‘surennis’ 78aˣ, ‘at renis’ 61;    lét: má 61;    annars: so all others, annan Flat    [6] ǫngul‑: anga 73aˣ, 71ˣ, 76aˣ, 78aˣ;    hanga: fanga 61    [7] egna: erja 61    [8] ‑galga: ‘galiga’ 76aˣ, gagli 61;    hagnat: fagnat 78aˣ, 61

Editions: Skj AI, 265, Skj BI, 246, Skald I, 127, NN §§669, 670; Fms 4, 89, Fms 12, 77, Flat 1860-8, III, 243, ÓH 1941, II, 690, 707; Jón Skaptason 1983, 183, 312-3.

Context: As a boy, Sigvatr catches a large and beautiful fish in Apavatn in Iceland. A Norwegian who cooks the fish for him tells him to eat the head first, since that is where the intelligence of every living creature is hidden. Sigvatr does so and then delivers this stanza. Ever afterwards he is a clever person and a good poet.  

Notes: [All]: The stanza itself does not overtly commemorate anything other than a successful fishing trip, but the tale that supplies its context is of great interest. For conflicting views on its Irish or Norse derivation, see Bugge (1897a) and Lie (1946a), and on the tradition, in Old Icelandic literature, of miraculous origins for a poet’s craft, see Turville-Petre (1972b, 42-3) and ÍF 9, c-ci. See also Clunies Ross (1999a), who emphasises the wonder-tale elements of an initiatory rite of passage and the acquisition of special powers by ingestion of a marvellous substance. For another skaldic stanza attached to an anecdote accounting for a gift of poetry, see Hhal Lv and Introduction to that. — [2] eitrs ‘poison-’: Lit. ‘of poison’. This is equivalent to ‘poisonous’, and it should be understood that it is the serpent to which the fish is analogized that is poisonous, not the fish itself. Kock (NN §669) points out that the kenning can also refer to a warship, though he does not attribute that meaning to it here. — [3] lyngvi vangs lýsu ‘the heather of the field of the cod [SEA > SEAWEED]’: The base-word lyng ‘heather’ suggests some kind of vegetation as the referent, and Meissner 99 suggests seaweed (Tang). Strictly, ‘water-weed’ might be more appropriate since the scene is the inland lake Apavatn, south-west Iceland, judging from the prose context. An alternative is ‘ice’, since ice covers the water as heather does the moor, and Snorri’s prose indicates that Sigvatr was ice fishing, so very possibly he understood the kenning this way. However, other ice-kennings have a term denoting some kind of roof or covering as their base-word (see Meissner 100).  — [5-8]: The lines clearly express satisfaction with the catch, but more than one construal is possible. (a) The interpretation adopted here assumes that ǫngulgripinn (l. 6) is a p. p., lit. ‘hook-grasped’, used as a substantive, ‘the one grasped by the hook’, and is the object of lét hanga ‘let hang’ (ll. 5, 6), while aurriða ‘trout’ is the object of egna ‘catch’ (l. 7). (b) The main alternative is to take ǫngulgripinn aurriða together, leaving the normally transitive egna without an explicit object (so Skj B), but this produces an awkward word order and a tripartite l. 7. (c) Jón Skaptason (1983) takes -gripinn to be acc. sg. of gripr ‘costly thing’ plus def. art., and he renders the cpd ‘the hook-trophy’; but use of the def. art. as a suffix would be most unusual if the stanza is to be dated to Sigvatr’s day. — [7] aurriða ‘the trout’: The species is given as salmo trutta ‘salmon trout’, i.e. brown trout, in CVC: aurriði. — [7] egna ‘catching’: Consonant rhyme (skothending) fails in an odd line here, as in another four instances in Sigvatr’s oeuvre: see Höskuldur Þráinsson (1970, 27); Gade (1995a, 31-3). In order to provide proper skothending, Kock (NN §670) would adopt the reading erja ‘to plough’. However, his assumption of the sense ‘to cut’ is not convincing, and the fact that this reading is unique to ms. 61 suggests a scribal attempt to correct the hending (so Gering 1912, 134 n. 2, who ascribes the verse to a different, inferior poet; so also Bugge 1897a, 211). Jón Skaptason (1983, 183) adopts erja and renders it ‘baiting’, for no very clear reason.


  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. 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.
  7. CVC = Cleasby, Richard, Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and W. A. Craigie. 1957. An Icelandic-English Dictionary. 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon.
  8. Clunies Ross, Margaret. 1999a. ‘From Iceland to Norway: Essential Rites of Passage for an Early Icelandic Skald’. alv 9, 55-72.
  9. Gade, Kari Ellen. 1995a. The Structure of Old Norse dróttkvætt Poetry. Islandica 49. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  10. Flat 1860-8 = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and C. R. Unger, eds. 1860-8. Flateyjarbók. En samling af norske konge-sagaer med indskudte mindre fortællinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt annaler. 3 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  11. ÓH 1941 = Johnsen, Oscar Albert and Jón Helgason, eds. 1941. Saga Óláfs konungs hins helga: Den store saga om Olav den hellige efter pergamenthåndskrift i Kungliga biblioteket i Stockholm nr. 2 4to med varianter fra andre håndskrifter. 2 vols. Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond skrifter 53. Oslo: Dybwad.
  12. ÍF 9 = Eyfirðinga sǫgur. Ed. Jónas Kristjánsson. 1956.
  13. Jón Skaptason. 1983. ‘Material for an Edition and Translation of the Poems of Sigvat Þórðarson, skáld’. Ph.D. thesis. State University of New York at Stony Brook. DAI 44: 3681A.
  14. Gering, Hugo. 1912. ‘Beiträge zu der Metrik und Erklärung skaldischer Dichtungen’. ZDP 44, 133-69.
  15. Bugge, Sophus. 1897a. ‘Sagnet om hvorledes Sigvat blev skald’. ANF 13, 209-11.
  16. Höskuldur Þráinsson. 1970. ‘Hendingar í dróttkvæðum hætti hjá Sighvati Þórðarsyni’. Mímir 9, 9-29.
  17. Lie, Hallvard. 1946a. ‘Sagnet om hvorledes Sigvat blev skald’. MM, 66-74.
  18. Turville-Petre, Gabriel. 1972b. ‘Dreams in Icelandic Tradition’. In Turville-Petre 1972a, 30-51. Rpt. with a postscript; originally published in Folklore 69 (1958), 93-111.
  19. Internal references
  20. Kate Heslop 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallbjǫrn hali, Lausavísa’ 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. 362.

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