Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigv Lv 17I

R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Lausavísur 17’ 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. 720.

Sigvatr ÞórðarsonLausavísur

text and translation

Flœja getr, en frýju,
fjandr, leggr oss til handa
— verðk fyr æðruorði —
allvalds, en fé gjalda.
Hverr skal þegn, þótt þverri
þengils vina gengi,
— upp hvalfra svik — sjalfan
sik lengst hafa miklu.

Getr flœja fjandr allvalds, en gjalda fé, en frýju leggr oss til handa; verðk fyr æðruorði. Hverr þegn skal hafa sjalfan sik miklu lengst, þótt gengi vina þengils þverri; svik hvalfra upp.
‘One can flee the enemies of the mighty ruler and pay out money, but a reproach will be laid on our heads [lit. hands]; I shall be the subject of talk of fear. Each retainer has to keep hold of himself by far the longest, even if the support of the prince’s friends is diminishing; treason will be overturned.

notes and context

This follows close upon the preceding stanza. The king discusses the ominous situation with his men, and they respond in different ways. Sigvatr says this.

See Lv 16, Note to [All]. — [1-4]: The interpretation is close to that of Finnur Jónsson (Skj B); it includes the assumption that leggr is used impersonally (so LP: leggja 8c). The clause en gjalda fé ‘and pay out money’ is difficult to account for in historical terms. Kock (NN §677) would have allvalds ‘mighty ruler’s’ in l. 4 modify orði ‘word, talk’, and he construes verðk in l. 3 with both fyr æðruorði in l. 3 and fé gjalda in l. 4 in a kind of zeugma: ‘I am the subject of talk of fear … I must pay out money’, though he takes the sense of fé gjalda to be ‘lose money’. Thus he proposes the sense ‘I will be called timid by the king, and I will lose my reward’. A similar meaning is assumed in ÍF 27 and Hkr 1991, as well as by Jón Skaptason (1983, 202), for en fé gjalda, but the loss of money is there assumed, it seems, to be due to loss of possessions upon fleeing. Hellberg (1981a, 14-17) understands the reference to be to the practice of fulfilling one’s feudal obligation by supplying money rather than troops to King Knútr. Unless, like Hellberg, one rejects Snorri’s account of the context, there does not seem to be any very convincing way to account for en fé gjalda if en means ‘and’, as assumed here and in other eds. The other main option would be to take it as an instance of en = er ‘who’, which would fit the fact that the enemies of the king are said in Lv 13 to have been paying Óláfr’s countrymen and supporters to desert him. See CVC: en 2 ‘which’, though it is regarded as a ‘mere peculiarity or false spelling’. — [5-8]: Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) understands the helmingr to mean, ‘Everyone must try to help himself as much as he can, when the luck of the king’s friends diminishes; the enemies’ treason makes itself apparent’. The interpretation of the other eds is similar. Konráð Gíslason and Eiríkur Jónsson (Nj 1875-8, II, 61) compare the adage Verðr hverr með sjálfum sér lengst at fara ‘Everyone has to go the longest with/by himself’ in Gísla saga (ÍF 6, 49), and Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ÍF 27), citing the same comparandum, explains that Sigvatr is both fending off the charge of fear and warning the king to be cautious. But on the heels of Sigvatr’s worry in the preceding helmingr about being accused of cowardice, such a remark would hardly have the desired effect. It may be that the sense of what is literally ‘Each thane has to have himself by far most of the way’ is instead ‘Everyone has to live with himself the rest of his life’, i.e. ‘Do not do what will weigh heavy on your conscience’. (A similar interpretation, ‘Do not do anything rash’, is possible for the adage in Gísla saga.) This makes better sense of the adversative function of þótt ‘even if’ in l. 5, the implication being that flight is a bad choice despite the worsening situation. In that event, the vísa has a balanced structure, the first helmingrweighing the possibility (and the consequences) of flight, the second exhorting the king’s men instead to behave as they ought.



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: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 13. Lausavísur 20: AI, 271, BI, 251, Skald I, 129, NN §677; Fms 5, 2, Fms 12, 92, ÓH 1941, I, 469 (ch. 162), Flat 1860-8, II, 304; Hkr 1777-1826, II, 294, VI, 99, Hkr 1868, 437 (ÓHHkr ch. 178), Hkr 1893-1901, II, 392-3, IV, 150-1, ÍF 27, 304, Hkr 1991, II, 475 (ÓHHkr ch. 168); Jón Skaptason 1983, 202, 323-4.


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