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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ótt Knútdr 11I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 11’ 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. 781.

Óttarr svartiKnútsdrápa

Svíum hnekkðir þú, søkkva
siklingr ǫrr, en mikla
ylgr, þars Ô in helga,
ulfs beitu fekk, heitir.
Helt, þars hrafn né svalta,
(hvatráðr est þú) láði,
ógnar stafr, fyr jǫfrum,
ýgr, tveimr (við kyn beima).

Siklingr ǫrr søkkva, þú hnekkðir Svíum, en ylgr fekk {mikla beitu ulfs}, þars heitir Ô in helga. {Ýgr stafr ógnar}, helt láði fyr tveimr jǫfrum, þars hrafn né svalta; þú est hvatráðr við kyn beima.

Sovereign generous with treasures, you checked the Swedes, and the she-wolf received {much wolf’s food} [CORPSES], at the place which is called Helgeå. {Fierce staff of battle} [WARRIOR], you held the territory against two princes, where the raven did not at all go hungry; you are bold-minded against the race of men.

Mss: Holm4(46vb), 61(112rb), 75c(31v), 325V(59ra), 325VII(30r), Bb(182ra), Flat(115rb), Tóm(138v), Holm2(52v), 321ˣ(186), 73aˣ(160v-161r), 68(50r) (ÓH); K(1r), J2ˣ(197v), 325IX 2(4vb), 325XI 1(4rb) (Hkr); DG8(92v) (ÓHLeg); FskAˣ(173) (Fsk, ll. 1-4); R(33v) (ll. 5-8), R(37r) (ll. 5-8), Tˣ(35r) (ll. 5-8), Tˣ(38v) (ll. 5-8), W(77) (ll. 5-8), U(32r-v) (ll. 5-8), A(10v) (ll. 5-8), A(13r) (ll. 5-6), C(5r) (ll. 5-7), C(6r) (ll. 5-8) (SnE)

Readings: [1] Svíum: snǫrum 325V, ‘Suíium’ Tóm, Svía 321ˣ, 73aˣ, ‘Syium’ DG8;    hnekkðir: ‘hinckir’ Bb, hnekkir 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, ‘næygðir’ DG8, vægðir FskAˣ;    søkkva: ‘savcka’ 325V, ‘sæckva’ 325VII, sókna Flat, FskAˣ, søkkvir 73aˣ, ‘sœkna’ DG8    [2] siklingr: siklinga 75c;    ǫrr: ‘or’ Bb, ‘órr’ Flat, ‘aur’ Tóm, DG8, fór 73aˣ, ‘orr’ FskAˣ;    en: inn 61, Bb, Flat, 321ˣ, 325IX 2, in 75c, enn 325V, Tóm, Holm2, 68, K, J2ˣ, DG8, FskAˣ, om. 73aˣ;    mikla: mikli 321ˣ, J2ˣ, 325IX 2, 325XI 1    [3] ylgr: ulfr 75c, 325V, Flat;    þars (‘þar er’): þá Tóm, þar FskAˣ;    Ô in (‘ain’): ‘æyren’ DG8, ‘oon’ FskAˣ    [4] beitu: ‘beit(ꜹ)’(?) 325V, beita Bb;    heitir: heitit 61, heiti 73aˣ, 68, ‘[…]’ 325XI 1, ‘næitír’ DG8, heita FskAˣ    [5] þars (‘þar er’): om. Tóm;    hrafn né: hrafni 75c, Bb, 68, hrafnar 325VII, R(33v), R(37r), né hrafnar Tóm, hrafn J2ˣ, frán né DG8, ‘hrafnin næ’ or ‘hrafmn næ’ A(13r), hrafn of C(5r);    svalta: svelta 61, 75c, Bb, 68, 325XI 1, U, sveltat 325V, W, sultut 325VII, J2ˣ, svaltat Flat, 325IX 2, DG8, A(10v), A(13r), C(5r), sultu Tóm, sveltir 321ˣ, sveltut 73aˣ, ‘sualtar’ Tˣ(38v), ‘svalt[...]’ C(6r)    [6] hvatráðr: hvatráð Holm2, hvatr DG8, ‘hatraadr’ C(5r);    láði: ‘laþ[…]’ U    [7] ógnar: om. R(33v), Tˣ(35r), added in a later hand W;    stafr: stafs 61, staf 75c, Flat, starf Bb, Tóm, 68, ‘stefr’ 321ˣ, æfr J2ˣ, 325XI 1, om. R(33v), Tˣ(35r), stafr added in a later hand W;    fyr jǫfrum: om. C(5r);    jǫfrum: ‘iꜹfr(e)’(?) 325VII, ‘jof(ar)m’(?) Bb, ‘jefrum’ 321ˣ    [7, 8] jǫfrum ýgr tveimr við kyn beima: abbrev. as ‘i. v t við k b’ C(6r)    [8] ýgr: uggr 75c, Bb, Flat, ungr Tóm, yggr Holm2, J2ˣ, 325XI 1, yggir DG8;    tveimr: ‘tvein’ 325V, ‘tvemr’ Bb, R(33v), ‘[…]’ 325XI 1, tveir Tˣ(38v);    beima: ‘bæinia’ DG8

Editions: Skj AI, 298, Skj BI, 275, Skald I, 141, NN §§620, 1783; ÓH 1941, I, 438 (ch. 140), Flat 1860-8, II, 281; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 365, IV, 146, ÍF 27, 280-1 (ÓHHkr ch. 150); ÓHLeg 1922, 61, ÓHLeg 1982, 146-7; Fsk 1902-3, 165 (ch. 27), ÍF 29, 186 (ch. 32); SnE 1848-87, I, 416-7, 474, II, 326, 437, 449, 586, 593, SnE 1931, 148, SnE 1998, I, 66, 193.

Context: In ÓH and Hkr, the stanza is quoted after Snorri’s lengthy account of the battle of Á in helga (Helgeå), and in ÓHLeg and Fsk the context is the same battle. In SnE, ll. 5-8 are quoted first to exemplify the use of stafr ‘staff, stave’ in man-kennings and then to illustrate láð as a heiti for ‘earth, land’.

Notes: [All]: The stanza is introduced in ÓH and Hkr (ÍF 27, 280), Óttarr svarti rœðir um fund þenna í þeiri drápu, er hann orti um Knút inn ríkaÓttarr svarti tells of this encounter in the drápa which he composed about Cnut the Great’. In ÓHLeg (1982, 146), it is introduced with Þessar orrostu mintizt Ottar, er hann orte um Knut konong ‘Óttarr commemorated this battle, when he composed about King Knútr’; virtually identical wording occurs in Fsk. There are thus no grounds for doubting that the stanza is from a poem by Óttarr in honour of Knútr (see further Townend 2001, 159-61), yet there must be some uncertainty as to whether it belongs with the rest of the poem. Unlike sts 1-10, this stanza is not preserved in Knýtl, but rather in ÓH and Hkr, ÓHLeg, Fsk (ll. 1-4 only), and SnE (ll. 5-8), and such a wide distribution may indicate a substantially different transmission from sts 1-10. Its subject matter is markedly different too, though the phrase þrøngvir Svía ‘oppressor of the Swedes’ in st. 5/8 suggests that the other stanzas were also composed post-1026, and so the observed difference in subject matter might disappear if we possessed other stanzas from the poem. In addition, it is notable that the syntax of the stanza does not observe the ‘couplet’ form found in many of the preceding stanzas. — [1-4]: In terms of syntax, Skj B gives the first helmingr as hnekkðir … þars … ‘checked … at the place which’, while Kock (NN §620; Skald) prefers fekk … þars ... ‘received … at the place which’. But it may be that one does not have to choose: the two activities (hnekkðir and fekk) are occurring in the same place. — [1] hnekkðir ‘checked’: Hnekkja has a sense of ‘to stop, restrain’, rather than ‘to destroy’. Again, Óttarr is giving Knútr as much praise as possible without committing a positive untruth (see Notes to st. 8/3, 4 knôttut verða and l. 3 below). — [1] søkkva ‘with treasures’: Kock, following the majority reading of the mss, interprets søkkva as gen. pl. of søkk n. ‘jewel, treasure, gold’ (see NN §1783), which is rare and even of uncertain existence (see Note to Eyv Hál 1/10); this is followed in ÍF 27, and here. Skj B emends to sóknar, hence ǫrr sóknar ‘generous in/with attack’, a form recorded in no ms. ÍF 29 preserves sókna (gen. pl.) ‘of attacks, war’, the reading of FskAx (and Flat). LP: søkkvi suggests instead that this is the noun søkkvi ‘enemy’, in error for sóknar . — [2]: The best mss of ÓH read f. acc. sg. mikla ‘much, great’, agreeing with beitu ‘food, bait’, and this lectio difficilior is thus presumably the original reading and is retained here. This line, however, clearly prompted a number of scribes or other transmitters of the poem to re-interpretation (see Readings). Some of the variants may have arisen from the instinctive temptation to read the whole line as a single, nom.-case noun phrase *siklingr ǫrr inn mikli ‘the generous great king’, which also produces a division of the first helmingr into two couplets.  — [3] Ô in helga ‘Helgeå’: The battle here took place in (probably) 1026, when the Swedish and Norwegian forces of Ǫnundr Óláfsson and Óláfr Haraldsson launched an attack on Knútr’s Denmark. The site of the battle has traditionally been identified as Helgeå, in the eastern part of Skåne, but a site in Uppland has also been suggested (Gräslund 1986). The outcome of the battle is also somewhat unclear. From one point of view, since the attack on Denmark was unsuccessful, Knútr was clearly the ‘victor’; but the battle itself may well have been inconclusive, and the ASC (‘E’) s. a. 1025 even reports a Swedish victory. See further Moberg (1941, 148-78); Moberg (1987); Moberg (1989); Lawson (1993, 96-100); P. Sawyer (1994, 18-19). — [5] hrafn né svalta ‘the raven did not at all go hungry’: A number of mss read hrafni and omit , suggesting confusion in transmission (from hrafn né to ‘hrafne’, i.e. normalised dat. sg. hrafni). Similarly a number of mss, including those of Hkr, omit before svalta, presumably because it is not needed for sense; and -a (-at in some mss) supply a double, emphatic negative. — [7] stafr ógnar ‘staff of battle [WARRIOR]’: The words ógnar stafr were lacking from W and have been added in a later hand. They have also been supplied from an unknown source in LaufE (1979, 374, and see 173), whose text of the remainder of ll. 5-8 is copied from W and not of independent value.  — [7, 8] tveimr jǫfrum ‘two princes’: The reference is no doubt to Ǫnundr Óláfsson and Óláfr Haraldsson, though it is clear from the reference in the ASC (‘E’) s. a. 1025 to a certain Ulf and Eglaf (Eilífr, or perhaps an error for Óláfr) that an assortment of Swedish and Norwegian nobles opposed Knútr at the battle.


  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. SnE 1848-87 = Snorri Sturluson. 1848-87. Edda Snorra Sturlusonar: Edda Snorronis Sturlaei. Ed. Jón Sigurðsson et al. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Legatum Arnamagnaeanum. Rpt. Osnabrück: Zeller, 1966.
  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. 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. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. ÓHLeg 1982 = Heinrichs, Anne et al., eds and trans. 1982. Olafs saga hins helga: Die ‘Legendarische Saga’ über Olaf den Heiligen (Hs. Delagard. saml. nr. 8II). Heidelberg: Winter.
  10. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  11. Hkr 1893-1901 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1893-1901. Heimskringla: Nóregs konunga sǫgur af Snorri Sturluson. 4 vols. SUGNL 23. Copenhagen: Møller.
  12. Fsk 1902-3 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1902-3. Fagrskinna: Nóregs kononga tal. SUGNL 30. Copenhagen: Møller.
  13. SnE 1931 = Snorri Sturluson. 1931. Edda Snorra Sturlusonar. Ed. Finnur Jónsson. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
  14. SnE 1998 = Snorri Sturluson. 1998. Edda: Skáldskaparmál. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. 2 vols. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  15. ASC [Anglo-Saxon Chronicle] = Plummer, Charles and John Earle, eds. 1892-9. Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. Rpt. 1952.
  16. ÍF 29 = Ágrip af Nóregskonunga sǫgum; Fagrskinna—Nóregs konungatal. Ed. Bjarni Einarsson. 1985.
  17. ÓHLeg 1922 = Johnsen, Oscar Albert, ed. 1922. Olafs saga hins helga efter pergamenthåndskrift i Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek, Delagardieske samling nr. 8II. Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond skrifter 47. Kristiania (Oslo): Dybwad.
  18. Moberg, Ove. 1941. Olav Haraldsson, Knut den Store och Sverige: Studier i Olav den heliges förhållande till de nordiska grannländerna. Lund: Gleerup.
  19. Lawson, M. K. 1993. Cnut: The Danes in England in the Early Eleventh Century. London: Longman.
  20. Townend, Matthew. 2001. ‘Contextualising the Knútsdrápur: Skaldic Praise-Poetry at the Court of Cnut’. ASE 30, 145-79.
  21. Moberg, Ove. 1989. ‘The Battle of Helgeå’. Scandinavian Journal of History 14, 1-19.
  22. Sawyer, Peter. 1994. ‘Cnut’s Scandinavian Empire’. In Rumble 1994, 10-22.
  23. Gräslund, Bo. 1986. ‘Knut den store och sveariket: Slaget vid Helgeå i ny belysning’. Scandia 52, 211-38.
  24. Moberg, Lennart. 1987. ‘Slaget vid Helgeå och dess följder’. Scandia 53, 175-85.
  25. Internal references
  26. Edith Marold 2017, ‘Snorra Edda (Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál)’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  27. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  28. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘The Legendary Saga of S. Óláfr / Helgisaga Óláfs konungs Haraldssonar (ÓHLeg)’ 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. clxxiii.
  29. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘The Separate Saga of S. Óláfr / Óláfs saga helga in sérstaka (ÓH)’ 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, pp. clxxvi-clxxix.
  30. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘Fagrskinna (Fsk)’ 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, pp. clix-clxi.
  31. Not published: do not cite (ÓHHkrI)
  32. Matthew Townend 2017, ‘(Biography of) Óttarr svarti’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 335.
  33. Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Eyvindr skáldaspillir Finnsson, Háleygjatal 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. 197.
  34. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Laufás Edda (LaufE)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].

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