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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Óttarr svarti (Ótt)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Matthew Townend;

1. Hǫfuðlausn (Hfl) - 20

Skj info: Óttarr svarti, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 289-99, BI, 267-75).

Skj poems:
1. Óláfsdrápa sœnska
2. Hǫfuðlausn
3. Knútsdrápa

The Icelandic poet Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’ (Ótt) was remembered in the twelfth century (ESk Geisl 12) as one of the hǫfuðskǫld ‘chief skalds’ of the late Viking Age. His nickname would seem to locate him within the tradition of poets being ‘dark’ in either appearance or temperament (see Clunies Ross 1978b; Finlay 2000). According to Styrmir Kárason (ÓH 1941, II, 688), the poet Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) was a mikill vinr ‘great friend’ of Óttarr, and indeed Óttarr’s Hǫfuðlausn (Ótt Hfl) is greatly indebted to Sigvatr’s Víkingarvísur (Sigv Víkv, see Introduction to Hfl). Snorri Sturluson (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203) further describes Óttarr as Sigvatr’s maternal nephew, and if this is correct he would have been the grandson of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’ (see Biography of Sigvatr Þórðarson). Óttarr features in the various sagas of Óláfr Haraldsson, but the only major anecdote about him is the story surrounding his Hfl (see Introduction).

Skáldatal, in one or both of its recensions (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 253, 258, 260, 261, 267, 269), lists Óttarr as having composed for six patrons: the Danes Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson and his son Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great); Óláfr sœnski ‘the Swede’ Eiríksson and his son Ǫnundr Óláfsson; and the Norwegian King Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr), and the Norwegian magnate Dala-Guðbrandr (‘Guðbrandr of the Dales’, on whom, see ÍF 27, 183-90; ÓH 1941, I, 271-82). For Sveinn and Dala-Guðbrandr, Óttarr is the only poet listed in Skáldatal. Panegyric poetry by Óttarr is certainly extant for three of these patrons: Óláfsdrápa (ÓldrIII) for Óláfr Eiríksson (preserved only in SnE and therefore edited in SkP III), Hfl for Óláfr Haraldsson, and Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) and Lv 2 for Knútr. It has, moreover, been suggested that one stanza in Knútdr may have been misplaced from an earlier poem for Sveinn (see Note to st. 9 [All]). No poetry survives for Ǫnundr or Dala-Guðbrandr. From all the evidence, it is likely that Óttarr visited, and composed, for, his patrons in this order: Sveinn until his death in 1014; Óláfr Eiríksson until his death c. 1021 (though ÓHLeg 1982, 130-1, has Óttarr, a young man fresh from Iceland, approaching him as his first patron), then his son Ǫnundr; Óláfr Haraldsson in the early 1020s, and Dala-Guðbrandr in the same period; Knútr by c. 1027 for an unknown period (Knútr died in 1035). For previous discussions of Óttarr’s career, see SnE 1848-87, III, 326-33, LH I, 574-7 and Poole (1993b).

Hǫfuðlausn (‘Head-ransom’) — Ótt HflI

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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Skj: Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn, o. 1023 (AI, 290-6, BI, 268-72); stanzas (if different): 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

SkP info: I, 765

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

19 — Ótt Hfl 19I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 19’ 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. 765.

Nú ræðr þú fyr þeiri
(þik remmir goð miklu)
fold, es forðum heldu
fimm bragningar (gagni).
Breið eru austr til Eiða
ættlǫnd und þér; Gǫndlar
engr sat elda þrøngvir
áðr at slíku láði.

Nú ræðr þú fyr þeiri fold, es fimm bragningar heldu forðum; goð remmir þik miklu gagni. Breið ættlǫnd eru und þér austr til Eiða; {engr þrøngvir {elda Gǫndlar}} sat áðr at slíku láði.

Now you rule over that land which five princes held previously; God strengthens you with a great victory. Broad ancestral lands lie under you eastwards to Eiðar; {no forcer {of the fires of Gǫndul <valkyrie>}} [SWORDS > WARRIOR] presided over such territory before.

Mss: (281v-282r), Bb(146va), J2ˣ(149v), J(2ra) (Hkr); Holm2(20r), 325V(26ra), 75a(12vb), 73aˣ(52r), 68(19r), 61(90rb), Holm4(11va), 325VII(9r), Flat(86vb), Tóm(108r) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] þeiri: ‘þerri’ Bb    [2] remmir: reifir 325V    [5] Breið: breiðr 61;    eru: er Bb, J, Holm2, 68, 61, Flat;    til: við Tóm    [6] ‑lǫnd: land 61, Holm4, land or lǫnd Flat;    und: við 75a;    þér: þik 75a, 68, sik 61, því Flat;    Gǫndlar: ‘gavnlar’ Bb, 325V, randa 61, ‘gaunnlar’ Tóm    [7] engr: ungr Tóm;    þrøngvir: ‘þreinger’ 75a, sløngvir 73aˣ, 61, Holm4, 325VII, þrǫngum 68    [8] at: yfir 75a, 73aˣ;    láði: ráði 325VII

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 2. Hǫfuðlausn 18: AI, 295, BI, 272, Skald I, 139; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 131, IV, 129, ÍF 27, 107 (ÓHHkr ch. 75); ÓH 1941, I, 155 (ch. 58), Flat 1860-8, II, 67.

Context: See Context to st. 17 above.

Notes: [All]: This stanza (and st. 18/8) is preserved on one of the surviving leaves of J, the vellum Jöfraskinna. The text in J2ˣ was copied from K and hence also belongs to the Hkr redaction, unlike the remainder of the Hfl stanzas in J2ˣ, which belong to the ÓH redaction. — [2, 4] goð remmir þik miklu gagni ‘God strengthens you with a great victory’: This is the only point in Hfl at which Óláfr’s success is attributed to divine favour, and indeed it is the only clear Christian reference in the poem. — [4] fimm bragningar ‘five princes’: Snorri (ÍF 27, 101-2) identifies the five as King Hrœrekr of Heiðmǫrk (Hedmark) and his brother Hringr, Guðrøðr of Guðbrandsdalar (Gudbrandsdalen, Oppland), and the unnamed kings of Raumaríki (Romerike) and Haðaland (Hadeland). — [5] Eiða ‘Eiðar’: This seems to be gen. pl. of Eið, one of a number of place names based on eið n. ‘isthmus, neck of land’; LP: eið gives Ed as the modern equivalent. For discussion of Eiðar and Eiðaskógr, the forest between Norway and Sweden, see Introduction to Sigv Austv and Note to Austv 8/2. — [6] Gǫndlar ‘of Gǫndul <valkyrie>’: Alternatively, the common noun gǫndul ‘battle’. Although this valkyrie-name is quite common (see LP: Gǫndul), it is subject to a good deal of scribal variation, as here and, e.g., Sigv Nesv 7/2 and HSt Rst 18/3. — [8] láði ‘territory’: Óttarr’s grandiose claim that no-one held such territory before is somewhat incompatible with his designation of the same regions as Óláfr’s ættlǫnd ‘ancestral lands’ (l. 6).

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