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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, 749

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

7 — Ótt Hfl 7I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 7’ 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. 749.

Gildir, komt at gjaldi
gotneskum her, flotna;
þorðut þér at varða
þjóðlǫnd firar rǫndu.
Rann, en maðr of minna
margr býr of þrek (varga
hungr frák austr) an yngvi,
Eysýslu lið (þeyja).


{Supporter of seafarers}, [RULER] you forced the Gotland host to [pay] tribute; the men did not dare to defend the nation’s lands against you with the shield. The people of Saaremaa ran, and many a man possesses less courage than the king; I heard the hunger of the wolves to be diminished in the east.

context: Óláfr proceeds to Gotland and prepares to raid there, but the Gotlanders send a delegation with an offer of tribute which is accepted.

notes: The attack on Eysýsla (Saaremaa), though not on Gotland, is also commemorated in Sigv Víkv 2. — [3-4]: The A-class mss of ÓH read instead þorðut þér at varða | þat land, jǫfurr, brandi ‘they did not dare to defend that land against you, prince, with the sword’. — [5-8]: The Prose order above follows that of ÍF 27. Skj B takes the clause following en ‘and/but’ to be frák ... ‘I heard ...’ rather than margr maðr ... ‘many a man ’. Kock (NN §726) adopts the reading þeysa ‘to make rush’ for þeyja (and hinn for an), and construes hinn yngvi rann lið Eysýslu þeysa, with a proposed meaning ‘the king went to put the people of Eysýsla to flight’ (but see NN §2780 for second thoughts). One problem with this is that it leaves frák … without an inf. (‘I heard about the wolves’ hunger in the east’), and the construction renna ‘run, go’ + þeysa ‘make rush’ does not convince. — [8] Eysýsla ‘Saaremaa’: Lit. ‘Island-district’. The Estonian island known as Ösel in Swedish.

texts: Flat 422, ÓH, ÓHHkr 5 (II 5), Hkr 206 (II 5)

editions: Skj Óttarr svarti: 2. Hǫfuðlausn 6 (AI, 291; BI, 269);

Skald I, 138, NN §§726, 2780; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 10-11, IV, 106-7, ÍF 27, 9 (ÓHHkr ch. 7); ÓH 1941, I, 39 (ch. 22), Flat 1860-8, II, 17



AM 36 folx (Kx) 222r, 22 - 222v, 2 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 6r, 22 - 6r, 24 (ÓH)  image  
AM 37 folx (J1x) 140r, 9 - 140r, 13 (ÓH)  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 120r, 16 - 120r, 23 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VI 4° (325VI) 5vb, 7 - 5vb, 9 (ÓH)  image  
AM 321 4°x (321x) 24, 5 - 24, 8 (ÓH)  transcr.  image  
AM 73 a folx (73ax) 18r, 1 - 18r, 1 (ÓH)  image  
AM 78 a folx (78ax) 16v, 20 - 16v, 27 (ÓH)  image  
AM 68 fol (68) 5r - 5r (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 79rb, 10 - 79rb, 12 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 7va, 7 - 7va, 12 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 125vb, 24 - 125vb, 24 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 80ra, 10 - 80ra, 13 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 95v, 19 - 95v, 19 (ÓH)  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 270r, 22 - 270v, 7  image  
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