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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;

2. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

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).

Knútsdrápa (‘Drápa about Knútr’) — Ótt KnútdrI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa’ 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. 767.

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Skj: Óttarr svarti: 3. Knútsdrápa, 1026 (AI, 296-8, BI, 272-5); stanzas (if different): 8 | 10

SkP info: I, 779

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

10 — Ótt Knútdr 10I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 10’ 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. 779.

Skjǫldungr, vannt und skildi
skœru verk, inn sterki;
fekk blóðtrani bráðir
brúnar Assatúnum.
Vátt, en valfall þótti
verðung, jǫfurr, sverði,
nær fyr norðan stóru
nafn gnógt Danaskóga.

Inn sterki Skjǫldungr, vannt verk skœru und skildi; {blóðtrani} fekk brúnar bráðir Assatúnum. Jǫfurr, vátt gnógt nafn stóru sverði nær fyr norðan Danaskóga, en þótti verðung valfall.

Strong Skjǫldungr, you performed a feat of battle under the shield; {the blood-crane} [RAVEN/EAGLE] received dark morsels at Ashingdon. Prince, you won by fighting a great enough name with a mighty sword nearby to the north of the Forest of Dean, and it seemed a slaughter to the retinue.

Mss: (20), 20dˣ(8v), 873ˣ(10r), 41ˣ(8r) (Knýtl)

Readings: [7] fyr norðan: norðan fyr 20dˣ    [8] gnógt: ‑gnóg all

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 3. Knútsdrápa 8: AI, 297-8, BI, 274, Skald I, 140, NN §738; Fms 11, 195, Fms 12, 249, SHI 11, 183, Knýtl 1919-25, 43, ÍF 35, 112-13 (ch. 12).

Context: The stanza follows a brief notice of the great battle of Assatún (Ashingdon).

Notes: [All]: For the sequencing of sts 8-10 in this edn, see Introduction. — [1-4]: The syntax can be construed in two ways: (a) The helmingr splits into two clauses of two lines each, with Assatúnum ‘at Ashingdon’ qualifying the ‘raven/eagle’ clause; this construal is adopted here as being more in keeping with Óttarr’s couplet-based syntax in this poem. (b) Assatúnum ‘at Ashingdon’ could be taken with ll. 1-2 so that the focus on Knútr’s activities spans the helmingr and fekk blóðtrani brúnar bráðir ‘the blood-crane [RAVEN/EAGLE] received dark morsels’ is an intercalary clause (so previous eds). — [1] Skjǫldungr: This might be a general heiti for ‘king’ (cf. buðlungr ‘king’ in st. 4/2), but is more likely to be a specific reference to Knútr’s status as a member of the Danish Skjǫldung dynasty (cf. ÞKolb Eirdr 13/2 and see further Frank 1994b, 111-12). — [4] Assatúnum ‘at Ashingdon’: In Essex (OE Assandun), site of the decisive battle between Knútr and Eadmund Ironside in 1016, and where Knútr endowed a memorial church in 1020 (see ASC s. a.). On Óttarr’s form of the p. n. see Townend (1998, 21-7). — [5-8]: On the geography and chronology of this second helmingr, see Poole (1987, 275-6). Following the battle of Ashingdon, Knútr and Eadmund came to terms at Alney in Gloucestershire (ASC s. a. 1016), but English sources (unlike Óttarr: see Note to l. 8 Danaskóga) do not record any further fighting in that region. — [7] stóru ‘mighty’: The adj. is n. dat. sg. and so must qualify sverði, hence ‘with a mighty sword’. Kock (NN §738; Skald) proposed emendation to stóra (m. acc. pl.) to agree with Danaskóga, hence ‘the great Forest of Dean’, which would match the use of adjectives in, e.g., grœnni Lindisey ‘green Lindsey’ (st. 5/1, 2) and breiðri borg Hemminga ‘broad Hemingbrough’ (st. 5/5-6), but the emendation is not required. An alternative possibility is that stóru is an adv. (‘by far, greatly’), qualifying vátt ‘you won by fighting’, but such an adv. would seem normally to accompany a comp. adj. (e.g. Arn Hryn 3/6II and Note). — [8] gnógt ‘great enough’: Emendation, adopted in all eds, is required for agreement with nafn (n. acc. sg.) ‘name’. — [8] Danaskóga ‘the Forest of Dean’: Poole (1987, 275-6) argues persuasively that this is the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire (OE Dene, Dena). For discussion of the p. n. see Townend (1998, 29-31).

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