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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, 778

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

9 — Ótt Knútdr 9I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Knútsdrápa 9’ 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. 778.

Bjóðr, vannt brynjur rauðar,
blíðr stórgjafa, síðan
— lætr ǫnd, áðr þrek þrjóti
þinn — fyr Norðvík innan.

{Blíðr bjóðr stórgjafa}, vannt síðan brynjur rauðar fyr innan Norðvík; lætr ǫnd, áðr þrek þinn þrjóti.

{Gracious giver of great gifts} [GENEROUS MAN], you afterwards made mail-shirts red inland from Norwich; you will give up your spirit [die] before your strength fails.

Mss: (22), 20dˣ(8v), 873ˣ(10v), 41ˣ(8r-v) (Knýtl)

Readings: [1] Bjóðr: bjóð 20dˣ    [2] blíðr: blíð 20dˣ    [3] ǫnd: corrected from ‘ǫndr’ 20dˣ

Editions: Skj: Óttarr svarti, 3. Knútsdrápa 9: AI, 298, BI, 274, Skald I, 140; Fms 11, 195, Fms 12, 249, SHI 11, 184, Knýtl 1919-25, 44, ÍF 35, 113 (ch. 12).

Context: This helmingr follows a brief account of a battle which Knútr had at Norðvík (Norwich).

Notes: [All]: It is at least a possibility that this stanza comes from an otherwise lost poem in honour of Knútr’s father, Sveinn tjúguskegg (for earlier discussion of this issue see A. Campbell 1971, 13; Poole 1987, 276-80). According to the English sources we possess (primarily the ASC and the Encomium Emmae Reginae), Knútr did not fight a battle at Norwich in the course of his 1016 campaign in England; but his father Sveinn did fight a major battle there in 1004, which is the only conflict at Norwich recorded in English sources for the late Viking Age (ASC (‘E’) s. a. 1004). Moreover, in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 258, 267) Óttarr is listed as having composed for Sveinn as well as Knútr. Nonetheless, Poole (1987, 278) has argued that Knýtl’s attribution of this stanza to Óttarr’s Knútdr can still be salvaged. Although Knútr is not remembered in English sources as having fought a battle at Norwich, ASC (s. a. 1016) does record that after fighting in London (and before the battle of Ashingdon) Knútr and his army went by ship into the river Orwell, and then inland into Mercia. This would provide opportunity for some sort of action at or near Norwich, which Óttarr may then have wished to emphasise in order to draw a parallel between Knútr and his illustrious father. For the sequencing of sts 8-10 in this edn, see further Introduction. — [3] þrek ‘strength’: Þrek is grammatically (m. acc.) sg., as is the impersonal verb þrjóti. Þrekr most often means ‘innate, tenacious strength’, but the reference may possibly be to action (cf. LP: þrekr, which gives heltebedrift ‘heroic action’ as one meaning).

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