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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Judith Jesch;

11. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga (ErfÓl) - 28

Skj info: Sigvatr Þórðarson, Islandsk skjald, o. 995-o. 1045 (AI, 223-75, BI, 213-54).

Skj poems:
1. Víkingarvísur
2. Nesjavísur
3. Austrfararvísur
4. En drape om kong Olaf
5. Vestrfararvísur
6. Et kvad om Erlingr Skjalgsson
7. Flokkr om Erlingr Skjalgsson
8. Tryggvaflokkr
9. Et digt om dronning Astrid
10. Knútsdrápa
11. Bersǫglisvísur
12. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga
13. Lausavísur
14. Et par halvvers af ubestemmelige digte

Sigvatr or Sighvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) is said (ÍF 27, 54) to have been the son of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’, an Icelander who served, in succession, Sigvaldi jarl Strút-Haraldsson, leader of the Jómsvíkingar, his brother Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’, who campaigned in England, and Óláfr Haraldsson, later king of Norway (r. c. 1015-30) and saint. Þórðr is listed as one of Sigvaldi’s skalds in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 259, 268), but none of his poetry survives. The family tradition of poetry can also be traced in Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’, said to have been Sigvatr’s sister’s son (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203). Sigvatr was brought up by a certain Þorkell, at Apavatn in south-west Iceland. When nearly fully grown he sailed to what is now Trondheim, where he met up with his father and joined King Óláfr’s retinue. According to Snorri (ÍF 27, 54-6; ÓH 1941, I, 81-3), Sigvatr recited Lv 2-3 at this time, and he interceded with the king on behalf of Icelandic merchants forced to pay a heavy tax in Norway (cf. Sigv Lv 4). It is also likely that this is when Þórðr provided Sigvatr with the material for Víkv (see Introduction to Sigv Víkv), which may be the poem referred to in the prose introduction to Sigv Lv 2 (Fidjestøl 1982, 118). There is no evidence that Sigvatr ever returned to Iceland, and according to the anecdote in which Sigv Lv 11 is preserved, he died on the island of Selja in north-western Norway and was buried at Kristskirkja (Kristkirken) in Trondheim. His poetry records his various journeys to Sweden, England and the Continent, as well as incidents in Norway. We know nothing of Sigvatr’s private life, except that he had a daughter called Tófa, who had King Óláfr himself as her godfather (Sigv Lv 19).

Sigvatr’s surviving poetic oeuvre is both large and remarkably diverse, encompassing different kinds of encomia not only on King Óláfr (Sigv Víkv, Sigv Nesv, Sigv Óldr, Sigv ErfÓl), but also on King Knútr of Denmark (Sigv Knútdr) and the Norwegian nobleman Erlingr Skjálgsson (Sigv Erl, Sigv Erlfl). Sigvatr was godfather to King Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson and composed some avuncular words of advice to the boy-king (Sigv BervII). All of these patrons are recognised in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 252-4, 258, 260-2, 269), where Sigvatr is also credited with having composed for the Swedish king Ǫnundr Óláfsson (although no such poetry survives, cf. Sigv Knútdr 4/6) and the Norwegian chieftain Ívarr inn hvíti ‘the White’ (cf. Context to Sigv Lv 8). Sigvatr also composed a poem on the Norwegian pretender Tryggvi Óláfsson (Sigv Tryggfl) and is unique in having composed in dróttkvætt in praise of a woman, Óláfr Haraldsson’s widow Ástríðr Óláfsdóttir (Sigv Ást). Several of Sigvatr’s poems are more or less loosely connected sequences of stanzas rather than more formal compositions, and encompass both travelogue (Sigv Austv) and political commentary (Sigv Vestv, Sigv BervII). The latter genre is also well represented in his lausavísur, which also include some remarkably personal stanzas expressing his grief at the death of King Óláfr (Sigv Lv 22-4). Sigvatr’s status as a hǫfuðskáld ‘chief skald’ was recognised in the twelfth century (cf. Esk Geisl 12/8VII). His versatility as a poet has clearly inspired a number of anecdotes focusing on the composition of poetry, mostly of doubtful authenticity (cf. Contexts to Sigv Lv 1, 8, 11, 27; also Introduction to Ótt Hfl). Apart from two fragments preserved in SnE (Sigv Frag 1-2III), Sigvatr’s poetry is transmitted in a wide range of texts within the tradition of the kings’ sagas and is therefore edited in this volume or (in the case of the late Sigv Berv) in SkP II. For general studies of Sigvatr’s life and works, see Paasche (1917), Hollander (1940) and Petersen (1946).

Erfidrápa Óláfs helga (‘Memorial drápa for Óláfr inn helgi (S. Óláfr)’) — Sigv ErfÓlI

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Sigvatr Þórðarson, Erfidrápa Óláfs helga’ 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. 663.

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Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 12. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga, o. 1040 (AI, 257-65, BI, 239-45)

SkP info: I, 666

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Sigv ErfÓl 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Erfidrápa Óláfs helga 2’ 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. 666.

Upplǫnd fekk til enda
ôss gneista ok þar reisti
kristnihald, þats heldu
hverr veitir sverðs beita.
Áðr stýrðu þeim eyðar
ellifu fyrr hella
mildings máls, en guldu
menn vísliga gísla.

{Ôss gneista} fekk Upplǫnd til enda, ok reisti þar kristnihald, þats {hverr veitir {beita sverðs}} heldu. {Ellifu eyðar {máls {mildings hella}}} stýrðu þeim áðr fyrr, en menn guldu gísla vísliga.

{The god of the sword} [WARRIOR = Óláfr Haraldsson] got the whole of Opplandene, and established Christianity there, which {each benefactor {of the swingers of the sword}} [WARRIORS > GENEROUS MAN] maintained. {Eleven destroyers {of the speech {of the lord of the cave}}} [GIANT > GOLD > GENEROUS MEN] ruled it [Opplandene] previously, but men wisely gave hostages.

Mss: Flat(86vb) (Flat); 761bˣ(291vb)

Readings: [1] til: om. Flat, ok 761bˣ    [2] ok: om. 761bˣ    [3] þats (‘þat er’): þar er 761bˣ    [5] þeim: því Flat, 761bˣ

Editions: Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson, 12. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga 2: AI, 257, BI, 239, Skald I, 124, NN §§657, 2777; ÓH 1941, II, 768, Flat 1860-8, II, 68; Jón Skaptason 1983, 157, 301-2.

Context: Styrmir (inn fróði ‘the Wise’ Kárason) is cited as having reckoned up, j sinne bok ‘in his book’, six kings who had ruled in Norway in addition to the five already mentioned (see Note to l. 6 below). The citation is followed by a statement that King Óláfr took hostages from the lendir menn ‘landed men, district chieftains’ and farmers.

Notes: [1-4]: The helmingr may be corrupt, being preserved in only two mss and containing several metrical irregularities. In l. 1 (Type A2l) the frumhending (first part of an internal rhyme) is in position 2 on a syllable with secondary stress (though the same feature occurs in st. 21/1, which curiously also seems to refer to Opplandene, by a pun); l. 2 has elision on ‑a ok in a Type D4 line; l. 3 has alliteration on the second element of the cpd kristnihald, and l. 4 violates Craigie’s Law (on which, see Gade 1995a, 29-30) by having a long nominal syllable (sverðs) in position 4. The interpretation of these lines is also uncertain. (a) This edn tentatively follows Kock (NN §657) in keeping the readings of Flat, though a word such as til still needs to be added in l. 1 (see also Note to l. 5, below). Kock’s interpretation involves reading ‘os næista’ (Flat), ‘os neista’ (761bˣ) as ôss gneista, lit. ‘god of the spark’ and assuming that gneisti is a heiti for ‘sword’ and that the whole makes a warrior-kenning. Kock adduces several parallels, including kennings with brands or elds as determinant, both of which can mean ‘sword’ as well as ‘fire’; cf. also Þul Sverða 8/1, 2, 7III and Note to 8/1III. The word ôss ‘god’ is both rare as a base-word (Meissner 264) and unexpected in Sigvatr’s poetry (by contrast with the avowedly pagan Edáð Banddr 8/7), though he does make use of individual gods’ names as base-words in kennings. It is conceivable that there is also a subtext here that Óláfr, the saint to be, is an ôss ‘god’ of the light of Christendom, with the word gneisti translated literally as ‘spark, fire’ (cf., e.g., the light imagery in ESk Geisl 1-3VII). Also problematic is veitir beita sverðs ‘benefactor of the swingers of the sword [WARRIORS]’ which Kock glosses as hövding eller bonde ‘chieftain or farmer’. This stretches the meaning of veitir somewhat, as it usually means ‘giver’ and in kennings is normally qualified by a word for treasure or weapons (Meissner 306). (b) Despite these difficulties, Finnur Jónsson’s alternative interpretation (Skj B; also Jón Skaptason 1983) is less convincing because it requires two further emendations (of hverr to hvers and beita to beitar in l. 4) and highly unnatural word order. — [3, 4] hverr veitir ... heldu ‘each benefactor ... maintained’: The pairing of the sg. subject hverr veitir ‘every benefactor’ with pl. verb heldu ‘maintained’ follows the logic of sense, rather than strict grammatical concord (cf. NS §66b Anm. 1, 2). As in st. 1/2, metrical considerations may also be in play. — [5, 6] áðr fyrr ‘previously’: This appears to be a tautologous construction. Kock (NN §2777) emends adv. fyrr ‘before’ to fyrri on metrical grounds (referring to NN §2502C), but fyrri was originally an adj., only becoming an adv. at a later stage (LP: fyrri 5), and it is not clear what the adj. would qualify. The adv. fyrr is therefore retained in this edn. — [5] þeim ‘it’: The emendation (from því n. dat. sg.) is required because the antecedent of the pron., Upplǫnd ‘Opplandene’ is pl. ‘It’ is used in the translation since the reference is to a region. — [6] ellifu ‘eleven’: Snorri Sturluson (ÓH 1941, I, 155; ÍF 27, 107), following Ótt Hfl 19, mentions five kings who had ruled in Norway before Óláfr defeated them all. ÓHLeg (1982, 72) mentions eleven kings but does not cite any stanza. The citation of Styrmir which introduces this stanza (see Context above) repeats an earlier statement also ascribed to Styrmir that King Óláfr had taken the kingdoms of eleven kings in Opplandene away from the Swedish King Óláfr (Flat 1860-8, II, 67). — [7-8] en menn guldu gísla vísliga ‘but men wisely gave hostages’: The Context (above) mentions the taking of distinguished hostages, though it explains neither the circumstances of this nor the reasons for it. The circumstances may be those referred to in ÓHLeg (1982, 72), in which Óláfr captures eleven kings and gives them the option of living or dying. Some choose to submit to him, others are blinded and exiled, but there is no mention of hostages.

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