Ludvig Holberg

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Ludvig Holberg Baron (born December 3 jul. / 13. December  1684 greg. In Bergen , Norway ; † 28. January 1754 in Copenhagen ) was a Danish-Norwegian poet .

Ludvig Holberg
Signature of Ludvig Holberg.gif


Ludvig Holberg's parents were Lieutenant Colonel Christian Nielsen Holberg (around 1620–1686) and his wife Karen Lem (1647–1695), daughter of the pastor in Fana near Bergen. He remained unmarried. The father is said to have been in the Venetian and Maltese military service for several years before coming back in the late 1950s to take part in the war against the Swedes. In 1667 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. When the father died, he left a widow with three older daughters and three younger sons, of whom Ludvig was the youngest.

Ludvig probably first went to a German school before attending Latin school from 1694 . After the mother died in an epidemic in 1695, the family broke up and the children were housed with different families. Ludvig first came to Fron in Gudbrandsdalen for a year or two to see a cousin of his mother, the pastor Otto Munthe. After that he lived for the rest of his school days with his uncle and guardian Peder Lem in Bergen, who lived next to the Latin school. Latin was the main subject and the learning goal was to be able to converse in Latin with learned men. Great emphasis was also placed on music and there was a school orchestra. On May 19, 1702, Bergen was destroyed by a major fire.

Holberg moved to Copenhagen , passed the student exam and was matriculated. In the autumn of the same year his uncle died in Bergen, and Ludvig received the inheritance. He studied philosophy and theology. Only the theological faculty issued a state examination at that time. In order to ensure a certain general education, however, a preparatory "examen philosophicum" was introduced in 1675. It covered basic knowledge of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, logic, philosophy, ethics, physics, geography and astronomy. Holberg passed this exam in 1704.

Then he went back to Bergen and became tutor to the new pastor in Fana. After a while he sold the land he had inherited and went to Holland. But he could not earn his living there and returned. He moved to Kristiansand and started working again as a tutor. In the spring of 1706 he went to Oxford . Here he had a clear goal: he wanted to write a popular scientific introduction to geography and history and used the large library there. Here he became acquainted with the writings of Samuel von Pufendorf , Hugo Grotius and John Locke .

When he went to Copenhagen in 1708, in all likelihood he had already largely finished the manuscript. Holberg became tutor for the children of the secret and admiralty councilor Admiral Fr. Giedde, one of the most powerful men in the country. 1709–1713 he had a free place in "Borchs Kollegium" Christian Reitzer also took care of him. He had a large library, was open to new directions in science and moral philosophy, was anti-dogmatic and saw freedom of thought as the highest goal of education. He had studied natural law abroad.

After his academic career and writing activity, Holberg retired in the last years of his life in his Tersløse estate (Tersløsegaard near Dianalund on Zealand in Denmark). In 1753 he was bedridden and died on the night of January 28, 1754.

Holberg's career and writing activity

Memorial to Holberg in Bergen (Norway)

The beginnings

For his first work Introduction til de fornemste Europæiske Rigers Historier (Introduction to the History of the Most Important European Empires), Holberg used Samuel Pufendorf extensively. He also wrote a manuscript on 17th century Danish history at this time. The manuscript is lost. But much of it has gone down in Dannemarks og Norges Beskrivelse (description of Denmark and Norway). In another work, Introduction til Naturens og Folke-Rettens Kundskab (Introduction to Natural and People's Law), which appeared in 1716, he transferred Pufendorf's doctrine of natural law to Danish conditions. It was the first publication in Denmark on the subject. It was therefore widely read and became a handbook for lawyers.

In 1712 he received the Rosenkrantz scholarship for four years to study theology abroad. But he did not attend the universities that taught according to the Augsburg Confession , but the Catholic centers of Paris and Rome. According to his own account, he acquired a deeper understanding of poetry on this trip. In Rome he met the Commedia dell'arte , which also influenced his later dramas. In Paris he got to know Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire historique et critique . Influences from this can also be found in later works. However, he dealt more intensively with Richard Simon , who viewed contemporary Christianity as the decline of original Christianity. Holberg's later church history is strongly influenced by Simon.

In 1716 Holberg returned to Copenhagen. There he had to wait 1½ years for a professorship with the support of friends and grants. At that time, professorships were still awarded according to seniority , so that new applicants had to be content with the lowest level of the hierarchy. The wages were paid through the allocation of land to the university, with the best benefices going to the professors with the longest anciency. Holberg received his first chair in " Metaphysics ". He wasn't particularly interested in this material. He wrote nothing between 1715 and 1718. It was not until 1718 that his anger brought him back to writing at what was perceived as arrogant criticism by the younger Andreas Hojer in his introduction to his history of Denmark. Holberg hated Hojer all his life.

In addition, Hojer wrote a treatise on marriage legislation, in which, following the example of natural law, he called for the law to be separated from religion and in legal practice to be separated from the books of the Old Testament. Holberg saw here a competitor who penetrated his subject areas both as a historian and as a natural law writer. He then wrote two satires in Latin in the form of a dispute: De historicis Danicis (About the Danish historians) and De Nuptiis Propinqvorum (About the marriage of close relatives). These weren't great works of art, but it was here that Holberg discovered his satirical streak. Shortly afterwards he wrote the comic heroic poem Peder Paars in alexandrin verses and began to write the verse satires Skiemte-Digte . In the first volume of Peder Paars, he caricatured Danish society in such a way that an application for a ban was submitted to the king. This matter was not pursued further, but it led him to be more cautious about the criticism in the following volumes.

Literary writings

The Danish theater landscape in the 18th century was shaped by foreign traveling troupes, while a separate Danish-speaking theater tradition did not exist. Supported by the theater-friendly and artistically interested King Frederik IV , however, the first permanent Danish-language theater ( Lille Grønnegade teatret ) was opened in Lille Grønnegade in Copenhagen in 1722 with the staging of the Danish-translated play L'Avare (The Miser) by Molière .

The French founders of the theater, René Montaigu and Etienne Capion, had already asked university professor Ludvig Holberg to work out their own Danish plays. The second play on the program of the theater in Lille Grønnegade was a play by Ludvig Holberg on September 25, 1722: Den politiske Kandestøber ( The political jug maker , see also jug foundry ). Like all his comedies, he published it under the pseudonym “Hans Michelsen, Bierbrauer and Poet in Kalundborg ”. It was one of 26 comedies he had written in the past three years. The play is Denmark's first Danish-language comedy, which became the starting point of modern Danish theater.

Holberg's comedies are about people who reject reason and let themselves be guided by a bizarre passion or weakness. The comedy is generated by intrigue or foolishness that is set in motion against the main character in order to cure him of his nonsense. They have their roots in the Commedia dell'arte that Holberg got to know during his stay in Italy. It is from there that the firm composition of the characters in the comedies and the intrigues come. He follows Molière in the construction. Holberg settles his scenes in the common people and relocates the actions in the alleys, tea and coffee houses of Copenhagen.

In 1725 he traveled again to Paris. There he hoped to be able to perform some of his comedies in French translation. His comedies were praised but not performed.

From 1730 was under the pietistic King Christian VI. the theater closed until the change of throne in 1746. After that, in addition to the Danish theater, a German and a French theater and an Italian opera were built in a short time. In the first half of the year, only plays by Holberg were performed in the Danish theater. The theater director wanted to perform other easy plays, shepherd's plays with vocal interludes, but failed because of the actors' resistance. Holberg was opposed to these innovations such as shepherd's game, gallantry and rococo. This rejection is also expressed in his late comedies, which are more allegorically and philosophically charged. The erotic intrigue recedes.

Ludvig Holberg's satirical novel Nicolaii Klimii iter subterraneum was published in Latin in 1741, but was translated into Danish ( Niels Klims Reise til den underjordiske verden ) and many other cultural languages as early as 1742 , German as Niels Klim's Journey to the Underworld . The novel brought Holberg the European breakthrough. He got the name Niels Klim from a Danish sexton of the Kreuzkirche in Bergen , the journey into the underworld of Mareminehollet.

In 1751 he also began to write fables. They are short, almost epigrams with a satirical touch.

Scientific writings

In 1720 he took over the chair of Latin. He also became a member of the university's consistory. In his votes and drafts he was conservative and cautious on difficult questions. Nonetheless, the university was upset that students, prospective pastors, appeared on stage in his comedies.

At the end of the 20s, Holberg turned back to his scientific work. in the following 10-15 years he published a number of extensive historical works. This began in 1729 with Dannemarks og Norges Beskrivelse (description of Denmark and Norway), where he undertook a broad cultural-historical presentation of the two empires, country, people, constitution, economy, religion and education. He continued what had already been started by Thomas Bartholin , Þormóður Torfason , Ole Worm and Árni Magnússon . But in the middle of the work there was a break in the representation and he switched to the traditional royal story with a focus on foreign policy and wars. He added his old royal story, which he had presented to the king in 1713, but which had not been published.

1732–1735 he wrote his most extensive work with Dannemark's Riges Historie . The first half lasted until 1588, the other from 1588 to 1670. While he was able to rely on older works for the first part, he had to work everything from scratch in the second part. He also wrote two Latin textbooks, one in history and one in geography. He also published a description of Bergens ( Bergens Beskrivelse ) in 1737 , which was essentially an edited and abridged edition of the manuscript left by Edvard Edvardsen, the vice-rector of his Latin school in Bergen, and which he added three chapters, a memory to the city of his childhood.

He also wrote the Kirke history , which dealt with the time up to the Reformation. Here he described a story of decline in which he presented the reasons why the Catholic Church and the papacy corrupted Christians and undermined state power. For him, however, history took a happy turn in the Reformation, when it brought freedom into politics and religion.

He wrote many other historical works, also about distant countries, a Jewish story, biographies about Roman personalities and much more. He usually used the Danish language, and now and then he wrote in Latin when he wanted to address a readership outside Denmark.

In his theoretical writings on historiography, he praised neutrality, but in his own literary practice he based the presentation on what appeared to him to be of higher value. As a historian, however, he was not at the height of his contemporaries with this attitude. He did not adopt source criticism as a method whose pioneer was among others his colleague Hans Gram . He took the documents as they were and judged them by his feeling for their plausibility. He was immovable in his loyalty to the royal family and in his basic attitude as a Protestant. When asked what the relationship between Norway and Denmark was, he wrote that a native Dane must be born in either Norway or Denmark.

In 1730 he also consolidated his position at the university. He was given the professorship he had most strived for, the chair of history. He now also had representative tasks, such as a commemorative speech for Christian IV in 1730. From 1735–1736 he was rector of the university. Now he became more and more interested in economic and administrative tasks. 1737–1751 he took on various offices as managing director for colleges and the university. He held this office.

Around 1740 he also read Montaigne . He became an important source of inspiration alongside the classics Cicero , Pliny and Seneca . His style now became more essayistic. In his essays he dealt particularly with the theodicy problem. In 1748 he was fascinated by the French philosopher Pierre Bayle , but also by the English Deists. In 1750 he turned away from them again and rejected reason as the basis for religion and relied solely on revelation.

Holberg as a patron

Holberg was thrifty and very knowledgeable about property issues. After the great fire in Copenhagen in 1728, he had bought a lot of land cheaply, rebuilt it and sold it on at high profit. He owned various estates in Midt- Sjælland , Brorup near Slagelse and Tersløse near Sorø . Christian IV had founded an academy in Sorø to train specialist civil servants for his administration. It was closed for a while, but a new opening was discussed in 1740. Holberg was involved in the planning and also worked out the course. But there was a lack of resources. Holberg had no heirs and was now old. He managed to convert his estates Brorup and Tersløse into a barony. After his death, this barony would go to the Academy. However, as the academy lacked funds for a short time, Baron Holberg gave the academy the income from these lands from May 1751.

Holberg memorial by the sculptor Dyre Vaa in front of the National Theater in Oslo. To the left and right of the poet are Henrik and Pernille , two characters from his comedies.


The person of Holberg led to a dispute between Norway and Denmark, because in Denmark they spoke of “our Holberg” and the Norwegians valued the fact that he was Norwegian. Although as a philosopher he stayed within the boundaries of the 18th century in his political thinking, it is to his credit that he drew attention to movements that heralded a new spirit. In his emphasis on social historiography, Holberg approached modern principles more than anyone before Voltaire.

His satirical novel Niels Klims underground journey (1741) initially appeared in Latin, but was soon translated into numerous European languages ​​(German from 1741, including the translation by Wilhelm Christhelf Sigmund Mylius in 1788).

In 1976 a Mercury crater was named after him. The Norwegian University of Bergen has been awarding the Holberg Prize for outstanding academic work in the humanities, social sciences and law since 2004 . The Holberg monument was also erected in Bergen in 1884 .

The cultural charisma of Holberg is also reflected in the composition Aus Holbergs Zeit (op. 40) by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg , an "old style" suite that was composed as a piano composition for Holberg's 200th birthday and later arranged by Grieg for string orchestra .


Works (selection)

Scientific works:

  • Introduction til de fornemste europæiske Rigers Historie , 1711
  • Appendix til the historiske Introduction , 1713
  • Introduction til Naturens and Folke-rettens Kundskab , 1716
  • De historicis Danicis (Danske historikere), 1719
  • De Nuptiis Propinqvorum (Nærbeslektede ekteskap), 1719
  • Holgeri Dani ad Burmannum Epistola (Holger Danskes Brev til Burman), 1727
  • Dannemarks og Norges Beskrivelse , 1729
  • Oratio in Obitum Friderici Qvarti (Mindetale over Frederik IV), 1730
  • Dannemark's Riges History , 3 volumes, 1732–1735
  • Compendium geographicum (Geografi), 1733
  • Bergens Beskrivelse , 1737
  • Almindelig Kirke history , 1738
  • Danmarks og Norges Søe-Historie , 1747
  • Remarques sur L'esprit des Loix , 1753


  • 1722 Jeppe vom Berge or The Transformed Farmer (Danish: Jeppe paa Bierget eller Den forvandlede Bonde )
  • 1722 The political jug maker (Danish den politiske Kandestøber )
  • 1722 Jean de France or Hans Fransen (Danish Jean de France eller Hans Frandsen )
  • 1731 Erasmus Montanus or Rasmus Berg (Danish Erasmus Montanus eller Rasmus Berg )


  • Niels Klim's underground journey . ( Online as PDF )
  • Nicolai Klim's underground journey, which contains a completely new description of the earth as well as a complicated message from the fifth monarchy, which was previously completely unknown to us. (Anonymous), Copenhagen-Leipzig 1741 (ND most recently Reclam Leipzig, 2nd edition 1985)

The article is essentially based on the article "Ludvig Holberg" in the Norsk biografisk leksikon . Information from other sources is given separately.

Primary literature

  • Selected comedies , translation by Jens Heese and Bernd Kretschmer, Leverkusen, 1988 ISBN 3-927153-06-0 .
  • News of my life in three letters to a distinguished gentleman , with excerpts from the essay Ludwig Holberg and his contemporaries by Georg Brandes , Dieterich, Leipzig 1982.
  • Comedies , 2 volumes, translation by Hans and Agathe Holtorf, Alster Verlag Curt Brauns, Wedel in Holstein 1943.
  • Jeppe vom Berge or The Metamorphosed Farmer , translation by Hans u. Agathe Holtorf , 70 p., Leipzig 1941.

Secondary literature

German secondary literature:

  • Nicolay Fürst : Letters on Danish Literature . Vienna: Verlag Carl Gerold, 1816. Online version (Google books, last visited on April 29, 2020)
  • Andreas Elviken: The Development of Norwegian Nationalism . Berlin 1930.
  • Otto CA zur Nedden : Ludwig Holberg - The Danish Molière . In: ders. European accents. Speeches and essays . Wuppertal: Staats-Verlag, 1968. pp. 185–188.
  • Angelika Bamberger: Ludvig Holberg and the first Danish national theater . Frankfurt aM: Haag + Herchen, 1983.
  • Kerrin Jensen: Morals and Politics. Image of society and comedy conception in Ludwig Holberg's early work . Frankfurt am Main / Bern / New York: Lang, 1986. [Contributions to Scandinavian Studies, Volume 6]
  • Uwe Ebel: Concepts of a national-language drama from Holberg to Ibsen . Metelen / Steinfurt: Ebele, 1990.

Danish secondary literature:

  • E. Holm: Holbergs statsretslige og politiske Synsmaader , Copenhagen 1879
  • Georg Brandes : Ludvig Holberg. Et Festskrift , Copenhagen 1884. Online version (PDF; 4.3 MB)
  • Frederik Julius Billeskov Jansen: Ludvig Holberg , New York 1974
  • Jens Kristian Andersen: Ludvig Holberg. Statsborger, intellectual, dramatist , Copenhagen 1984
  • Peter Christensen: Ludvig Holberg. En modern classics , Aarhus 1995 (Diss.)

Norwegian secondary literature:

  • Francis Bull: Holberg som historian . Christiania 1916.
  • Lars Roar Langslet: The store ensomme. En biografi om Ludvig Holberg , Oslo 2001.
  • Knut Ove Arntzen: Holbergs theater mellom art og liv - from burlesque paradoxes to reteatralization . In: Eivind Tjønneland (ed.). The chardy Holberg . Oslo: Aschehoug, 2005. pp. 91-109.
  • Gunnar Siversten. Epistle 66 and Jeppe paa Bierget . In: Eivind Tjønneland (ed.). The chardy Holberg . Oslo: Aschehoug, 2005. pp. 129-145.
  • Anchor Gemzøe. Dårskapens nytte. Rasjonelt and irrasjonelt i Holbergs Komedier . In: Eivind Tjønneland (ed.). The chardy Holberg. Oslo: Aschehoug, 2005. pp. 327-336.
  • Eiliv Vinje: Ludvig Holberg . In: Norsk biografisk leksikon

English secondary literature:

  • Anne S. Lundquist: Ludvig Holberg and Molière. Imitation or Constructive Emulation? . In: Roger Johnson, Editha Neumann, Guy Trail (Eds.) Molière and the Commonwealth of Letters: Patrimony and Posterity . Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1975. pp. 245-251.
  • Bent Holm: Ludvig Holberg. A Danish Playwright on the European Stage. Masquerade, comedy, satire . Vienna: Hollitzer, 2018.
  • Knud Haakonssen, Sebastian Olden-Joergensen (eds.): Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754). Learning and Literature in the Nordic Enlightenment , London: Routledge 2017, ISBN 978-1-4724-5070-8 .
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Individual evidence

  1. J. Nordahl-Olsen, Ludvig Holberg i Bergen, J. Griegs Forlag, Bergen 1905
  2. Elviken p. 26.
  3. Borchs Collegium was called "Collegium Mediceum" when it was founded. It was founded by Ole Borch on May 29, 1691 and served as a dormitory for 16 poor, gifted students. It was the most prestigious college in the city.
  4. That meant 120 Reichstaler per year for a stay at a Protestant university abroad, so that his faith would be strengthened and not rely on stubborn human reason.
  5. It is a rock cave. “Maremine” is a mermaid. There is also a bronze plaque in Rotthaugen near Bergen, which commemorates this novel.
  6. German edition: Ludvig Holberg: Description of the famous capital and trading city of Bergen in Norway. Copenhagen 1753. - Digitized in the digital library Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
  7. Elviken p. 27.
  8. Elviken p. 26.
  9. ^ Francis Bull: Holberg som historian . Christiania 1916.
  10. ^ Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature