Ludvig Holberg
Ludvig Holberg, Baron of Holberg (December 3, 1684 – January 28, 1754) was a writer, essayist, philosopher, historian and playwright born in Bergen
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway with a population of as of , . Bergen is the administrative centre of Hordaland county. Greater Bergen or Bergen Metropolitan Area as defined by Statistics Norway, has a population of as of , ....

, Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, during the time of the Dano-Norwegian double monarchy, who spent most of his adult life in Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

. He was influenced by Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

, the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 and the Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

. Holberg is considered the founder of modern Danish
Danish literature
Danish literature, a subset of Scandinavian literature, stretches back to the Middle Ages. Of special note across the centuries are the historian Saxo Grammaticus, the playwright Ludvig Holberg, the storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and Karen Blixen who...

 and Norwegian literature
Norwegian literature
Norwegian literature is literature composed in Norway or by Norwegian people. The history of Norwegian literature starts with the pagan Eddaic poems and skaldic verse of the 9th and 10th centuries with poets such as Bragi Boddason and Eyvindr Skáldaspillir...

, and is best known for the comedies he wrote in 1722–1723 for the theatre in Lille Grønnegade in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

. Holberg's works about natural and common law were widely read by many Danish law students over two hundred years, from 1736 to 1936.

Studies and teaching

Holberg was the youngest of six brothers. His father, Christian Nielsen Holberg, died before Ludvig was one year old. He was educated in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

, and was a teacher at the University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen
The University of Copenhagen is the oldest and largest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479, it has more than 37,000 students, the majority of whom are female , and more than 7,000 employees. The university has several campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the...

 for many years. At the same time, he started his successful career as an author, writing the first of a series of comedies.

He began to study theology at the University of Copenhagen and later taught himself law, history and language. He was not particularly interested in theology as a career, settling for an attestats (similar to a Bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

 today), which gave him the right to work as a priest; he did not attempt a baccalaureus, magister
Magister (degree)
Magister is an academic degree used in various systems of higher education.-Argentina:...

 or doctorate
A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

 in the subject, nor did he follow a career as a theology professor, priest, or bishop. In Holberg's youth, it was common to study theology and specialize according to one's degree, for example in Greek, Latin, philosophy or history. For the purpose of becoming a lawyer, it was normal to study abroad. In 1736 the Danish Lawyer degree was established at the University of Copenhagen, a degree which continued to be granted for 200 years, and for which Holberg's writings remained common reading material throughout this time. Holberg was formally appointed assistant professor after having first worked as one without pay. He had to accept the first available position, which was teaching metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

. Later, he became a professor and taught rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 and Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

. Finally, he was given a professorship in the subject which he prized most and was most productive in, history.

Holberg was well-educated and well-traveled. In his adolescence, he visited large cities in countries such as The Netherlands
Dutch Republic
The Dutch Republic — officially known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands , the Republic of the United Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Provinces — was a republic in Europe existing from 1581 to 1795, preceding the Batavian Republic and ultimately...

 and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, and lived for a short period of time in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

; and for a longer period of time in Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 (1706–1708), which was rare during that time as intellectual life was centered in continental Europe. He was not formally admitted to Oxford University, but spent his time there using the libraries and participating in Latin discussions with the English students.


Holberg's travels were a main inspiration in his later writings these experiences matured him both artistically and morally. Holberg let himself be inspired by old Latin comedies and newer French comedies he had seen in Paris, and street theaters in Rome.

His writings can be divided into three periods, during which he produced mainly history, 1711—1718; mainly satirical poetry and stage comedies, 1719—1731; and mainly philosophy, 1731—1750. His rich output of comedies during the middle period was shaped by his role as house dramatist at Denmark's first public theater, opened in Copenhagen in 1721. These comedies are the works on which his fame rests today, and they were an immediate and immense success. However the poverty caused by the Copenhagen Fire of 1728
Copenhagen Fire of 1728
The Copenhagen Fire of 1728 was the largest fire in the history of Copenhagen, Denmark. It began on the evening of October 20, 1728, and continued to burn until the morning of October 23. It destroyed approximately 28% of the city , left 20% of the population homeless, and the reconstruction lasted...

, brought a wave of depression and puritanism upon the nation, which clashed with Holberg's satirical works, and as a consequence he gave up his comedies switching to philosophical and historical writings in 1731.


In Paris, Holberg met the Danish scientist Jacob Winsløw, who was Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

. Winsløw tried to convert Holberg, without success. Holberg enjoyed the debate, but it started a rumor in Copenhagen that Holberg had converted to Catholicism as Winsløw had, and as a consequence he felt it necessary to deny this to the Danish public, giving voice to anti-Catholic views on several occasions.

Holberg criticized school doctrines in Christianity, arguing that "Children must be made into men, before they can become Christians" and
"If one learns Theology, before learning to become a man, one will never become a man."

Holberg believed in people's inner divine light of reason, and to him it was important that the first goal of education was to teach students to use their senses and intellect, instead of uselessly memorising school books. This was a new, modern understanding of the question of religion, and it shows he was a man of the Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

. Holberg was interested in intellect because he felt that this is what binds society together. He also wondered why there was so much evil in the world, especially when one could let reason lead the way. One could say that he distanced himself from a religious explanation of evil towards a rational/empirical
The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical data are data produced by an experiment or observation....

 train of thought
Train of thought
The train of thought, stream of thought, trail of thought, or chain of thought refers to the interconnection in the sequence of ideas expressed during a connected discourse or thought, as well as the sequence itself, especially in discussion how this sequence leads from one idea to another.When a...

, and this is important because of his status as an author; both in his time and ours.

Holberg was open to biblical criticism, and Holberg's religious representation was, for the most part, deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

. He was critical of the notion of original sin
Original sin
Original sin is, according to a Christian theological doctrine, humanity's state of sin resulting from the Fall of Man. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred...

, instead subscribing to the notion of man's free will.

Holberg's declared intentions with his authorship were to enlighten people to better society. This also fits in with the picture of Holberg as of the age of enlightenment. It is worth noting that Holberg enjoyed larger cities with deep culture – small cities and nature did not interest him.

Influence on science

Holberg's concept for science was that it should be inductive (through experience built on observations) and practical to use. A humorous example is his Betænkning over den nu regierende Qvæg-Syge (Memorandum on the prevalent cattle disease), (1745) where he reasons that the disease is caused by microorganism
A microorganism or microbe is a microscopic organism that comprises either a single cell , cell clusters, or no cell at all...


In youth

Holberg had to live a modest life in his youth and early adulthood. He earned a living as a tutor and as a travel companion for noblemen and tried to work as a private sports coach at the university. He received further support from a grant to travel to other universities in other countries, namely Protestant universities, but this was a condition he did not respect, for he searched out those places where the discussion were the loudest and the experiences were the largest.

During his stay in England, Holberg set his eyes on academic authoring and on his return, he started writing about history. Later he wrote also about natural and international law, possibly at the prompting of an older professor who likened him to natural and international law authors such as Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius , also known as Huig de Groot, Hugo Grocio or Hugo de Groot, was a jurist in the Dutch Republic. With Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law...

 and Samuel Pufendorf.

To make the most possible profit, Holberg published his own works and sold them as papers under a subscription to interested people, typically in an ark. Holberg also tried, with some success, a publisher in Norway. There, his book about natural and international law was printed in several editions, but did not garner him financial gains.


Holberg lived modestly and was able to invest a large part of the profits from the sale of his books on the side and lend them out or invest them in more active ventures. Several times in his writings he criticized townspeople and nobles who used their resources in unproductive ways to be carried round in chairs, to serve in houses and waste money on luxury. He ate reasonably and did not use his money on being driven around. He said that his travelling on foot, and continued walking, was the reason he could keep his malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, which had plagued him in the south, under control.

When he came to the conclusion he could put his money in better ventures than trading, he started investing in real estate. His first large property purchase, Brorupgaard close to Havrebjerg
Havrebjerg, is a small town with a popualation of 429 in Slagelse Municipality, Denmark. It is also the birthplace of the inventor of the pH scale, Søren Peder Lauritz Sørensen....

, happened in stages; first he lent money to the owner at that time, and later took over the farm himself.

Some years later, Holberg also purchased Tersløsegård by Dianalund, the only one of his properties which is preserved because the others in Bergen, Copenhagen and Havrebjerg have been either burned down or torn down.

Sorø Academy and Holberg's will

Holberg was both unmarried and childless, but in the end of his life had a small fortune. He was interested in leaving a legacy and left his estate to Sorø Academy
Sorø Academy
Sorø Academy is a boarding school and public gymnasium located in the small town of Sorø, Denmark. It traces its history back to the 12th century when Bishop Absalon founded a monastery at the site, which was confiscated by the Crown after the Reformation, and ever since, on and off, it has served...

, which was a royal riding academy, with the goal of creating an institution at a university level for young men coming from nobility. Holberg supported the idea of the academy, worked out suggestions to which academic direction it would take and was asked by the king's superintendent to refer some professors for the school. The influential Enlightenment writer Jens Schielderup Sneedorff
Jens Schielderup Sneedorff
Jens Schielderup Sneedorff was a Danish author, professor of political science and royal teacher and a central figure in Denmark in the Age of Enlightenment.-Biography:...

 was appointed professor at Sorø Academy at Holbergs request.

The agreement with the king included that Holberg would be free of taxes from any income from the farms he owned, because the amount donated to the school should be larger than the amount he would pay in taxes. At the same time, he earned the title of Baron
Baron is a title of nobility. The word baron comes from Old French baron, itself from Old High German and Latin baro meaning " man, warrior"; it merged with cognate Old English beorn meaning "nobleman"...

 of Holberg

Holberg's casket, a work of Johannes Wiedewelt
Johannes Wiedewelt
Johannes Wiedewelt , Danish neoclassical sculptor, was born in Copenhagen to royal sculptor to the Danish Court, Just Wiedewelt, and his wife Birgitte Lauridsdatter...

, can be seen in Sorø Monastery Church.

Examples of Holbergs financial management

It can be seen from Holberg's correspondence that he was very conservative with money where he thought it would not be of any use; for example, he was against raising the wage of the pedagogues of Havrebjerg.

Holberg commented several times that he was willing to use money if it were put to good use, for example, he would use money on medication and supplies for his farm hands if they suffered from injury or illness.

When academia had large economic difficulties, because funding was very limited, Holberg agreed to help fund the academy (at Sorø Academy) while he was alive.


Norwegian Edvard Grieg
Edvard Grieg
Edvard Hagerup Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt , and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.-Biography:Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born in...

 composed the Holberg Suite
Holberg Suite
Holberg Suite, Op. 40 more properly "From Holberg's Time", , subtitled "Suite in olden style" , is a suite of five movements based on eighteenth century dance forms, written by Edvard Grieg in 1884 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Danish-Norwegian humanist playwright Ludvig...

(opus 40) to honor Holberg. The suite is in the style of country dances from Holberg's time. In 1911 Johan Halvorsen
Johan Halvorsen
Johan Halvorsen was a Norwegian composer, conductor and violinist.-Biography:Born in Drammen, Norway he was an accomplished violinist from a very early age and became a prominent figure in Norwegian musical life...

 composed incidental music for a production of Holberg's Barselstuen (The Lying-in Room) in Oslo
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...

. Halvorsen later arranged the music into his Suite Ancienne op 31 which he dedicated to the memory of Holberg.

The Norwegian University of Bergen
University of Bergen
The University of Bergen is located in Bergen, Norway. Although founded as late as 1946, academic activity had taken place at Bergen Museum as far back as 1825. The university today serves more than 14,500 students...

 awards the Holberg International Memorial Prize
Holberg International Memorial Prize
The Holberg International Memorial Prize was established in 2003 by the government of Norway with the objective of increasing awareness of the value of academic scholarship within the arts, humanities, social sciences, law and theology, either within one of these fields or through interdisciplinary...

. The 4.5 million kroner (ca. €520.000) endowed prize was awarded to Julia Kristeva
Julia Kristeva
Julia Kristeva is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist, and, most recently, novelist, who has lived in France since the mid-1960s. She is now a Professor at the University Paris Diderot...

 in 2004, to Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...

 in 2005, and to Shmuel Eisenstadt
Shmuel Eisenstadt
Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt was an Israeli sociologist. In 1959 he was appointed to a teaching post in the sociology department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From 1990 until his death in September of 2010 he had been a professor emeritus...

 in 2006.

There is a town named after Holberg on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It was founded by Danish immigrants in 1907.

Dan Shore's opera The Beautiful Bridegroom, for six sopranos, is based on Holberg's last play, Den forvandlede Brudgom.

There is a statue of Holberg and a boulevard
A Boulevard is type of road, usually a wide, multi-lane arterial thoroughfare, divided with a median down the centre, and roadways along each side designed as slow travel and parking lanes and for bicycle and pedestrian usage, often with an above-average quality of landscaping and scenery...

 named after him (Holbergsallmenningen) in the centre of Bergen, Norway.
A crater on Mercury is named for him.


  • Den Politiske Kandestøber, 1722 (Eng. The Political Tinker / The Pewterer turned Politician)
  • Den Vægelsindede, 1722 (Eng. The Waverer / The Weathercock)
  • Jean de France eller Hans Frandsen, 1722 (Eng. Jean de France)
  • Jeppe paa Bjerget eller den forvandlede Bonde, 1722 (Eng. Jeppe of the Hill, or The Transformed Peasant)
  • Mester Gert Westphaler, 1722 (Eng. Gert Westphaler)
  • Barselstuen, 1723 (Eng. The Lying-in Room)
  • Den ellefte Junii, 1723
  • Jacob von Tyboe eller den stortalende Soldat, 1723
  • Ulysses von Ithacia, 1723 (Eng. Ulysses of Ithaca)
  • Erasmus Montanus eller Rasmus Berg, 1723 (Eng. Erasmus Montanus or Rasmus Berg)
  • Don Ranudo de Colibrados, 1723
  • Uden Hoved og Hale, 1723 (Eng. Without Head or Tail)
  • Den Stundesløse, 1723 (Eng. The Fidget)
  • Hexerie eller Blind Allarm, 1723 (Eng. Witchcraft or False Alert)
  • Melampe, 1723
  • Det lykkelige Skibbrud, 1724 (Eng. The Happy Capsize)
  • Det Arabiske Pulver, 1724 (Eng. The Arabian Powder)
  • Mascarade, 1724 (Eng. Masquerade)
  • Julestuen, 1724 (Eng. The Christmas Party)
  • De Usynlige, 1724 (Eng. The Invisible / The Masked Ladies)
  • Diderich Menschenskraek, 1724 (Eng. Diderich the Terrible)
  • Kildereisen, 1725 (Eng. The journey to the source / The source Journey)
  • Henrich og Pernille, 1724-1726 (Eng. Henrik and Pernille)
  • Den pantsatte Bondedreng, 1726 (Eng. The Pawned Farmers helper / The Peasant in Pawn)
  • Pernilles korte Frøkenstand, 1727 (Eng. Pernille's Brief Experience as a Lady)
  • Den Danske Comoedies Liigbegængelse, 1727 (Eng. Funeral of Danish Comedy)
  • Den honette Ambition, 1731 (Eng. The honest/honourable ambition)
  • Den Forvandlede Brudgom, 1753 (Eng. The Changed Bridegroom)
  • Plutus eller Proces imellom Fattigdom og Riigdom, publ. 1753
  • Husspøgelse eller Abracadabra, publ. 1753 (Eng. The house's Ghost or Abracadabra)
  • Philosophus udi egen Indbildning, publ. 1754
  • Republiqven eller det gemeene Bedste, publ. 1754
  • Sganarels Rejse til det philosophiske Land, publ. 1754 (Eng. Sganarel's Journey to the Land of the Philosophers)


  • Peder Paars, 1720
  • fire Skæmtedigte, 1722 (Eng. Four poems for fun)
  • Metamorphosis eller Forvandlinger, 1726 (Eng. Metamorphosis or Changes)


  • Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum, 1741. (Translated to Danish by Hans Hagerup in 1742 as Niels Klims underjordiske Rejse.) (Eng. Niels Klim's Underground Travels
    Niels Klim's Underground Travels
    Niels Klim's Underground Travels, originally published in Latin as Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum , is a satirical science-fiction/fantasy novel written by the Norwegian-Danish author Ludvig Holberg...

     or Nicolai Klimii's subterranean Journey or The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground Bison Books, 2004. ISBN#0803273487)


  • Moralske Tanker, 1744 (Eng. Moral thoughts)
  • Epistler, 1748–54
  • Moralske Fabler, 1751 (Eng. Moral Fables)
  • Tre latinske levnedsbreve, 1728–1743

Historical works

  • Introduction til de fornemste Europæiske Rigers Historier, 1711 (Eng. Introduction to the Greatest European Empires Histories)
  • Morals Kierne eller Introduction til Naturens og Folke-Rettens Kundskab, 1716 (Eng. The Core of Morality or Introduction to Natures and Knowledge for the Common Man)
  • Dannemarks og Norges Beskrivelse, 1729 (Eng. Denmark and Norways Description)
  • Dannemarks Riges Historie, 1732–35 (Eng. The Danish Empire/Kingdom's History)
  • Den berømmelige Norske Handel-Stad Bergens Beskrivelse, 1737 (Eng. The Famous Norwegian Commercial Hub Bergen's Description)
  • Almindelig Kirke-Historie, 1738 (Eng. General Church History)
  • Den jødiske Historie fra Verdens Begyndelse, fortsat til disse Tider, 1742 (Eng. The Jewish History From the Beginning of the World, Continued till Present Day/These Times)
  • Adskillige store Heltes og berømmelige Mænds sammenlignede Historier, 1739–53 (Eng. Several Great Heroes' and Famous Men's Compared Histories)
  • Adskillige Heltinders og navnkundige Damers sammenlignede Historier, 1745 (Eng. Several Heroines' and Noteworthy Ladies' Compared Histories)

External links

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