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Holberg, Ludvig

Entry updated 28 July 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1684-1754) Danish playwright, essayist and historian. Born in Bergen, Norway, Holberg studied at Copenhagen and settled permanently in Denmark, where he was appointed professor at Copenhagen University, first of philosophy, later of metaphysics and of Latin rhetoric, and finally of history in 1730. A prolific author, he published several voluminous poems, including Peder Paars (1719; trans Bergliot Stromsoe 1962), which describes the Fantastic Voyage of its protagonist to a god-beleaguered Island, which turns out to be part of Denmark. This long narrative poem, never before translated into English, has been judged to be the first significant work of modern literature in Denmark; it clearly prefigures his main text of sf interest. Holberg also wrote at least twenty-eight stage comedies (mostly in 1722-1723) before publishing the sf Satire for which he is now best known; it was published in two versions:

Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum Novam Telluris Theoriam ac Historiam Quintæ Monarchiæ adhuc nobis Incognitae Exhibens e Bibliotheca B Abelini (1741; trans anon as A Journey to the World Under-Ground. By Nicolas Klimius 1742; vt The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground 1960)

and (under the same title but expanded) as ...

Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum Novam Telluris Theoriam ac Historiam Quintæ Monarchiæ adhuc nobis Incognitæ Exhibens e Bibliotheca B Abelini (1745; trans John Gierlow as Journey to the World Under Ground: Being the Subterraneous Travels of Niels Klim. From the Latin of Lewis Holberg 1828; vt Niels Klim's Journey Under the Ground: Being a Narrative of his Wonderful Descent to the Subterranean Lands; Together with an Account of the Sensible Animals and Trees Inhabiting the Planet Nazar and the Firmament 1845)

Inconveniently for scholars, the most recent translation of the complete text seems to be the 1845 issue. This is a satirical Utopian novel, deriding Holberg's contemporary world and inspired primarily by Thomas More's Utopia (Part 2 1516 in Latin; both parts 1551 in English), Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735), and the Lettres persanes (1721) of Montesquieu (1689-1755). One of the most influential eighteenth-century works of Proto SF Satire, it describes the Fantastic Voyage of Niels Klim through a hole in a mountain (the name Holberg can be translated as "hollow mountain") into a Hollow Earth on the model suggested by Edmond Halley (1656-1742), in which a minute internal Sun is circled by the planet Nazar. Here Klim finds himself in the land of Potu [ie Utop], whose inhabitants show a societal pattern diametrically opposed to that of the contemporary stereotype: Women in SF are the dominant sex and males perform only menial tasks. Holberg's novel was considered dangerously radical in Denmark, and it was long assumed that it only appeared there some decades after its German release; however, publication was never actually banned in Denmark. Holberg was also one of the first to suggest that disease was carried by micro-organisms. [J-HH/JC]

see also: Denmark; Macrostructures.

Ludvig Holberg, Baron of Holberg

born Bergen, Denmark [now Norway]: 3 December 1684

died Copenhagen, Denmark: 28 January 1754

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