European Scholar

MADVIG, Johann Nicolai

  • Image
  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1804-08-07
  • Born City: Bornholm
  • Born State/Country: Denmark
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1886-12-12
  • Death City: Copenhagen
  • Death State/Country: Denmark
  • Married: 1829
  • Education:

    Fredriksbog Gymnasium; M.A. Copenhagen, 1826; Ph.D., 1828.

  • Professional Experience:

    Reader in Latin, Copenhagen, 1828; prof. Latin, 1829-48; prof. classics, 1851-79; librarian, University Library, 1833-48; memb. Royal Academy of Sciences & Letters, 1833; pres., 1867-86; memb., Danish Constituent Assembly, 1848-74; Secretary of Education & Culture, 1848-51.

  • Dissertation:

    “De Q. Asconii Pediani et aliorum veterum interpretum in Ciceronis Orationes commentary iis disputatio critica” (Copenhagen, 1828).

  • Publications:

    Epistula Critica ad Virum Celeberrimum Jo. Casp. Orellium de Orationum Verrinarum libris II extremis emendandis(Copenhagen, 1828); M. Tullii Ciceronis Orationes selecta duodecim (Copenhagen, 1830; rev. eds. 1841, 1848, 1858, 1867, 1879,1885, 1899, 1916); Opuscula academica (Copenhagen, 1834)Opuscula academica altera (Copenhagen, 1842)Opuscula academica. Ab ipso iterum collecta, emendata et aucta (Copenhagen, 1887); M. Tullii Ciceronis de finibus bonorum et malorum libri quinque (Copenhagen, 1839; 2d ed., 1869; 3d ed., 1876 (with important revisions); reprinted Darmstadt, 1963); Latinsk Sprogltfre til Skolebrug (Copenhagen, 1841; revised ed. 1844, 1852; revised and abridged 1862, 1867, 1878, 1882, 1889, 1897, 1907; syntax only 1895, reprinted 1962; German translation as Lateinische Sprachlehre far Schulen (Braunschweig, 1844); reyised eds. 1847, 1851, 1857, 1867, 1868, abr. ed. 1877, 1884; Dutch translation as Latijnsche spraakleer voor schoolen(Amsterdam, 1846); revised eds. 1849, 1858, 1876, 1881; Greek translation 1846; English translation as A Latin Grammar for the Use of the Schools (Oxford, 1849); revised eds. 1849, 1851, 1856, 1859, 1863, 1878, 1889; Boston, 1870, 1871, 1873, 1875, 1880, 1892, 1902; Russian translation (Moscow, 1868) 1871; Italian translation as Grammatica della lingua latina ad uso delle scuole (Milan, 1867), abridged edition 1970, new translation (Turin, 1894); French translation as Grammaire latine (Paris, 1870, 1873, 1881); Portuguese translation as Grammatica latina para uso das escholas (Porto, 1872); abridged edition (Lisbon, 1887)); Grœsk Ordføiningslaere, isœr for den attiske Sprogform (Copenhagen, 1846; 2d ed., 1857; German translation as Syntax der griechischen Sprache, besonders der attischen Sprachform, für Schulen (Braunschweig, 1847); 2d ed., 1884, reprinted Copenhagen, 1968; English translation as Syntax of the Greek Language (London, 1853); revised editions 1867, 1873, 1880; French translation as Syntaxe de la langue grecque principalement du dialecte attique (Paris, 1884)); Emendationes Livianae(Copenhagen, 1860; 2d ed., 1877); Titi Livii Historiarum Romanarum libri qui supersunt, Vols. 1-4. Ex recensione Jo. Nic. Madvigii ediderunt Jo. Nic. Madvigius et Jo. L. Ussing (Copenhagen, 1861-1866; 2d ed. (1-2 only), 1872-1875); Adversaria critica ad scriptores Graecos et Latinos, 1-2. (Copenhagen, 1871-1872); vol. 3: Adversariorum criticorum ad scriptores graecos et latinos, novas emendationes graecas et latinos continens (Copenhagen, 1884); Kleine philologische Schriften. Vom Verfasser deutsch bearbeitet (Leipzig, 1875; reprinted Hildesheim, 1966); Den romerske Stats Forfatning og Forvalming 1-2 (Copenhagen, 1881-2; German translation as Die Verfassung und Venvaltung des römischen Staates, (Leipzig, 1881-1882); French translation as L’état romain, sa constitution et son administration (Paris, 1882-1889)); Livserindringer. Copenhagen, 1887; Supplementer til Liverindringer of J. N. Madvig (Copenhagen, 1917) (Published by his son.); Sprachtheoretische Abhandlungen. Edited by K. Friis Johansen under the supervision of F. Blatt and Povl Johs. Jensen. Copenhagen, 1971.

  • Notes:

    Johan Nicolai Madvig is beyond doubt the greatest Scandinavian Latinist and one of the most prominent Latin textual critics and grammarians of the nineteenth century. In addition, he played an important role in Danish politics and modernized the educational system in Denmark.

    Madvig was born on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea but spent most of his life in Copenhagen. When his father died in 1816, Madvig was sent to Frederiksbog Gymnasium, north of Copenhagen, with the support of private benefactors; from there he graduated in 1820 with honors; he studied classics at the University of Copenhagen from 1820 to 1825, won an M.A. in 1826, and got his doctorate in 1828; the same year he was appointed Reader of Latin. Nobody in the university was able to teach him much; he was mainly self-taught, though he gained much from a group of fellow students who also became respected scholars. In 1829 he married, and from 1829 to 1848 he was Professor of Latin; from 1851 to 1879, Professor of Classics at his alma mater. He was never a man of means and supplemented his income with various extra jobs, e.g., as librarian of the University library from 1833-1848. He worked hard and wrote university programs, often more than once a year, between 1829 and 1838, and frequently later (cf. his Opuscula academica), and published papers in the yearbook of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters, of which he became a member in 1833 (cf. Kleine philologische Schriften and Sprachtheoretische Abhandlungen.).

    His early work is concentrated on textual emendation and editing of Cicero and other Latin authors. His doctoral dissertation on Asconius shows a remarkable knowledge of Latin and a firm grip on the principles of historical and philological methods; this book remained the best account of Asconius until recently. Madvig had a fine stylistic sense and a good ear for the rhythm of a Ciceronian sentence; over the next decade his understanding of the importance of the study of the interrelations of the manuscripts (recensio) grew, while he offered many improvements over Orelli to the text of Cicero. His criticism of contemporary and previous Latinists is fierce and direct, since he has no respect for anything but the evidence of the codices (the sixth volume of Baiter and Kayser’s edition of Cicero is dedicated to Madvig, “Tullianorum criticorum princeps”). The core of his philological efforts remained conjectural criticism, and many of his emendations have later been confirmed by new manuscript readings. His masterwork in this period is his edition of the De finibus, in which he not only offered a text superior to all earlier editions but also provided a comprehensive commentary that demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Cicero’s Greek sources. In the preface Madvig examines the manuscripts and lays down the principles of textual criticism. The editor is like a judge who must sort out the value of conflicting evidence and find the truth (cf. F. A. Wolf); he must first identify and explain errors in the text and establish by means of conjecture what the author could have said on the basis of the manuscripts, the meaning, and the style of the author. Madvig returned to these principles in his introduction to the Adversaria Critica.

    The foundation of all philological scholarship is knowledge of the language, and it was only natural that Madvig should follow up his editorial work with his Latin Grammar (1841) and Greek Syntax (1846), the more so since he had very definite ideas about general linguistics (cf. Sprachtheoretische Abhandlungen). True to his historicism, Madvig dealt in both grammars with the languages only within a definite period (the period from Caesar and Cicero to the early first century A.D.). Both works clear up many problems that had remained unclear for centuries (e.g., about the particle ἄν), and they enjoyed great popularity in schools and among scholars for the rest of the century.

    During the first twenty years of his career Madvig stayed within academia, where he became respected by both colleagues and students. The Scandinavian movement, the constitutional debate, and the problem with Schleswig-Holstein in the 1840s moved him to take a more active part in political life; in 1848 he became a member of the Constituent Assembly and from 1848 to 1851 he was Secretary of Education and Culture. After his resignation he returned to the university, but he was a member of Parliament until 1874; he was also Inspector General for the Danish educational system from 1852 to 1874; Vice President of the university several times, and from 1867 to 1886 President of the Academy of Sciences and Letters. Thus, he was a prominent public figure; he wrote frequently in the papers about politics and education. He resumed his textual studies, and, with the help of his former student and now colleague, J. L. Ussing (1787-1866), he contributed as much to a better text of Livy as he had to that of Cicero. His many studies of Roman history and law culminated in his two volumes on the Roman constitution and administration (1881-1882), an admirable accomplishment in view of the fact that he was almost blind at the end of his life. As always, Madvig’s approach is historical in the tradition of Niebuhr (1776-1831) and thus anti-Mommsen: the Roman people and their history are inseparable from their institutions. Madvig has no general theory that must be imposed on the evidence, and he describes the changes and modifications in detail during the Republic and, more summarily, in the Empire. Over 1,100 pages long, this account presents all the evidence then available, and it remains a useful reference work. Madvig’s last work, his memoirs, is an important description of intellectual and political life in Denmark in the nineteenth century.

    Though textual criticism is Madvig’s main contribution to classics, his strictly historical attitude toward the ancient Greco-Roman world, which he viewed with no Romantic idealism, was an important forerunner of the historicism of the late nineteenth century. The ancient world should be studied on the basis of the transmitted texts and monuments and was no more and no less than the foundation of the modem world. Historical knowledge is the basis of our understanding of our own culture, but the study of the ancient world is only valuable when inspired by the contemporary world. He had a firm grip on all the disciplines of classical philology, and he influenced more than one generation of Danish classicists, many of whom concentrated on textual criticism and editions, e. g., J. L. Heiberg (1854-1928; Greek mathematics and medicine), M. Cl. Gertz (1844-1929; Seneca, Medieval Latin), and K. Hude (1860-1936; Thucydides with scholia, Herodotus, Lysias, Xenophon, and Aretaeus).

  • Sources:

    M. Cl. Gertz, [Obituary] BPhW 6 (1887) 189-92 and 7 (1887) 221-4; J.L. Heiberg, [Obituary] Biographisches Jahrbuch für Altertumskunde 9 (1887) 202-21Johan Nicolai Madvig, Et Mindeskrift, 1-2 (Copenhagen, 1956) (Comprehensive studies of Madvig’s scholarly, political, and administrative accomplishments, by various authors. The section on Madvig as a classical scholar has been published separately in French (see following); Povl Johs. Jensen, J. N. Madvig, Avec une esquisse de I’histoire de la philologie classique au Danemark (Odense, 1981); Karsten Friis Johansen, “Einleitung” in J. N. Madvig Sprachtheoretische Abhandlungen: 1-46. (On Madvig’s linguistic theories); Sandys, 3:319-323; E. Spang-Hanssen, J.N.Madvig-Bibliografi (Copenhagen, 1966; with Supplement, 1971).


    E. Spang-Hanssen, Under Madvigs Auspicier. Danske Filologers Udvandring til Ruskind 1875, etc. Studier fra Sprog-og Oldtidsforskning, no. 218 (Copenhagen, 1952).

  • Author: Jørgen Mejer