Student and Homeless

  • Arild Stubhaug


Niels Henrik now thought that he had found a formal solution to the fifth degree (quintic) equation. He laid out his work before Holmboe, who also considered the solution to be correct. Holmboe showed Abel’s work to Christopher Hansteen and S0ren Rasmussen, professors respectively in applied and pure mathematics. Neither of them could find errors or shortcomings in Abel’s conclusions and understood probably that this would make quite a sensation if indeed it were a solution to a problem that had stumped mathematicians all over Europe for close to three hundred years. They wanted Abel’s work to be published but still there was no channel of publication in Christiania for such scientific material. Hansteen had good contacts abroad to Scandinavia’s reputedly most gifted mathematician, Professor Ferdinand Degen in Copenhagen. Degen was unable to detect errors in Abel’s reasoning but he looked at the work with obvious scepticism, feeling it was ridiculous that a disciple at the Christiania Cathedral School could solve this problem when so many great mathematicians had been unable to do so. In his reply to Hansteen on May 21, 1821, Degen wrote that the work “exhibits, even if the Goal has not been proven, an uncommon Mind, and uncommon Insights, particular for his Age.” Degen wanted very much, with the thought of publication, to present Abel’s treatment to The Royal Academy of the Sciences but desired, for two reasons to wait a little while.


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  1. 7.
    Dovrefjell is the high, mountainous, alpine region north of Gudbrandsdalen that separates the mountains of southern and northern Norway.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    One alen was equivalent to two feet or 0.627 m.Google Scholar

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arild Stubhaug
    • 1
  1. 1.HyggenNorway

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