Johann Heinrich Voss

Johann Heinrich Voss ( born February 20, 1751 Sommerstorffs, † March 29, 1826 in Heidelberg ) was a German poet and an important translator of the epics of Homer ( Iliad and Odyssey ) and the Greek and Roman classics.


As the illegitimate son of the peasant Johann Heinrich Voss (1714-1778) and the organist 's daughter Katharina Dorothea Karsten (1718-1798) was born in Voss Sommerstorffs in Waren (Müritz) and grew up as the eldest among five siblings in Penzlin, where his father, who had seen a former valet lot of the world, had settled as a tax collector, restaurateur and school support. His grandfather was a freed serfs craftsmen. For Voss this origin was a lifelong formative from the lowest stratum of society, especially in its assessment of the French Revolution and of the nobility.

After Voss had visited in 1766 and 1769 the grammar school in Neubrandenburg, he took part in an ill- tempered private tutor in Ankershagen because he had no money to study. At the invitation of Heinrich Christian Boie, whose attention he had attracted by poetry contributions for the justified by Boie Göttingen Musenalmanach, he attended the University of Göttingen since 1772. Here he studied philology and was one of the founders and the leading spirit of the first German poet Federation, the famous Göttingen Hainbund. The federal government often met in his little room in the Barfüssergasse. On June 6, 1774, he was raised a member of the Masonic Lodge Hamburger " At the Three Roses" and also there on April 22, 1775, together with Friedrich Leopold Graf Stolberg to the Master. 1786, he left the Freemasonry in a dispute with the Grand National of Freemasons of Germany. In two letters he justified this by saying that the " conspiracy" is an illusion; he does not believe in the stated goals, and the " Secret Superiors " is clearly the Jesuits - a widely held at that time conspiracy theory.

After graduating in 1775 Boie gave him the sole editorship of the Muse almanac, which he edited until 1800, from 1780 to 1788, together with Leopold Friedrich Günther von Goeckingk. Voss moved to Wandsbek in the neighborhood of Matthias Claudius. In 1777 he married Boies youngest sister Ernestine ( 1756-1834 ). From their children Hans Voss was a well-known architect, while Henry and Abraham were also philologists and led away the Father's work. The son William was a doctor in Eutin.

1778 Voss was rector of the Latin school in Otter village at the mouth of the Elbe. After he and his entire family were ill in the late summer of 1781 hard at march fever, he left with his family in 1782 Otter village, though he for this time unusually free and liberal country Hadeln, whose main town Ottersdorf was and its inhabitants since the Middle Ages value to a Latin school for the citizens and farmers in the area had been laid, very appreciated. In a poem he in 1780 with the name " In the Wind " wrote, he described the poor water quality in Otter village. This city, located directly on the lower Elbe in the confluence area of the current in the North Sea, had a ground water with very high salinity. Therefore often been the drinking water from higher areas, the Geest in the Wingst or Westerberg, delivered by truck sidecars for about 1 Taler per barrel. But that could not afford all men.

With the assistance of his friend Friedrich Stolberg Hainbund - Voss took over in 1782 the position as rector of the grammar school in Eutin ( today's Johann Heinrich Voss - school). He remained there until 1802 ( since 1786 as a Councillor ) when he asked for his retirement. He lived here for shorter stays in the fairway and on the temporary town hall which was converted into a little widow Palais later, since May 1, 1784 " Voss - house". The years in Eutin were his most prolific period, the end of which was initiated by the falling out with Friedrich Stolberg. To the two friends gathered around himself the so-called Eutiner circle.

From 1802 to 1805 he stayed as a privateer in Jena. In neighboring Weimar his son Heinrich was active from 1804 to 1806 as a professor at the local Wilhelm -Ernst -Gymnasium. Although Goethe wished to keep him close to him, he accepted the appointment ( by the government of Baden ) to acquire a highly doped sinecure professorship at the University of Heidelberg, which enabled him to become totally his literary works, translations and antiquarian until his death to devote research.

Family Tomb, Johann Heinrich Voss, copy after the original, Bergfriedhof Heidelberg, Department D

A bust of Johann Heinrich Voss and his house in the village of Otter


Voss was a man of remarkable intellectual independence and powerful language. In the years 1785-1795 he published in two editions, a collection of his own poems, which he later expanded. The best of his poetic work is probably his idyllic poem Luise (1795 ), in which he tried with much success, contemporary German intellectual life and feeling express poetry in the forms of classical ( antique ), so among other things, in hexameters. Goethe he inspired their on to the verse epic Hermann and Dorothea, which appeared in 1797 (see also Goethe's Reineke Fuchs of 1793, also in hexameters ).

In the mythological letters ( two volumes, 1794) and in his anti- symbolism ( two volumes, 1824-1826 ), which he wrote in opposition to Georg Friedrich Creuzer ( 1771-1858 ), and in other writings contributed Voss essential to the study of mythology in. He was also active as an advocate of the right to freedom of religion. Converted to a time when many German Romantics to the Roman Catholic Church, he stepped through a sensational article in Sophronizon (1819 ), a statement issued by Paul newspaper, shows that compared to 1800 made ​​crossing his former friend Friedrich Leopold Graf zu Stolberg turned to Catholicism.

Primarily it is the translations of the great epics of Homer, which Voss owes his place in German literature. His translations show not only profound erudition and knowledge of ancient languages ​​and versification, but also consummate mastery of the German language. The most famous of his translations are those of the Homeric epics Iliad and Odyssey; most famously his translation of the Odyssey has become, which appeared in 1781 and their memorable, vivid language generations German reader familiarized with Homer; by Voss's translation of the Iliad Goethe was again stimulated, and indeed to the unfinished work Achilleis. Voss also translated Hesiod, Theocritus, Bion and Moschus, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius, and other classic poets. From Tibullus, he was preparing a critical edition.

He also translated Antoine Galland's French transmission of the tales from the Arabian Nights (1782-1785); the first German version at all. 1818-1829 he published in nine volumes, a translation of Shakespeare's Plays, which he had made with the help of his sons, Henry and Abraham, who were also scholars and qualified translators.

In his name the Johann Heinrich Voss Award for Translation and the Johann Heinrich Voss Prize are awarded for literature.

Voss's contribution to the translation of the classic summed up his contemporary August Thieme in a stanza of his poem consecration from 1809:

Johann Heinrich Voss is known internationally wide. Morris L. West cites " the toast of the old Johann Heinrich Voss: Who does not love wine, women and song, remains a fool his whole life long " in his novel harlequin 1978, p 221

After his death, on March 29, 1826 Johann Heinrich Voss was buried at St. Anne's Cemetery in Heidelberg. His bones were reburied later at the Heidelberg Mountain Cemetery. Here is a faithful replica of his family tomb with the dedicatory inscription to his widow Ernestine Voss, on his tomb in the Department D.


A bronze bust of Voss was established in 1883 at the High School of Eutin. In several cities, streets, roads or squares are named after Johann Heinrich Voss (including in Bremen, Göttingen, Neubrandenburg, Ottersdorf ). Even schools bear his name ( Eutin, Neubrandenburg, Penzlin ). Voss busts are far from the town church on the market square of Penzlin and before school Eutin. Numerous special and part of permanent museum exhibitions were and are dedicated to his life and work.

The discovered on 11 October 1990 Asteroid ( 23473 ) Voss was named after him.


  • Serfdom. In: Lauenburg Musenalmanach. , 1776.
  • Luise. A poem in three rural idylls. Nicolovius, Konigsberg 1795. ( Digitized and full text in German Text Archive )
  • Demolition of my life. Forest -Verlag, Karben 1996 ( Repr ed d Rudolstadt 1818).
  • Letters. ed. Abraham Voss. Olms, Hildesheim, 1971 ( Repr ed d Halberstadt 1829-1833 ).
  • Sämmtliche poetic works. ed. Abraham Voss. Müller, Leipzig 1835.
  • Poems. Selection and introductory texts: Klaus Lange field. Husum printing and publishing company, Husum 2001.
  • The small idylls. With an introduction to understanding the idylls and a postscript edited by Klaus Lange field. Akademischer Verlag Heinz, Stuttgart 2004.
  • Ali Baba and the forty thieves. Tales from the Thousand and One Nights. ed. by Ernst- Peter Wieckenberg. C.H.Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-61608-2.