Johann Heinrich Voß

* 20.02.1751 in Sommerstorf; ✝ 29.03.1826 in Heidelberg

Translator, Poet, Pedagogue



Johann Heinrich Voß grew up in humble circumstances in Mecklenburg. Although he had attended a school for scholars in Neubrandenburg between 1766 and 1769, he was obliged to accept the position of a simple family tutor in Ankershagen. It was only after the poetry he sent to the Göttinger Musenalmanach attracted the interest of Heinrich Christian Boie that he could, with the latter’s support, begin a period of philosophical study in Göttingen. In later years Voß became rector of the Latin school in Otterndorf (1778-1782) and the grammar school in Eutin (1782-1802). After a three-year sojourn in Jena, Voß accepted the position of sinecure Professor at Heidelberg University, which he kept until his death.

To begin with Voß took Klopstock as his poetic model and frequented liberal and national circles, such as the Freemasons and the ‘Göttinger Hainbund’, which he himself helped found.  From 1775 onwards he edited the Göttinger Musenalmanach, a periodical sympathetic to the Sturm und Drang movement. As he got older, however, Voß became a staunch defender of Classical ideals, setting new standards of excellence with his translations of the Odyssey (1781) and the Iliad (1793). His best-know poem collection, too, Luise. Ein laendliches Gedicht in drei Idyllen (1795) managed to maintain Classical standards while describing village and lower-middle-class life in northern Germany. Voß kept in touch with many representatives of Weimar Classicism (Goethe among others), but had little sympathy with the Romantic poets. Dedicated to rationalism and Classicism, he attacked their exaltation of (according to taste) paganism, Catholicism, symbolism and mythology in a series of polemics.

Encouraged by his sons Heinrich and Abraham – likewise budding philologists – Voß published between 1818 and 1829 a complete German translation of Shakespeare’s plays (Shakespeare’s Schauspiele) based on the Schlegel-Tieck version. He personally translated thirteen plays, his sons taking responsibility for the rest. However, many critics consider it to be of little value in view of the pedantic literalness of its translation.

Shakespear Translations 

Other Translations 


Primary Literature

Secondary Literature

Album pages with this person

Citation and Licence

Voß, Johann Heinrich, in: The Digital Shakespeare Memorial Album. Edited by Christa Jansohn. URI: (Accessed on 30.05.2024)

This text is published under the following licence: CC BY-ND 3.0 DE. Digitzed media reproduced with the permission of the library of Birmingham.

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