Johann Heinrich Voss was a German poet and translator, known mostly for his translation of Homer's Odyssey into German (and also for that of the Iliad).
Voss was born at Sommersdorf in Mecklenburg-Strelitz as the son of a farmer. After attending the Gymnasium at Neubrandenburg from 1766–1769, he was obliged to accept a private tutorship in order to earn money to enable him to study at a university.
At the invitation of Heinrich Christian Boie, whose attention he had attracted by poems contributed to the Göttinger Musenalmanach, he went to the University of Göttingen in 1772. Here he studied philology, his studies encompassing both classical and modern languages, and became one of the leading spirits in the famous Hain or Dichterbund. In 1775 Boie made over to him the editorship of the Musenalmanach, which he continued to issue for several years. He married Boie's sister Ernestine in 1777.
In 1778 Voss was appointed rector of the school at Otterndorf. In 1781, after the publication of several treatises, he produced a German-language text for Homer's Odyssey. This work made the poem national with the Germans.
In 1782, Voss accepted the rectorship of the gymnasium at Eutin. There, in 1789, he published translations of Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics. In 1793, his translation of Homer's Iliad appeared, along with the Odyssey in a new form. He also produced two volumes of controversial letters addressed to Christian Gottlob Heine (Mythologische Briefe, 1794).
He retired from Eutin in 1802 with a pension of 600 thalers, and settled at Jena. In 1805, although Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used his utmost endeavours to persuade him to stay, Voss accepted a call to a professorship of classical literature at the University of Heidelberg. Here, in the enjoyment of a considerable salary, he devoted himself entirely to his literary labours, translations and antiquarian research until his death.
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