German lyric poet. His poetry attempted to reconcile Christianity and the religious spirit of ancient Greece and to naturalize the forms of Greek verse in German. His work includes Hyperion (1797–99), an epistolary novel; translations of Sophocles (1804); and visionary poems such as the elegy ‘Menons Klagen um Diotima/Menon's Lament for Diotima’ and the brilliantly apocalyptic ‘Patmos’ (1806).
Ahead of his time Although he upheld the ideals of classical Greece as a model for contemporary society, Hölderlin showed an awareness of the prevalent materialism and commercialism, which he condemned in many of his works. His translations of Sophocles' Antigone and Oedipus may have influenced his style, which is often based on Greek prosody. His poetry was not appreciated during his lifetime; Goethe and Schiller did not understand his aims, and only when he was rediscovered by Rainer Maria Rilke and Stefan George did Hölderlin become recognized as one of Germany's major poets.
Life He was born in Lauffen on the River Neckar and educated in theology at Tübingen; he also studied philosophy at Jena and became a friend of the philosophers Hegel and Schelling. He worked as a private tutor in Germany (1796–98) in the household of a Frankfurt banker named Gontard, whose wife he fell in love with. Susette Gontard was the ‘Diotima’ of his finest lyrics; she gave him the intensely personal inspiration which threw off the influence of Klopstock and Schiller seen in his early poems. When Gontard discovered the relationship, Hölderlin left Frankfurt, and continued his tutoring career in Switzerland and France. In 1801 he began to show signs of mental disorder, and apart from a short period as a librarian in Homburg 1804 he spent the rest of his life in a state of acute schizophrenia, with a period in an asylum (1806–07).