Zupitza was the son of Major Andreas Zupitza and his wife, Adelheid, née Albrecht. He received his Gymnasium education in Oppeln.
Zupitza studied classical, Germanic, and Romance philology and Sanskrit at the University of Breslau and the University of Berlin, working with Friedrich Pfeiffer, Ottomar Behnsch, Heinrich Rückert, Karl Müllenhoff, August Boeckh, and Moritz Haupt. He received his doctoral degree in 1865 in Berlin and his postdoctoral degree (habilitation) in 1869 in Breslau. After a short appointment at the University of Vienna in the area of Northern Germanic languages, he was appointed first professor and chair of English philology at the prestigious University of Berlin. He remained in this position until he died of a stroke in 1895. In 1893, he received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge.
- Ed., General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (1882).
- Ed., Beowulf. Autotypes of the unique Cotton MS. Vitellius A XV in the British Museum (London: Trübner, 1882).
- Ed., Cynewulf's Elene (1877).
- Ed., Aelfric's Grammatik und Glossar (1880).
- Ed., Guy of Warwick (1883).
- Ed., The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale (1890).
- Arnold Schröer: Aus der Frühzeit der englischen Philologie. I. Persönliche Erinnerungen und Eindrücke, in: Germanisch Romanische Monatsschrift 15 (1925), S. 32-51.
- Richard Utz: Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology. A History of Reception and an Annotated Bibliography of Studies, 1793-1948. Brepols, Turnhout 2002, especially pp. 73–126: "The Founding Fathers: Julius Zupitza and Bernhard ten Brink."
- Arthur S. Napier, "In Memoriam Julius Zupitza," The Academy 1211 (20 July 1895), p. 51; Gustav Tanger, "Julius Zupitza," Jahrbuch der deutschen Shakespeare Gesellschaft 32 (1896), 296-301.
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