Martin Litchfield West

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Martin Litchfield West
Born (1937-09-23)23 September 1937
London, England
Died 13 July 2015(2015-07-13) (aged 77)
Oxford, England
Nationality British
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford [1]
Occupation Professor, academic and author
Known for Classics scholar
Honours OM

Martin Litchfield West, OM, FBA (23 September 1937 – 13 July 2015) was an internationally recognised scholar in classics, classical antiquity and philology. In 2002, upon his receipt of the Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies from the British Academy, he was called "the most brilliant and productive Greek scholar of his generation, not just in the United Kingdom, but worldwide."[2] At the time of his death he was an Honorary Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford.[3]

He wrote extensively on ancient Greek music, Greek tragedy, Greek lyric poetry, the relations between Greece and the ancient Near East, and the connection between shamanism and early ancient Greek religion, including the Orphic tradition. This work stems from material in Akkadian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Hittite, and Ugaritic, as well as Greek and Latin.

In 2001, West produced an edition of Homer's Iliad for Teubner, accompanied by a study of its critical tradition and overall philology, entitled Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad; a further volume on The Making of the Iliad appeared ten years later for Oxford University Press, and one on "The Making of the Odyssey" in 2014.

In addition to the Near-Eastern connection, in 2007 he wrote on the reconstitution of Indo-European culture and poetry, and its influence on Greece, in the book Indo-European Poetry and Myth. West died in 2015 in Oxford at the age of 77.[4]

Awards and honours[edit]

West was a DPhil and DLitt of Oxford University, and was been elected a Fellow of the British Academy, a Corresponding Member of the Akademie der Wissenschaften, Göttingen, and a Member of the Academia Europaea, London. HM The Queen appointed him a Member of the Order of Merit (OM) in the 2014 New Year Honours.[6]

Academic teaching and research history[edit]


A dedication to West from The British Academy, upon awarding him the 2002 Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies [1]:

"Among classical scholars, and in the field of ancient Greek literature, Martin West's intellect and productivity have put him in a class of his own. In a career of 35 years, he has published 15 major books, several smaller books, and nearly 200 incisive and original papers. All of his writings maintain the highest standards of traditional scholarship, combining acute intelligence and technical mastery with an admirable clarity and directness of mind and style.

His work falls into three overlapping categories.

First of all, he is the author of the standard manuals of Textual Criticism (1978), Greek Metre (1982) and Greek Music (1992). In case 'manual' suggests a second-hand compilation, it should be explicitly stated that all three books represent a deeply original viewpoint. Secondly, in the editing and explication of Greek poetic texts, West has contributed exemplary editions of the fragments of Hesiod (with R. Merkelbach, 1967); of the Greek Iambic and Elegiac poets (1971-2; 2 1989, 1992); of the Anacreontea (1984; 2 1993); of Aeschylus (1990); and of the Iliad (vol. I, 1998). His contribution to Iambus and Elegy was reinforced by invaluable adversaria in Studies in Greek Elegy and Iambus (1974), and his papers on Greek lyric poetry would in themselves make a substantial volume. He celebrated the millennium with a new text of the fundamental poem of Western civilisation, Homer's Iliad. In addition, there are critical texts, with magisterial commentaries, of Hesiod's Theogony (1966) and Works and Days (1978), and The Orphic Poems (1983) and The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (1985), which reconstruct with great acumen and ingenuity two literary genres familiar to the Greeks but lost to us except in fragments. Thirdly, his interest in the Greeks and the Orient, first exemplified in Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (1971), recently re-emerged in The East Face of Helicon (1997), a comprehensive and timely investigation of parallels between Greek literature and the literatures of the Ancient Near East based on first-hand acquaintance with the texts.

In the field of classical scholarship, as traditionally understood, Martin West is to be judged, on any reckoning, the most brilliant and productive Greek scholar of his generation, not just in the United Kingdom, but worldwide."

A dedication to West upon receiving the 2000 Balzan Prize for Classical Antiquity [2]:

"For his masterful editions and explanations of Greek poetry from Homer to the Attic tragedy as well as for his groundbreaking research in the alleged and still violently debated relationships between Greece and the Orient. Born in 1937, a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, West is considered one of the world's leading classical philologists. His masterly critical editions include Hesiod's works, Greek lyric, orphic poetry and all of Aeschylus' tragedies. His Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (published in Italy by Il Mulino, 1994) offers a decisive and well-balanced contribution to the age-old debate over the 'originality' of Greek culture and its indebtedness to other cultures. His groundbreaking studies on early Greek music are also noteworthy."


Selected list of books[edit]

  • Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1971, xv + 256 pp.; translation into Italian, Bologna 1993
  • Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique Applicable to Greek and Latin Texts (Teubner Studienbücher), Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner 1973, 155 pp.; translation into Greek, Athens 1989; translation into Italian, Palermo 1991; translation into Hungarian, Budapest 1999
  • Studies in Greek Elegy and Iambus (Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte 14), Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter 1974, ix + 198 pp.
  • Immortal Helen: an inaugural lecture delivered on 30 April 1975, London: Bedford College 1975, 18 pp. ISBN 0-900145-30-7
  • Greek Metre, Oxford 1982, xiv + 208 pp. ISBN 0-19-814018-5
  • The Orphic Poems, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1983, xii + 275 pp. ISBN 0-19-814854-2; translation into Italian, Naples 1993;
  • The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Its Nature, Structure, and Origins, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1985, viii + 193 pp. ISBN 0-19-814034-7
  • Introduction to Greek Metre, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1987, xi + 90 pp. ISBN 0-19-872132-3
  • Studies in Aeschylus (Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 1), Stuttgart: B.G. Teubner 1990, x + 406 pp. ISBN 3-519-07450-8
  • Ancient Greek Music, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1992, xiii + 410 pp ISBN 0-19-814897-6; translation into Greek, Athens 1999
  • Die griechische Dichterin: Bild und Rolle (Lectio Teubneriana v), Stuttgart & Leipzig: B.G. Teubner 1996, 48 pp. ISBN 3-519-07554-7
  • The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1997, xxvi + 662 pp. ISBN 0-19-815042-3
  • Studies in the text and transmission of the Iliad. München: K.G. Saur 2001 304 pp. ISBN 3-598-73005-5
  • Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007 480 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-928075-9
  • The Making of the Iliad: Disquisition and Analytical Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011 441 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-959007-0

Editions, commentaries and translations of classical texts[edit]

Selected articles[edit]

His works also include contributions to dictionaries and books and more than 200 articles and papers since 1960.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M.L. West's Biography at All Souls College, Oxford
  2. ^ a b British Academy: Medals and Prizes (Kenyon Medal)
  3. ^ "All Souls College Oxford". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  4. ^ "Professor Martin West", Balliol College, July 14, 2015
  5. ^ P. J. Finglass, C. Collard, N. J. Richardson (eds.) Hesperos: Studies in Ancient Greek Poetry, Oxford University Press, 2007; ISBN 978-0-19-928568-6; reviewed by John Gibert, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 23 June 2008.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60728. p. 2. 31 December 2013.
  7. ^ Table of contents for Greek lyric, tragedy, and textual criticism : collected papers / W. S. Barrett ; assembled and edited by M. L. West at, accessed 15 August 2008


External links[edit]