A good obit, by Gregory Hutchinson, of a remarkable scholar:
Martin West’s achievements stagger every classicist – but he himself was not staggered. He worked on, matter-of-factly, producing endless illuminating books. [...]
West’s work concentrated especially on the archaic and early-classical periods of Greek. He edited the two vast narratives of Homer, and the two characterful poems of Hesiod, which he also wrote lengthy commentaries on. Other editing work included the personal (or seemingly personal) poetry of authors like Archilochus and Theognis, and the tragedies of Aeschylus.
But his work went further, in various directions. He deployed his intimate knowledge of ancient Greek poetry in books which surveyed particular areas, such as metre or music, in all their knotty detail, and depicted their historical development. Importantly, he did not see Greek poetry as springing from nothing: it was shaped by cultures outside of itself – by Indo-European traditions, and still more by the literature of the Near East.
Although these perceptions were not new in themselves, West amassed material (deliberately not confined to the most striking cases) to link Greek literature to the East. With severe criteria, he pursued poetic and religious elements in Greek and Vedic literature and more,back to earlier cultures and languages, such as “Mature” Indo-European. A huge range of knowledge underlay these explorations; they made the home territory of ordinary classicists look small.
Two contrasting tendencies appear in West’s work: on the one hand, his ambitious reconstruction; on the other, his precise fidelity to what is known. [...]
It’s that “precise fidelity to what is known” that I particularly value in a scholar, but he added to it a nice touch of humor (“The ‘mean sun’ is a notional body which moves at a uniform pace, with the real sun generally a few minutes behind or ahead of it like a dog off the lead”), and he seems to have been a genuinely good person (“When his daughter was young, he once had to leave home early on her birthday; but first he mowed ‘Happy Birthday’ into the lawn”); the whole obit is worth reading. Thanks, Trevor!