American Philosophical Society
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1Name:  Dr. Martin Litchfield West
 Institution:  All Souls College, University of Oxford
 Year Elected:  2010
 Class:  4. Humanities
 Subdivision:  405. History and Philology, East and West, through the 17th Century
 Residency:  International
 Living? :   Deceased
 Birth Date:  1937
 Death Date:  July 13, 2015
Martin Litchfield West wrote the following biography in 2010, the year he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. He died July 13, 2015, at the age of 77. I was born in London on 23 September 1937, the first child of Maurice Charles West, Civil Engineer, and his wife Catherine. We lived through the Second World War at Hampton, Middlesex, far enough out of London to receive only occasional bombs in the neighborhood, though the house was damaged one night. The first seven years of my education were spent at a local primary school. Then I was put into the more challenging and stimulating milieu of Colet Court, the junior school attached to one of the major British independent schools, St. Paul's, and after three years I graduated to the main school. There was a strong emphasis there on Latin and Greek, which suited my growing interest in languages, and I had some excellent teachers. In 1955 I went with a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, to pursue the four-year Literae Humaniores course. Among those who taught and influenced me there were Gordon Williams (my college tutor), E. R. Dodds, and Eduard Fraenkel, whose famous seminars were a daunting test-bed for fledgling scholars. In 1959 I embarked on graduate work, choosing Hesiod as my area of study and Hugh Lloyd-Jones as my supervisor. He did me a great service by arranging for me to spend the next summer semester in Germany under Reinhold Merkelbach. Besides raising my German to a state of fluency, those months opened my eyes to different approaches, and I made the acquaintance of such powerful scholars as Walter Burkert, Rudolf Kassel, and Winfried Bühler, who were to remain lifelong friends. Before leaving for Germany I had been elected to a three-year Junior Research Fellowship at St. John's College, Oxford, which I took up on my return. On the last day of 1960 I married my wife Stephanie, whom I had met at Fraenkel's seminars; she was now also doing graduate work and was to establish herself as a scholar in her own right. In 1963, following several unsuccessful applications for permanent positions in universities, I had the good fortune to be offered a Fellowship in Oxford at University College. The same summer we had our first child and I completed my doctoral thesis, a commentary on Hesiod's Theogony (augmented with a critical text and published in 1966). I taught at University College for eleven years, while continuing to publish. In the fall of 1967 I spent a sabbatical term at Harvard as a visiting lecturer - my first experience of the USA. In 1974 I was asked whether I would be interested in the chair in Greek at Bedford College, London; it was intimated that I could continue to live in Oxford, where Stephanie was now employed and where our children were at school. I accepted the offer and began a new life of travelling up to London for a few days each week. The London University scene, initially tranquil, became turbulent in the early eighties. There was official pressure for 'rationalization,' for mergers of colleges and departments, and after strenuous discussions it came about that Bedford merged with Royal Holloway College. This meant that my workplace was transferred from central London to a site out in Surrey, a little closer to Oxford but more awkward to reach by public transport. This forced me, at the age of 47, to learn to drive a car, something I had never before needed to do but much enjoyed doing once I mastered it. During my London period I had two further memorable extended stays abroad: in 1980 a month in Japan as a guest of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and in 1986 a quarter as Visiting Professor at UCLA. In 1991 I was successful with an application for a Senior Research Fellowship at All Souls College Oxford, as desirable a position as any in the academic world, and one that freed me from the regular commuting to Surrey and from increasingly tiresome administrative chores. It gave me the leisure to apply myself to learning Akkadian and some other Semitic languages, which I wanted to do in order to write a book on West Asiatic elements in early Greek poetry (The East Face of Helicon, 1997). I believe it is valuable for a classicist to learn other ancient languages besides Greek and Latin, and as a result of doing so I have been able, since 1994, to publish half a dozen articles on Mesopotamian and Iranian topics, and recently to complete a translation of Zoroaster's Gathas (to appear in August 2010). In 2000 my work received a wholly unexpected tribute in the form of the international Balzan Prize for Classical Antiquity. I reached the statutory age of retirement in 2004, and my status at All Souls changed to that of Emeritus Fellow. I remain active in research and publication, and take pleasure in the tokens of recognition that continue to descend on me from time to time, such as the Festschrift produced for my 70th birthday in 2007, the honorary doctorate conferred by the University of Cyprus in 2008 (which came with a splendiferous robe and hat), and most recently my election to the American Philosophical Society. Martin West
Election Year
2010 (1)