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Martin West obituary

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Scholar of ancient Greek poetry

The pre-eminent scholar of ancient Greek poetry Martin West, who has died aged 77, compared his work to a climbing-frame – something three-dimensional to move about in, and to be indefinitely extended with all the parts interconnecting. In this he differed from his hero, the great German scholar Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. Where Wilamowitz embodied the ideal of an all-encompassing science of antiquity, Martin’s work was a series of brilliantly creative but logical expansions around an original core.

That core was Hesiod’s Theogony, an archaic Greek poem on the origins of the gods. It took Martin, when a young editor and commentator, still in his mid-20s, on a quest for comparative material in the non-Greek cultures of the ancient Mediterranean. At the time, in the 1960s, they were still largely unfamiliar terrain for most classicists, but Martin’s work made it impossible to overlook their significance for Greece.

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