From the Telegraph:
From the 1960s onwards, despite declining numbers taking Latin at school, Latin literary studies experienced something of a renaissance. Summer schools and courses in translation were making the classics newly accessible to students who had not previously studied Latin and Greek. At the same time, the rise of New Criticism in classical scholarship encouraged close readings of the texts. West’s intensely literary approach put him at the forefront of the emerging movement, concerned with bringing out the richness and variety of the language.
In him the classical Roman poets, Lucretius, Horace and Virgil, found a most accomplished interpreter and translator. His translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (Penguin Books, 1990) is remarkably true to the Latin, and has brought Virgil’s epic to life for a generation of modern English readers.
Unlike his immediate predecessors Robert Fitzgerald and CH Sisson, West believed that prose suited his task better than verse, since “I know of nobody at the end of our century who reads long narrative poems in English, and I want the Aeneid to be read.” In order not to interrupt the flow, he avoided using footnotes or a glossary . Scholarly “furniture”, he felt, would only distract the eye and diminish the vitality of the text.
This vitality extended to West’s three-volume edition of Horace’s Odes (published between 1995 and 2002), perhaps the most accessible guide to Horace’s poems now in print. In rendering such dense and lyrical Latin into English verse, West aimed to create a translation that could appeal both to non-classicists and to students. He followed each ode with a commentary describing how the Latin worked, with close attention to rhythm and sound.
David Alexander West was born in Aberdeen on November 22 1926 and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Aberdeen University, and then, after National Service, at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he took a first in the Classical Tripos. He began doctoral work on the Greek comic poet Aristophanes. While doing research on manuscripts in Rome, during a stay at the British School, he met his future wife, whom he married in 1953.
Having held lectureships at Sheffield University and Edinburgh, David West was appointed to the Newcastle chair in 1969 . That same year he published The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius. During his tenure at Newcastle University the Classics department was described as a “powerhouse of classical learning where they still know how to tell it like it is”, and he became a prominent voice in the classical community nationwide, most notably through his work with the British Classical Association .
Later he co-edited, with Tony Woodman, two collections of essays, Quality and Pleasure in Latin Poetry (1974) and Creative Imitation and Latin Literature (1979).
Following his retirement in 1992 he continued to teach for nearly a decade, and worked not only on his Horace commentary, but also on English poetry. His “exaugural” lecture was on George Herbert, and he then published a detailed commentary on Shakespeare’s sonnets. More recently, combining Classics, English literature and his own Scottish roots, he was working on an edition of part of Gavin Douglas’s great Scots translation of the Aeneid.
He was President of the Classical Association in 1995, and a Vice-President of the Association for Latin Teaching.
Like the Epicurean poets whose work he expounded, David West found delight in friendship, family, the countryside , wine (strong, red, Italian), music, the cultivation and enjoyment of home-grown vegetables, and perhaps above all, wide-ranging conversation, in which rationality and imagination were combined in equal measure.
He married, in 1953, Pamela Murray, who predeceased him in September 1995. He is survived by two daughters and three sons.
David West born November 22 1926, died May 13 2013
- via: Professor David West (Telegraph)