Tag Archives: Horace

“Ach so, Herr Major.”

28th April 1944.

PLF and the kidnap team spend the day at Petrodolakkia with Xylouris and his andartes, where they take many photos. Tom Dunbabin has sent 3 members of his team from the Amari to the hideout, including Reg Everson and a wireless. The plan is to send a message to Cairo so that an evacuation date and beach can be identified, but the radio is broken. They are stuck. PLF sends off various messages, including one to Dick Barnes who has a radio station near Rethymno. The team are joined by Grigori Chnarakis, Nikos Komis and Andoni Papaleonidas, who have walked up from the kidnap point. They are meant to bring with them the General’s driver, Alfred Fenske, but he has been killed on the journey.
At Bletchley Park the codebreakers decode a German signal stating that Kreipe has been kidnapped.

PLF records the following incident:

‘A curious moment, dawn, streaming in the cave’s mouth, which framed the white crease of Mount Ida. We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said:

“Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte”

The opening line and a bit of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart. I was in luck.

” … Nec jam sustineant onus” I went on
“silvae laborantes geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto”

And continued through the other stanzas to the end of the ode. After a few seconds silence, the General said: “Ach so, Herr Major.” For five minutes the war had evaporated without a trace.[i]

[i] William Stanley Moss recorded this mutual love of the Classics in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’

‘Paddy discovered that the General is a fair Greek scholar, and, much to the amusement of our Cretan colleagues, the two of them entertained each other by exchanging verses from Sophocles.’


Horace: The Odes, Book One, IX, translated by John Dryden

Following on from the article by Llewelyn Morgan about Horace, I thought it would be good to share Dryden’s translation.

by Carol Rumens

First published in The Guardian, 30 July 2012.

“For this last half-year I have been troubled with the disease (as I may call it) of translation … ” Thus John Dryden begins the preface to his volume, Sylvae, or the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies (1685). It marks his emergence, relatively late in life, as a translator, containing work by various Greek and Latin authors: Theocritus, Lucretius, Horace, Ovid among them. Despite that “disease”, encompassing a nagging “un-ease” about the fidelity of his method, Dryden enjoyed translating Horace – and it shows. See, for example, the magnificent Ode 29 from Book Three presented by Dryden as his own imitation of “Pindarique Verse”. Its famous eighth stanza (“Happy the man, and happy he alone, / He who can call today his own … “) is treasured by readers still – as poetry and as advice on living. For this week’s poem, however, I’ve picked a smaller jewel: the wonderfully elegant version of Ode Nine, Book One.

Dryden described his method as paraphrase. The original author’s words were not as “strictly followed as his sense”. The sense could be amplified, and even altered. This was a practical and, in some ways, obvious technique. Horace’s word-order, for example, has to be altered to make sense in a non-inflected language. In taking further liberties, the justification is that the translator is himself making a poem. Dryden tried to create a work the author could have produced “if he were living and an Englishman”. He sets the standard for poetry translation as fidelity to the receiving language, and sets a further standard: he is honest with the reader about his strategies.

Horace didn’t think of these verses as Odes. The Renaissance gave them that title. To the author, they were songs, or “carmina”. Ode one/nine is written in Alcaics, a four-lined, largely dactylic strophe named after the Greek poet Alcaeus: it’s the commonest verse-form in the Odes, a flexible form-for-all-seasons. Using iambic tetrameter chiefly, with the rhyme-scheme A B A B C C (C), Dryden expands the quatrain, in the first four stanzas to six lines and in the last two to seven. The bold move works. The statelier English verse occupies its space comfortably. There’s no padding, no rigidity.

Dryden’s poem sometimes generalises, of course. He loses the address to Thaliarchus, master of the feast. He doesn’t mention Mount Soracte or name the trees. In the last stanza, there’s no reference to the girl’s ring. Yet he avoids dull exegesis or moralising. Like Horace, he balances his showing and telling.

Dryden enjoys some subtly brilliant word-play. In the first stanza, the mountains of line one are elevated in the next by “mounts of snow”, a linguistic effect and a snapshot revealing the snow itself as mountainous. There’s a wonderful gravitational pull in the rest of the stanza, from the “labouring woods” (suggesting more tonnage of snow on the trees) to the stream, imagined as a prisoner, fettered, benumbed, “cramp’d to solid ground”. The ensuing indoors scene introduces a contrasting glow and vivacity, with the heaped logs replacing the snow-heaps outside. The mood is merry and defiant, a mixture of Epicurean and stoic. It’s tempting to imagine the Restoration (1660) as Dryden’s political subtext here.

God now comes on stage in a somewhat Jovian manner, playful, not wholly reliable. He will provide, “if ’tis worth His care”, but there’s no knowing what so stormy, windy and capricious a deity might do next (think 17th-century politics again, perhaps?). The scene is set perfectly for that sound, pragmatic advice to seize the moment – “Nor love, nor love’s delights, disdain … ” Dryden works Horace into some sharp-suited epigrams, as in the final couplet of this stanza and the last line of the next (fifth): “The best is but in season best.”

It’s such a cohesive, tight little ship of a poem, yet the tone is relaxed. There is an ease of movement in the argument, so it never seems heavy-handed. All the stanzas work separately, and all work together in forming an overall architecture. There’s a satisfying balance of concrete and abstract. Dryden leaves out some of Horace’s specific details, but compensates with a focus on language.

In the wonderful last stanza, notice how appropriately he picks up the tercet’s rhyme-sounds (“feign/again/ordain”) from the fourth stanza’s couplet about the delights of love (“disdain/gain”). That extra room now allows him to present the courtship drama as a complete narrative-in-miniature. The faint sexual frisson is judged to perfection, and not a word is misplaced. Horace’s brevity is magical, here, but Dryden’s amplification works in another way. He closes with a line of hexameter, straightforward and serious: “These, these are joys the gods for youth ordain.” Do we hear the regretful tone of middle-age? Perhaps, and this may be another reason why Dryden’s English lives. He’s true to his own feelings.

Dryden was a great literary all-rounder. He is “the father of modern criticism” and a glorious prose-stylist. He’s no longer remembered as a playwright, perhaps unfairly. I recently read one of his comedies (An Evening’s Love), dipping my toe for the first time, and found it a highly entertaining piece of Spanish sitcom. But Dryden himself feared he had wasted his energies among “the steaming ordures of the stage”.

In 1685, of course, he was still to produce his great allegorical poems and the brilliant satires such as Mac Flecknoe (1682), and still to tackle his translation masterpiece, Virgil’s Aeneid. The Sylvae represent no less an achievement, showing Dryden in a perhaps unusual light – that of graceful poetic lyricist.

Horace’s original, with an interesting modern American translation and helpful commentary by William Harris, is here.

Horace: The Odes, Book One, IX, translated by John Dryden

Behold yon mountain’s hoary height
Made higher with new mounts of snow:
Again behold the winter’s weight
Oppress the labouring woods below’
And streams with icy fetters bound
Benumbed and cramped to solid ground.

With well-heaped logs dissolve the cold
And feed the genial hearth with fires;
Produce the wine that makes us bold,
And spritely wit and love inspires;
For what hereafter shall betide
God (if ’tis worth His care) provide.

Let Him alone with what He made,
To toss and turn the world below;
At His command the storms invade,
The winds by His commission blow;
Till with a nod He bids them cease
And then the calm returns and all is peace.

Tomorrow and its works defy;
Lay hold upon the present hour,
And snatch the pleasures passing by
To put them out of Fortune’s power;
Nor love nor love’s delights disdain –
Whate’er thou getts’t today, is gain.

Secure those golden early joys
That youth unsoured with sorrow bears,
Ere with’ring time the taste destroys
With sickness and unwieldy years.
For active sports, for pleasing rest.
This is the time to be posesst;
The best is but in season best.

Th’appointed hour of promised bliss,
The pleasing whisper in the dark,
The half-unwilling willing kiss,
The laugh that guides thee to the mark,
When the kind nymph would coyness feign
And hides but to be found again –
These, these are joys the gods for youth ordain.

Related article:

An Ode for the Road

An Ode for the Road

Llewelyn Morgan describes himself, rightly as “a Classicist, lucky enough to work at Brasenose College, Oxford. I specialise in Roman literature, but I’ve got a persistent side-interest in Afghanistan, particularly the scholars and spies and scholar-spies who visited the country in the nineteenth century.” We all know so much about Paddy’s tale of the Horace Ode with General Kreipe. This piece from Morgan’s blog goes into a little more detail; essential for those of us not to have had a thorough classical education. My thanks to Peter Golden for passing this to me.

By Llewelyn Morgan

First published on Lugubelinus, 15 October 2013

For reasons that will emerge, I’m intrigued by the practice of travelling with a copy of your favourite classical author in your pocket; and I’m struck by the fact that Horace seems to be the most commonly chosen travelling companion. In Horace’s fifth satire, when he describes setting off on a journey with Heliodorus, there’s a theory that Heliodorus is a book (it was the name of the author of a book called The Wonders of Italy, or possibly The Wonders of Medicine) rather than a flesh-and-blood companion, so that’s kind of appropriate for starters.

It isn’t always Horace. The Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński did all his foreign reporting accompanied by a gift from his editor, “a thick book with a stiff cover of yellow cloth. On the front, stamped in gold letters, was Herodotus, THE HISTORIES.” Europeans trudging through Afghanistan in the nineteenth century cited chapter and verse on Alexander’s itinerary with such accuracy that I can’t help but suspect they had copies of Quintus Curtius Rufus’ Histories of Alexander the Great secreted somewhere about their persons.

Virgil is another favourite, and with him the unhealthier aspects of this practice come to the fore. Abraham Cowley was the author, among other things, of an epic, The Civil War, which he wrote as the English Civil War unfolded in the 1640s (and which mutates from an epic into a satire as Cowley’s favoured side, the Royalists, lose ground.) According to John Aubrey he “alwaies had a Virgil in his pocket”, and his reverence for the Aeneid is very obvious in The Civil War: he even imitates Virgil’s “half-lines”, lines left unfinished by Virgil at his death (he died before the Aeneid was completely finished), but which Cowley thought were deliberate, and expressive.

But Cowley’s devotion to Virgil didn’t stop at the odd half-line.  Aubrey recounts a story of Cowley using his pocket Virgil to consult the “Virgilian lots” (sortes Vergilianae) with the future Charles II, opening the pages of the Aeneid at random as a way of predicting the future. And predictably enough, Cowley and the prince happen on Dido’s curse of Aeneas at the end of Aeneid 4, where the queen of Carthage prays that Aeneas will see his friends fall before his eyes, make peace on unjust terms, and die before his time: Virgil was telling them what would happen to the prince’s father Charles I.

That is a story with many variants, and it doesn’t always involve Cowley. But we can establish that Cowley had a habit of consulting the sortes Vergilianae. Dr Johnson quotes a letter written by Cowley in which he discusses the prospects for an alliance with the Scots. Cowley is confident of a positive outcome to negotiations: “The Scotch will moderate something of the rigour of their demands; the mutual necessity of an accord is visible; the king is persuaded of it. And to tell the truth (which I take to be an argument above all the rest) Virgil has told me something to that purpose.” Virgil has told meThe text in the pocket has become the intimacy of a direct word in the ear.

Well, Virgil can play with people’s heads: Cowley’s consultation of the Virgil in his pocket is a bit like Jackson Knight’s consultation of a medium (supposedly channelling Virgil himself) when he was writing his Penguin translation of the Aeneid (just in case anyone thought Morrissey’s inclusion in the Penguin Classics was the maddest thing to happen to that series).

Chaps with Horace in their pockets are a more stable bunch all round, I like to think. But if that’s true, it has a lot to do with the focus of Horace’s poetry. His most famous and quoted poems are the Odes, and the concerns of these short lyric poems weren’t the profound mysteries of existence delved by Virgil (a figure further amplified by the strange mythology that built up around him after his death). Horace is all about the demands of this life we’re living, the inevitability of aging and death, the pleasure of the present moment. His genius is to give incomparable expression to simple principles of living. Carpe diem, etc.

As he set off to travel on foot to Constantinople in 1933 Paddy Leigh Fermor packed an Oxford Book of English Verse and, a gift from his mother, “the Loeb Horace, Vol. I”, containing the Epodes and Odes; and as he walked across Europe he memorised his favourite odes. That special relationship with Horace featured in Leigh Fermor’s most famous exploit, when he captured the German General Karl Kreipe, commander on Crete, and had him smuggled out to Cairo. As they climbed Mount Ida, Kreipe muttered the first line of Horace’s ninth ode, Vides ut alta stet niue candidum Soracte, “You see how Mt Soracte stands white with deep snow,” and Leigh Fermor responded with the rest of the poem:

The general’s blue eyes had swiveled away from the mountain top to mine – and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: “Ach so, Herr Major!” “Ah, yes, Major!” It was very strange. As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.

Horace, whom both Germans and British had managed to convince themselves was the perfect encapsulation of their respective gentlemanly codes, established a mutual understanding between these two officers. Between them, for example, they managed to piece together the superb conclusion to the Regulus Ode (3.5), where the Roman general Regulus, heroically insisting on going to meet his death at the hands of the Carthaginians, leaves Rome as nonchalantly as a man heading off for a relaxing weekend at his country house. Continue reading

Ode to recovery by Harry Eyres

A review by Sarah Bakewell of Harry Eyres’s new take on Horace which may well have amused Paddy.

First published in the Financial Times 13 June 2103

Knowledge of classical literature can bring people together or drive them apart; it can be socially exclusive, inspire feats of one-upmanship, or turn enemies into friends. Sometimes it can do all this at once, as when the author and Special Operations Executive officer Patrick Leigh Fermor led the captured German general Heinrich Kreipe through the Cretan mountains in 1944. Looking at the snow-covered peaks, Kreipe murmured lines from Horace, in Latin: Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte … (“Do you see how Soracte stands white with deep snow?”). Leigh Fermor took up the ode where he left off, suavely reciting it to the end. United by their classical education, he and his captive shared a “moment” before going back to the business of war.

If this story is still touching, it is mainly because of the beauty and humanity of the “Soracte” ode itself. Horace gives us a mountain snowstorm, only to move immediately indoors where he and a friend are about to throw a log on the fire and uncork some simple local wine: “A mellow four-year-old riserva,” as Harry Eyres translates it here, “Just the Sabine vino, not a fancy cru.” Being both poet and wine writer, Eyres has a taste for Horace’s wine as well as an ear for the vigorous Latin with which it is evoked. In Horace and Me, he blends these with memoir to create a paean to Horace and a polemic for the wise life, and for classical literature in general.

He makes Horace very appealing: a paunchy, sociable man, who esteemed friendship more highly than lust, and honest lust more highly than love. He suffered much early turmoil, born in 65BC as the son of a freed slave in southern Italy, then studying in Rome and Athens. After Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44BC, he ran into trouble by fighting for Brutus’s army, and was punished by having his family property confiscated. He worked as a scribe, then found a powerful patron who bought him a rural haven in the Sabine hills near Rome. By his death in 8BC, Horace was secure in the certainty that his poetry would last longer than bronze.

Eyres read Horace at school but only later learnt to value his “middle-aged” wisdom: his praise of moderation, equanimity, the simple life, the joys of the passing moment, and the ability to enjoy what one has rather than always reaching for more. Eyres finds Horace’s writing “like a dip in an ice-cold stream, clarifying, not enflaming”, and recommends it as an antidote to modern bustle and a form of therapy.

It is the therapeutic memoir strand of the book that lets it down somewhat, including the passages of travelogue in Greece and Italy. Eyres promises a grand narrative arc: “This is a story of how I came back to Horace – and came back to myself at the same time.” Yet it is only vaguely fulfilled, and many episodes are bland, and tenuously connected with Horace. When, at last, something really dramatic happens, and Eyres takes an ill-fated trip to Cuba to meet a “flame-haired poetess” who does not show up, leaving him disoriented and playing Schubert “on huge white Russian pianos left stranded in obscure museums and hotel lobbies”, we are hurried past the story as if there were nothing to see. The scene dissolves in a puff of plurals. (How many huge white pianos?)

But Eyres’s take on Horace is enlightening, and best of all he provides his own witty, exuberantly updated translations of the verses. Roman carriages become SUVs, a perfumed youth becomes a boy drenched in Pour Homme, and a long-forgotten Roman uprising is transplanted to Basra. This keeps Horace surprising and fresh. It sends the reader to the original – not for a more conventional translation but for a long sip of the Latin, which Eyres makes clear we cannot do without, whether we can spout it magnificently on a Cretan mountain or not.

Sarah Bakewell is author of ‘How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer’ (Vintage)

Philhellene’s progress: The writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

As you know I trawl the net for Paddy related material to create the best online source of information about PLF and his friends and associates. Some of you may have come across this essay that attempts to analyse Paddy’s style and his literary achievement. In my view it is just one of many that emphasise how great the man is and how unequalled is his prose.

First published in New Criterion, Jan, 2001 by Ben Downing

I have carried the soldier’s musket, the traveler’s stick, the pilgrim’s staff. –Chateaubriand (what a great quote for Paddy!)

The captive must have been exhausted and afraid, but when, on the fourth day of his grueling forced march across Crete, he saw dawn break behind Mount Ida, the sight was so beautiful that it brought to his lips the opening of Horace’s Ode I.ix: “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte,”(1) he murmured. Then, just as he trailed off, one of his captors came in to take the poem over, reciting the rest of its six stanzas. At this, the captive’s startled eyes slanted down from the peak to meet those of his enemy, and, after a long thoughtful silence, he pronounced, “Ach so, Herr Major.” For the captive was a German soldier–the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance. Leigh Fermor it was who finished the quotation.

But where had he, who’d never completed high school, learned Horace so well? Had Kreipe asked him this, Leigh Fermor could have answered, savoring the irony, that he’d committed the odes to memory during his teenage Wanderjahr a decade earlier, when, just after Hitler’s rise to power, he’d walked clear across Germany (among other countries) with a volume of Horace for his vade mecum, often reciting the poems to himself as he tramped. About that experience he’d not yet written a public word, and would not do so for many more years. Similarly he held off recounting his aubade with Kreipe. At last, however, in the 1970s, he broached the subjects of his continental traverse and, in an aside to that account, of his fleeting bond with Kreipe. Some things are best waited for: the book in which Leigh Fermor set these matters down, A Time of Gifts (1977), along with its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), represent not only the capstone of his career but, in my opinion, the finest travel books in the language and a pinnacle of modern English prose, resplendent as Soracte or Ida in deep snow.

The deplorable fact that most Americans, even well-read ones, have never even heard, as I also had not until recently, of a figure who in Britain (to say nothing of Greece, where he lives to this day) is revered and beloved as war hero, author, and bon vivant; who is, in Jan Morris’s words, “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers”; and who, in those of the historian John Julius Norwich, “writes English as well as anyone alive”–all this spurs me to correct our oversight of the sublime, the peerless Patrick Leigh Fermor.

His turbulent early life is recounted in the introduction to A Time of Gifts. Shortly after his birth in 1915, his mother and sister went to join his father in India, while he was left behind “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” For four years he was billeted with a Northamptonshire farming family, an experience that proved “the opposite of the ordeal Kipling describes in Baa Baa Black Sheep.” A halcyon period, this, but the taste for boisterous freedom he acquired in the fields made for trouble later on: “Those marvelously lawless years, it seems, had unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.” Especially intolerable to him were academic strictures of any kind, and there ensued a long series of dust-ups and expulsions, hilariously related. At ten he was sent to “a school for difficult children,” among which misfits he lists

the millionaire’s nephew who chased motorcars along country lanes with a stick, the admiral’s pretty and slightly kleptomaniac daughter, the pursuivant’s son with nightmares and an infectious inherited passion for heraldry, the backward, the somnambulists … and, finally, the small bad hats like me who were merely very naughty. Continue reading

I say, old chap, that’s my favourite Horatian ode too! By Justin Cartwright

A review of Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor, ed Artemis Cooper first published in the Independent

Sunday, 2 November 2003

The overwhelming impression this book left on me was of a lost world of aesthetic public schoolboys, powerful newspaper editors, friendly ambassadors, and an unspoken understanding of what it meant to be upper- middle-class and English. What it meant was easy access to embassies and aristocratic houses around Europe, bicycle polo in Hungary, and the possibility that the next shepherd you met would be an Etonian Special Operations officer, speaking classical Greek. Here you will find the term “middle class” applied in a pejorative sense, rather than in the current usage which has such a wide catchment. That John Murray, the publishers of this book and upper-middle-class publishers par excellence, are no longer family-owned, perhaps confirms that this world has passed. And with it a love of language and literary decoration.

To quote Jan Morris, Paddy Leigh Fermor is beyond doubt the greatest of living travel writers, although the term “travel writing” barely does justice to the beauty, the lustrousness and sensuality of his writing. Take this, for example, speaking of how Greek temples once looked before they were stark ruins: “But the reality of the ruins, re-cohering in cobalt and blood-red, studded with metal, gaudy with idols, shiny with spilt honey and blood and reeking with sacrificial smoke, will have replaced the tinted ivory artefacts that had stolen their place and the void between the cutting of the flutes on the columns and the laying of the tramlines begins to fill up with people and events.”

There are about 40 short pieces divided into headings: Travels, Greece, People, Books and Flotsam. Many of these pieces are from Leigh Fermor’s great books, Mani, Roumeli and A Time of Gifts. (In 55 years he has only written eight books.) Others are from scattered newspaper pieces and obituaries. All the major phases of his life are represented here: the wandering schoolboy heading for Istanbul, the two years just before the war he spent in Romania with a doomed aristocratic family after meeting the daughter of the family in Athens (the woman Artemis Cooper describes as the love of his life), the extraordinary exploits in war-time Special Operations in Crete, where he captured the German General, Heinrich Kreipe, and his post-war exploration of Greece, particularly Mani where he has lived for 40 years in a house he built with his wife Joan, who died recently. Their story will be told by Artemis Cooper in a biography to be published after his death.

Read more!