Friday, July 14, 2017
The Last Moment of the Old Europe
When Captain Leigh Fermor, working with the Cretan resistance in the 1939 war, captured General Kreipe and carried him off to a cave in the Cretan mountains, the General was at first not unnaturally nervous of the villainous appearance of his captors, but the next morning was a brilliant one, and they all crowded together to the cave mouth. You could see the snow on every peak in the White Mountains blazing with sunlight, and eagles floating in the clear blue sky. Captain Leigh Fermor was entranced, and murmured to himself the first stanza of Horace's Soracte poem, 'Vides ut alta stet nive candidum...' The General heard him, and continued the poem in Latin to the end. The link held of course, and they became friends from that moment. There is something about this story, some resonance of the past — it could have happened after all in 1643 and not 1943 — that suggests that was the last moment of the old Europe.Others have pointed out that Kreipe quoted the beginning of the ode, which Leigh Fermor continued (not vice versa). But I like the phrase "the last moment of the old Europe."
Id., p. 3:
I have adored Horace in the simplest manner since I was fifteen, and as undiscerning about poetry as anyone else, but he keeps pace with our years as he does with the ages of the world. Without being deep oneself, one can see the depth in him, and he is one of the very few poets who always leave one feeling wiser, better and more relaxed, with no diminution of energy or of appetite. Whether this has to do with his paganism, or what paganism may mean to him, is one of the avenues we shall explore, but there is no doubt that for three or four hundred years now Horace, with Plutarch, has seemed to offer an alternative to official Christianity, an alternative all the more palatable for the greatness and immediacy of his poetry. Now that I am old I find him greater than ever...