Saturday, September 05, 2009


Ach So!

In 1944 Patrick Leigh Fermor and W. Stanley Moss devised a successful plot to kidnap German General Karl Heinrich Kreipe on the island of Crete. Janice M. Benario, "Horace, Humanitas, and Crete," Amphora 2.1 (Spring 2003) 1-3, tells the thrilling story. Benario writes (at 2):
In his book, A Time of Gifts (1977), Leigh Fermor describes the moment when Horace helped create a profound sense of humanitas, "humane conduct toward others," between himself and his enemy:
It was a time of anxiety and danger; and for our captive, of hardship and distress. During a lull in the pursuit, we woke up (April 30) among the rocks just as a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida.

We had been toiling over it through snow and then rain, for the last two days. Looking across the valley at this flashing mountain-crest, the general murmured to himself:
Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte . . .

You see how Soracte stands white with deep
Snow . . .
It was one of the ones I knew! I continued from where he had broken off:
And the laboring trees no longer bear their
Burden, and rivers have become frozen
Because of the piercing cold,
and so on through the remaining five stanzas to the end. 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.
Recently, Leigh Fermor wrote to me that Kreipe, in addition to this ode (Ode 1.9), also knew the ode to Aristius Fuscus (Ode 1.22) and that together they were able to reconstruct the last part of the Regulus Ode (Ode 3.5). Horace, known for moderation and decorum, proved to be the stimulus for continuing gentlemanly behavior between captor and captive.
I recently read an account of the kidnapping by Patrick Leigh Fermor's colleague W. Stanley Moss, Ill Met by Moonlight (1950; rpt. London Cassell, 1999). I had hoped for more details about this episode, but Moss only says (April 29, p. 119):
For a long time we sat and talked. Paddy discovered that the General is a fair Greek scholar, and much to the amusement of our Cretan colleagues, the two of them entertained themselves by exchanging verses from Sophocles.
I own a battered, dog-eared copy of Horace: The Odes, Epodes and Carmen Saeculare. Edited with Introduction and Commentary by Clifford Herschel Moore (New York: American Book Company, 1902). A stamp inside the front cover reads "Lagerbücherei Camp Edwards." In other words, the book once sat on the shelves of the POW library at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, where perhaps some captured German soldier read the Soracte Ode and sighed, "Ach so!"

Here is a translation of Horace, Ode 1.9 by William Sinclair Marris, followed by the original Latin:
How deep the snows upon Soracte glisten!
    The groaning forests yield
Beneath their load, and fast in icy prison
    The streams are pent and sealed.

Come, Thaliarchus, heap the logs on thicker,
    To melt this bitter cold,
And draw me freely of yon Sabine liquor;
    The jar is four years old.

Leave all the rest to Jove; the winds that riot
    With Ocean, at his will
Are laid; the ancient ash-trees all are quiet,
    The cypresses are still.

What matter of To-morrow and its chances?
    Count each To-day among
Thy gains, and make the most of loves and dances
    Now while the heart is young,

And crabbed age is far: and get thee roaming
    By city-square and mead,
To catch a gentle whisper in the gloaming
    At hour and place agreed;

A merry laugh that tells the maid who lingers
    Hid in some corner deep;
A token plundered from the wrist or fingers
    That feign so fast to keep.

Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte, nec iam sustineant onus
    silvae laborantes geluque
    flumina constiterint acuto.

Dissolve frigus ligna super foco
large reponens atque benignius
    deprome quadrimum Sabina,
    o Thaliarche, merum diota.

Permitte divis cetera; qui simul
stravere ventos aequore fervido
    deproeliantis, nec cupressi
    nec veteres agitantur orni.

Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere et
quem fors dierum cumque dabit lucro
    adpone, nec dulcis amores
    sperne puer neque tu choreas,

donec virenti canities abest
morosa. Nunc et Campus et areae
    lenesque sub noctem susurri
    composita repetantur hora;

nunc et latentis proditor intimo
gratus puellae risus ab angulo
    pignusque dereptum lacertis
    aut digito male pertinaci.

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