Monday, March 13, 2006

Vides ut alta stet nive candidum.

[Updated below.]

In his youth, Patrick Leigh Fermor learned some of Horace's Odes, and later they served him well.
One of them -- I. ix. Ad Thaliarchum -- came to my rescue in strange circumstances a few years later. The hazards of war landed me among the crags of occupied Crete with a band of Cretan guerillas and a captive German general whom we had waylaid and carried off into the mountains three days before. The German garrison of the island were in hot, but luckily temporarily misdirected, chase. 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 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 . . .
It was one of the ones I knew! I continued from where he had broken off:

. . . nec jam sustineant onus
Silvae laborantes, geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto,

and so on, thought the remaining five stanzas to the end. The general's blue eyes had swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine -- and when I'd finished, after a long silence, he said: "Ach so, Herr Major!" It was very strange. We had both drunk at the fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts 85-86 (NYRB, 2005).

One translator renders Horace, Ode 1.9, as follows:
You see how [Mount] Soracte stands out white
with deep snow, and the struggling trees can
no longer sustain the burden, and the rivers
are frozen with sharp ice.

Dispel the cold by liberally piling logs on
the fireplace, and draw out more generously,
o Thaliarchus, four-year-old unmixed wine
from the two-handled Sabine jar.

Entrust everything else to the gods; as soon as
they have stilled the winds battling on the heaving
sea, neither the cypress trees nor
the ancient ash trees are shaken.

Leave off asking what tomorrow will bring, and
whatever days fortune will give, count them
as profit, and while you're young don't scorn
sweet love affairs and dances,

so long as crabbed old age is far from
your vigor. Now let the playing field and the
public squares and soft whisperings at nightfall
(the appointed hour) be your pursuits;

now too the sweet laughter of a girl hiding
in a secret corner, which gives her away,
and a pledge snatched from her wrists
or her feebly resisting finger.
Fermor doesn't say how his time with the German general ended, but the interweb provides more of the story:
[T]he captive was . . . 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.
Fermor's captive actually was Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe, but his name was changed to Karl for Ill-Met by Moonlight. A bio of Kreipe says that he successfully sued for defamation over the movie's mistaken claim that he gave his word of honor that he would not try to escape. (For still more on the operation, go here, or scroll down to History Box No. 1 here.)

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