Alexander the Great was one of a kind; occasionally, however, we may detect elements of his character in the life of another person. Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) is proof of this.
In 1933, at the age of 18, Fermor set out from London to walk across Europe. I don’t think his epic journey was precisely the result of a pothos (i.e. deep yearning) to explore the world but like Alexander he did have a very inquisitive spirit. This comes out most strongly in his books recounting the journey, A Time of Gifts and Between the Wood and the Water.
A Time of Gifts takes the story from its beginnings in London/the hook of Holland to the Middle Danube. Between the Wood and the Water sees Fermor walk across the Danube on the Mária Valéria bridge to the Iron Gates (i.e. Hungary/Slovakia to Yugoslavia/Rumania).
Unfortunately, the final volume in the trilogy was not completed before his death.
Happily, however, his biographer, Artemis Cooper (a name that Alexander would definitely have liked), is editing Fermor’s manuscripts to produce it. The book will be called The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos and is due to be published this September. Here it is at Amazon, but I hope you’ll consider buying it at your local bookshop.
During World War II, Fermor served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Crete. There, he spent two years living in the mountains disguised as a shepherd organising resistance to the Nazi occupiers. He did not spend the whole time on the backfoot for in May 1944, Fermor and his party (Ilias Athanasakis, Nikolaos Komis, Efstratios Saviolakis, Dimitrios Tzatzadakis, Antonios Zoidakis) successfully carried out the kidnap of German Heinrich Kreipe. This documentary takes up the story.
Alexander was used to fighting guerrillas rather than being one, and to the best of my knowledge, his only experience of a kidnap was when one foolish mountain tribe snatched Bucephalas. A furious Alexander promised to annihilate the tribe if they did not give his beloved steed back forthwith. They did. That notwithstanding, Alexander was a man who appreciated and rewarded bravery – see how he gave King Porus his kingdom back after defeating him in a hard won fight at the battle of the Hydaspes River – and I think he would have approved of Fermor’s great act of derring do.
- In Between the Woods and Water Fermor recounts visiting the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv, which was founded by Philip II, calling it Philippopolis. The city’s origins go back even further than Philip, though; you can read about them here.
- Wikipedia has an entry on ‘The Abducation of General Kreipe’ here
OMG, thank you for this wonderful news, I mean about the third book. I read the first two and they are amazing. And I so agree with your opening phrase that maybe some of Alexander’s spirit lived in Patrick Leigh Fermor.
For those who didn’t read his books and don’t know his life story – I highly recommend to get acquainted, it’s truly fascinating.
Also, thanks for the embedding this documentary, I never knew about it’s existence.
It’s my absolute pleasure! I was introduced to PLF’s books a couple of years ago. Since then, he has been a very great joy to read. I have to admit, A Time of Gifts took me two or three starts and perhaps as long as his walk did to finish but that was no fault of his prose, which is some of the finest I have read. I am currently reading Artemis Cooper’s biography of him and look forward to continuing with his other books afterwards (The only other one I have read so far is A Time to Keep Silence, which I loved for its sensitivity towards its subject).