Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte…

Mount Ida (Psiloritis) in Crete. Credit: sacvoyage on Tumblr)

Mount Ida (Psiloritis) in Crete. Credit: sacvoyage on Tumblr)

See Soracte’s mighty peak stands deep in virgin snow
And soon the heavy-laden trees their white load will not know,
When the swiftly rushing rivers with the ice have ceased to flow.
Pile, O Thaliarchus, pile the good logs on the fire!
Fetch up some crusty four-year wine in cobwebbed Sabine jar!
Thus we’ll drive away Jack Frost, with his biting cold so dire!
Care-free, all other matters among the gods we’ll keep
They when they’ve checked the battling wind upon the boiling deep
Untossed about the cypress and the old ash tree may sleep.
Seek not to know what changes to-morrow may be found
But count as gain whatever lot the change of days brings round;
Spurn not, young friend, sweet love-making, nor yet the dances round,
While withered age is distant from thy youth frequent the plain,
The throned lawns, each fashionable haunt, a crowded lane,
And at the trysting hour, e’en night-fall, softly whispered love’s refrain.
Now doth a roguish laugh our hiding girl betray
From her dark cover, where love’s token, perforce, is snatched away,
And her ill-withstanding finger but feebly bids him nay.

(Horace Ode to Thaliarchus translated by Patrick Leigh Fermor)

 I’m still heart-deep in love with Patrick Leigh Fermor’s writing so to-day, instead of a work of art by a man, here is a work of art by nature. Mount Ida has been deliberately chosen. I shall let Leigh Fermor himself explain why. It is 1944. Leigh Fermor and his band of British soldiers and Cretan Resistance have successfully kidnapped the German General Heinrich Kreipe. The Nazis are in hot pursuit as the team make their escape over the Cretan mountain range…

During the 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

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, through 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. 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.

(Patrick Leigh Fermor A Time of Gifts)

As the note below the photograph of Mount Ida (which today is called Psiloritis) says, the photograph comes from a Tumblr blog called Sacvoyage. I heartily recommend it to you as it includes some beautiful pictures of Greece. Also, Leigh Fermor’s translation of Horace’s Ode comes from Artemis Cooper’s biography of him (Patrick Leigh Fermor An Adventure, John Murray, 2013). Finally, here is a video of Leigh Fermor et al meeting Kreipe again many years after the war.

Categories: Art, Echoes of Alexander, Poetry | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte…

  1. I am searching for a poem by Horace where he expresses his mellowness that comes with advancing age,free from the torments of passion that stirred his youth.He says that he can now appreciate beauty without being driven by lustful thoughts.I am sure that he compares himself to a spent volcano,that is now snow capped and no longer seething.
    Would you be able to direct me to this poem,if indeed it exists or is my memory playing tricks on me?


  2. Ron

    Great story ! Here another translation of this famous poem:

    See, how it stands, one pile of snow,
    Soracte! ‘neath the pressure yield
    Its groaning woods; the torrents’ flow
    With clear sharp ice is all congeal’d.
    Heap high the logs, and melt the cold,
    Good Thaliarch; draw the wine we ask,
    That mellower vintage, four-year-old,
    From out the cellar’d Sabine cask.
    The future trust with Jove; when he
    Has still’d the warring tempests’ roar
    On the vex’d deep, the cypress-tree
    And aged ash are rock’d no more.
    O, ask not what the morn will bring,
    But count as gain each day that chance
    May give you; sport in life’s young spring,
    Nor scorn sweet love, nor merry dance,
    While years are green, while sullen eld
    Is distant. Now the walk, the game,
    The whisper’d talk at sunset held,
    Each in its hour, prefer their claim.
    Sweet too the laugh, whose feign’d alarm
    The hiding-place of beauty tells,
    The token, ravish’d from the arm
    Or finger, that but ill rebels.

    Horace. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace. John Conington. trans. London. George Bell and Sons. 1882.


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