Posts Tagged With: Patrick Leigh Fermor

From Macedonia in Fiction to Crete in Fact

Links to Alexander (2)
More links here

5th August 2014
Historical Fiction can speak very clearly to the present and to the past
The Guardian Book Club – references Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven

8th – 10th August 2014
The No State Solution
Alexander represents what needs to be destroyed in order for peace to prevail

10th August 2014
Popular Takes on Raksha Bandham
A legendary story of how Roxane used this Hindu festival to help Alexander

12th August 2014
Making Alexander great: creating a hero from zero
The Guardian Book Club on Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy

13th August 2013
USC historian plays with the pieces of an ancient puzzle
“An expert on the Ptolemaic dynasty broadens her studies of Hellenistic Egypt”


There have been numerous stories around the web on the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis. Dr Dorothy Lobel King says what needs to be said best on her blog PHDiva.

The Patrick Leigh Fermor blog has good news about the publication this autumn of not one, but two books about the abduction of General Kreipe by Leigh Fermor and Cretan partisans during the Second World War.

Last Week’s Links

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From Home to the Holy Mountain

Thank you to @VirgilTMorant for mentioning the following review on Twitter

Public Books have published a very insightful review of The Broken Road, the last book in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy about his walk across Europe between Christmas 1933 and January 1935. You can read it here.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know how much I like PLF so I enjoyed the review very much. Two passages in particular grabbed my attention. The first comes after the author notes that, upon his arrival in Constantinople, Fermor made only ‘a few perfunctory notes’. Perhaps, he says

… Fermor never reached Constantinople, the city of Byzantine emperors; he only reached Istanbul, the capital of the Republic of Turkey.

As a result of which, and because he was a philhellene, he was never able to finish his trilogy. That is a very interesting point. At first, though, I disagreed with it. After all, Istanbul still has much of its Byzantine heritage still standing in one form or another… doesn’t it?

The truth is, I don’t know; I’ve never been to the city so am not competent to say. But even if much of Constantinople still remains, the air of a place can change even when the buildings don’t. Maybe it was this that caused Fermor to lay down his pen.

The author notes that – in contrast to Istanbul – Fermor had much to say about the next leg of his wanderings: a visit to Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain. He suggests that Fermor’s

… road was not broken; it only led neither to Constantinople, nor Istanbul, but to the Holy Mountain.

Patrick Leigh Fermor never was, as far as I am aware, a practising Christian. He was interested in the faith, though. This is attested by his visits to churches, even if ‘only’ to admire their architecture and histories, during his walk, the fact that for at least part of the Second World War he put ‘R.C.’ for religion on his army papers and by his visits to numerous monasteries in the 50s. All this gives me a great deal of sympathy with the author’s statement.

If you would like to read what might be called the fruit of Fermor’s interest in Christianity, I thoroughly recommend A Time to Keep Silence. It is a very short book but one that has been written with a great deal more sensitivity and depth than many an ‘official’ Christian work.

As for me, I would jump at the chance to visit Mount Athos. I visited my first Orthodox church a while ago and found it to be a very other-worldly place. The icon lined walls, rood-screen hiding the sanctuary area and great Bible in the middle of what would be the knave in a Catholic church, the more ‘traditional’ artistic style of the icons all contributed to making the church here but not of here.

That was in London. I can only imagine what the monasteries must be like. Two things impress me about Orthodoxy (i) To see an Orthodox church is to see a body that was born when the Hellenistic period came to its end but which has much older roots (ii) The Orthodox Church seems to move very slowly, which though the world may (wrongly) disagree, is one of the best traits of true religion. If you know anything about the recent history of the Catholic Church you may be able to guess why I say this (and, of course, my own religious affiliation).

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: | 2 Comments

Darius Prepares for War

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 7 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Darius Misjudges Alexander
Memnon Fails to Take Cyzicus
Parmenion and Calas Put To Flight

The Story
Before his death, Philip II sent Parmenion and Attalus to Asia Minor to prepare the way for his invasion. Diodorus covers this in the 91st chapter of Book XVI. Darius’ response was to prepare his own army to fight the Macedonians. Philip’s death, however, seemed to make this unnecessary; Darius did not rate Alexander. In fact, Diodorus says that the Great King ‘despised’ Alexander’s youth.

Things changed after Alexander’s rapid advance through Greece won the submission of the city-states and for himself the leadership of the Greeks in the war of revenge against the Persian Empire. Thereafter, Darius built up his navy and gathered his armies together. Very wisely, he also chose ‘his best commanders’ to lead his soldiers. One of the former was Memnon of Rhodes.

Darius ordered Memnon to take the city of Cyzicus in north-western Asia Minor. To get there, Memnon marched his men – five thousand mercenaries – across Mount Ida. The crossing was carried out successfully, and Memnon assaulted Cyzicus. But he failed to take it.

Unable to break Cyzicus’ resistance, Memnon ‘wasted its territory and collected much booty’. As he was doing this, Parmenion – presumably now in sole charge of the advance guard of the Macedonian army following the assassination of Attalus – conquered the (nearby – ?) city of Grynium. The inhabitants were sold into slavery and the Macedonians moved onto Pitane.

Parmenion put Pitane under siege but had not yet broken into the city when Memnon appeared on the horizon. Parmenion did not fancy putting his army to the test against Memnon’s mercenaries and retreated.

Diodorus ends Chapter 7 by telling us that later on a commander named Callas ‘with a mixed force of Macedonians and mercenaries joined battle in the Troad against a much larger force of Persians’. The Persians got the better of Callas on that day and he retreated to Rhoeteium. The Footnotes say that Calas (‘as the name is properly spelled’) was ‘of a family prominent in the Elimiotis’, which is in Upper Macedonia, and commanded the Thessalian cavalry in Alexander’s army until the king made him satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia.

Credit has to go to Darius for revising his opinion of Alexander once he learnt about the latter’s success in Greece. A lesser man would have been blinded by his arrogance into believing that no matter what the young king did he was still a mere youth and therefore inferior to one’s self.

As for Memnon, his arrival in the narrative brings to mind one of my favourite What Ifs: What if Memnon had lived? What would this have meant for Alexander’s invasion? Actually, I don’t suppose it would have made much of a difference to it at all. Alexander met Memnon at the Battle of the Granicus River and defeated him and all the Persian commanders. If he could do it once I am sure he could have done it again – just as he did twice with Darius.

Diodorus states that Memnon was ‘outstanding in courage and in strategic grasp’. Memnon demonstrated the latter when he advocated pursuing a scorched earth policy to wear Alexander’s army down. The Persian commanders refused to accept it, though; and, no wonder. They obviously thought that burning your house down in order to stop a thief from entering it seemed a rather self-defeating exercise. However, the harm done would have been temporary and it could have meant a weakened Macedonian army being defeated in battle or being forced to retreat home both empty handed and with empty stomachs. So maybe I should say my favourite What If is What if the Persians had burnt their crops? Would that have been enough to defeat Alexander? We’ll never know.

Regular readers of this blog might recognise Mount Ida. Is this the mountain that General Kreipe saw in the distance when he started to recite Horace’s IX Ode? No, it isn’t. That Ida is in Crete. For more about that famous moment during World War II, click here.

After digressing to explain an astronomical phenomena that one can see from the top of Anatolian Ida, Diodorus gives an example of Memnon pursuing his scorched earth policy. I guess on this occasion his aim was to defeat Cyzicus by reducing her people to a state of starvation. The booty, no doubt, was for his hard worked men.

Songs of the Age
Watch the World Burn b side Aggressive Expansion


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23. 4. 14

By-the-bye No. 2

Giles Milton is a writer by trade but also a dab hand at the art of repousse. Readers of this blog will know that his recently published book, Russian Roulette, was the inspiration for my occasional spy stories. Looking at these examples of Milton’s metalwork, however, it is hard not to get inspired about ancient Rome. Here is the great emperor, Trajan.
TrajanAnd below is Caracalla – the last Roman emperor known to have seen the body of Alexander (c. A.D. 215). 
CaracallaBoth works evoke the images of the kings and I have already asked Milton if he will create an image of Alexander. Here’s hoping!
Giles Milton’s web page is here and is well worth a visit. You can also follow him on Twitter @survivehistory.
Further to Friday’s blog post about Bactria, here is one from a Classical Wisdom on Cyrus the Great. He was one of Alexander’s heroes, whom the Macedonian king hoped to outdo in his exploits. If my memory serves he certainly did so in one respect – while Cyrus was killed fighting the Massagetae, Alexander – through Craterus – defeated them during his campaign in Bactria-Sogdia.
Speaking of heroes I could not let this blog post go by without mentioning one of mine: Patrick Leigh Fermor. His fame rests upon two great events in his life – his capture of General Kreipe during the Second World War (which I wrote about here) and his walk across Europe between December 1933 and January 1935. The reason I mention it here is because a writer named Nick Hunt has just published an account of his own walk across Europe in Leigh Fermor’s footsteps. The book is called Walking the Woods and the Water. I have just started and must confess to not being impressed. Not by Hunt’s writing but the drab nature of the part of Holland he has just walked through. Capitalism has given us many good things but we just doesn’t know when to stop and have used it tear the soul out of our cities. Indeed, we continue to do so. I hope very much that, as Hunt continues his journey well see more of what makes Europe beautiful.
2014 marks the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ death. If you have an interest Ancient Rome why not visit Commemorating Augustus? Octavian was to administration what Alexander was to military conquest, and it is such a shame that his autobiography has not survived.
Speaking of Rome, I will never understand why we speak of Pompey the Great. Not in a million years did he deserve that title. Julius Caesar and Augustus did but Pompey? Never.

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Finding Alexander: In Philippopolis

I have written a few times already on this blog about Patrick Leigh Fermor, the Englishman who walked across Europe in his teens and led a daring raid to capture a German general in Crete during World War II. After the war, Leigh Fermor returned to travelling but eventually made his home in southern Greece.
In September last year I bought The Broken Road, which is the third and final volume of his account of the walk (I wrote about it here). Of course I intended to start reading it then but a couple of false starts followed before I came back to it properly. And even then… I must stop being distracted and learn to sit down and concentrate!
Anyway, I digress. The reason why I am mentioning the book here is to share with you a reference to Alexander that I found on page 33 (hardback edition). Leigh Fermor has just arrived in the ancient city of Philippopolis which, as you may know, was (re)founded by Philip II of Macedon in 340 BC. Nowadays, it is called Plovdiv. But just as Leigh Fermor calls Istanbul Constantinople, we’ll stick with Philippopolis. Leigh Fermor continues,

I drank in a composite aroma which seemed the substantive essence of the Balkans, compounded of sweat, dust, singeing horn, blood, nargileh-smoke, dung, slivo, wine, roasting mutton, spice and coffee, laced with a drop of attar of roses and a drift of incense, and wondered whether Alexander, as a boy, had ever seen this town which his father fortified on the eastern march of his kingdom against the Thracian tribes.

Leigh Fermor’s question is impossible to answer. We simply do not know enough about Alexander’s childhood to know where he travelled. Having said that, unless the Thracians were allies of Philip’s at any given point I doubt Alexander would have gone there. And even then his only reason for going would be as a hostage, and I am fairly sure that never happened to him.
What about when Alexander was grown up? That is, between 340 when Philip conquered the city (before which, according to Wikipedia, was called Eumolpias) and 334 when he crossed the Hellespont and left Europe forever? Well, Arrian is pretty good as a record of Alexander’s campaigns but to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t mention Alexander visiting the city when he campaigned in Thrace in 334.
Of course, it is quite possible that he may have done and the information was either lost to the historians of antiquity or they just didn’t record it. Unless that is the case, I think that the answer to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s question is probably if not definitely in the negative.

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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

The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor

To paraphrase the Patient, today was a good day – I finally arrived in Constantinople
No, I have not left home. Rather, three months after starting the book, I finally came to the end of The Broken Road – the third part of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his walk across interwar Europe, from the Hook of Holland to the former capital of of the Byzantine Empire.
Just as Leigh Fermor ‘novelised’ parts of his account I have also embellished the truth a little. The Broken Road doesn’t actually end with PLF arriving in the city we now call Istanbul. It ends mid-sentence some fifty miles away. This is because Patrick Leigh Fermor died in 2011 without finishing the last book in his trilogy. Sadly, he suffered very severe writer’s block in his later years. So much so that The Broken Road is based on an account of his journey that PLF wrote in the 60s.
To round the book off, its editors – Artemis Cooper (who has also just written a biography of PLF) and Colin Thubron – have included excerpts from Leigh Fermor’s diary, written while he was in Constantinople. Unfortunately, they are very brief and do not do justice to the city he spent two years walking towards. Perhaps with that in mind, Cooper and Thubron end the book with Leigh Fermor’s much fuller diary entries from his visit to Mount Athos, which he sailed to after leaving Asia Minor.
So far as The Broken Road is concerned – you can tell that the work is unfinished. By Leigh Fermor’s standards it is very unpolished. He is such a good writer, though, that even the rough work is still very good. As with the Road’s predecessors, A Time of Gifts and Between the Wood and the Water, I oscillated between marvelling at the now lost world that PLF describes and feeling great sadness over the sad fate that befell any number of the  wonderful people he met. What I think I will remember the book for most, however, is the final section on Mount Athos.
Leigh Fermor’s Holy Mountain has its sinners as well as saints, men poor in spirit as well as those who are rich but it also comes across as a place of peace and serenity. Like his book A Time to Keep Silence – which is also about visits to various monasteries – the Mount Athos is definitely a segment worth reading on a rainy day.

I have said before that Patrick Leigh Fermor had something of Alexander the Great in him. By this I meant his adventurous spirit (though as the Kreipe Affair showed PLF was no mean soldier). I might not have mentioned The Broken Road on this blog had I not read the following on The Stone and the Star blog.

When [Leigh Fermor] wrote about Altdorfer’s famous painting The Battle of Alexander at Issus, something swept over me – I had almost forgotten that I owned a small copy of it, from the gallery in Munich where it hangs. It is a remarkable painting and I think the feeling I had (and still have) for it ties into my fascination with certain types of fantasy landscapes – the first edition I owned of The Lord of the Rings featured cover art which now looks very Altdorfer-esque to me.

I encourage you to read the whole post as it is well written and thought provoking. For my part, I shall say this –
– I am very grateful to Clarissa Aykroyd for reminding me that Leigh Fermor mentioned Alexander! It is not beyond the realms of possibility that I have mentioned this before, but I had forgotten if so and it is always nice to be reminded
As a lifelong fan of all Tolkien’s works I appreciated the connection that she made between him and Alexander. Insofar as they thought much and lived/wrote about heroism the two men are quite similar.
Her mention of Alexander gives me a reason here to mention a thought I had after finishing the book: how different Orthodoxy is to ancient Greek religion. Or is it? This kind of question really demands a post but I can immediately think of one point of connection: hospitality. In antiquity, Greeks were morally obliged to be hospitable (see Laura Gill’s Orestes: The Great Lion, which has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, for an example of this). So were the monks of Mt Athos. There is difference between them, though; for the ancients, they had to be hospitable or else. The monks were hospitable to Leigh Fermor for a positive reason – the love of Christ. Humans being humans, though, his passage was eased by a letter of introduction from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
To conclude, here is a wonderful photograph I discovered on Tumblr – posted along with a few others by a user called ‘kyrosk’. It shows Mount Athos from Mount Olympus. So near… yet that road that connects them would not support even the lightest footfall.

Mount Athos from Mount Olympus

Mount Athos from Mount Olympus

Categories: Books, Of The Moment | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Paul Cartledge at the Hellenic Centre in London

Last night I visited the Hellenic Centre in London for the first time to hear Professor Paul Cartledge speak on the subject of the oath of Plataea. The event was sponsored by the Hellenic Society, which  hosted a talk on Alexander by Robin Lane Fox (and which I wrote about here) a few months ago. It is a real privilege and joy to be a member of the society and attend talks by these great scholars. I hope that one day I can follow them to Greece. By the bye, I don’t think you have to be a member of the Society to attend the talks – I wasn’t when I went to the RLF one – so if you see one that you are interested in get in touch with the Society to find out if you can go along.
Cartledge’s talk was recorded so I imagine (as with Lane Fox’s) it will appear on-line soon. As and when it does, I shall post a link or ’embed’ the video on this blog. I didn’t take any notes last night, so instead of writing a report here are three things that made an impression on me, and which are still on my mind.
When Xerxes crossed the Hellespont in 480 BC his passage was impeded by violent weather. It even destroyed the temporary bridge he had constructed to facilitate the crossing. Enraged, Xerxes ordered the sea to be whipped and branded, and for fetters to be thrown into it.
To you and me today this sounds like absurd behaviour, comical even. In 480, though, Xerxes’ actions were deadly serious. The ancients regarded the seas – as well as many other parts of the natural world – as being gods. For them, Xerxes wasn’t impotently lashing the sea, but demonstrating his authority over a divinity. And even more than that, he was treating the god of the Hellespont like a slave – for branding was a punishment for misbehaviour by slaves. Talk about hubris.
In light of the above, I no longer think Xerxes absurd but blasphemous. Indeed, his action really rather takes my breath away. People say that Alexander became a megalomaniac towards the end of his life but at least he loved the gods.
This is as trivial as (α) is serious. During his talk, Cartledge referred to ‘Byzantion, later called Constantinople, which some today call Istanbul’. This happily called to mind Patrick Leigh Fermor’s preference for calling Istanbul Constantinople in A Time of GiftsBetween The Wood and the Water and The Broken Road!

Speaking of Leigh Fermor, have you read this good news about his headstone?
During the post talk Q and A a questioner asked Cartledge what he thought of the famous quotation that the Battle of Marathon was a more important event in English history than that of Hastings. Cartledge didn’t agree with that. In his view, history is not a linear sequence of events, there is no thread that connects us to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In his view, we appropriate history and take from it what interests us. I agree with him – to a point (I don’t mean this in the Lord Copper sense). Yes, we fashion history in our own image. This can be seen very clearly today with many historians’ emphasis on gender relations and how ‘ordinary’ people lived. However, isn’t western morality founded on the Jewish Law? And doesn’t our legal system originate – at least in part – from the Roman code of law? Unfortunately, I just don’t know enough to answer these questions. If the answer was ‘yes’ to either one, though, it would show that there is a point of connection between us and those who came before.
As you can see below, Cartledge’s book is titled After Thermopylae. This, he said, was the publisher’s title. In 2006, Cartledge wrote a book about Thermopylae itself. It sold 20,000 copies. In hardback. Why? Because of a certain film titled 300, which came out in the same year… Next year, the sequel to 300 is released. It picks up what happened, as you might guess, after Thermopylae…! I applaud Paul Cartledge’s publishers for their Odyssean cunning!

Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae

Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae, and this writer’s glass of wine

Following the talk, I bought a copy of Cartledge’s book, above, which he kindly signed for me. I mentioned Patrick Leigh Fermor to him and was treated to a short discourse about how the word ‘Istanbul’ has (or may have?) Greek origins. I was bucked by his friendliness and preparedness to share his knowledge.
Having spoken to the man himself and got my book signed all that was left to do was swig my (unmixed) wine. This I did with aplomb and made my way home, a very happy man.
NB (Is there a Greek version of Nota Bene?) As at the Lane Fox talk, I learnt how to pronounce one or two ancient Greek words.
Nike Nee – kay
Venus Veh (short e) – nus
Ares A (short a) – res
Plataea Pla – tee – a

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