The hazards of war landed me among the crags of occupied Crete with a band of Cretan guerrillas 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 crests 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 candida
Soracte . . .
It was one of the ones I knew! [it is Odes I. ix] I continued from where he had broken off:
nec iam 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.
( Patrick Leigh Fermor, ' A Time of Gifts')
THOSE who know Horace well find that of all dead writers there is none who is a closer friend, who speaks more usefully in easy and in difficult times, and none whom they would more happily sit down to drink with. Those who know him less well may argue that the character he presents is an ingratiating artefact, trading in false modesty, self-mockery, superficial wordly wisdom, an 'English' sense of humour, a toadying to the regime which had enriched him, a convoluted word order and a sequence of thought like Stephen Leacock's Lord Ronald, who flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions. But lovers of the man know all this and smile, answering simply that Horace knew it too.