Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

War-time Enemies United in Their Love for Latin Poetry

I had half-remembered a story about two war-time enemies who had been united in their respect for Latin poetry, but two of my former students kindly supplied me with the bits of the story I had forgotten (Either their knowledge of History has surpassed mine or they are better at Googling than I am — either way many, many thanks to NT and SL — but no extra credit 🙂 ).

The story is as follows: in 1944, the British developed a plan to abduct the commander of the German forces occupying Crete. The mission was successful and General Heinrich Kreipe (1895-1976) was kidnapped on 26 April 1944 and then taken on a long walk across the island to be picked up by a British motor launch on the southern coast. The march took them over Mount Ida, legendary birthplace of the god Zeus, at which point Kreipe recited a line from one of Horace’s odes, ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum, Soracte …’ [‘See, how it stands, one pile of snow, [Mount] Soracte! ‘, or in the Telegraph version, ‘See, Soracte’s mighty peak stands deep in virgin snow’], at which one of his captors — Maj. Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) — completed the verse. Although enemies in war, the two men were for a moment united in their memories of the Classical education which at that time was still shared by many or most educated boys across Europe.

I now learn that the story is well-known — it is told in Stanley Moss’s 1950 book Ill Met by Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe, and later turned into a movie staring — perhaps inevitably, Dirk Bogarde and Marius Goring (1957).

General Heinrich Kreipe.

The British kidnappers and their Cretan guides.

[Images taken from Wikipedia].

The story of the kidnap is told on Wikipedia:

Nicholas Debenham provides the full text of the ode (Ad Thaliarchum) together with a translation. See:

The Telegraph provides a review of a recent book about Fermor:


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This entry was posted on March 20, 2014 by in History and tagged , , .
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