Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dumbleton, Gloucestershire


To Dumbleton, on the border of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, to visit the grave of Patrick Leigh Fermor, now marked with a headstone, which was revealed on 8 November, the feast of the Archangel Michael. Michael was the writer's second name and one he often used – as an infant he was 'Paddy-Mike', later he sometimes used Michael, although he was, and is, universally known among friends (and fans) as Paddy. So the feast of St Michael was his name day in Greece.

The stone matches that of his wife, Joan, to the left in the picture. Both are of Portland stone, both beautifully lettered, and both bear carved olive branches, Paddy's curving the opposite way to Joan's, but pointing towards hers, as hers now points towards his. The back of Paddy's stone is carved with the four points of the compass, a touch that makes the grave easy to navigate towards as one crosses Dumbleton churchyard.

Naturally, there is a line of Greek. Tom Sawford's excellent blog on Patrick Leigh Fermor translates the line as 'He was of that excellence which is of Greece', adding that it is a line in a poem by the great Alexandrian poet C P Cavafy. Looking at the volume of translated Cavafy poems on my shelves, I take it to be an extract from 'Epitaph of Antiochus, King of Kommagini' (if I have got this wrong, I'd welcome correction from the Greek scholars out there). In Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard's looser translation, the relevant passage of the poem comes out like this:
He was just, wise, and courageous.
In addition he was that best of all things, Hellenic –
mankind has no quality more precious...
Various other translators try alternatives to 'Hellenic', including 'a Greek', 'a Hellene', 'Greek-souled', and 'Greek-cultured'. But perhaps the best bit is the following, and final, line: 'everything beyond that belongs to the gods'.


My review of Artemis Cooper's biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor is here. I will try to post a review of Paddy's The Broken Road soon.


Anonymous said...

I have just re-read your review of PLF's biography. So many reviews were negative and disappointed with him as a person but I enjoyed it and, like you, did not feel his 'faults' detracted from his ebullience and wonderful writing. The Broken Road is top of my Christmas list!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Quite so. He's still a great writer, and the biography's treatment of his spells of depression make him easier to understand, I think, as a person. And, well, there's a bit of a pattern there, isn't there, the depression contrasted with the ebullience, the youthful aimlessness balanced by the incredible focus of his war career, the thoughtlessness put in the shade by the kindness to others.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I were in the UK in Sept/Oct and stopped at Paddy's grave to see if a stone was in place. We missed seeing it by a few weeks! Darn.