Patrick Leigh Fermor died yesterday at the age of 96. You can read about his amazing life in this Telegraph obit (where you will find the story of Fermor, General Kreipe, and Horace’s ode, among much else); I want to celebrate his enthusiasm for odd historical-ethnic tidbits and his way with English prose, by providing a delicious excerpt from his 1958 book Mani—I’m pretty sure it was this passage that hooked me when I was flipping through the book and forced me to buy it (a purchase that soon led to my buying his follow-up, Roumeli):

And yet the Greek world, with all its absorptions and dispersals and its Odyssean ramifications, is an inexhaustible Pandora’s box of eccentricities and exceptions to all conceivable rule. I thought of the abundance of strange communities: the scattered Bektashi and the Rufayan, the Mevlevi dervishes of the Tower of the Winds, the Liaps of Souli, the Pomaks of the Rhodope, the Kizilbashi near Kechro, the Fire-Walkers of Mavrolevki, the Lazi from the Pontic shores, the Linovamvaki—crypto-Christian Moslems of Cyprus—the Dönmehs—crypto-Jewish Moslems of Salonika and Smyrna—the Slavophones of Northern Macedonia, the Koutzo-Vlachs of Samarina and Metzovo, the Chams of Thesprotia, the scattered Souliots of Roumeli and the Heptanese, the Albanians of Argolis and Attica, the Kravarite mendicants of Aetolia, the wandering quacks of Eurytania, the phallus-wielding Bounariots of Tyrnavos, the Karamanlides of Cappadocia, the Tzakones of the Argolic gulf, the Ayassians of Lesbos, the Francolevantine Catholics of the Cyclades, the Turkophone Christians of Karamania, the dyers of Mt. Ossa, the Mangas of Piraeus, the Venetian nobles of the Ionian, the Old Calendrists of Keratea, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Thasos, the Nomad Sarakatzáns of the north, the Turks of Thrace, the Thessalonican Sephardim, the sponge-fishers of Calymnos and the Caribbean reefs, the Maniots of Corsica, Tuscany, Algeria and Florida, the dying Grecophones of Calabria and Otranto, the Greek-speaking Turks near Trebizond on the banks of the Of, the omnipresent Gypsies, the Chimarriots of Acroceraunia, the few Gagauzi of eastern Thrace, the Mardaïtes of the Lebanon, the half-Frankish Gazmouli of the Morea, the small diasporas of Armenians, the Bavarians of Attic Herakleion, the Cypriots of Islington and Soho, the Sahibs and Boxwallahs of Nicosia, the English remittance men of Kyrenia, the Basilian Monks, both Idiorrhythmic and Cenobitic, the anchorites of Mt. Athos, the Chiots of Bayswater and the Guards’ Club, the merchants of Marseilles, the cotton-brokers of Alexandria, the ship-owners of Panama, the greengrocers of Brooklyn, the Amariots of Lourenço Marques, the Shqip-speaking Atticans of Sfax, the Cretan fellaheen of Luxor, the Elasites beyond the Iron Curtain, the brokers of Trieste, the Krim-Tartar-speaking Lazi of Marioupol, the Pontics of the Sea of Azov, the Caucasus and the Don, the Turcophone and Armenophone Lazi of southern Russia, the Greeks of the Danube Delta, Odessa and Taganrog, the rentiers in eternal villaggiatura by the lakes of Switzerland, the potters of Syphnos and Messenia, the exaggerators and the ghosts of Mykonos, the Karagounides of the Thessalian plain, the Nyklians and the Achamnómeri of the Mani, the little bootblacks of Megalopolis, the Franks of the Morea, the Byzantines of Mistra, the Venetians and Genoese and Pisans of the archipelago, the boys kidnapped for janissaries and the girls for harems, the Catalan bands, the Kondaritika-speaking lathmakers of the Zagarochoria, the Loubinistika-speakers of the brothels, the Anglo-Saxons of the Varangian Guard, ye olde Englisshe of the Levant company, the Klephts and the Armatoles, the Kroumides of Colchis, the Koniarides of Loxada, the smugglers of Aï-Vali, the lunatics of Cephalonia, the admirals of Hydra, the Phanariots of the Sublime Porte, the princes and boyars of Moldowallachia, the Ralli Brothers of India, the Whittals of Constantinople, the lepers of Spinalonga, the political prisoners of the Macronisos, the Hello-boys back from the States, the two pig-roasting Japanese ex-convicts of Crete, the solitary negro of Canea and a wandering Arab I saw years ago in Domoko, the Chinese tea-pedlar of Kolonaki, killed in Piraeus during the war by a bomb—if all these, to name a few, why not the crypto-Jews of the Taygetus?

I still find that passage irresistible all these years later, and my copy is marked up with enough interlinear pencil commentary to show that I keep going back to it as I acquire new sources of information; to fully understand all its allusions, you’d have to be Fermor himself.


  1. Then there were friends to entertain, among them Cyril Connolly, the present Duke of Devonshire and Bruce Chatwin, who chose to be buried near Leigh Fermor’s home in Greece.
    So from this we learn that Cyril Connolly is not only the present Duke of Devonshire, he is also the present Duke of Bruce Chatwin.
    And they make fun of us for our Oxford commas.

  2. Vance Maverick says

    A proper catalogue of ships.

  3. mollymooly says

    An Oxford comma would not have prevented Cyril Connolly from being the present Duke of Devonshire.

  4. How I’duh wrote it:
    Then there were friends to entertain, among them Cyril Connolly, John Devonshire, and Bruce Chatwin ….. N.B. if the present D of D’s Christian name isn’t “John”, modify accordingly.
    BTAIM, I wouldn’t have appended “who chose to be buried near Leigh Fermor’s home in Greece” because the “who” would be undefined. And because I think that “home” is becoming unusable because you can never tell whether it means “home” or “house”.

  5. I’m pretty sure that rather than the duke of Devonshire it’s the current duke’s father (Andrew) & mother who were the good friends of Paddy Leigh Fermor. He appears a lot in her (Deborah Mitford’s) writing.

  6. “who chose to be buried near Leigh Fermor’s home in Greece”
    Did Chatwin want to be in death near Fermor ? He was a bit of a drama queen, as I think I’ve read. Perhaps it’s merely that Fermor’s home/house happens to be in the vicinity of the cemetery to which Chatwin gave his custom.

  7. Anthony Lane’s profile of Fermor in the New Yorker. More on Fermor here.

  8. Thanx for the article, Crown. A quick perusal didn’t turn up a mention of Chatwin, but I learned that Fermor’s home/house is on Crete. It used to be the thing to be buried on Crete. Even mafiosi were sent off concretely. So Chatwin was following fashion, not Fermor.

  9. Wow, that must be where the BBC got it from then. On the Patrich Leigh Fermor blog I linked to it says (complaining about the BBC’s coverage):
    “Even the short obituary on the BBC news website contains a glaring error saying that Paddy lived his last years in Crete; no, it was in the Mani near Kardamyli!!”
    (i.e. in the Peloponnese).

  10. Yes, Dearie, and the Telegraph says that his mother set up home in Primrose Hill. I bet she‘d never have said that. Set up house. Surely it’s a fixed idiom?

  11. “They get on like a home on fire.”
    “He’s built like a brick home.”
    “Safe as homes.”
    “The two homes of Parliament”
    “The home that Jack built.”
    “A full home beats a straight.”

  12. A House is not a Home.

  13. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but Language hasn’t been here all day. I think he’s looking after his grandchildren, that’s the usual reason he takes time off from us.

  14. I suspect a more somber explanation, since he’s rising 60. That often prompts a spate of solitary life-reviewing.

  15. Oh, Language is no navel gazer. He’s very gung-ho, actually.

  16. dearieme says

    “Paddy lived his last years in…. the Peloponnese.” So his home was there: fairy nuff. I’m beginning to see the point of the otherwise risible “residence”. But I’m damned if I could use it myself.

  17. dearieme says

    I’m trying to remember what we said as children.
    John’s house has got a bomb shelter in the garden.
    We’re going round to Malcolm’s house.
    Mummy likes Daddy to lock the house at night.
    I’ve got to go home now.
    It’s a home match on Saturday.
    Silloth is her home port.
    His Dad keeps homing pigeons.
    He’s stayed at home with the flu.

  18. Not housing pigeons, then.

  19. Yes, I watched my grandson play baseball. He got a couple of hits and scored a run, but his team was defeated by well-prepared opponents. And then I had lunch with family and did some work. But I am always with you in spirit!

  20. I seem to have learned from WiPe that:
    Devonshire is called Devon these days, except in certain fixed expressions such as Duke of Devonshire, and
    The Dukes of Devonshire do not have their homes/houses/seats/whatever in Devon anyway, but in Derbyshire and other places.

  21. The Duchy of Devonshire is far more interesting than most. For a start, as I said, the dowager duchess is Deborah, youngest of the Mitford sisters. Her husband had an elder brother, killed in WW2, who was married to the eldest Kennedy daughter (who died shortly after her husband). They are buried at the local church near Chatsworth, and both President Kennedy and Bobby visited the graves when they came to Britain. Harold MacMillan, British PM during the Cuban missile crisis, had an even specialer relationship with Kennedy than usual because his wife, Dorothy, was the daughter of an earlier Duke of Devonshire so Mac & Kennedy were (sort of) related by marriage. MacMillan spent a lot of his retirement staying at Chatsworth. Chatsworth itself is an outstanding English-baroque house with a long reflecting pool, and it’s set at the edge of the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District. In fact the Cavendish family (the family of the D.s of D.) were also responsible for building Chiswick House the relentlessly bilaterally-symmetrical Palladian villa in London, and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, England’s greatest Elizabethan house. Back to Chatsworth, it is supposed to be the model for Mr Darcy’s home (sic) in P&P. One of the gardeners there in the 19C was Joseph Paxton, a genius of engineering who subsequently designed the Crystal Palace at the 1851 Great Exhibition. As a young man he created marvelous greenhouses and an extraordinary network of gravity-pressured fountains at Chatsworth.
    Deborah Mitford, the approx. 90-year-old Dowager Duchess, claims to be one of the few people to have met Hitler, Churchill and Kennedy (not to mention Mick Jagger and a bunch of more recent figures). She had tea with Hitler thanks to her sister Unity’s association with him before the war.

  22. “Tea with Hilter” sounds like a good title for a volume of historical memoirs – as indeed it is.

  23. dearieme says

    “The Dukes of Devonshire … in Derbyshire”: I once saw a claim that the family was elevated to the Duchy of Devonshire by accident – that Derbyshire was intended but a clerk got it wrong. Maybes.

  24. I once saw a claim that dearieme was going to be elevated to goodnessme.

  25. narrowmargin says

    “What kind of house is this,” he said,
    “where I have come to roam?”
    “It’s not a house,” said Judas Priest.
    “It’s not a house, it’s a home.”

  26. dearieme says

    “I once saw a claim that dearieme was going to be elevated to goodnessme”: if I were to be appointed Duke, then presumably that would be goodnessgraciousme.

  27. If.

  28. It takes a heap o’ humpin’ to make a “house” a home.

  29. I’m in another trough of blogging; when I come back to it, I’ll ask you to fill in the blanks when I do my own attempt at a glossary.
    I’ve accumulated solutions to some of those blanks myself, as is inevitable if you blog about modern Greek language history; “the solitary negro of Canea”, for example, is a Halikoutis
    Though really, is the diversity of the Greek cultural ambit any different than any number of other places in the world, before the establishment of the nation-state? Italy’s list would be of comparable length, for instance.

  30. Graham Asher says

    Interesting how tastes vary… I love Fermor, but when I got to that passage a few years ago my reaction was: no, this is too much – a hopelessly self-indulgent catalogue. But then I’ve always been a bit idiorrhythmic myself.

  31. Though really, is the diversity of the Greek cultural ambit any different than any number of other places in the world, before the establishment of the nation-state?
    No, I’m sure it’s not, and someone with sufficient interest and determination could do the same for other places.

  32. I’m going to the Mani in August, staying outside Stoupa, which is just down from Kardamili – lovely part of the world, and now very popular with holidaying Athenians.
    There’s a great anecdote kicking off the Independent‘s obituary:
    “In Greece just after the Second World War, Patrick Leigh Fermor was on a lecture tour for the British Council.
    “The lecture was supposed to be on British culture, but he had been persuaded to talk about his wartime exploits on Crete. Leigh Fermor took sips from a large glass as he spoke and when it was nearly finished, he topped it up from a carafe of water. The liquid turned instantly cloudy: he had added water to a nearly empty tumbler of neat ouzo.
    “A roar of appreciation went up from the audience at this impromptu display of leventeia. A quality prized in Greece, leventeia indicates high spirits, humour, quickness of mind and action, charm, generosity, the love of living dangerously and a readiness for anything. Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor had leventeia in spades.”

  33. J. W. Brewer says

    For some reason this put me in mind of Lorca’s homeric catalog of slang terms for the same-sex-attracted (from Oda a Walt Whitman, left untranslated in the English version I have):
    Faeries de Norteamérica,
    Pájaros de la Habana,
    Jotos de Méjico,
    Sarasas de Cádiz,
    Ápios de Sevilla,
    Cancos de Madrid,
    Floras de Alicante,
    Adelaidas de Portugal.

  34. He didn’t seem to mention the Zikhians.

  35. David Marjanović says

    the Anglo-Saxons of the Varangian Guard

    And thence of Crimea.

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