An extraordinary man, who led an extraordinary life. Read this as well; the last paragraph is both hilarious and entirely characteristic of Sir Patrick. And don’t miss Robert Kaplan’s remembrance, which is filled with fascinating vignettes, and makes a crucial point:
Because America’s own security will rest in a world where tribes matter as much as Twitter, Fermor is an icon of the kind of soldier, diplomat or intelligence expert we will need: someone who can seamlessly move from any one of these jobs to another, who is equally at home reading a terrain map as he is reciting the poetry of the people with whom he is dealing. The more depth and rarity of knowledge we can implant in our officials, the less likely they are to serve up the wrong options in a crisis.
But as Fermor shows, knowledge can’t be selectively learned for utilitarian ends. He was driven by the kind of appreciation of beauty with which life itself is sanctified.
I once visited his house in the Southern Peloponnese, where I fell into his library, pungent from the wood burning in the fireplace. Battered old bindings lay in recessed shelves piled to the ceiling.
At one point I mentioned the Neoplatonist philosopher Georgios Gemistos Plethon. I was suddenly regaled with a disquisition, between sips of retsina, of how Plethon’s remains were exhumed in 1465 by Sigismondo Malatesta, the mercenary commander of a Venetian expeditionary force that held the lower town of Mistra in the Peloponnese. Malatesta, Fermor recalled, refused to withdraw ahead of a Turkish army without first claiming the body of his favorite philosopher. Here was the erudition that flavors every page of Fermor’s books.
The British Empire lasted as long as it did partly because it produced soldier-aesthetes like Fermor, who could talk about medieval Greece as easily as he could the Italian Renaissance, for comparison is necessary for all serious scholarship. America needs men and women like Fermor if it is to maintain its current position in the world.