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The kidnap brought about a poignant moment which epitomised Leigh Fermor's life, poised between Europe's shattered common culture and the demands of wartime. When his captive, sighting Mount Ida, murmured, "Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte?" (Do you not see how Mount Soracte stands white in deep snow?) Leigh Fermor, who knew Latin, continued, "Nec iam sustineant onus silvae laborantes, geluque flumina constiterint acuto." (The toiling woods can bear the load no longer, and the streams stand still in the sharp ice). The general said laconically, "Ach so, Herr Major." Leigh Fermor wrote: "We had both drunk from the same fountains long before and things were different between us for the rest of our time together." They had a touching reunion in Crete a few decades later.

Leigh Fermor found post-war London a bit tiresome, not least because he had no money. But he did have a good woman, Joan Rayner. She is the unsung heroine of his life—Wendy to his Peter Pan—and it is a pity that the reader is left with so many puzzles. In the beginning they had a passionate though open relationship. Then she stopped sleeping with him. They never had children. She gave him money for prostitutes. Some might think Leigh Fermor was a shameless sponger and even a bit of a cad. 

Certainly critics saw his flaws vividly even in his glory days, describing him as a bumptious, exhausting know-all. Cooper could have reminded the reader more explicitly that charm, courage and eloquence may be bewitching, but are not moral qualities. Leigh Fermor's warts are well on display in his dealing with his long-suffering publisher Jock Murray. Manuscripts arrived in abominable condition, unbelievably late. His literary output was both slender and delayed by a penchant for correspondence and journalism. 

Yet the visage behind the warts is still magnificent. He did not pretend to be anything that he was not. His adventures would have been splendid if he had never described them. What he did write has a sparkle that leaves rivals in the shadows. And it all really happened, more or less as he described it. What a pity that so much of it  is ruined. 

 This article was edited on December 18 to correct a misquotation of Horace. 

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