Patrick Leigh Fermor wore his vast learning lightly, as real scholars often do. Here he more than meets his match – and sees through his own presumption – when an old man instantly discerns the metre of a local dirge.

Long live lay learning!

‘A little later, as we talked of the Maniot dirges by which I was obsessed, I was surprised to hear this bloodshot-eyed and barefoot old man say: “Yes, it’s the old iambic tetrameter acalectic.” It was the equivalent of a Cornish fisherman pointing out the difference, in practically incomprehensible dialect, between the Petrarchian and the Spenserian sonnet.  It was quite correct.’

Source: Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, introduction by Michael Gorra (New York: New York Review of Books, 2006 (1958)), p. 138

Photo credit: isakarakus at


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