Monday, August 31, 2009

C.M. Woodhouse: scholar-soldier and philhellene

I first encountered C.M. Woodhouse through his wonderful 1986 book George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes. Considering Plethon's central importance to the Italian Renaissance it is remarkable that Woodhouse's is the only book-length treatment of the man in the English language. For those interested in finding out more about Plethon you might want to check out my blog post titled Contra Atheos, Part Deux: A Gentlemen's Agreement, as well as the post George Gemistos Plethon: Sources.

It turns out that Woodhouse himself was quite a remarkable character. Below is a brief biography that appears at the website of Denise Harvey Publishers, the publisher of Woodhouse's last book, Rhigas Velestinlis: The Proto-Martyr of the Greek Revolution. And click here to read Woodhouse's obiturary in the New York Times (Woodhouse died February 13, 2001).
Christopher Montague (Monty) Woodhouse was one of the small band of Second World War scholar-soldiers who became legends as young men. Educated at Oxford, where he read Classics and gained a double first along with other prizes, he then went to the British School at Athens intending to return to an academic career at Oxford. On the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the Royal Artillery and it was because of his knowledge of modern Greek, learnt while in Athens, that he was sent to Greece as a member of the British Military Mission. He was first in Athens, and then in German-occupied Crete collecting intelligence and helping British solders escape from the island where he learned 'to feed on snails, mountain grass and ground acorns'. After a spell at a training school in England he was parachuted as second-in-command with a small British team into mainland Greece with the object of making contact with local resistance fighters and sabotaging the main railway line. This was successfully achieved when the railway viaduct at Gorgopotamos was blown up, one of the most spectacular wartimes acts of resistance in occupied Europe, and an act that gave great momentum to resistance to the Germans. Woodhouse stayed in the mountains for the rest of the occupation, becoming head of the now Allied Military Mission. In his unpublished 1945 report on the Mission, he wrote:

'Nothing matters so much in this story as the Greek mountains. The rolling downs of Olympus, the precipitous ravines of Agrapha, the orchards of Pelion, the staggering crags of Smolikas, the long, thin ridge of Taygetos, the pine forests of Giona, are almost individual characters in the story, their roles perpetually changed by sun and snow and rain. Without them no guerilla movement could have been born.'

In the immediate post-war years he was largely engaged in helping to clear up and record the Balkan disarray, and he was attached to the British Embassy in Athens and was secretary-general to the Allied Mission for observing the Greek elections a year later. Posts in industry, the Nuffield Foundation, and a spell at the Foreign Office followed, and from 1955 to 1959 he was Director-General and Director of Studies of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). In 1959 he entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Oxford and represented the constituency, except for a four-year break, until 1974. He was also for several years visiting professor at King's College, London, perhaps the British academic institution with the closest links to Greece, a position which he greatly enjoyed.

From the war onwards as a writer he concerned himself primarily with Greek history. His first book, The Apple of Discord: A Survey of Recent Greek Politics in their International Setting (1948), was an important analysis of Greece during the war. There followed many other books, including The Greek War of Independence (1952), The Story of Modern Greece (1968), The Philhellenes (1969), The Struggle for Greece, 1941–1949 (1976), Karamanlis: The Restorer of Greek Democracy (1982), The Rise and Fall of the Greek Colonels (1985), and Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes (1986). His last published book was Rhigas Velestinlis.

"As a Buddhist, what I can do is pray for them...."

"As a Buddhist, what I can do is pray for them [the storm victims], wishing them that in their next life, they can still be human and live a happier life."
[His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as quoted in today's Taipei Times, see link below the picture.]

Claude Arpi's analysis on "The importance of the Dalai Lama's Taiwan visit" at the Indian news and information site

"You achieved democracy. That you must preserve”. Quote from Financial Times article:

Dalai Lama had spoken about his desire to visit Taiwan back in November, 2008:,dalai-lama-wants-to-visit-taiwan-in-2009.html

The Philipine Star online: "Dalai Lama prays, encourages democracy in Taiwan":

Anne Rice's book reviews at Amazon

Anne Rice is a fascinating person, and I say that as someone who is not a fan of her writing. It is not at all the case that I dislike her writing - it's just that it has never really "grabbed" me. In fact, the only vampire novel that I have ever read is the cult-classic I, Vampire by the amazing Jody Scott (1923-2007) - one of the most under-appreciated masterpieces of modern popular fiction.

The reason I mention Anne Rice is that while poking around trying to find reviews and other responses to Jan Assmann's works on monotheism I stumbled upon Ms. Rice's review of his Moses the Egyptian at Amazon. At first I was (highly) skeptical that this was really Anne Rice, but since her wikipedia entry states that these reviews are actually written by her, well, it must be true! Rice loved Assmann's book, btw; she gives it five stars and titles her review "Brilliant and crystal clear historical analysis".

Most of Rice's 90 reviews at Amazon at least mention (or, more often, primarily focus on) Christianity. Rice's Christianity is not without subtlety and surprises (depending, of course, on one's own preconceived notions of that religion). For examples, although she is a Catholic she supports the ordination of women and gay marriage, while strongly criticizing the Church's opposition to contraception. She even goes so far as to question the Church's position on abortion. These views are only hinted at in her reviews at Amazon, but she was much more explicit in a 2005 interview with Anne-Marie O'Connor of the Los Angeles Times. At the same time, Rice appears to be theologically conservative when it comes to what she views as purely theological issues. Perhaps she is one of those who agree with Joseph Campbell that the Church should have retained the Latin Mass and accepted the ordination of women, rather than the other way around.

The beautiful drawing of Anne Rice is by Craig Hamilton, it was dowloaded from